Saturday, January 15, 2005

The New "Compassion"

Happy birthday, Dr. King.

I've been reading a lot of articles recently on the world's responses to the tsunami. I haven't written anything about it, but here's a trend I've been noticing:

National governments are in a bidding war to win the PR boost that comes from pledging the most money. The U.S. government seems to want to give money so that its image in the Muslim world improves. Relief organizations seem to have their alterior motives - one Christian group wanted to "provide entrance for the Gospel" in predominantly Muslim Aceh. Muslim groups fought back. An ugly battle ensued. (Read the Post article here.)

(And to the Christians out there - yes, I understand that y'all see the spreading of the Gospel as an act of compassion. But the WorldHelp guy seems like he's using Acehnese orphans primarily as pawns to spread Christianity instead of providing them with a home because it's the good Christian thing to do, and that's sickening to me.)

Which makes me wonder: what the hell happened to compassion for compassion's sake? How about helping people not because you want to look good, or because you want to advance your foreign policy goals, or because you want to spread your religion, but helping because someone's home and family just got wiped out by a big ass wall of water?

Maybe most people and organizations are helping out of the goodness of their hearts, and the ones with alterior motives are the ones who get the press. I guess I'm just bitter. It reminds me of Christmas in a weird sort of way - somehow, our worth as people and as countries is measured by how much we give, and that kind of defeats the purpose of generosity.


Anonymous said...

I knew you were going to post on this. I was almost waiting for it.

Actually I don't want to go into an extended defense of the whole "give the orphans a Christian home" thing. But I am going to defend Christian groups that evangelize while they give aid.

Let me make it clear: I DO find it wrong to require people to convert or even to read a Christian tract or listen to a Christian message as some sort of condition of aid. That simply does not show unconditional love. You cannot force the Gospel on anyone, as a matter of morals and as a matter of sheer fact.

But I find nothing fact I find it be spreading the Gospel while giving aid. Of all people, I think Jerry Falwell said it best (for once in his entire life): "You don't preach the Gospel to a hungry man - you feed him. Then if he wants to hear something you've got to say, that's nice but it's not required."

You bemoan the fact that Christian aid groups aren't "showing compassion for the sake of compassion" and helping people because they are in need...but instead have the "ulterior motive" of evangelism. In my mind, that's a false distinction. Because they are people in need....nay, because they are fellow human beings Christians should feed them, clothe them, provide financial support for them, give them medicine....and preach the Gospel to them. A Christian should love them temporally ("Love is a verb" said DC Talk) and eternally. To only help them on this earth and then leave them to an eternity apart from God is not love. It's a mockery of love. And to ignore the fact that Christians suddenly have access to nations that are usually officially hostile to Christianity would be an abdication of responsibility. It would be a capitulation so that Christians could look good in the secular world's eyes.

btw, I believe Fundamentalists get it wrong the other focusing only on eternity and not having any compassion on people's sufferings here on earth. They aren't living up to the Gospel. I have recently written a letter to my fellow Christians trying to correct that. I'll send it to you soon.

One last thing: Are you angry at the WAY they are evangelizing? The whole "Christian home" thing? Or would you still be angry if anybody were there (or here, or anywhere) trying to get people to convert to Christianity? If it's the former, I might agree with you. If it's the latter, then I'm afraid, my friend, we are at an impasse.

You wanna hang out tomorrow night? Give me a call.

- Ben

Jeff said...

I had a feeling you were going to comment on this... actually, I understand that it would be wrong for a Christian to help without at least introducing the Gospel to those whom they aid. Whatever my feelings on its appropriateness or effectiveness, I recognize that Christians would view it as callous to not evangelize, and I respect that. What I had a problem with was the way the guy phrased his reasons for helping. To him, it was not that people were in distress, it was that people were Muslim - oh, and they happened to be in distress. Concern for the spread of the Gospel seemed to trump human compassion to the point where a horrible disaster became a part of some cosmic game of Risk. In him I see the same spirit as the governments who give aid to raise their profiles in the area - that's where I objected.

Yeah, I'm up for something tomorrow night.

Jacob Grier said...

To add to the weird team-up of Ben Stark and Jerry Falwell, I'll also throw in my hat and say that Ben's words are well said!

Hanging out tomorrow doesn't work for me, but I may be dropping into Raleigh in late Jan or early Feb. Can we hang out then, too?

Can we plan all of Jeff's social engagements in his blog comments?

Anonymous said... best atheist friend is agreeing with me in a semi-debate with my best Jewish friend about proselytizing? My mind has officially been blown. BOOM!

Or is it that you agree with the Falwell quote about feeding people and then they can hear what you have to say if they want?

Jeff's social life needs let me just say that if you're coming down to the Raleigh area anytime soon I'd love to see you, Jacob.

- Everybody's best Christian friend (Ben)

Mike said...

I'm sure you guys knew I would weigh in on this too. I agree that Ben's and (shudder) Falwell's words are well-said, but I also agree that it is not kosher to target Aceh specifically because it is Muslim. However, the Machiavellian in me is willing to allow for a little proselytizing if children are getting fed (the ends justifying the means and all).

I could also argue that compassion for compassion's sake cannot truly exist, because there is no such thing as an unselfish act. Selfless intentions invariably yield positive rewards, be they better PR or simply the satisfaction of aiding someone in need. Er, I guess that counts as unselfish, but since the selfless person would also get something out of it, it may not be perceived as such. Intentions aren't tangible. Anyway, I'm rambling in a vague attempt to be coherent and sound profound.

On a lighter note: isn't "tomorrow night" rather meaningless when there is no way to know when "today" is?