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December 19, 2013

Question: What role should charity play in our lives?

 “O CHILDREN OF DUST! Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor, lest heedlessness lead them into the path of destruction, and deprive them of the Tree of Wealth. To give and to be generous are attributes of Mine; well is it with him that adorneth himself with My virtues.” (Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith)

The answer to this question will naturally depend on our definition of charity. In modern English, charity is usually synonymous with generosity, giving to the poor and helping those who are less fortunate than ourselves, either morally or monetarily.

In the Christian tradition, the word has subtler shades of meaning, which tie the meaning of charity (caritas) to divine love.

Baha’is would certainly agree with this view, or with equivalent views of charity (generosity, compassion, loving-kindness, etc.) in the scriptures of any of the world’s great religions. The world’s religions are one when it comes to their ethical teachings, but their theologies are another story.

For Baha’is, the word charity is synonymous with generosity, goodness and the love of God, the latter being the foundation of all divine teachings.

Charity takes many forms. It would involve all of feeding and serving the poor, aiding the destitute, relieving their suffering, volunteerism, offering hospitality to the homeless, listening to the plight of the downtrodden, giving in cash or in kind to those in need.

In Western society, particularly within the upper echelons of the corporate world, greed has become shamelessly touted as a virtue. That we have come to such a perverse inversion of generosity and greed is one of the many symptoms of a widespread social and spiritual sickness.

If charity were practised universally, we would not be witnessing the scandalous extremes of wealth and poverty in which less than one per cent of the world’s population possesses more than 90 per cent of the wealth. Such inequalities should both voluntarily and legislatively find their way to extinction.

The charitable heart cannot but be associated with the compassionate heart. The charitable heart is afflicted by the sight of suffering humanity and does what it can to relieve such suffering.  
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen December 19, 2013
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