Monday, August 4, 2014

Charity: Having and Eating Your Cake

As part of the process of adopting a child in the United States, we had to attend parenting classes.  These classes taught things like dealing with an emotionally abused or traumatized child, parenting a child from a different culture from you, children with attachment disorder, and several other topics.

For the most part, it was a waste of time.  Much of what was taught wouldn't apply to our situation.  The agency we went through for our certification did most of their business through foreign adoptions of Ethiopian children.  In fact, we were their first domestic couple.

At the beginning of one class, while we were sitting around waiting for the state-mandated instructor to tell us that a common excuse for why African Americans don't adopt white babies is because they don't know how to take care of their hair, one adoptive parent said something extraordinary.  He said, "When I tell my friends that one of the reasons we want to adopt is because we want to do a good deed, they ask me why don't we just donate the money instead?"  The question had frustrated him, and he didn't have a good answer for it.

This is a picture of a cake I made in 2009 for illustration purposes.

The nature of the question is instructive in itself, and describes an extremely common mode of thinking: that the value of a good deed, of charity, is measured in large part by how "selfless" the deed is.  As if you're not supposed to get anything out of performing good works.

That's ludicrous.  It speaks of a mindset that values intentions over results.

There's no reason to think that one cannot do a good, even selfless act and still personally profit from it.  The two notions are not mutually exclusive.  Charitable acts don't have to be their own reward, including the adoption of a child.  One can fulfill the twin desires to become a parent and do a good deed simultaneously, without reservation.

A fed, loved, cared-for child is the result.  The intention is immaterial.

Contrast this, then, with confiscation of property by the government to achieve similar ends: this is not charity, nor is it virtuous.  When the fruits of your labor are taken from you to maintain social programs, it is not charity, because your choice to give has been taken from you at the point of a gun.  If you think this is extreme, try not paying your taxes for a while.  And talk to Wesley Snipes.

Ultimately, we live in a world of results.  Your intentions cannot be measured, nor should they be.  What matters is that you do give, not why.  Anyone seeking to determine the value of your charity by how little you personally gain from it is someone who would prefer to rely on state confiscation rather than good works to achieve virtuous ends.  In a free society, it simply doesn't work.

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