Wednesday, April 1, 2015

On Virtue: Charity

In Mere Christianity CS Lewis points out that the “Christian” virtue of “Charity” is not simply “giving to the poor.”  Rather, it is a classic term for love, or as he says, “Love, in the Christian sense.”  Giving to the poor is part of it, certainly, but not even the greatest part.

The virtue of Charity (I believe it is not unique to Christianity, though Christianity broadens its scope) is about treating people nicely.  It is kindness and gentleness.  It is patience.  Even pagan religions taught charity to one extent or another.  “Love your neighbor as yourself” was an Old Testament teaching.  Other groups at the time had similar directives.  The uniquely Christian spin on the virtue was not that it was wholly new, but that Christ defined “your neighbor” as “your hated enemy.”

What does that have to do with today?  Does anyone say we should not be charitable?

In reverse order: no, no one says we should not be charitable.  Nevertheless people are not charitable.  And their directives to be charitable are usually self-serving.  *YOU* are supposed to be charitable to *me.*

So, in a very real sense, much of our society has abandoned charity.

What does that have to do with today?  Well, it has direct consequences on just about everything.  Are you moaning about how uncivilized our “public discourse” has become?  Then it’s time to start calling for charity.  Are you complaining about judgmental attitudes?  Then it is time to start calling for charity.

But here’s the rub.  If you are going to call for charity, you must practice it yourself.  Otherwise it is simply self-serving sophistry (at best) and self-righteous hypocrisy at worst.

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