I've been reading Taking You Soul to Work by Paul Stevens. In Chapter Eleven, he presents the Ladder of Charitable Giving as articuled by the 12th Century Jewish mystic Maimonides. Nine hundred years later, too many of us have not learned from his important insights. Here is the ladder from the lowest form of charity to the highest form.
- A person gives, but only when asked by the poor.
- A person gives, but is glum when giving.
- A person gives cheerfully, but less than he or she should.
- A person gives without being asked, but gives diretly to the poor. Now the poor know who gave them help and the giver, too, knows whom he or she benefited.
- A person throws money into the house of someone who is poor. The poor person does not know to whom he or she is indebted, but the donor knows who has been helped.
- A person gives a donation n a certain place and then turns his or her back in order not to know which of the poor has been helped, but the poor person knows to whom he or she is indebted.
- A person gives anonymously to a fund for the poor. Here the poor person does not know to whom he or she is indebted, and the donor does not know who has been helped. But, the highest is this:
- Money is give to preven another from becoming poor, such as provdiding him or her with a job, teaching the person a trade, or setting up the person in business. Thus, the recipient will not be forece to the dreadful alternative of holding out a hand for charity. This is the highest step and the summit of charity's golden ladder. (78)
Pope John Paul II said that poverty isn't so much about money as it is about being excluded from networks of productivity and exchange. There are many today who bemoan materialism as expressed in our modern day consumerism. Yet many of those who protest consumerism take a materilistic view of the poor. Their primary objective is to redistribute wealth away from those who have more than enough to consume (wasting it on things like jets and yachts) so that others can have more to consume (on things like food and health care). This view of poverty sees people primarily as consumers. We are not. We are stewards. We were made to participate in our own care and to participate in networks of productivity and exchange that benfit the community. That doesn't mean that wealth redistribution isn't a piece of addressing poverty but an anthropology that sees poverty primarily as is an issue of consumption is materialistic and dehumanizing.