One of my favorite writers and thinkers, Patrick, the Paragraph Farmer, has a lovely and thoughtful article over at The American Spectator about our increasingly lazy (although not ungenerous) approach to charity:
Odd as the analogy may sound, that’s why the dumbing-down of charity worries me. Catholic theology makes a distinction between bodily or “corporal” works of mercy like feeding the hungry, and spiritual works of mercy like consoling someone else. To those noble categories of long usage, Internet entrepreneurs have apparently grafted a third option: the “virtual” work of mercy. That’s when you as a computer user send microcash to some organized charity simply by clicking an onscreen button or viewing an ad.
The easy charity mentality can feed an unwarranted sense of victimhood. For example, Bob Keating of the Open Directory Project (ODP) says his company is “fighting the good fight against the encroachment of the profit motive into what is rightfully an editorial process.” ODP is undersized (3.8 million sites in its Web search catalog compared to about 4 billion in the Google catalog), but this is one case where the roguish thing to do might be to root for Goliath over David. Why wouldn’t an intelligent algorithm be as valid a search tool as a recent college graduate whom ODP pays to catalog some portion of the web?
Is this nostalgia from a guy prone to such sentiment? Yes, but there are other reasons why under-the-radar charity is something to grouse about.
First, the “feel-good click” blurs the line between charity and commerce. I have no quarrel with “socially responsible” long-distance telephone service like Working Assets (on the left side of the political spectrum) or the Sienna Group (for people who think that George Soros and his ilk are rich enough), because those things are instances of putting your money where your mouth is. Green initiatives, co-ops, and credit unions deserve applause, too.
The carbon offset boondoggle shows a second reason we should be wary of easy charity: because its rapid growth provides cover for other nefariousness. Did you know, for example, that Planned Parenthood operates off millions of dollars in tax money? In 2004 and 2005, Planned Parenthood received $551 million in governmental funding. Title X of the Public Health Service Act covers overhead expenses that the country’s leading abortion provider would otherwise have to pay for itself, which means that devout Christian taxpayers in the U.S. help to fund the abortions they oppose.
The above is just a sampling from a long and excellent article. I urge you to take a minute and read it all.
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