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Confrontedness and the Internet

At the risk of sounding like a continental philosopher (a fate worse than death, in my view), I will say that I think confrontedness has great ethical importance.

What I mean by "confrontedness" can be well illustrated by the contrast between Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan and a contemporary misuse of it I happened to see on Facebook.

In Jesus' parable, the Samaritan actually comes across a man, a real, individual man, who has been beaten by thieves and left by the roadside. The Samaritan goes aside to check on him, finds that he is alive, puts him on his own donkey, and takes care of him. Jesus recommends his actions.

In the misuse of the parable (and I'm sure you've seen the like elsewhere), an enthusiastic and indignant person stated that, based on the parable of the good Samaritan, we have a right to judge someone as selfish who does not give of his time on a Saturday morning to work for a fund-raising event to help victims of trafficking, and who is not doing anything all that important instead on the Saturday morning.

The reasons why this application of the parable is wrong have to do with the concept of confrontedness.

When your friend calls you up, or posts on Facebook, seeking volunteers for the charity fund-raiser, you are confronted by your friend's enthusiasm and his recommendation of how you use your time, but you are not confronted by a specific, real person in need. In fact, there are layers between you and actual people in need, in any of which information loss is likely to occur. Has your friend rightly judged the probability that the fund-raiser will help the charity? Is working on this fund-raiser a more efficient way to help the charity than just making a donation oneself? Is the charity effective at helping trafficked women? Do the charity's activities have unintended consequences that are troubling? How efficiently does the charity use money donated to it?

No such layers intervened between the Samaritan and the victim. There were, of course, things the Samaritan didn't know until he stepped aside and investigated a bit, most of all whether the victim was alive or dead. But he did know that, if the man was alive and had been beaten and left to die, he had the wherewithal to help him--a specific, individual person, not an organization.

I do not mean to say that there is anything wrong with helping organizations. What I do mean to say is that a person does not have anything like the same responsibility to help when confronted by an attempted claim from an organization on his time or money as when confronted by a specific, needy individual whom he knows he can, without even harming himself or his own family, help greatly right now.

The Internet, however, complicates all of this, and that is only fair to admit. The problem is illustrated by the phenomenon of Facebook and of Facebook friends or "friends" whom one has never met.

Before all of that, there were always people known as "pen pals" (an archaic expression) whom one had not met but with whom one developed a relationship through long and detailed correspondence. At its best, Internet friendship, including social media friendship, recreates that experience and expands it. My own life has been greatly enriched by the friendship of people I have never met, some of them my co-contributors to this blog. For them, the word "friend" does not need scare quotes.

At the same time, the alarming expansion of social media does sometimes require scare quotes around the word. Not everybody who is your Facebook "friend" is your friend, sans phrase, and I usually, for reasons of clarity, will tell those to whom I'm speaking about someone whether that person is a Facebook "friend," an on-line friend with whom I've had more extensive contact, a person I know mostly on-line and have met once or twice, an acquaintance, or an in-person friend. I think it's important for accuracy.

What does all of this have to do with confrontedness? Just this: Social media allows us to feel as though we are confronted with the sorrows, griefs, and needs of people we have never laid eyes on, whose connection to ourselves may be only that they are one of two thousand other people on whom the name "friend" has been bestowed by Facebook after we agreed to a "friend" request but with whom we've had very little one-on-one contact of any kind. It is extremely easy to suffer from what feels like "confrontedness overload" when everybody is sharing about some friend of theirs who is sick and needs one's prayers or a donation, or about their own needs, and at a certain point one does sometimes need to stop and say, "You know, I don't actually know this person at all."

And I think it is legitimate for that to make a difference. Believe it or not, the old lady down the street, yes, just because of the sheer accident of physical proximity, probably has more of a claim on your time than the student across the country whom you've never met.

