Doing good For Nothing
October 15, 2017
DOING GOOD FOR NOTHING
October 15th, 2017
What did I preach on last week? Thankfulness. Gratitude. Were you able to integrate more gratitude and thankfulness into your day? If you have, keep it up!
Today I want to speak about the possibility that our charity and our compassion may actually be counterproductive. A few books on that topic have been written, for instance, Toxic Giving, and Killing With Kindness.
I would venture to guess that some of you are familiar with the concept of “effective altruism.” Altruism, like charity, can be defined as self-less and sacrificial concern for others.
The core belief of effective altruism is that smart and informed giving will save or improve lives, while dumb or uniformed giving does not make a positive difference and may even be harmful to the very people that are supposed to be helped.
There are certain questions that we can ask about a charity that will help to make an informed decision.
1. “Is the charity completely transparent?”
Does the charity have and is willing to share their financial statements? If not, there may be a chance that there is something they do not want the donours to know.
By the way, it should be telling that most televangelists refuse to divulge how much income they make or how they spend it. Another question is …
2. “How much of the funds given actually reach the intended target?”
How much overhead does a charity burn up?
How much do they spend on advertising? I saw a list of charities that spend at least 90 cents for every $ they raise on advertising.
Many CEO’s of charities make six figure salaries, some, like the CEO of Goodwill and United Way, in the high six figures.
Mind you, a very low overhead may indicate that there isn’t enough oversight and follow up to make sure the funds are used properly and effectively and not sidetracked by some corrupt individuals oversees.
By the way, this is a huge problem. Many goods sent by well-meaning people end up being sold on the black market by those more interested in enriching themselves than helping their own people.
A large chunk of the so-called aid sent to the third world by the Western world ends up the pockets of politicians, generals, bureaucrats, and criminals. Sometimes the aid is diverted to purchase armaments. And there is virtually no accountability.
For example, Canada sends $ 6 billion in “aid” around the world every year. This includes just about every country on the African continent.
Every year, Canada sends Ethiopia (208 million - 3.24 billion), South Sudan (121 million - 1.7 b; Sudan - 1 b.), Tanzania (181 million - 2.6 b.), Mali (125 million 1.2 b). [Haiti also received 204 million - 1 b.]. (world giving in US $ for 2015)
While these are some of the poorest nations on earth, they are also among those most opposed to the West and a place where Muslim radicals thrive.
Over 100 million is sent each to Bangladesh (2.6 b.), Vietnam (3.16 b.), Afghanistan (4.24 b.) and Pakistan (3.8 b.) – every year!
Does the person on the street see any benefit for that money? I read that in the past much of Canada’s country to country aid ended up in the Swiss bank accounts of foreign dictators. And that there seems to be a direct correlation between how much foreign aid a country receives and how corrupt its officials and politicians are.
Canada also donates to economic superpowers like China and Russia. With economies of $8.2 and $2 trillion respectively, it begs the question: do they really need our money?
Sending containers of used or even new shoes and clothing after a natural disaster is by and large a wasted effort because that’s not what’s needed. It’s easy for people in the third world to get cheap clothes.
A lot of people donated or sent old or useless stuff after the 2004 Asian tsunami and the 2010 Haitian earthquake.
People sending clothing to third world countries can bankrupt the textile industry in such a country.
Let me relate what one aid worker in Haiti noticed:
[Prior to the earthquake], a solar panel company in Haiti was selling about fifty street lights a month. And after the earthquake, they sold I think five streetlights in six months…So, here’s basic economics, right? There’s an earthquake; the demand goes high for solar panels because electricity is out. And the local solar panel company actually loses money. Well, why? Because NGOs came…and they started ‘giving the stuff away for free.’ And they actually crowd out local business. Michael Matheson
MoM – FCC just sent a larger gift to the orphanage. I’m totally sold on it because I know that very little is wasted on administrative costs … in fact, Daniel’s salary is funded from a completely different source. Every cent goes to pay for food and clothing for the kids, for salaries of nurses at the clinic, nannies who look after the kids, and teachers at the school. Nothing is wasted.
