Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Why is it "good" to help the poor?

I am currently knocking out some reading for a class on Ethics, and I have floating around in my head many fragments of the reading I've done lately. These fragments are being brought in slowly into my worldview, and I don't think I'll ever be the same... at least I hope not. This class has given me a new set of goggles with which I'm looking at the world, and as a result, I'm noticing ethical problems and issues everywhere.

We are a people who make great ethical claims all the time, and I am seeing that though we all know some things are good and other things are not, most of us have only a very vague sense of why this is the case. I'm thinking about three specific things I've seen lately: the presidential press conference last week, every episode of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," and a documentary on Dietrich Bonhoeffer I watched last night. All three of these productions had ideas of good, evil, hope and despair. The question I'm most interested in is why the idea-makers behind these three events think these ethical ideas are valid and true. Why is a particular idea 'good'?

Lately, I have been very curious about the ethical base of the people in my city and in my life. I wish I could just stop every person I see on campus or at the store or on the street and ask them: "Do you believe there are things that are essentially good and things that are essentially bad? How do you believe those things? Do you love your family? Why? and why does it matter?" (I know that not all of these questions are ethical in nature.) I just want to get in their heads.

While I can't do that, I can ask you. So, if you're reading this, I'd like to hear your thoughts.
And just so I don't get responses that ramble all over the place, I'd like to narrow the discussion to one particular question. So please post, if you are able:



KathyR said...

Simply it is an act of selflessness - a good samaritan type act, a "golden rule" act. Helping others also gives one a sense of self worth. As a parent "helping" is something we want to teach our children, to give openly - whether financially, spiritually or physically. Certainly there are many examples in the Bible of helping others, so in this way we are obeying God's Word. My take, for what it's worth.

Robbie Shelton said...

Great Post. How are you doing Tom? I think it's good to help the poor mainly because it opens a door to share the gospel.

Eternally for the individual, there really isn't another good reason because if a person is helped but does not know Christ, than really you've only helped their lives out while here on earth.

On a Macro level, you build credibility for the church by helping the poor, so even though your efforts my be lost on one individual, it may help you to win others.

It's important to note that we should help the poor not because we think it's strategic, but because Christ moves in us to do so. We should act to give and help the poor out of the love of Christ.

Politically, should we help the poor? Although I personally believe we should help the poor through the church and individually, I do not believe that the government should tax people through force to help the poor. People can argue why it's good for society, but it's still stealing from person A to give to person B. It also makes people depend on government more, which may lessen the chance for the church to come provide and thus open a door to share the gospel.

And finally, nothing has brought people out of poverty more than capitalism. So although it may sound cruel not to have the government help the poor, not helping is the best way for government to help.

Sorry for the long post. I love discussions like this.

Robbie Shelton said...

Something is good if it brings God glory.

JonathanT said...

A friend just sent me a link to this post... so please excuse my interruption.

Although rule-based approaches are the most so-called rationales for doing good acts, I find the "ontological solidarity" argument--i.e. the poor, disabled, and unborn are just as human as the rich, athletic, and wage-earning adults are--to be the most convincing. This basic humanity that we all share creates a desire to help.

As one of the responses suggested, this is connected to the over-flowing of love, which Christ had for us, and we, in turn, have for others. Augustine in his sermons on the Psalms frequently refers to Christ as the "Poor man." Christ became the "poor man," i.e. human, so that we might participate in him. Christ's condescension does not merely require a response because of a command (e.g. James 1:27), but because Christ was more human in his poverty than we will ever be in our wealth. The notion of what is human is probably more likely to be found on the fringes of humanity--how are the mentally disabled humans?

We should help the poor because it is where we find our humanity. Moreover, when we help the poor we also reveal to someone his or her humanity. We are motivated to help the poor through solidarity with the poor, learning to see them as one of us, not merely an object of our charity.

Anonymous said...

Hey Tom,

Saw you posted this on your facebook, and it looked interesting, so I thought I'd leave a few thoughts.

From a Christian perspective, there are literally countless reasons that it is good to help the poor, but I think the ultimate reason is that it brings glory to God. Just off the top of my head, I can think of a couple of ways in how this works:
1. It shows that one's highest treasure is Christ, and not possessions - by giving radically to those in need, Christians show that their hope and treasure is not in their own material goods, but that it is in Christ. They are displaying that their joy doesn't come from their riches but from Christ. This will make Christ look more valuable and glorious than material goods.
2. It gives others a picture of the gospel - by giving selflessly to those in need, Christians are able to show others what God has done for them through the gospel. Though once they were poor, helpless, and wicked sinners, God has given them His grace at great price to himself.
There is also another aspect of the way this portrays the gospel: Christ, who was infinitely rich in heaven, became poor in order that he might bring salvation to those who were destitute and without hope.

Those are just a few of my thoughts on the issue...

- JBourne