A recent post by Jim West (The Church has Fetishized Poverty) reminds me of my bad old days when I believed in Christian “righteousness”. It comes from someone who would deplore any association with cultism or even fundamentalism (I think) but it drills hard into a believer’s guilt feelings in a way to stop them doing genuine good in the world, and it rips scripture out of context to justify its agenda. The post begins:
People: the church should give all its money to the poor.
Jesus: nah. Use that expensive ointment on me.
People: but the poor, the poor, the poor….
Jesus: shut up. If she wants to use her money for me, it’s cool.
You have probably identified what’s wrong from the outset. Jesus is about to die and excuses great expense on him for that reason. In normal circumstances, of course, Jesus said something quite different:
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[d]”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Would Jim West accuse Jesus of “fetishizing the poor”? It appears so.
But here comes the killer:
Should we help folk? Sure. Should poor folk be our only concern? Nope. Fetishizing the poor, furthermore, has more to do with people wanting to feel better about themselves. They want to feel as though their own privilege isn’t problematic so they focus on the poor as though they would trade places with them if only they could. But of course we all know they won’t.
Nice that a mere mortal can so comprehensively judge and condemn the motives of his fellow creatures.
What, pray tell, is so damnably wrong with “feeling good about oneself” if one actually does, and for the reason that one actually does, good to help a fellow human being?
One does have to wonder, moreover, if Jim has ever seen a fellow human being in desperate need and felt an overwhelming compulsion to help that person — but pulled back because he feared that he was feeling some “goodness” deep down within himself for doing so. Or does he — or so many other Christians so obsessed with “getting to heaven” etc — even know what it is like to simply respond impulsively to help someone without any consciousness of one’s own feelings at the time? Sure, long afterwards and reflecting back on the event one might feel some relief and satisfaction that one had acted when one did — Should fear of such a feeling eventuating have stopped one from acting?
Put simply, faux concern for the poor really is just a way to feel good. The poor become a means to an end, and serve no other purpose but to be the object of feigned love. The poor are objectified when they are fetishized.
That’s all bullshit. I’ll say that it’s an excuse to protect one’s own precious righteousness at the expense of those with real needs in the real world.
Sure, systematic change and reform is essential in the bigger picture. But systemic changes won’t help feed or clothe a fellow-creature this very night or the next few days.
Someone please notify Jim of this response from an evil, damned, atheist to his post.
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6 thoughts on “Christians Condemned for Doing Good if they Feel Good Doing It”
Thank you Neil for making this post.
What Jim West has found however is a real matter, but he deals with it in the wrong way, in fact it is so very wrong as you have stated.
There is a whole science behind this from an Islamic point of view, which I believe carries the essence of the same from Christianity and Judaism alike.
Firstly we are told to help ourselves before helping others – that is we see to our needs first. However, we are not prevented from helping others even if it means putting ourselves out. This is one of the many manifestations of jihad actually.
There is a level of charity we are required to give, then there is a level of charity we are rewarded to give over and above the required level and that is up to a point where it does not harm our own livelihood, but if we go the extra step to be so charitable that it may even put ourselves out, we may do that but it is discouraged unless our faith is strong enough to see it through.
The mode of giving charity we are told is to both do so in front of others to encourage them to give too, but also to give hiding from others to purify our intentions that we are not giving just to be called charitable by people. That is we are doing it for the sake of our reputation rather than for acting on God’s behalf.
Lastly, we have the subtle areas to deal with. People may give to make themselves feel good, or to remove their guilt, or out of pressure from society or for no other reason than to please God, which may or may not result in a feel good feeling after the fact. The requirement here is to sense our egos inflating and attribute any feel good factor as thanks and praise to God – taking no personal credit for the charitable act and putting it all on God – that God chose us to give and thereby not taking personal credit for it. The other part of removing the guilt we give, but we pray for their rescue from their plight and pray that God does not give us a share of their plight either, giving thanks to God. Lastly, if we are inhibited from the act of giving charity but feel society compels us to give it, we should ask God to expand our breast to be more charitable and thankful to God for what we do have. That He makes us from the givers rather than the takers.