Another problem with foreign aid is that even if most of the funds do make it to the intended target, that does not mean that it actually makes a positive difference. Which brings us to our third question:
3. “Is the charity helping people to become independent?”
Some charitable work is simply promoting an ongoing lifelong dependency by discouraging work or promoting a destructive lifestyle.
More money per person has been donated for those living in the Gaza strip than anywhere else in the world. But the people are worse off now than they were 20 years ago.
Lots of people have written good books about being good for nothing. Jonathan Martin – killing with kindness (2008);
Robert Lupdon, who was active in charities for 40 years wrote this:
For all our efforts to eliminate poverty—our entitlements, our programs, our charities—we have succeeded only in creating a permanent underclass, dismantling their family structures, and eroding their ethic of work. And our poor continue to become poorer.
Our free food and clothing distribution encourages ever-growing handout lines, diminishing the dignity of the poor while increasing their dependency.
Short-term mission trips involve expenditures of between $2.5 - 5 billion annually, yet produce little lasting change, often displace local labor, and distract indigenous church leaders from more important work.
The money spent by one campus ministry to cover the costs of their Central American mission trip to repaint an orphanage would have been sufficient to hire two local painters to do the work, and two new full-time teachers for a year, and the purchase of new uniforms for every student in the school.
“Religious tourism,” as some call it, has become a growth industry. The Bahamas, it is estimated, annually receives one short-term missionary for every fifteen residents.
Most work done by volunteers could be better done by locals in less time and with better results.
Robert Lupdon personally witnessed just how quickly recipients’ response to charity devolved from gratitude to expectation to entitlement, which then leads to resentment.
A drug addict was begging downtown. As a couple walked toward him, he called out, “May the blessing of the Lord, which brings love, joy, wealth, and a fine family, follow you all the days of your life …” When the couple passed his outstretched arm without contributing, he shouted after them, “… and never catch up to you!”
A charity may seem to be doing lots, but they may only patch up the symptoms, not the causes of a problem. Even if they target the cause, they may do a lot of things but are not reaching their stated outcome.
By providing essential services, it absolves the government of that country to continue in its corrupt and uncaring attitude toward its own population – although, given that the only alternative to genuine change is armed revolt, that may be the lesser of two evils.
Ultimate aim of any charitable work should be to get the recipient off aid. Think movement from charity to rehabilitation to development.
MoM – Are we simply perpetuating the need to pay to look after children who never will amount to anything? Daniel and MoM gets the odd sack of rice from the local government official. Schools are closing all over Nigeria because the teachers are not getting paid by the government. And yet, Canada alone sends about $ 80 million to Nigeria every year. The total amount they receive in foreign aid is almost US $ 2.5 billion. This is a country that has vast oil reserves.
The fact is that Daniel knows that only education will help give the orphans and half orphans at the orphanages any future.
Provide education for all of their children, from elementary through to graduation from high school. Used to pay to have kids attend public high school. Many of these are closing because the country does not have the funds to pay its teachers, even as politicians get incredibly wealthy.
Yes, the orphanages are not self-sustaining, although Daniel is trying to raise funds and foods internally, chickens, goats, pigs, fish, cashews … it is just that they have way too many kids to care for and educate. But it is something that needs to be encouraged more and more.
4. “Is the charity using high pressure tactics to solicit funds?”
I know that some charities try to solicit funds by showing children crying, by sending people to solicit, by constantly mailing plea after plea, and the like.
Even when Daniel is desperate for funds, his appeals for funds are incredibly low key, in part, because he’s just as loathed to ask people for money as I am.
There are organizations, such as “givewell.org,” that specialize in evaluating all charities and recommending a few where the giver gets the most bang for their buck, that is, where money is spent most efficiently and has the greatest impact.
