Exploring Pagans and their relationship with that earthiest of earth symbols, money.
Charity is blind
Although I grew up in a community with a strong Jewish presence, I never really delved into the wisdom of that path; therefore, I was completely unaware of the wisdom of Maimonides and his views on charity. The philosopher laid out eight levels of giving which observant Jews should follow as a tenet of their faith. I can't think of a reason Pagans shouldn't adopt something similar.
Jewish tradition, according to this Sephardic philosopher, presumes that giving to the poor is an obligation of religion. To give unwillingly, or not give enough, are to be considered charity, but only just. It is more virtuous to give to a poor person before they ask for alms, but even if they beat you to the punch, do it anyway. Giving to an unknown recipient is better, even if the recipient knows who you are, but if they don't know your identity, it's charity of a higher level still. (Jewish charities allow the best of both worlds, with both the donor and the recipient being anonymous.) Endowing a fellow Jew with the means to take care of himself is the highest level of all.
These are all practices which can, and in my view should, be practiced in any community, and the Pagan communities are certainly a good place to foster them. Without knowing of their existence, I've tried several of these giving methods, and not all of them are easy to pull off.
- Giving unwillingly is a habit I'm consciously trying to shed. Too much fear about not having enough for myself has hard-coded that reaction.
- Giving inadequately only counts if it's with gladness, so I'm working on deprogramming the "sorry it's so little" shamefaced apology.
- Giving without being asked is definitely more fun, because it feels more like a good deed. I haven't decided if someone displaying a "please help" help or otherwise passively begging should count as asking, but I'm also not keeping score, so I'm not too concerned either way.
- Giving anonymously is something I'm working on in the long term. To help, I nicked another gift tradition and wove into it a tradition of adding some money whenever I experience good luck, as an offering to Hermes. (This isn't paying Hermes for the luck; I am reminded of his good graces whenever things go my way, so the good luck is simply a reminder of what an awesome deity Hermes is.) I also have a mutant ceramic duck, but that is a tale for another day.
The idea of anonymous giving as a goal to achieve -- making someone else's life better without being able to take credit for it -- makes a thrill run through me. We all have a need to tell people about the good things we've done, but sometimes, it's best if we don't. When charity is blind, the recipient is more likely to be able to carry on with dignity. And what are we really losing, bragging rights?
So, a challenge: this week, give a dollar to someone you feel needs it, then report back here on how anonymous you and the recipient were to each other. I'm curious if it's as tricky for others as it has been for me.
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