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Charity
M. G. KAINS, M.S.


         The word "charity" and its derivatives, "charitable," etc., seem nowadays to be almost wholly restricted to that character of benevolence which consists in almsgiving. To be sure, it deserves far wider application, but the great mass of mankind, whenever they hear the word, are wont to think of gifts to the so-called poor. There is no doubt that in the past, and even in the present condition of society, many deserving people have been aided by individual and by organized charity; but it is exceedingly doubtful if the number is much larger than that of the undeserving people who obtain help under the guise of poverty, and this, too, not invariably by ordinary street-beggar methods, but through telling tales of woe to softhearted people, and even through the organized charitable institutions themselves. So convinced is one writer of the truth of this statement that he declares, "We are beginning to hear of the science of charity, and it is sorely needed, for old-fashioned almsgiving is a curse."

         Now, why is "old-fashioned almsgiving" a curse? Because it is only a palliative, because it does not reach the cause of poverty at all. Worse, it actually makes the last state of the man who solicits and accepts it worse than the first, for it encourages more and more importunate, servile begging, and at the same time undermines the recipient's self-respect and desire to give value for value received. It is a species of parasitism in which the victim does not know that he is being victimized. Reciprocation is a law not only of business but of spiritual affairs as well; so the longer men ask and receive alms, the worse off they become, ethically, morally, and spiritually; and conversely, the less one is given, the more he is forced to develop that species of self-respect which will help him to supply his wants in honorable ways.

         Perhaps no better illustration of the application of true charity can be found than that recorded in the third chapter of The Acts of the Apostles. This may be condensed as follows: As Peter and John went up to the temple to pray, they saw, seated near the gate, a lame man, who was carried and placed there daily to beg. When they were accosted by this man, who asked for a gift of money, Peter said: "Look on us. . . . Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk." Then Peter grasped his hand, "and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God."

         It seems safe to assume that the man never begged any more after this experience, but that after having been healed of an affliction which had lasted from the day of his birth, he would seek to understand the means or the power by which he had been made free from his ailment, and that now, being possessed of a "perfect soundness," he would be able to earn his own support and never again be in need of alms. His case should be considered as typifying every beggar's case, for every beggar is in need of healing, the genuine healing which, as in the case mentioned, goes to the root of the matter and destroys the false cause of the affliction.

         In every case, whether there be bodily manifestation or not, the cause is found in a false belief which must be reached and eradicated in order to make a perfect healing. This cause is invariably mental; for as a man "thinketh in his heart, so is he," or, to use a correlative of this aphorism from Science and Health, "A sick body is evolved from sick thoughts" (p. 260). It is not essential that the erring thoughts should manifest themselves in physical deformity or disease in order to portray their character; if they are anything but true, they need correction in order to free the victim from mental deformity, which is only too frequently invisible to the human eye. Of what use, then, to fling a coin to a beggar? Is it not giving a stone when the real cry is for bread? Had Peter and John given the cripple some money and passed into the temple, how long might the man have remained a cripple and a beggar at the temple gate? Peter looked deeper than the mere surface of things; he saw and destroyed the false mental cause, and the man was instantly freed from his physical infirmity as a necessary consequence.

         This episode has special significance in the light of Christian Science, for it is a record of what was done in the early Christian era; it is typical of what is being done today; and it indicates what can be done again by those who understand the true nature of charity and put that knowledge to practical use. But what is the true nature of charity? Is it not giving? Yes; most emphatically it is giving! Genuine charity is the liberal giving of spiritual wealth, not of material money. It is the giving which will meet a need, rather than the counterfeit of giving, which merely satisfies a temporal want, a want which increases rather than diminishes with every such experience.

         In the preface to her "Miscellaneous Writings" (p. ix), Mrs. Eddy quotes with special emphasis and approbation the terse maxim of a Talmudistic philosopher as illustrating her "sense of doing good," of being charitable, namely, "The noblest charity is to prevent a man from accepting charity; and the best alms are to show and to enable a man to dispense with alms."

         Here is a seeming paradox, but it is slowly being deciphered and acted upon by people who see the folly of promiscuous almsgiving. Not that the person with means must necessarily steel his heart against any worthy appeal, but that he may both protect himself from the robbery practised by the unworthy, and at the same time open the understanding of those who are willing to be helped to better conditions of life through their own efforts. Christian Science is clear cut in its insistence that everyone, each one, shall prove for himself that God has given His children "richly all things to enjoy." It lays special emphasis upon Christ Jesus' command, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness," the foundation of real wealth, health, peace, and joy. When this basis has been established, no real need can be left unsupplied, because it is man's God-given right to enjoy every good thing, which Jesus declared "shall be added" as the result of obedience to this law.

         Only those who do not understand this command can be guilty of counterfeiting charity, on the plane of ordinary almsgiving, either as giver or recipient. No one is helped by keeping a beggar a beggar still by the pitiful dole of mere money. The donor in this case is as poor spiritually as the recipient. What is needed by each and everyone, so-called rich and so-called poor, so-called afflicted and so-called free, is to learn the true meaning of that Talmudistic maxim and to apply in daily life the thought so beautifully expressed in the following stanzas: —

I gave a beggar from my little store
      Of well-earned gold. He spent the shining
            ore
And came again, and yet again,
      Still cold and hungry as before.

I gave a thought, and though that thought
            was mine,
      He found himself a man, supreme, divine,
Bold, clothed, and crowned with blessings
            manifold,
      And now he begs no more.

 

"Charity" by M. G. Kains, M.S.
The Christian Science Journal, December, 1913
 

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