So having said all that, I want us to look at a passage where Jesus seems to be promoting the kind of charity that is not smart at all. I’ll be reading from Luke 6:27-36 (parallel passage in the sermon on the mount in Matt 5).
I say to you, that is, those of you who are really listening to me: love your enemies;
do good to those who hate you;
bless those who curse you; pray for those who abuse you. (Matt: who persecute you)
To the one who strikes you on the cheek (= gives you the greatest personal insult), offer the other cheek as well.
(Do not resist the one who is seeking to harm you).
To the one who takes your cloak from you, give your tunic as well. Give to anyone who asks from you.
From the one who takes something from you, do not demand it back.
(Whoever forces you to go a mile, go a second mile with him)
Whatever you want others to do to you, so do to them.
What does it benefit you if you only love those who love you? Even bad people love those who love them.
What does it benefit you if you only do good to those who do good to you? Even bad people do the same.
What credit do you receive for lending to those who you know will repay you? Even bad people lend money when they hope to get everything back.
(What credit is there if you greet your brother? Even the pagans do this.)
You, however, should love your enemies and do good and lend, even when you expect nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be the children of the Most High, because He too is kind even to the ungrateful and to bad people.
(Matt adds that God lets the sun shine on both the bad and the good, and God lets it rain on both the unjust and those who do what’s right)
Be merciful even as your Father is merciful.
(Matt: Be perfect as your Father is perfect)
So if we take literally his teaching, what exactly is he saying?
One Literal Interpretation
1. Love, bless, pray for and do good (even) to those who are your enemies.
In this instance, we can track with Jesus to a certain point. I mean, it’s within the realm of possibility that I bless and pray for those who hate me or wish to harm me. However, the rub comes when it comes to doing something good for them. Personally, I’m not very inclined to do this.
I’m not at all inclined just to give away money to those who are my enemies, who are out to do me harm in one way or another – the bully in the office, for example.
2. Always lend money to your enemies and to those who cannot repay you.
Interesting. So I’m supposed to lend money to someone who is certainly not going to repay me. That’s NOT a loan, is it? That’s a gift. Well, maybe I only have to give away money to someone only once. But then there is Jesus third point.
3. Always give to whoever asks you for something (anything?), without expecting anything in return.
Hey Spencer, I want your house. Spencer I want everything in your savings account. Spencer I desperately need your car. Spencer, I’m short this month, so I want your paycheque.
But maybe I’m thinking too radical here. Maybe Jesus only meant that I was to give a few bucks and only to those who are in genuine need.
Even if that’s the case, the Greek simply says, “Give to everyone who asks you.” It does not stipulate that the person has to be in need, and the implication seems to be that I am to give them whatever they ask for.
So how long will it take for others to find out that I’ll give them anything I have if they ask for it? What is the inevitable result if someone gave in to every possible demand or request?
4. Always allow yourself to be taken advantage of
This includes being taking advantage of by those who are seeking to harm us, who insult us, who are intent on taking something from us, or who are forcing us to do something for them.
In Matthew’s account, Jesus says, don’t resist the one seeking to harm you. What does that mean? Should I let a robber rob me? Should I let the violent beat me? Should I let the vicious hurt me? Should I not protect my family? That goes against anything that I think of as just and right and acceptable.
5. Treat others as you want them to treat you.
On the surface, this is a rather innocuous statement. It is known as the Golden Rule. The problem with it is that it is sometimes turned around – treat others as they would want to be treated.
But either way, because in our fallen humanity we are often selfish and greedy, we want others to treat us in ways that are actually not good for us.
I don’t want to work, so I want someone else to support me.
I want others to accept everything I do and say as valid, no matter if it is morally right or wrong.
I want others to empower me in my addiction.
I want to have everything NOW.
