Queen Elizabeth has spoken in her traditional Christmas message, all surrounded with video clips, musical interludes and a glimpse or two into one or another of her royal residences in which choirs and chamber orchestras entertain her/us at her behest. She trumpets her sixty years on the throne and the efforts of the brigades of volunteers who allowed the staging of celebrations for her diamond jubilee, as well as the hosting of the summer olympic games and then launches into a homily about the arrival of Christ in the manger and how we should have a thought for those who suffer at this time of year from the loss of loved ones or who heed the call of duty to provide service to queen and country and are thus unable to spend the holidays with their loved ones. Pope Benedict takes a minute to comment on the plight of those in Syria and other conflict spots and much the same drivel popes have spouted for centuries about the need for piety and charity. Stephen Harper tells us he’s working for jobs and prosperity for all of us, though his twisted definition of prosperity for most of us may not coincide with what we might have had in mind. Does anyone else find it ironic and somewhat galling to have people who wield relatively vast power and wealth lecture the rest of us on the need to give? It seems clear that charity is the key to more charity: charity has become an industry, and an industry that supports hierarchies of people who shouldn’t be at the top of the list as beneficiaries. It seems, for instance, that Galen Weston has managed to direct a significant portion of donations to President’s Choice charities into management and further fund-raising, rather than to those in need. Likewise, Corus Radio, patrons of the Children’s Charity Fund, benefited from the charity to the tune of nearly a million dollars, and this in an economic climate where the numbers of children living in poverty is increasing (this information was from documents posted at Norm Farrell’s Northern Insights blog). While the pontifications on charity and goodwill ring out, these same folks are either directly responsible for, or complicit in, the ongoing pillaging of the African continent, a considerable portion of the chafing in the Middle East, heightened tensions in Asia and a plethora of nasty undertakings in Latin America.
Perhaps the following is not directly connected to the Christmas blather, but it certainly is another piece of the same puzzle picture: we’ve been bombarded recently with a series of ads sponsored by the Catholic Church in which lapsed Catholics are exhorted to “come home”. They probably hope to snare the odd other otherwise committed religionist with tales about how they are the largest charitable organization in the world, that they have educated more children than any other organization in the world … exactly the sort of half-truths that pervade the world of commercial promotion, coyly eliminating mention of the abuses suffered in parochial schools, both residential and otherwise, the phenomena of meddling in politics at all levels, the Inquisition and, perhaps more than anything else, the idea that these clowns have been around for two millennia and have still failed to resolve any substantive questions of poverty, war, disease, inequity and the unsustainability of our current economic paradigm. It’s difficult for people who exercise a bit of reason to take the lead from an organization that has, for centuries, impeded social progress, rejected equality for more than half of the world’s population, stifled initiatives to better the condition of much of humanity and actively supported régimes around the world and through history that have stood for none of the basic tenets of Christianity. We can say similar things about religious and political hierarchies all around the world, but these ads speak of a brazen and wanton disregard for history and current affairs in a most shocking way.
In contrast, there are groups like Strike Debt that are trying to do real good, albeit using what might be termed market solutions:
While this can be only a stopgap at best, it’s proof that there are people working creatively to build a more constructive approach to social and economic interaction. The end we should seek is not the forgiveness of distressed debt, but the redress of the circumstances that generated the debt in the first place. As long as we substitute charity for opportunity and bow down before the rich and powerful, there will be little in the way of a better world in this life, even if the Pope tells us that we will be better off in the next life. Personally, I’m unwilling to take that on faith, or to wait idly for the promised paradise. How we get to that society of opportunity and mutual support is a very large discussion, one that is happening in various places, and which is well understood by a minority, but it will take a considerable effort to overcome the inertia of current institutions and some courage, particularly on the part of the segments of the population that continue to live in relative comfort.