Can I come up with a principle about why this is so? To some extent, as my earlier discussion of the good Samaritan indicated, it's a matter of information. I can see the old lady for myself and see that she has a genuine need. I have other clues to this, not just her own word for it via an electronic medium. What else? Well, the help I give to her may be more concrete than what I can give to the student across the country. Maybe what the student needs is my take on a certain argument for the existence of God. That's fine, and as time permits, I'm happy to give it, and I know that it may be of help. But the old lady down the street may need someone to help her outside for some fresh air or someone to talk to her because she is shut into her house (she doesn't have Internet). Both of these are in many ways more fundamental needs than the need for philosophical conversation.

But there is the other side, and I want to give the other side its due: It actually is true that the Internet has caused me to be confronted, in a real sense confronted, with more people and their needs than I ever was before. Even when we have parsed all the distinctions between those you know in person and those you don't, between situations with lots of information and situations with little, between organizations or Causes and concrete individuals, the sheer force and speed of social media means that I now have real friends whose problems I should care about, whom I should try to help as appropriate if and when I can (by praying, if nothing else), even though I have never laid eyes on them, even though they live far away, and even though I may never meet them face to face.

This is odd. It is an expansion of confrontedness unprecedented in human history. And I think it requires careful handling.

I don't have a full set of brilliant advice for handling it, but I have a few ideas.

--Not everything that your friends are emotionally excited or upset about counts as something you are confronted with, even if that "something" is a person. This is true of both in-person friends and on-line friends, but it may be harder to keep in mind for on-line friends. If your on-line friend posts a picture of his nephew who has cancer, the nephew doesn't have the same claim on you as if he were your own son, your own nephew, or even the on-line friend himself. Don't try to gin up the feelings you think your on-line friend wants you to have about his nephew. All the more so if what your on-line friend posts and demands your attention to is a picture of an orphan in another country whom he doesn't even have a personal relationship with.

--Limit your number of Facebook friends, so as to retain some semblance of commonality and community. If you have 5,000 Facebook friends and call them all "my friends," you are really doing a number on your own sense of what friendship means.

--Unless you are actually isolated from the world in a way beyond your control (e.g., locked up in a nursing home), work to keep contact with people with whom you are physically acquainted. If you find yourself replacing in-person friends entirely with on-line friends, try to do something about that.

--Exercise restraint and self-limitation in emotional sharing in social media. The temptation is huge to "let it all hang out," and the prompt that says, "What's on your mind?" is insidious, but don't tell everybody all the time what's on your mind. It creates a false sense of intimacy, cheapens the value of sharing your emotions with someone else, overloads your friends, and in the end numbs everybody to some degree because too many emotional ups and downs are flying around. If a mother of four has to read the moment-to-moment anxieties of five hundred other people all over the world as they cope with their lives and their jobs, and if she feels some duty to empathize with these, chances are she will find it harder to empathize with her two-year-old who skins his knee. Yet her first duty is to her two-year-old, not to her Facebook acquaintance five hundred miles away who is going through a minor crisis on a particular day. If this sounds callous, I submit that that's because we've already adopted a social media ethos and no longer understand the notion of concentric circles of duty.

--Causes are not the same thing as people. See above. Don't allow yourself to be overwhelmed by all the charitable appeals in your newsfeed.

--Don't accept the philosophical position that you have no special duties to anyone and that a child you have never met has as much claim on you as your own child or your dearest friend. Or variants thereof. Be suspicious the minute someone refers to "our dollars," as though there is a big pot of dollars somewhere owned by the Collective which should be doled out by central planning. (But there I'm digressing.)

--Cultivate real mutual knowledge and friendship, via private communication, with a limited number of people you have encountered on-line. Make these the people to whom you tell more and to whom you are closer, because you have taken time, gotten to know each other, and developed mutual trust. That still doesn't give you leave to take even this "inner group" for granted or to overload them with confidences or demands, but it does mark a clearer sense of degrees of friendship than the Internet sometimes encourages.

