The season of fasting is upon us. But outward show of fasting is forbidden, both by the prophets and by Jesus. The prophet says “rend your hearts and not your garments” and Jesus says “whenever you fast, do not look dismal.”
We are told “whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you.” The words have an uncomfortable ring in the light of the responses to the Tsunami. Certainly there has been enormous generosity. And, whilst millions of donors have been moved to give quietly, doing what Jesus said, many others were pushed in the right direction by seeing what others were doing, or because others asked them to give. First it was governments, and those league tables which appeared in our newspapers. Initially, only Australia appeared to appreciate the enormity of the devastation. Then, as news of the losses started to emerge, Sweden, finding a huge proportion of the victims were their own nationals, started to give massively. And Britain and all the rest, no doubt as travellers started to come home, began to promise aid on a more fitting scale. Governments, shamed by the unparalleled giving by individuals to charities, promised more.
From then we have had all sorts of initiatives to help people to give and keep giving in the forefront of our minds. There have been fund raising events, sponsored events, appeals by particular personalities and so on. Charitable giving is announced by trumpets. Television programmes, special records, and all the rest focus our giving.
But that always happens. We have “Wear your poppy with pride” for Remembrance Sunday. That’s what we used to do, but now people wear the same poppy, for which they have given no more, with far too much pride for about three weeks. We have red nose day, in which surely those who wear the noses have their reward, lots of fun for the day, having spent not a lot. The “non uniform” days for school children encourage the same kind of mentality. It says “We will give, so long as we get something out of our giving.”
Beyond this, people’s giving to the rich is far greater than our giving to the poor. Sponsorship of the arts, one’s old school or university, is a wonderful way of blowing one’s own trumpet. The lottery, in Britain, has benefited the rich far more than it has helped the poor.
We ought to be able to say that we shouldn’t need fund raising events. We shouldn’t need people to encourage us to give, who perhaps, by making themselves the focus of giving, “have their reward” already from the many people who see them promoting a good cause and respond to that. We shouldn’t need to see our name in lights as sponsors, whether we are individuals or governments. But there is no doubt that if we want help on the right scale, the trumpeting works. And, as charities have reminded us, once appeals in the past slipped out of the news, the promised aid stopped coming.
This time, with the tsunami having woken up everyone to a global disaster, and with many other desperate needs perhaps being neglected as a result, a new approach is required. Our giving should not need to be triggered by events such as this, but should be regular and committed. It should be part of a way of life, for individuals, for all commerce, and for nations. The poor will always be with us, and only a sustained programme of aid on a massive scale will stop the gap between the rich and poor getting greater.
Now might just be the time when governments could say that they are going to raise the proportion of GNP given to relieve poverty, rather than lower taxes for those who have enough. Now might be the time to remove the crippling burden of debt for poor nations. Now might be the time to justice in trade. And it might be the time to do it just because it is the right thing to do, not just because we like blowing our own trumpets.