Secular Charity


Last week was the anniversary celebrations of the TI India Foundation. On that day several stalls were put up on the company premises by organizations working for various causes. They used the opportunity to spread awareness of their work and to solicit support for their causes. There was also a blood donation camp that was run in which a lot of the employees participated. I thought it was a great piece of work that was being done and was proud of my company for taking the time and effort(the 2 most precious things in my opinion) to put together something like this.

As I was standing there watching people sign huge checks for supporting causes like children’s education, support for haemophilia patients etc. I started thinking about what charity actually means and why people do it. When I was younger I thought that charity was something that was connected to the church and something that you did because God asks you to do it. 10 percent of your money belongs to the poor dictates the Bible and some other religious texts too. Plus, money that you give to charity is not really money given away. God keeps tabs on what you do for the poor and you can use your excess money to gain bonus points that you can cash-in on reaching heaven.

There are other denominations which teach that money given away in the name of charity will come back magnified 10 fold by God’s grace and it actually can be used as a means to get yourself out of poverty.

Still others teach that real charity does not mean giving bread, water or food to those in need but giving them God. After all, if you have God, then all the other problems will automatically go away. It sounds logical(kind of… you could always ask them why God can’t give himself to everyone and has to depend on these weird guys in shiny suits). This is responsible for the furious virulence of Christian Evangelism as it devotes all the money to spreading itself and doesn’t “waste” any of it on petty stuff like food or clothes.

Then there are God’s like Sai Baba who whisper common sense stuff that most people wouldn’t disagree with adulterated with generous amounts of bullshit. People can’t believe that someone can be partly wrong and someone who teaches that you shouldn’t kill others can also be deluded and plain wrong when it comes to other things. These Gods don’t mind the generous donations and fawning devotion of the masses. The people give it thinking that they are really blessed to be able to directly give to God and to have their contributions counted and noted.

Then there is charity that is done/offered along with prayers to solve personal problems like disease or financial troubles. Or sometimes, in exchange for perceived miracles or some more subtle form of divine intervention.

There are probably a lot more of these types of charity. Money given to temples, churches and mosques and to various religious charities some of which are used as fronts for terrorist organisations. Here is an example list.  I am not saying than no good has come out of it. But, I was just wondering whether this constitutes real charity.

Real Charity

Charity is something that is supposed to be unselfish and not seeking anything in return. When you give something away for a good cause, share a little bit of what you have with someone who needs it badly, you feel good. It is something that is fundamental to human nature. We sometimes feel something tugging at our hearts when we see a child crying or a person in extreme pain. We feel that pain. It is called empathy. Helping out that person becomes a matter of helping ourselves out.

While it is possible to condition someone to become insensitive and uncaring, most people by nature become vulnerable and soft when they witness real suffering in first person. It might be possible to not think of how other people are doing but you cannot ignore what you see before your own eyes.

Helping someone, giving away things, putting up with a little bit of discomfort for someone else’ sake are things that should be done for their own sake. There is no God keeping tab. You won’t be getting any points for it. That money is not going to come back to you. Someone you meet later in life might not treat you with the same kindness that you are demonstrating now. That is the truth. If you are still willing to give things away, then you truly have a noble and generous heart. You did not do it grudgingly. You did it simply because you felt good and to give something to justify atleast in a meager manner what chance has bestowed on you.

I was reading an interview in The Hindu of Amartya Sen and he happened to mention that around 50 per cent of India’s children under the age of 5 are malnourished. I was suddenly struck by the fact that there was a 50- 50 chance of me being one of them. I don’ t think I deserve my blessings nor do they deserve their predicament. There is no cosmic agent balancing rights and wrongs and pain and joy. It is up to everyone of us to ensure justice and to do what it takes to guarantee every member of our society, a fair shot at enjoying life. It is like a responsibility belonging to the same category as the “right” to vote. You don’t do it if you don’t want to, but you really ought to.

Secular Charity

People atleast in some parts of India and in other “spiritually advanced” societies have trouble with donating to secular organizations like CARE, CRY, UNICEF or similar secular organizations despite the fact that they follow international audit guidelines and come under the most intense scrutiny compared to the operations of a lot of religious organizations, a number of which have been accused of a range of things from child abuse to funding terrorism to spreading lies and proselytizing. There are lesser crimes like stunting kids’ intellectual and moral growth and making them prisoners of a medieval world view committed by institutions like Madrassas and to a lesser extent by orphanages run by other religious organizations. Again funded by charitable donations.

Somehow, the social workers who don’t claim God’s support have a tough time attracting the attention of the people or the government. When a Sai Baba sits on a throne with wheels and uses part of the billions of dollars of donation money to build super specialty hospitals and grand projects as monuments to “his” kindness,  people are struck with admiration.The Govt. heaps praises on him for being broad-minded, kind and enlightened. The people are all praises for his “generosity” and his “teachings”.

What about people like Binayak Sen? Our soldiers and officers? What about those working with NGOs for various causes? Why is that no one cares for their efforts? Why is that there is no visit by state dignitaries and words of appreciation for them? But they still exist… That is because they do it out of genuine love. They will keep doing it till their death, because they are passionate about it. We all know how many people the God men, the Babas, The swamis, The priests are going to serve if they were separated from their money and dogmas and fan boys….

People don’t fear or respect or value other humans when there is a God hungry for their ass-kissing. Why is that human suffering fails to evoke a response unless there is a religious sentiment goading us on here in India. Why don’t we value the work that honest people do with no motive other than to help others and occupy themselves with something they consider rewarding. Because they don’t do “magic”?

Isn’t this kind of callousness and obsession with the immaterial and the other-worldly a sign of sickness and moral and intellectual degradation?

A parable from the Bible

Jesus once went to a temple and saw a rich man making generous sacrifices to God. After that he saw a poor, old woman throwing in a few pieces that she had accumulated with great hardship. He then commented that the old woman’s offering was more valuable in the eyes of God. I wonder what Jesus would have had to say to an old, poor, atheist woman giving money away to even poorer people OUTSIDE the temple? Wouldn’t that be the real act of kindness?

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5 thoughts on “Secular Charity

  1. Good post. Although apologies in advance for trolling,- I couldn’t resist it. So here goes: The last paragraph where you say you quote from the Bible, it suddenly reminded me of the protagonist in a book that I read a long back. It’s called ‘The Cult’ written by Max Simon Ehrlich. It’s about a guy who counsels young men and women to bring them back from a Church of Scientology-esque Christian cult (they call this guy The Devil). Anyway, the members of the Cult are taught that The Devil knows about the Bible more than themselves and everyone else! Likewise, Atheists can be in a position to have a clearer reading and better understanding of the religious texts.

    • Thanks! It is true that atheists tend to have a better grasp of the religious texts than the religious people themselves do. I have come across several surveys that seem to confirm this. I would like to think that it is because atheists tend to treat the books more objectively and more comprehensively than people with prejudiced views.

      Also, I think your comment is a positive one. Even if it weren’t it would still be welcome! 🙂

  2. Thought provoking post. If we need/expect favours from a divine being in return for our philanthropic attitude, it is worth thinking whether that is philanthropy in the first place.

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