Charity (The Virtues part 1)

VibinCryBaby
6 min readJul 22, 2021

This post is part ONE of a seven-part series on the virtues. In the introduction to this series on the Virtues, I talk about the concepts of the seven virtues and their correlating sins. I detail their influence on modern pop culture as well as their historical context. If you would like to read it and the rest of the series as it is published, please click HERE. I will be updating the links on this as the series comes out.

Today’s subject is the virtue of Charity.

Charity in its simplistic form is generally thought of as generosity. Used in the contexts we often see today, it is typically associated with material goods and the sacrifice of those goods to a useful cause. Donating sums of money or items to a particular cause is referred to as “ donating to charity.” “An organization set up to provide help and raise money for those in need” is actually the first definition found in a modern dictionary of the word charity!

While this is a large contributor to the philosophy of charity, it is only one facet of this virtue.

I’d like to draw your attention to the third definition listed in the dictionary for the word charity: “kindness and tolerance in judging others.” This, I believe, is a more relevant embodiment of this virtue for modern times, and I will tell you why.

Benevolence is a modern term that could be used to describe this facet of charity more accurately. What is benevolence in this context? The act of being mentally and emotionally charitable. Kindness and tolerance in regards to others is something that this world is sorely lacking in my opinion, and that is why it is so important to first understand this often overlooked facet of this virtue, and then take steps to embody it. Embodying benevolence and charity could look like giving someone the benefit of the doubt, not holding grudges against others, or acting with kindness when someone makes a mistake rather than becoming haughty or indignant.

When looking at the etymology of the word charity, you will find all sorts of tidbits suggesting this deeper meaning. In one of the earliest translations of the Bible into Latin, the word charity was used as a substitution for the word Agape, which is “love of fellow man” as opposed to a more sexualized translation of the word “love”.

While a majority of the definitions modern and historical both rely upon the material context of alms, there are definitions that imply its deeper spiritual meaning peppered throughout. “Christian love in its highest manifestation” in late olde English, “affections people ought to feel for one another” from the 1300s, and “liberality in judging others or their actions” from the 15th century all point towards an attitude of charity being the heart of the virtue as opposed to an action-based item to check off of a list.

Charity has its roots in love, and relies on a generous heart first and foremost. Being physically generous with material goods indeed starts from the heart and is very important, especially in times when the people we know and love are struggling. However, being generous in a non-corporeal way is almost more important because that is where the virtue really counts.

A charitable heart will always find ways to help those in need. This could be as simple as letting someone take comfort in your presence in the form of a listening ear, doing small tasks for a struggling friend, or perhaps even bringing a meal to someone who needs it. It could be as complex as donating money to a cause or as simple as being there for a friend.

On the other hand, being able to set boundaries is also charitable. Not enabling a person who is taking advantage of a situation is far more charitable than allowing them to continue a toxic cycle. Charity is based in love, but doesn’t require you to be a doormat.

As you can see, charity is much more than a habit of generous material acts! Charity goes much farther than simply sharing with others, but extends itself into being more of an attitude and a way of treating others. A virtue is a mode of being, a philosophy to live by, and this is no exception. The material act extends from the attitude, from the very core of the virtue.

The importance of charity, I believe, is largely lost by its modern translations. Billionaires and Millionaires donate tons of money to charity each year, but are they really embodying the virtue of charity?

It brings to mind a story from the New Testament, found in Mark. A poor widow donates two copper coins to the temple, while some rich men donate droves of coins. The woman is ultimately praised by the Lord because he knows she is acting out of something more than mere obligation. The value of her action comes not just from a requirement, but from her heart. Her small sum is therefore more valueable than the rich men’s pocket change, and that is the true nature of charity.

In my introductory post about the virtues, I talk about how each virtue is paired with a particular sin. It would seem that the virtues are the antidote to these sins, if not just their complete opposites. What is charity’s corresponding sin? Greed, of course.

Greed is akin to charity in the fact that it is primarily thought of as a material sin. This is especially true today — our greed as consumers and the greed of big corporations is ever-present, especially in regards to the state of our planet. Greed is a huge problem in today’s world, and it has been that way since the dawn of time. However, just like charity, greed has a double meaning: entitlement.

Entitlement is to greed what benevolence is to charity.

Charity is mindful and acts out of love for others while greed is selfish and has little regard for others, regardless of the consequences. Similarly, entitlement is the antithesis of benevolence in its essence: it believes that it has a right to that which it has not earned.

Entitlement can be thought of as emotional greed. If benevolence forgives and turns the other cheek, then entitlement holds grudges and uses dirty games like blaming, guilt, and shame to achieve its goals. Entitlement, just like benevolence, is a philosophy on how to treat others. The differences are that benevolence gives while entitlement takes.

We must be aware of the tactics of greed and entitlement not only when they are being used against us, but when we ourselves slip into using them. The sad fact is that it is very easy to be uncharitable and greedy in this world; it’s practically encouraged sometimes! It’s especially difficult to discern fact from fiction when others masquerade as being charitable when in fact they are doing something for their own benefit. This is why it is so important to learn about the virtues — so we can remember them and use them to our benefit when we miss the mark, and to help us along our way when we encounter difficult situations.

All in all, the moral of the story is that charity gives while greed takes, and we should strive to give back to the world all the good we reasonably can. It reminds me of the little song we used to sing in outdoor school that goes like this:

“Love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away,
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

It’s just like a magic penny,
Hold it tight and you won’t have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many
They’ll roll all over the floor.

For love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away,
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.”

JJC

Originally published at http://imperfectionfreak.wordpress.com on July 22, 2021.

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VibinCryBaby

A lifestyle blog detailing my expedition into slow living, poetry, wellness, spirituality, and motherhood.