Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Charity is as charity does.

Over the last few weeks, rising to a crescendo these last few days there has been a tumultuous murmuring on the matter of "charity."

Who's charitable, who's not, what charity is and ain't.

Given the various postings of opinions on the issue, it is not surprising -- at least not to people such as I -- the current market on charity is mostly characterized by its turbidity.

Charity is often confused with kindness. Which it is not. It usually cohabits with kindness, but like the poet said, it ain't necessarily so. Slamming someone in the ribs with all your might isn't generally seen as a kindness, but if the subj. is in imminent danger of taking a careening SUV amidships, it seems plain to any sentient being the deed in question is manifestly charitable.

The question then pivots around "moderate force." In racing the phrase used is "winning a race as slowly as possible." Put another way, an objective is to be accomplished as gently as possible. Sometime "as gently as possible" isn't gentle at all, and that's the part that a lot of people spectacularly fail to grasp, just as a lot of people fail to grasp that it may not be necessary to issue a body slam to move the endangered away from that careening SUV.

I am reminded of a joke -- not a very funny joke, mind you, but an illustrative one -- about a little bird that had been caught in an unexpected spring freeze. It's poor little body is caked with frost and he is on point of death. A cow comes by and deposits upon him. This has the effect of warming him up completely and he begins to sing in loud which point a cat comes by and, stealthily creeping up, manages to pull the bir out and eat him. Moral: Not everyone who [poops] on you is your enemy, and not everyone who pulls you out of the [poop] is your friend.

What becomes key is in separating the message from that message's mode of delivery. I strongly suspect sometimes you must employ the equivalent of "OK, look, you idiot..." but not often, and not as a first resort.


Even in those cases when you must employ, er, "frank and vigorous language" the point should be to call attention to someone's actions/statements, and not devolve to ad hominem attacks which:

1- Make you look like a knuckle-dragger
2- Do not correct or adequately admonish the other person
3- Engender mistrust for your viewpoint

It is easier (not to say "easy") to fall into these traps if you do so from a position of anonymity. Recent combox fireworks have ensued from such a hospitable environment. Very early on in this blog's history I had similar issues and I took the line of not tolerating anonymous postings. Other people may have divergent views on this matter, but my experience is that anonymous-friendly comboxes yield vitriol up with which I will not put.

But back to charity.

Charity is, in my estimation, something best viewed by its objective. Is the objective to instruct the ignorant or admonish the sinner in the manner likeliest to produce desired results? If yes -- and read the foregoing carefully -- then it's charitable, even if it's not particularly nice. Admonishing the sinner or instructing the ignorant (in the manner most likely to effect the desired results) are works of mercy and therefore are among the prime means via which we satisfy God for the temporal punishment due to sin. We have to do this.

Mind you, we have to do this in such a way that the sinner we admonish or the ignorant we instruct actually gets better. Which means that berating or putting an unkind construction on someone's statements or actions isn't likely to do the trick.

Of course, sometimes in order to instruct the ignorant, we have to point out to what some third person has been saying or doing wrong. When Politician X says, in some glib, nuanced, subtle flourish of sophistry something that runs counter to Christian living, we have to do our level best to point that out, lest anyone else accidentally swallow that whole mess.

I have a few examples I'd like to delve into for the next post on this issue, so stay tuned.