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Thank you for this diary. I haven't yet looked at KOS - I am kind of afraid to. In the US I think that there is a much larger social expectation of giving money than Canada. I don't know if that would be true for Europe as well. Part of that may be the difference in taxes paid. (Also has a lot on US/Canadian charitable donations http://www.fraserinstitute.ca/admin/books/files/generos(v8).pdf)

When I first started reading your post I immediately thought - foodbanks, and yup - you got to them. Here they have become a way of life, and a way for the government to avoid its responsibilities.
A pamphlet our church has talks about the charitable situation in Pre WWII Germany. The example given was a Jew who married a Catholic and converted, and then sought charitable assistance. They would be ineligible for aid from the Catholics because they weren't Catholic enough, and ineligible for aid from Jewish charities because they weren't Jewish enough. This is the direction I feel the US is headed.

While I will disagree with your stand, I want to make it clear that I believe you have a strong, excellent, important point that you have made.

I suspect that it is actually a conflict of interest for business to engage in charity. The issue of profit vs donations is such a possible problem.

Let me disagree with your stance for the following reasons:

  1. I don't feel that big government is capable of dealing with all the needs of people. It is like big business. One size doesn't fit all. The government can't do everything. While walking the Camino de Santiago I talked with a woman who was a lay-preacher for the Catholic Church. She provided small sums of money to people - not necessarily Catholics - (up to about 50 euros) based on her personal judgement. She felt that she was often, if not routinely taken advantage of, but sometimes such small amounts made real differences to the lives of people. For her it was worth the wasted money to manage to help those who really needed it. Such types of charity are almost certainly outside the size bounds, and even the ethics bounds of Government.

  2. The government does not have enough money. I tried finding a dollar value for charitable work in Canada but could not. Even so, I believe that the government can not afford to cover the charitable giving that is done. For example, while I try to more or less tithe to charity, the value of my personal time given (1/2 day a week to pre-kindergarten children who are PDD/Downs/etc) would exceed my tithing. My work is with a recognised (non-denominational) charity. My mother has a close friend who has Alzheimer's. She regularly goes to the nursing home to feed this friend, and while there helps feed other people in the nursing home. This activity falls outside the bounds of recognised charitable work, but it is still charitable work.

  3. One does not play politics with the lives of people. This goes back to the issue of food banks. It is a horrible situation to allow people to go hungry to prove a political point. Yes, it is the government's responsibility, and yes, they probably would eventually pick up doing something if everyone boycotted food banks. Unfortunately, I don't have the stomach for it. I can't let people go hungry.

  4. Sometimes charities do it better than governments. Before walking the Camino de Santiago I arranged to get Hep B vaccine. My doctor thought I was being a bit silly, as Spain is a first world country. In general the refugios were, for someone with asthma, better than even 4 star hotels. I was quite pleased with the way volunteers managed to help keep (or completely keep) them running. In Galacia there were a series of refugios that were government run. The worst refugio we stayed at was one of the government run refugios - the place were I became glad I had got the vaccine.

Our church was asked by the UN to assist the Palestinian people in 1948. What were we to do? The answer was, even though we did not have the experience, nor the infrastructure, even though there must have been a number of governments who could have done it better; we did what we could do. One out of four Palestinian refugees from this time period were helped by our demotion. Ultimately that is what charity is - helping others because you can, and because they need help. Whether it is helping an old lady across the street, holding a stranger as they cry, sheltering a US soldier who decides he is no longer able to kill, helping a neighbour sort their garbage because they haven't got the hang of what is recyclable, or as Matthew put it

for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.

What good is a government that does not do what it can and leaves a second-class charity to its citizens to pick up? Still, there is always room to help others, no matter how much good the government does. "Am I my brother's keeper?" Yes. There is always room for charity.


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 11:57:27 AM EST
a number of good and interesting points, and I agree with all of your 4 points.

I have always read Mathews comment as being to each of us as individuals.  And in fact was a very personal comment, and not directed at the government.  I'm responding to "What good is a government that does not do what it can and leaves a second-class charity to its citizens to pick up? "  we as individuals don't have a lot of control over how the government spends its money (except through advocacy, and one vote counts).  But I've never taken my tax bill and computed how much is going to helping my brother--maybe I should.  And Mathew was talking about each of us doing this from the heart--when we do it through tax policy, we force some of the people who are paying taxes to give,,,,and it may not come from their heart at all.  I don't mean to argue on the other hand that the government shouldn't do this--it's effective and needed in many areas.  It's just the linkage of the reason for this scripture somehow doesn't fit with government spending for me.  Sorry to ramble--I probably need to think about this more.

by wchurchill on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 01:02:18 PM EST
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I've been mulling over your response a bit. I would agree that Matthew was thinking on personal terms. I suspect that in Matthew time a government that engaged in extensive charitable activities (such as Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Netherlands, and Denmark -ODA > .7% GNI) as part of a national identity (?) was unknown.

I like the idea that one of the responsibilities of government is charity, or to remove it from charity entirely and say this is basic to our society. We don't do food banks because everyone in society has enough to eat. It isn't charity; it is because this is what civilised people do. (I wish.) Ya - I'm going beyond Matthew.

In Canada various conservative governments have tried to court the popular vote by promising to lower taxes. It doesn't work very well. Maybe on some level we really are giving - at least some of our taxes - from the heart. At least enough of us to keep the taxes going. If it isn't from the heart, I guess it isn't charity, but government policy and taxes. I don't think that this would make it wrong though.

Instead of calling what we do at the governmental level charity, maybe we should call it human dignity. Ours and theirs. (Just as torture states degrade themselves as they degrade their victims, so to - we degrade ourselves when we allow others to be degraded poverty and hunger.)


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 03:02:50 PM EST
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Interesting post. A few counter-arguments:

  1. In France the government "charity" flows from multiple programs, like minimal income, etc... Most of the administration is purely local (my mother works at a "Centre Communal d'Action Sociale" - city social help, in a team of around 20 people). Even the minimu income administration is now per county ("departement"). This avoids the "big government effect".

  2. government charity does not forbid personal involvment, and there is lots of it in France. The government encourage it with very generous tax rebates (2$ in tax deduction for 1$ personal, nobody shown a country where the system is so incitative).

  3. Most government-paid workers in those institutions are catholic and I trust the government to be far less corrupted than the catholic church management (so happy that lots of tempting money is just not there for them).

  4. Government help will suffer much less for what is currently fashionable "trends" in help. Will churches help the seropositive gays? Most won't.

  5. Government managed healthcare is essential. If you take the "poor" in France, they still have zero cost access to the very best health-care with no delay and no question asked, compare with other countries with "private" healthcare.
by Laurent GUERBY on Sun Nov 26th, 2006 at 06:19:53 AM EST
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