Sunday, March 13, 2011

More thoughts on morality, along the lines of "Why?"

The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer : NPR
I felt as though, in Farmer, I'd been offered another way of thinking about a place like Haiti. But his way would be hard to share, because it implied such an extreme definition of a term like "doing one's best."
This is an excerpt from a piece on the NPR site (which is actually an excerpt from Mountains Beyond Mountains) about Paul Farmer, the guy I was talking about in my last post.

In a way it articulates what I have been trying to say: "charity" as such is beyond the scope of what [I would suggest] most of us concieve of as charity.  Charity is self-sacrifice but not in the sense that there is sacrifice.  I look at Farmer because he is an example near-at-hand, and I see that he sacrificed time and money to help the poor of Haiti.  More significantly, perhaps, is that he sacrificed that staple of American life: comfort.  In the excerpt from Mountains, Kidder tells of how he met Farmer and came to learn about his life.  He writes:
He worked in Boston four months of the year, living in a church rectory in a slum. The rest of the year he worked without pay in Haiti, mainly doctoring peasants who had lost their land to a hydroelectric dam.
Yet Kidder noted as they had dinner in Miami:
He clearly liked the fancy restaurant, the heavy cloth napkins, the good bottle of wine. What struck me that evening was how happy he seemed with his life.
While we can't get into Farmer's mind, it seems to me that he would have to view his work in Haiti as anything but a sacrifice in order to keep up this hectic lifestyle.

But is charity such ignorant sacrifice?  ("Sacrifice" here meaning something that takes from the one who gives it.)  And is sacrifice charity?  I guess the question is not if we should redefine something but what we should redefine?  I think we've pretty clearly got the meaning of "sacrifice" down here, but I think we've got a bit more difficulty in "charity."

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