What you do for the least among you

I went to a Church of England primary school many years ago. There were a lot of assemblies about Christian values and how we should help others. Child-me used to wonder how you could tell whether you were the person who should be doing the helping, or the person who should be helped. Weirdly, no one really got into that. The reality is that proportionally, poor people give a higher percentage of what they have to helping others and supporting charities.

All too often, it’s the poor, the sick and the needy rallying round to help the poor, the sick and the needy. It’s the depressed comforting the depressed, and the survivors looking after each other. It’s the disadvantaged having to speak up to get into the room, not being offered a place at the table. All the while those who have most, do least.

As a child who already knew they were not a Christian, I found the message of care persuasive. I could see why we might have an obligation to care for those worse off than ourselves. It’s a good message, regardless of who or what you believe in. And yet, we have so many people who pay lip service to Christianity who seem to have missed this fundamental message. People for whom poverty equates to sin and wealth to merit in the eyes of God. People who missed the bit about Jesus hanging out with the poor and the prostitutes.

I have huge respect for the Christians who express their faith by volunteering at food banks, getting out on the streets as night pastors, and all other such moves towards doing the needful things.

I think we need to talk more about who needs helping, and how, and why. Otherwise, that ‘help the needy’ can turn into ‘help the deserving poor’ which turns into ‘these poor people brought it upon themselves and don’t deserve help.’ These lines of thought fail to make the connections between trauma and substance abuse, between lack of opportunities and criminality. If we don’t talk about who to help, we don’t talk about systematic poverty. The wealth of your parents remains the best indicator of your own wealth, or lack thereof, in life. The system is rigged.

In the UK, Christianity still dominates our culture and values. If that was the Jesus-centric love thy neighbour sort of Christianity, we’d be fine, but it’s not. There’s a habit that certainly goes back to the Victorians of requiring the deserving poor to be meek and humble. You should be deeply grateful for whatever crumbs you get. You should be sexually abstinent, sober, clean. Your rags should have been carefully washed and mended. You should look properly poor and downtrodden, but not in a way that could cause offence to your ‘betters’. You should not be angry with your lot, or resentful, or speaking out, or rebellious. This whole line of logic is still with us – every time a refugee or a homeless person is criticised for having a mobile phone. Every time poverty is blamed on drinking and/or smoking. Every time we talk about young mothers getting themselves pregnant. Every time someone decides that a human being in crisis does not deserve to be helped.

I don’t particularly care what deities, if any, you believe in. But I do care about your values. I care about the deeply flawed culture we’ve inherited. We need to change our stories.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “What you do for the least among you

  • theintrovertedhermit

    “People for whom poverty equates to sin and wealth to merit in the eyes of God.” – This. Exactly this. The lie the wealth hoarders perpetuate in order to keep their wealth.

  • Julie Bond

    I often wonder about the ‘ostentatious’ rich Christians, particularly the politicians. Have they just cut the bit about the camel, eye of needle and rich person getting into heaven out of their version of the Bible? Then they moan at the Archbishop of Canterbury for speaking up against their policies which purposely persecute the poor, the sick, and the disadvantaged!

  • Michael

    Loved this! It’s so true, and what we as pagans need to get into. We need to start doing charity as part of being pagan, of doing fundraisers and doing more than just selling jewelry!

    • Nimue Brown

      Absolutely! I think gift economy should be a part of the mix for us – it’s what many traditional peoples do, we know it’s what our ancestors did – king as ring giver in Norse tradition being an easy example.

  • emberbear

    Happiness is eating Christmas dinner knowing that you have given the food bank a bag of food that will make a very decent Christmas dinner for four. Total happiness would be to live in a society where everyone, including the jobless, gets a decent wage. You are so right to say that we need to get rid of a hypocritical Victorian value system. Those without jobs live in areas where there aren’t any, or they are so exhausted by their struggles with life, maybe from birth, that they just don’t have the energy to do one. There are so many other reasons why people don’t ‘contribute to the economy’. Everyone deserves to be treated decently.

  • The Lilac Druid

    This is such a beautiful and powerful piece for me. It began me thinking about the Virtue of Hospitality and our responsibilities to our communities, both locally and globally. As pagans, I believe we should be doing more in and for our communities than we do. Thank you so much for opening my eyes.

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