Friday, April 13, 2012

Joel D. Hirst gets it wrong on charity

(Apologies for not taking the time writing a proper introductory post, but the subject below necessitated the creation of this blog. So consider this post as "hitting the ground running" and I'll update here when I make a proper intro post. Update: Here it is.)

The other day, I came across this guest article on The Blaze(because I have a high tolerance for right-wing BS that borders on sadomasochism), in which the author(some guy who used to be involved with charity organizations) argues that charity should be "devolved to communities of faith". In other words, he believes only religious institutions and communities should do charity and aid, using examples of government-run charity and aid failures to buttress his argument.

I took him to task on that in the comment section, pointing out the existence of secular charities and asked his opinion of them. I also pointed out that faith-based charities can and often do impose their beliefs on recipients, using the example of some Salvation Army chapters refusing to give out donated Twilight or Harry Potter toys, citing the organization's Christian beliefs as reasons why.

His response-
Hi Tony – Thanks for your comments. I of course have no problem with MSF, CARE or others. But if you look historically; these types of organizations emerge as an offshoot of Christian Missions. They are the values of Christianity seeping into society – which is exactly my point. And still, the lion’s share of this type of financial support goes to Christian organizations – World Vision, Compassion, Food for the Hungry, etc. MSF (biggest in Spain and France) is relatively small, gets lots of $ from the govermnent. As to the second point – of course you can point to individual failures of charities. I can probably point to more than you can (I’m very familiar with the industry). Unfortunately, this is so often the excuse of big government folks – they highlight one failure for the takeover of the industry. This is actually faulty logic, as an “indicutive fallacy”; its an “unrepresentative sample” or sometimes an “appeal to emotion”. Like saying “All catholic priests are pedophiles” when the fact is that it really is a tiny percentage.

Notice the emphasized sentences. He's now claiming that a specific religion's(Christianity) "values" are the source of the moral action we label as charity. While I will gladly agree that historically organized charity was primarily conducted by religious institutions, that is a false and propagandistic claim by religious leaders and Mr. Hirst that I absolutely must refute. Ironically, Joel unknowingly did it for me in the article:

The act of helping people through these difficult moments is an act of personal sacrifice (for both those helping and those being helped).  It must be motivated by the humanizing emotion of empathy and compassion, not that of pity.

Empathy and compassion are not "Christian values". They are evolved human emotions accessible to all regardless of religious beliefs(or lack of them). Empathy and compassion(and indeed charitable acts) existed well before the emergence of Christianity, and today we have charities explicitly run by nonreligious groups(like Foundation Beyond Belief). That should tell Joel that charity is not, and should never be exclusive only to his professed religion. Everybody deserves the opportunity to serve those who need help, be it the government, churches or secular/nontheist organizations.

Update: Jared Smith gives a great counterpoint to the religious hijacking of charity.