So is Jesus saying that I need to do anything others want me to do for them, even if it will ultimately be bad for them, because, given their situation, I would want the same?
Now if we take Jesus teaching, as I’ve summarized it, and tried to apply it to our lives, what would the result be? Well, even for the person who has lots it will mean abject poverty. And once poverty is reached and that same principle is followed, it could lead to nakedness, hunger, and exposure … and in the end, to starvation.
It would also lead to gross social injustice since those who do not want to work can freeload off those who do work, and those who are violent can simply do what they want, and those who are corrupt and rich can take advantage of those with less.
What To Keep In Mind When Interpreting This Passage
1. Jesus himself did not fully live out this ethic
Keep in mind that Jesus himself did not live out this ethic in the way that I’ve outlined it.
Yes, he was a pacifist and he did not resist when he was arrested. But as far as we know, Jesus never gave away his clothes to the needy and walked around naked.
He didn’t have a lot of money since his disciples and he lived from the support of others during his 3 year ministry - they had to be sparing when it came to their charitable giving.
At times Jesus refused to give people what they asked for, for example more food, or a miracle.
2. Jesus often taught in hyperbole (purposeful exaggeration)
A college student wrote an email to her parents,
Dear Mom and Dad.
Sorry I haven’t written earlier, but there was a fire in our dorm and we had to evacuate. I had to be taken to the hospital and the doctors said that my eyesight should be back to normal sooner or later. I decided to move in with my boyfriend, Chuck, until the dorms are open again. He drives a Harley and says he’s an angel. I thought you wouldn’t mind since we will be having a baby next year. Oh, and could you send me $ 5,000 because I need to buy a new laptop and new clothes. Love, Charlotte.
PS. There was no fire, my eyes are just fine, I don’t have a boyfriend, I’m not pregnant and I don’t need money. However, I did get a D in French, and I wanted you to keep that in perspective.
Do you think that Charlotte caught her parent’s attention?
Many of the things that Jesus said and taught he did so in stories, called parables, or in exaggerated statements that were meant to shock his listeners into paying attention and to help them retain what they heard him say.
Jesus made such outrageous statements as:
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
As the disciples rightly pointed out, if taken at face value, the implication of this statement would mean that it is impossible for anyone to actually make it into heaven, because some poor people are just as heart hearted as the rich.
Jesus replied to them that with God all things are possible – even the seemingly impossible. So with God’s help, a rich man can in fact enter God’s kingdom.
When asked about divorce, Jesus, made the shocking statement that a divorced woman cannot remarry without committing adultery. Not only that, both the man who divorced her and the man who remarries her are just as guilty as her.
The disciples rightly suggested that if this was taken literally, it would be better not to marry in the first place.
Jesus had admitted that divorce and remarriage is indeed possible under the Mosaic Law, and he replied to his disciples, that not everyone can actually live out the ideal he was speaking of.
Many of Jesus’ statements can be misapplied if they are taken literally. For example, cults have used Jesus’ hyperbolic statement, that his followers have to hate their family members, as a proof text that allows them to isolate the cult members and keep them from anyone who might try to talk sense to them.
The church father Origin castrated himself because he mistakenly applied literally Jesus’ statement, that some men make themselves Eunuchs for the sake of God’s kingdom.
If we interpret everything that Jesus said literally, we might as well blind ourselves and cut off our hands, although I don’t know of anyone foolish enough to do so.
So let’s go back to our passage. I want to pull a few principles from it that I would like us to consider.
Principles To Consider
1. Lead a life without resentment and retaliation
Jesus did in fact promote an ethic of non-violence – there is no denying this, even though violence has been committed in his name. We are to be those who are peace-makers, that is, those who are not angry, aggressive, or spoiling for a fight.
If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
Since life is unfair, we have to come to accept this and move on.
So the divorce settlement, or the way your spouse treats you, or the way your kids take everything for granted, or the way that the boss takes credit for your accomplishments, or the way that genuinely lazy people can sometimes make it through life by taking advantage of others, or the wage disparity, or life in general isn’t fair.
