Friday, September 5, 2008

To love our neighbors, take 2

Blake Huggins offers a different take on love of neighbor, Solidarity & Love of Neighbor, the social justice aspect of loving neighbor. This includes a wonderful quote from Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz. Blake asks "whether the giving and the solidarity are really authentic or simply cheap gimmicks to appease a guilty conscience either individual or collective."

One problem with charity and a "show of solidarity" is that we preserve even strengthens our own status as superior to the recipient of our sympathy. Socially we become more "deserving" when we are known to be a charitable person or even a "champion" for the cause of the downtrodden.

Even profit-driven corporations will give to charities and align themselves with social causes because it enhances "brand value" and "goodwill". It's a calculated move to enhance the position of the company. This is especially telling when a corporation spends more money advertising their goodwill than they ever gave in the first place. From a PR perspective, a gift of a couple million dollars to a high visibility cause can generate the equivalent of many more millions of dollars worth of advertising, and paid advertising can further boost the ROI of charity.

For example, all through the Olympics I saw ExxonMobil ads touting their work fighting malaria in Africa, "Roll Back Malaria." How many million more have they spent on prime air time to make themselves appear more socially responsible. At the end of the day, they post record-breaking profits and leave a massive trail of environmental degradation behind them. "Corporate responsibility" is self-interest.

Perhaps some good comes of this--and I hope that it does--but does corporate charity really fulfill the command to love neighbor?

It's easy to pick on corporations. They only exist to serve capital. They are what they are, but Christ calls his disciples to something higher. Loving neighbor as ourself needs to be more than loving ourself.

1 comment:

blake said...

thanks for the link!

great thoughts. this further drives home the point i was trying to make in my post: do solidarity and love of neighbor arise from our genuine care for the Other and concern for the divine image within them, or as you have pointed out, from a place of self-promotion and -- in a way -- greed.

it seems to me that there comes a point in which charity in this view becomes very much inadequate because the discussion and the praxis never take justice into account. in fact, justice would be altogether ignored because justice would demand nothing less than a radical change -- empowering and enabling those who are the subjects of charity to reassert their position in society.

so to those who view charity, solidarity, and love of neighbor as a mere means for self-perpetuation, the poor, the homeless, and the oppressed are needed -- but only to serve as part of the means, never as ends themselves. i think one thing we can learn from jesus is to always treat humans as ends and never as means.

so, i question whether charity is enough. i think that charity and justice must always go together with the former serving the latter. if not, we will continue to address only the causes of problems and not the roots, and, as your post has shown, be faced with the temptation of reducing charity to some sort of narcissistic mechanism.