Of all the Seven Deadly Sins, Pride fittingly takes pride of place as the one considered the worst by most Christians, though Lust seems to get the most publicity. Today, Envy is making the headlines. It seems that the fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame touched many hearts and opened many wallets, including those of some very wealthy people and corporations.
Naturally, this generosity has caused a nasty backlash.
As I wrote a couple of years ago, I never have understood why people hate the rich. I'll admit I don't seek them out, as a class, even though our summer vacations often throw us into the midst of people who are very wealthy indeed, because we seem to have very little in common. (Who am I kidding? The real reason I don't seek out our wealthy neighbors is the same reason I don't seek out our poor neighbors: I'm an introvert and very happy filling my time with the family and friends I already have. But the other sounds better.) I have observed, however, that most people with wealth work incredibly hard, put many, many more hours into their work than I ever wanted to, and often accomplish more for the general good than I can dream of. That's hard to hate. But maybe the real reason there's no temptation for me to hate the rich is that I do not envy them their lifestyles.
I suspect Envy has an awful lot to do with the backlash, even if it's couched in seemingly compassionate terms. How else to explain this comment, from an article in The Guardian?
We should also be asking ... why those generous donors are so averse to giving their money to democratically chosen priorities, which is what taxes represent. If the ultra-rich can chuck in so many millions of euros for a building, then what stops them ending hunger and poverty?
Why? I can think of a couple of really obvious answers.
Why would the rich rather support a cherished cause directly rather than pay more taxes? For the same reason anyone would. Instead of me giving to Charity A, you tell me you will take my money, keep some of it for yourself, then give the rest to Charities B, C, D, and E—and you expect me to be happy about it? I don't think so. There are good reasons for paying taxes, but this is not one of them.
What stops the super-rich from ending hunger and poverty? Perhaps because money is one of the least reliable means of doing so. When you give money to rebuild a cathedral, in a few years the cathedral is rebuilt and stands there till the next disaster. It's a simple, satisfying equation. Take that same money and give it to an organization trying to end hunger and poverty, and you may make a little progress, or you may not. Ask Bill Gates. You may even end up doing more harm than good. It's a much more complicated equation, and you may never see the results of your contribution, because anything that isn't a band-aid approach (feed a chronically hungry person today and he's hungry again tomorrow) is difficult to do right and takes a long time to show sustainable results. There are good reasons to make wise donations to organizations of proven reliability that have shown some success in lifting communities out of poverty, but if you take all their money from all the billionaires in the world you won't solve the problem—and then where will you get your next billions?
There is only one question worth asking when it comes to giving money, and it's not, "Why don't others use their money the way I think they should?" It's "Am I being both generous and wise with the money that has been entrusted to me?"