Is it more noble to assist the victims of injustice — or to fight the root causes of injustice? Similarly, it is more beneficial to help the impoverished — or to fight the systems that perpetuate poverty?
As I’ve spent the last several months engaging in conversations about Bernie Sanders, inequality, and poverty — these questions seem to bubble just below the service. The answer serves as a Rorschach test of our values — and is likely best answered by some combination of “both” versus one or the other.
It reminds me of the quote from Hélder Câmara, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”
There is no doubt that a focus on “changing the system” can become a replacement for charitable giving — but it’s also true that charity can assuage our conscience when we neglect to “ask why they are poor” — or are uncomfortable criticizing a system from which we benefit.
One of the most recurrent myths about those troubled by inequality and poverty is that they are simply seeking to redistribute other’s money — but this fundamentally misunderstands the critique that is being leveled.
May we all be charitable, but never let us think it’s a replacement for fighting against systems of power and those that leverage their advantage to the disadvantage of others.