Saturday, August 06, 2005

Charity, admits no excess but error.

We are all familiar with the passage where Jesus tells the disciples to sell all that they have and give to the poor. I like the following interpretation by Bacon....
"Sell all that thou hast, and give it to the poor, and follow me"--- that is, sell not all thou hast, except thou come and follow me-- that is, except thou have a vocation wherein thou mayest do as much good with little means as with great-- for otherwise, in feeding the streams, thou driest the fountains.

Comments on " charity, admits no excess but error" by Whately.

Bacon is speaking here of what is now called benevolence and his remark is very just, that it admits of no excess in quantity, though it may be misdirected and erroneous. For if your liberality be such as to reduce your family to poverty, or-- like the killing of the hen that laid golden eggs-- such as to put it out of your power hereafter to be liberal at all; or if it be bestowed on the undeserving; this is rather to be accounted an unwise and misdirected benevolence than an excess of it in quantity.....
For there can be no doubt that careless, indiscriminate alms-giving does far more harm than good; since it encourages idleness and improvidence, and also imposture. If you give freely to ragged and filthy street beggars, you are in fact hiring people to dress themselves in filthy rags, and go about begging with fictitious tales of distress. If, on the contrary, you carefully inquire for, and relieve, honest and industrious persons who have fallen into distress through unavoidable misfortune, you are not only doing good to those objects, but also holding out an encouragement generally to honest industry.
You may, however, meet with persons who say, "as long as it is my intention to relieve real distress, my charity is equally virtuous, though the tale told me may be a false one. The imposter alone is to be blamed who told it to me; I acted on what he said; and if that is untrue, the fault is his and not mine."
Now, this is a fair plea, if any one is deceived after making a careful inquiry; but if he has not taken the trouble to do this, regarding it as no concern of his, you might ask him how he would act and judge in a case where he is thoroughly in earnest , that is, where his own interest is concerned. Suppose he employed a steward or other agent to buy for him a house, or a horse, or any other article, and this agent paid an exorbitant price for what was really worth little or nothing, giving just the same kind of excuse for allowing his employer to be thus cheated; saying,
'I made no careful inquiries, but took the seller's word; and his being a liar and a cheat, is his fault, and not mine;' the employer would doubtless reply, 'the seller indeed is to be condemned for cheating; but so are you, for your carelessness of my interests. His being greatly in fault does not clear you; and your merely intending to do what was right, is no excuse for your not taking pains to gain right information.'

I like and agree with what is being said here, but there are times when careful inquiry is impossible and in those circumstances I react on emotion, a tugging, a judgment or some other difficult to describe feeling.

1 comment:

fcb4 said...

Excellent piece. I often think about that command...to give when anybody asks. It seems irrational to me. Yet I wonder sometimes as I sit in my car looking at the corner sign holders if they are an angel looking back at me and if it might be a Divine conspiracy behind it all.

Angels unawares provoking my stinginess out of its hiding place. Though I have worked with enough drunks to know the money almost always went to another drink not a burger. I would always offer a meal not money in street ministry and it was often refused.

But all this inquiry stuff will more than likely simply be another excuse for my indifference and further support my internal reasoning to just look the other way.