Aid – Should charity begin at home?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

aidControversially, a petition signed by 100,000 people has called for some re-allocation of the UK’s foreign aid budget to help compensate the victims of British floods and improve flood defences. The annual £11bn budget is aimed at alleviating poverty and helping crisis-hit areas around the world. Similarly, grumbling voices in the right-wing media have criticised aid agencies such as Oxfam for caring too much about international poverty and ignoring poor people in the UK.

This attitude seems to be the opposite of a more common sentiment that argues that aid charities, associated with humanitarian disasters in the developing world, have no real business operating in the UK, where, it is sometimes suggested, “real” poverty doesn’t exist. In Venezuela in 1999, 30,000 were killed. The devastation in Bangladesh in 2004 was unspeakable, with the waters covering 60 per cent of the country and leaving roughly 30 million people homeless or stranded. The south-east Asian floods of 2011 killed 3,000 more, and wiped out the livelihoods of millions.

So, should charity begin at home? Should we first give aid to our own people before worrying about the rest of the world?

Aid needed close to home

Someone said:

“If you really want to make the world a better place, start by being giving aid to those in need right here in our city.”

In other words it is no good sending money to a foreign relief fund if you ignore the needs of the people sleeping rough on your own streets who need food banks.

Several international charities do provide aid in Britain.

The international charity Oxfam has had UK aid programmes for the past 20 years.

UNICEF focuses on the most disadvantaged children wherever they are to grow up safe happy and healthy. It works in 190 countries including with UK public services to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding and to strengthen mother baby and family relationships.

Save the Children works in more than 120 countries. It has worked in the UK since the 1930s when it set up nurseries in deprived areas of the country. It supports children living in the most severe poverty providing their families with household essentials, like a child’s bed, a family cooker or educational books and toys.

“If you haven’t got any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.” (Bob Hope)

Aid for social exclusion

The need for food and shelter is an obvious need that pulls at our heart strings and is found in many war-torn regions and third world countries. Aid charities are not going to be distributing emergency shipments of grain to people in the UK because by and large this is not how poverty is found here.

However, there are other forms of deprivation which are less easy to discern. Poverty looks different across the world but deprived communities all have a sense of social exclusion, a lack of voice, and a lack of opportunity to shape their own lives. In Britain there are many families who are not starving but are suffering with food and housing insecurity triggered by low pay, unemployment: they are slipping through the net of what some commentators have described as an increasingly threadbare social security system, where complications with benefits mean there are long delays.

Aid not creating dependency

A major worry many of us have about giving to the poor is creating a culture of dependency. Where is the incentive for trying to make personal progress out of poverty when one stands to lose the benefit of regular handouts? That is why genuine charity involves acting with good sense as well as love.

“Charity towards the neighbour is thought to consist in giving to the poor, helping a person in need, and doing good to everyone. But genuine charity involves acting circumspectly and with the end in view that good may result.” (Emanuel Swedenborg)

Oxfam uses the principle of the “hand-up”, rather than the “permanent handout”. On a practical level it funds welfare advisers to guide often desperate food bank clients through the social security maze and offer them advice on managing debt and getting back to work.

Another sensible way forward might be to donate money for low-cost loans which can create a ‘can-do mentality’ on the part of recipients.

Aid as daily charitable behaviour

Giving to an aid charity is all well and good but is it not meaningless unless we also do good in the normal exercise of our everyday roles? That would mean acting with sincerity and honesty with concern for others rather than self-interest. Giving our time and efforts not for the sake of for the sake of reputation, honour and gain but rather for the sake of meeting the needs of those around us.

“Charity towards the neighbour is far wider in scope than helping the poor and needy. Charity towards the neighbour involves doing what is right in every task, and doing what is required in any official position.” (Swedenborg)

Central to this view is the notion that charity is all about giving of ourselves without seeking recompense for self-interest.

Unless charity starts at home, in this sense of an attitude of goodwill and integrity in our relationships, then I would argue that any donation of money for international aid is like giving a guilt-gift to a child to compensate for being an absent parent, or fulfilling an occasional social obligation without bothering to give any regular useful contact and input.

Aid as a means of spiritual enlightenment

Helping those we know, and whose lives interact with our own in our daily life, is important. But that perhaps should only be the start.

“Charity begins at home, but should not end there.” (Thomas Fuller)

Regular giving to aid others in need has been a common spiritual discipline and found in several religious traditions. The Christian tradition of tithing, optionally pledging a portion of personal income for donation to charity, has analogies in the obligatory charitable traditions of Sunni Islam (Zakat), Judaism (Tzedakah) and Hinduism (Dana).

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Posted on13th February 2014CategoriesEthics, Private EthicsTags , , ,,  Leave a comment

Swedenborg on Social Inequality

Swedenborg Foundation

Pope Francis recently created a stir with a Latin tweet (yes, the pontiff has a Twitter account) that read “Iniquitas radix malorum,” or, in the English version, “Inequality is the root of social evil.” While fiscally conservative Catholics expressed discomfort with the economic implications of the statement, it’s firmly in line with Pope Francis’s emphasis on ministering to the poor. What would Swedenborg say?

Throughout his theological writings, Swedenborg emphasizes the importance of personal choice—of taking responsibility for one’s actions regardless of one’s circumstances. In Heaven and Hell section 364 he writes:

Poor people do not get into heaven because of their poverty but because of their lives. Our lives follow us whether we are rich or poor. There is no special mercy for the one any more than for the other. People who have lived well are accepted; people who have lived badly are rejected.

Poverty can actually seduce people and lead them away from heaven just as much as wealth can. There are many people among the poor who are not content with their lot, who covet much more, and who believe that wealth is a blessing; so when they do not get what they want, they are enraged and harbor evil thoughts about divine providence.

In a footnote to the phrase “. . . who believe that wealth is a blessing,” he adds that wealth and status can be either a curse or a blessing, and therefore both good and evil people might have what we tend to think of as a privileged life. He expands on that thought in Divine Providence section 216 and following, where he points out that love of money and social status for its own sake leads to the ultimate curse: hell. It’s only when wealth is combined with a love of service that it becomes a blessing—a sentiment Pope Francis would surely applaud.

So what, according to Swedenborg, is the root of evil? He describes it concisely in his short work Life, sections 92–93:

Everyone knows on the basis of the Word and teachings drawn from it that from the time we are born our self-centeredness is evil and that this is why we have an inborn compulsion to love evil behavior and to be drawn into it. We are deliberately vengeful, for example; we deliberately cheat, disparage others, and commit adultery; and if we do not think that these behaviors are sins and resist them for that reason, we do them whenever the opportunity presents itself, as long as our reputation or our wallet is not affected.

Then too, we really enjoy doing such things if we have no religion.

Since this self-centeredness is the taproot of the life we lead, we can see what kind of trees we would be if this root were not pulled up and a new root planted. We would be rotten trees that needed to be cut down and thrown into the fire (see Matthew 3:107:19).

This root is not removed and a new one put in its place unless we see that the evils that constitute it are harmful to our souls, and therefore want to banish them. However, since they are part of our self-centeredness and therefore give us pleasure, we can do this only reluctantly and in the face of opposition, and therefore by doing battle.

So, Swedenborg tells us, it’s not social inequality that leads to evil, but rather our own inherent selfishness. It’s the choices that we make and our response to difficult situations that determine whether we will ultimately end up in heaven or hell.

http://www.swedenborg.com/