Injustice is common and we will experience it in one way or another. It can make us bitter and resentful. It can haunt us for years or decades. Or we can accept it as part of life.
2. Do to others what is in their best interest
This is a rephrasing of the Golden Rule and ask the question, “what is the truly loving thing to do?” If someone asks you for money, maybe buying the person a meal will be more helpful. Do not allow yourself to become a victim of fraud, because that only encourages the perpetrator to continue in a life of crime.
Never do for the poor what they can do for themselves;
Limit one-way giving to emergencies;
3. Recognize that true charity will involve real sacrifice
This is just a principle that we can discover by thinking a bit more about the possible implications of Jesus’ teaching.
Most of us think of giving in terms of what we may have left over after all our needs, wants and wishes are satisfied. Normally that approach results in giving pocket change.
I think that Jesus teaching, and that doesn’t just include our passage, points to sacrificial giving of ourselves and our resources.
That said, I don’t think that our desire to help and make a difference has to destroy us or lead us to financial insolvency or personal poverty. There is a balance in all of this.
4. Treat even the underserving with kindness
Since God treats even the undeserving with kindness, as his child, I should reflect his attitude and actions.
This is the main point that Jesus was trying to bring across in our passage. If we only look out for ourselves and those closest to us, we have done nothing of merit. Everyone lives their life in this way, no matter how good or bad they may be.
Also, if we are generous, but know that the person we give to will return or repay the money we lent, then we’re not being charitable. Our actions is simply not worthy of mention nor is it something of merit.
The real miracle is, when we can treat even those who directly oppose us or harm us with charity. That is truly divine and reflects the main verse in our passage.
Be merciful even as your (heavenly) Father is merciful.
When it comes to what is good in life, God blesses the good and the bad. For Jesus, the ability to be like God, to display the divine, has to do with this issue of being merciful even of the undeserving – in his day, the so-called sinners and the tax collectors and those who did not take their faith seriously.
5. Err on the side of compassion not indifference
It’s easy to close our heart, even to those who are in much greater need than we are for no fault of their own. Of course there will always be those who will try to hoodwink others, they will lie without blinking an eye, telling the most heart wrenching stories just to dupe someone into giving them money. Therefore we should be wise and do some research.
So I want to reiterate what I started with. Toxic giving doesn’t help the other person, it may actually hinder them or breed dependency, resentment, laziness, lack of initiative,
So what can I take with me, what can you take with you, into the reality of our day-to-day lives?
WHAT, IF ANYTHING, IS GOD SAYING TO ME?
Maybe God spoke to you about making sure that the charity you support is truly effective.
Maybe he spoke to you about not mistake to take Jesus’ teaching literally in all points.
Maybe God spoke to you about your propensity to resent and retaliate when you feel taken advantage of, taken for granted, or when life isn’t fair.
Maybe God spoke to you about being more able to see life from another person’s perspective.
Maybe God spoke to you about doing what is truly in the best interest of others, not just about what they want you to do.
Simply about being more compassionate and altruistic rather than keeping everything for yourself.
Whatever it may be, don’t let it pass by.
 I could not find any figures on the amount of transfer payments to first nations or just how many are on social assistance
 http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/marie-claude-bibeau-south-sudan-famine-war-1.4167473; https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/DT.ODA.ALLD.CD
 http://cidpnsi.ca/canadas-foreign-aid-2012-2/ - The largest recipient in 2016 was Ethiopia, overtaking the Ukraine and Afghanistan. Total assistance to Ethiopia was CAD$190 million, a decrease of approximately CAD$3 million from 2015. Others among the top 5 are: Afghanistan – CAD$159 million; Ghana – CAD$136 million; Tanzania – CAD$130 million; Mali – CAD$125 million; and Bangladesh – CAD$123 million.