--Allow yourself (in a moderate fashion) and your family to have your horizons widened and your perspective broadened. This may even mean judging that you should give financial help to someone far away whom you "know" only electronically instead of to an in-person friend, if you are justified in believing that the person far away has a greater need and/or, on balance, is a worthier recipient of your charity. It may occasionally mean telling your children that whatever minor privation they have to endure is nothing compared to what someone you "know" on the Internet is going through. (Though this sort of lecturing should probably be used sparingly, unless you have really spoiled kids.) It will certainly mean telling yourself from time to time that what you are going through is nothing compared with what old so-and-so is going through, pausing to pray for so-and-so, and humbly counting your blessings. In this respect, the effect of broadened friendships and sympathies and enlarged knowledge of the needs of others can be salutary.

The Internet has altered friendship and has required us to broaden and clarify our notion of what it means to be confronted by a person or a problem and to have a duty to help. Such questions will never admit of precise, formulaic answers, but it's just as well for us to recognize that the questions don't just go away because the Internet exists. It's not as though now there are no distinctions and everybody in the world has an equal claim on our time, sympathy, energy, and money. It can't be, because that would be impossible.

So now we have to work to come up with new rubrics for new technologies, while bearing always in mind that we are embodied and finite beings, with the providentially given duties of confrontedness proper to such beings.

Comments (22)

Thanks for this excellent post, Lydia. I've had students mention how overwhelming they find life in this regard, as they are trying to make new friends in a new environment, the ones who are *right here in front of them*, while maintaining almost literally continuous information from all their high school friends and acquaintances, every little thing as though they were still right there -- *and* all the information from across the country and the world, too! We simply cannot care for everyone and everything; we weren't made that way.

I especially like your phrase "concentric circles of duty" -- it reminds us of the fact that there are different distances we are from various people and those distances help us to discern our duties. I think this will be a helpful concept for me to use with my students.

Thanks, Beth, very much. I will be happy if it's helpful to your students.

I suppose in a way our generation is able to provide that sense of perspective to the millenial generation--namely, that it hasn't always been that way and that you don't, in fact, have to keep up with that many different people at once, that no one can or should be expected to.

You raise the interesting picture of young people going to college. I remember well in my own day my fierce determination not to lose touch with my high school friends even though none of them went to the same college I did. I would see them in the summer, and some of them continued to exchange physical letters with me for many years, but the fact remains that *of course* I lost touch with my high school friends. I'm happy that Facebook has brought me back in touch with some of them, and it's been great to touch base again, but any attempt _literally_ to keep up the same level of friendship while being immersed in a residential college experience full-time in another state would have been unhealthy and exhausting. I wonder to what extent young people realize that and are willing to let go, even though it's sad, when they move and to what extent they feel that now, with the Internet, they should be just as close to the people they knew back home.

That may be a good question to explore with my freshmen in our unit on technology. I'll let you know if I get the chance and what kind of responses I get if so.

Dear Lydia,

Your idea of concentric circles of duty is enshrined in Catholic moral theology (if only we set a good example by following it,sigh). From the Summa Theologica (II.II q. 26, art. 7):

"Moreover there is yet another reason for which, out of charity, we love more those who are more nearly connected with us, since we love them in more ways. For, towards those who are not connected with us we have no other friendship than charity, whereas for those who are connected with us, we have certain other friendships, according to the way in which they are connected. Now since the good on which every other friendship of the virtuous is based, is directed, as to its end, to the good on which charity is based, it follows that charity commands each act of another friendship, even as the art which is about the end commands the art which is about the means. Consequently this very act of loving someone because he is akin or connected with us, or because he is a fellow-countryman or for any like reason that is referable to the end of charity, can be commanded by charity, so that, out of charity both eliciting and commanding, we love in more ways those who are more nearly connected with us."