I agree that ultimately there may be sense of “feel good” but as long as we keep our egos in check this should not be a reason to stop giving.
By whom? When? Where?
It is also the manifestation of a loving parent for a child. And the manifestation of people who send out cries to raise aide for people who have been hit with traumatic disasters and of those who respond without second thought.
You speak as though this is some sort of rule. Who made this a rule?
Where is all of this coming from? Jesus? God? Your minister? I reject this sort of rationale for doing good to others and for protecting one’s own self-regard entirely. It is all a “put on” (as in “put on the new man”) as the “good book” says.
This sounds like a horribly suppressed and screwed up way of thinking. The result of having “put on” an alien persona.
I recommend reading something by Marlene Winell to free yourself from such thinking and something by Singer to clear your head on a more natural way of looking at giving.
Forget all that nonsense about your own reputation and guilt and vanity and whatever other psychological “problem” arises, and your concern for “salvation” and “pleasing God”; Simply acknowledge that you are one of a vast family of fellow humans on this planet and do whatever you can to make others’ lives as comfortable and pleasant as you have opportunity — knowing we are all here for only a short time and are going through the same life.
Life is too short to be bothered worrying about your vanity, appearances, motives, reputations — just do good when you can. Full stop.
Oh – there is another side matter – that is about spending on expensive perfumes on Jesus vs spending on the poor. The matter here is that if a person has given the minimum necessary amount to charity already – they may give to whoever they wish from their own wealth – because it belongs to them and they have a right to how they spend it. If they choose to spend it on oil for Jesus they are rewarded for that because it shows their love for Jesus, likewise, if they spend it on the poor they are rewarded for that too out of love for humanity. If they spend it on themselves in order to enrich their piety and to ward off evils from themselves then they are rewarded for that too. Which is greater in reward is anyone’s guess – the matter is more about permissibility rather than greater virtue.
This is just typical American conservative excuses for not helping people. They come up with every rationalization possible to claim that helping people is bad.
What a great piece and so “tactful” 🙂 in your criticisms to finally make a lot of people see the bullshit among theologians and alleged biblical scholars….which is sorely increasing every day and you can smell the stink from far away….
I can hardly wait to see the days coming when these silly ideas and downright dangerous and destructive theologies (and I mean a lot more!!) come tumbling down…just like “Jesus” said…you will see all these “pillars” …these “stones” come crashing down…these alleged spokespersons for God and and each of their self-made Jesus , like we see in Paul and the Gospels, etc. (lots of them!!!)
I hope to see in my day all the edifices (or at least some of them) of a Fundamentlist-Evangelical faith of any kind and of any religion…come crashing down. And then we can perhaps still seek some form of transcendence in thought and life to build a better place here…plus I have kids for whom I want to see these changes come to fruition…
I am not saying let’s get rid of religion per se (and it is true here that we are studying the mythological, and I still think relevant nature of these ancient texts that are religious in nature and books are not to be burned no matter how true or untrue they are.
I am to some degree happy that I did come into contact with early fundamentalist christianity to at least get my life working for some sort of future for myself… Once inside the faith, whatever it be,,,and once you go deeper ,,,you begin to see the cracks in the pillars and stones and they get bigger and wider and then you discover much of it is harmful….and someone is going to get hurt…
2 diverse comments:
I remember some years ago hearing a cynical right wing radio talk show host of Roman Catholic background suggesting that it was important to expose one’s children to the Church as much as possible early on so as to immunize them against it.
I personally am inclined to consider the sophisticated mainstream churches as in many ways worse than the fundamentalist churches. They seem to be training grounds for the worst sorts of hypocrisy and enablers of cognitive dissonance. One goes to be seen, one recites the right things, one dresses nicely, one makes the right social connections, one perhaps likes the pretty music and the pretty scenes, and then can go out and be cynically vicious or distantly accepting of those who are in one’s standard fashion, liberal or conservative or something else. It is the worship of complacency. It is the habit of not taking things seriously but wearing the pretense of seriousness.