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Bleak Theology: Hopeful Science

Charity destroys chivalry.

There are two parts this: two readings, and a context. To start with, I need to define charity. It comes from the Latin caritas. which is how St Jerome decided to translate agape or disinterested love. Agape is not nice love, because it wants the best for a person.

So Charity at times means saying no, and at times it means that you help. All of Christ are commended to be charitable. To do what is best, pray for the best, for all.

Chivalry is a failed attempt to tame Vikings. You see, when the Vikings took over Northern England and France (which is why the Battle of Hastings in 1066 was a family spat) they were extremely good at pillage, rape and torture. They were much less good at protecting others and solving things without recourse to a sword. The church encouraged the laws of Holy War, the move from the melee to more formalized knightly games, and the courtly rules of love. They eventually civilized the Franks (and were but partially successful with the English). But Chivalry — the knightly strong arm — was to protect the deserving weak. The undeserving weak were left alone.

And when no one is undeserving, it became entitlement.

Some women are also just rude and unabashedly ask favors of other people without any hint of gratitude or uncertainty. I deal with that sometimes, too.

I recently had a woman just dump her kids on me at the indoor playground and wander off to call her boyfriend. At first, I didn’t really mind, as I was sitting there anyway, but then I wanted to leave and she was nowhere to be found and I couldn’t leave her children alone in good conscience. She came strolling back half an hour later without so much as a “thanks”. I think she went shopping. Unbelievable.

So what to do? Well, turn to scripture.

Hebrews 4:11-13

11Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.

12Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account

Deuteronomy 10:12-22

12So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13and to keep the commandments of the LORD your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being. 14Although heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to the LORD your God, the earth with all that is in it, 15yet the LORD set his heart in love on your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples, as it is today. 16Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. 17For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. 19You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 20You shall fear the LORD your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. 21He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen. 22Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy persons; and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in heaven.

Let us parse the situation V. got herself into: it is also one I have had to deal with. If you have small kids, you need to watch them. Even in the play areas: the current fetish about safety means that we have to pay people in an industry so that they can explore a padded simalcrulum of the woods and swamps I spent my childhood in (full of industrial sludge, by the way. Never did me any harm).

An entitled woman comes up, leaves the kids, and goes. V. has things to do, and when it is time to collect her own kids from they playing area she is left with a moral quandary. If she leaves the children are unsupervised. So she stays. For half an hour.

(Yesterday I was outside a lecture theatre for an hour waiting for it to finish — a one hour lecture from a Nobel Prizewinner my boys were at had turned to 2 hours. A woman dropped her children off with their packs and left. I was across the hallway, and kept and eye on them. No words. But it was a duty. WHen they fourn their father (it was a crappy child handover) they left. and I kept on waiting)

This is an act of charity on her part. However, the woman involved saw it as her right, as she assumed V. would be a person she could dump on, as she has on the powerful “whilte knights” all her life.

But that misses the point. Charity includes saying no. I’m called a bastard on a regular basis when I order that people have their access to substances, cellphones, or anything else that may cause them harm — because I’m responsible for them while they are in the unit I work for. I’m frequently told they have “rights’ for these things (which they do not, in law: the NZ Bill of Rights Act is quite circumscribed).

Charity is around doing good, not ill. Providing soup, perhaps, but not the money to buy weed or booze. It has standards. It points towards a better way of living. And that is why the world hates it.

For us, charity destroys chivalry. We do not need to think about power, but how we will do good. We can basically ignore the offense — using our wisdom to do these things safely, and accepting we may be exploited.

For we have no power. But persuasion. As God limited his abilities by choice to give us the moral choice to obey him and choose life or not, all we can do is demostrate the way of life, using words if needed.

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