The cloistered Carmelite nun, St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), whose feast we celebrated, yesterday, realizing that one could not be everywhere, at once, to render aid to everyone, nevertheless, had a slightly different understanding of what it means to confront human suffering and what we could all do that has a real effect on alleviating it. She wrote this article on September, 14, 1941, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, less than a year before she was martyred in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. It is as prophetic, today, as it was, then, and given the times we live in and the future we are approaching, it applies, now, no less to the Christian layman, than it does to the cloistered nun. If I may have the forbearance of the editors, I quote it in full. It is entitled, Ave Cruc, Spes Unica (Hail, Holy Cross, Our Only Hope).

"Hail Cross, our only hope!"- this is what Holy Church summoned us to exclaim during the time for contemplating the bitter suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ. The jubilant exclamation of the Easter Alleluia silenced the serious song of the cross. But the sign of our salvation greeted us amid the time of Easter joy, since we were recalling the discovery of the One who passed from sight. At the end of the cycle of ecclesiastical feasts, the cross greets us through the heart of the Savior. And now, as the church year draws to an end, it is raised high before us and is to hold us spellbound until the Easter Alleluia summons us anew to forget the earth for a while and rejoice in the marriage of the Lamb.

Our holy Order has us begin our fast with the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. And it leads us to the foot of the cross to renew our holy vows. The Crucified One looks down on us and asks us whether we are still willing to honor what we promised in an hour of grace. And he certainly has reason to ask. More than ever the cross is a sign of contradiction. The followers of the Anti-Christ show it far more dishonor than did the Persians who stole it. They desecrate the image of the Cross, and they make every effort to tear the cross out of the hearts of Christians. All too often they have succeeded even with those, who like us, once vowed to bear Christ's cross after him. Therefore, the Savior today looks at us, solemnly probing us, and asks each one of us: Will you remain faithful to the Crucified? Consider carefully!

The world is in flames, the battle between Christ and the Anti-Christ has broken into the open. If you decide for Christ, it could cost you your life. Carefully consider what you promise. Taking and renewing vows is a dreadfully serious business. You make a promise to the Lord of heaven and earth. If you are not deadly serious about your will to fulfill it, you fall into the hands of the living God.

Before you hangs the Savior on the Cross, because he became obedient unto death on the cross. He came into the world not to do his own will, but his Father's will. If you intend to be the bride of the Crucified, you too must completely renounce your own will and no longer have any desire except to fulfill God's will. He speaks to you in the holy Rule and Constitutions of the Order. He speaks to you through the mouth of the Superiors. He speaks to you in the gentle breath of the Holy Spirit in the depths of your heart. To remain true to your vow of obedience, you must listen to this voice day and night and follow its orders. However, this means daily and hourly crucifying your self-will and self-love.

The Savior hangs naked and destitute before you on the cross because he has chosen poverty. Those who want to follow him must renounce earthly goods. It is not enough that you once left everything out there and came to the monastery. You must be serious about it now as well. Gratefully receive what God's providence sends you. Joyfully do without what he may let you do without. Do not be concerned with your own body, with its trivial necessities and inclinations, but leave concern to those who are entrusted with it. Do not be concerned about the coming and the coming meal.

The Savior hangs before you with a pierced heart. He has spilled his heart's blood to win your heart. If you want to follow him in holy purity, your heart must be free of earthly desire. Jesus, the Crucified, is to be the only object of your longings, your wishes, your thoughts. Are you now alarmed by the immensity of what the holy vows require of you? You need not be alarmed. What you have promised is indeed beyond your own weak, human power. But it is not beyond the power of the Almighty. This power will become yours if you entrust yourself to him, if he accepts your pledge of troth. He does so on the day of your holy profession and will do it anew today. It is the loving heart of your Savior that invites you to follow. It demands your obedience because the human will is blind and weak. It cannot find its way until it surrenders itself entirely to the divine will. He demands poverty because hands must be empty of earth's goods to receive the goods of heaven. He demands chastity because only the heart detached from all earthly love is free for the love of God. The arms of the Crucified are spread out to draw you to his heart. He wants your life in order to give you his.

