Charity or justice? The society we want means choices must be made

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By Roderick Benns

Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Advocate. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, he has written several books including Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.

We are all linked together, one and all, by our belief that we should treat each other well.

Back in October I asked the federal candidates a simple question during the televised debates. Do you believe in charity or do you believe in justice?

In other words, how best can we meet our needs as a society? Is it through better social policies so that no one is left behind, or is it through a belief and expectation that someone else will be there to help out if it’s really needed? (“Someone” generally being charities and church efforts.)

Charity or justice? The society we want means choices must be made
Advocate Publisher Roderick Benns.

For me, I stand squarely on the side of justice. In fact, I think we need to work at marginalizing our charities. That’s a strong word. What I mean is I believe we need to sideline them as much as possible, simply because they would no longer be needed — that through better social policies — justice — we wouldn’t lose so many people through the cracks.

In the meantime, we recognize that there are people who are hungry and people who are in pain. There are folks who are depressed and others who are isolated. Meeting those needs and more, to the best of their ability, are the women and men who are connected with our local charities and churches. I won’t start naming these groups for fear of missing someone. But you know who you are and should be commended for your tireless work.

I believe that most of these people do what they do because they’re driven to care. If we had better social policies so the depth of need wasn’t so great, they would just find other ways to care. And what a great society that would be then.

In fact, we are all linked together, one and all, by our belief that we should treat each other well. Christians and Jews. Hindus and Sikhs. Muslims, atheists, and agnostics .

When I worked at the Ministry of Education for nine years in Toronto, a teacher friend gave me a poster which I placed prominently on my wall. It was essentially the golden rule according to the world’s major religions. Here are but a few:

Christianity: In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. Jesus, Matthew 7:12

Hinduism: This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. Mahabharata 5:1517

Islam: Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself. The Prophet Muhammad, Hadith

Sikhism: I am a stranger to no one; and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all. Guru Granth Sahib, p.1299

I’m thankful to live in this community with you, where we take the time to care for each other. Have a restful, peaceful holiday. I wish you great health and happiness in the days to come.

1 Comment

  1. Joan Abernethy says:

    Danny Pearl believed what you believe, that “we are all linked together, one and all, by our belief that we should treat each other well”. Danny discovered it simply isn’t true.

    No court of justice, let alone any social program, can dispense justice precisely because we do not all share the same ideals, including the cherry-picked golden rule that we should treat each other well. We do not even agree on what treating each other well might look like.

    Many folks believe that treating each other well requires the persecution of minorities. And even those who believe in secular and constitutionally-protected equality rights for all want to disempower, marginalize and discriminate against those who do not.

    Who is to be the arbiter of justice? The most powerful, of course.

    I think the best we can do – at least for now – is to recognize our differences and debate them civilly with a view to understanding and to seek out and embrace whatever is core to the humanity we share, because it is only in such communion, however fleeting, that we can even begin to glimpse what justice might look like.

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