Ave Crux, Spes unica! The world is in flames: the fire can spread even to our house, but above all the flames the cross stands on high, and it cannot be burnt. The cross is the way which leads from earth to heaven. Those who embrace it with faith, love, and hope are taken up, right into the heart of the Trinity.

The world is in flames: do you wish to put them out? Contemplate the cross: from His open heart the blood of the Redeemer pours, blood which can put out even the flames of hell. Through the faithful observance of the vows you make your heart free and open; and then the floods of that divine love will be able to flow into it, making it overflow and bear fruit to the furthest reaches of the earth.

Do you hear the groans of the wounded on the battlefields in the west and the east? You are not a physician and not a nurse and cannot bind up the wounds. You are enclosed in a cell and cannot get to them. Do you hear the anguish of the dying? You would like to be a priest and comfort them. Does the lament of the widows and orphans distress you? You would like to be an angel of mercy and help them. Look at the Crucified. If you are nuptially bound to him by the faithful observance of your holy vows, your BEING is precious blood. Bound to him, you are omnipresent as he is. You cannot help here or there like the physician, the nurse, the priest. You can be at all fronts, wherever there is grief, in the power of the cross. Your compassionate love takes you everywhere, this love from the divine heart. Its precious blood is poured everywhere- soothing, healing, saving.

The eyes of the Crucified look down on you- asking, probing. Will you make your covenant with the Crucified anew in all seriousness? What will you answer him? "Lord, where shall we go? You have the words of eternal life?"

Ave Crux, Spes unica!

The Chicken

An excellent response to a famous argument by Peter Singer (an an excellent comment by TMC as well). Kudos on the great post, Lydia.

Judicious treatment of a tangled and tormented topic, Lydia.

I've long felt that a key principle of true modern friendship, in the social media age, should be: do not forego opportunities to make online friends into personal friends. The latter is deeper, richer, more human; but the former is not insignificant. Close that gap when you can. Most of us travel frequently; the chance for a meet-up is more common than often admitted.

I've been fortunate, due to geographical symmetries, to be given the opportunity of regular fellowship with friends I first made online. Weddings and camping and golf tournaments. Just this past weekend such an opportunity presented itself for me to meet two men I've known for years online. Late Saturday afternoon. Was I worn out, happy to just watch golf, and disinclined to leave the house? Sure. Do I regret my decision to haul my sorry butt off the couch? Not in the least. Even that brief chance to share a beer was unquestionably worth it, not least for firming in person what I thought I already knew by online presence.

Lydia, you remind me of an article I read many years ago and cannot forget. It was written as the reminisce of an immigrant child from an impoverished family who received "benevolence" in the form of bread, thrown from the back of a truck into their camp or settlement. The now mature child reflected and, while the bread was sorely needed and truly appreciated, thought of a much greater need that went unmet by anything tossed from the truck. The greater need was relationship; a seat at the table shared with a real person or family.

Your reflections on the Good Samaritan surface the same concern.

True friendship is a greater kind of good than most other goods in this life, and it is also one of the few things that carries over from this life into the next. And true friends seek to deepen their friendship when it is flagging or thinning out, by mutual things lived together. That "together" can be remotely shared SOME of the time, but the remoteness itself remains a limiting factor in the friendship. Hence, as Paul says, even with regard to our online friends we should seek to see them in person on occasion.

Has your friend rightly judged the probability that the fund-raiser will help the charity? Is working on this fund-raiser a more efficient way to help the charity than just making a donation oneself?

Maybe this is an unfair side-track to Lydia's thread, but I want to mention one little pet-peeve about this. Is it just me, or is there a basic abandonment of rationality in the kind of charity fundraiser where you go around to neighbors and sign them up for $1 for every push-up, or every lap, or every X, that you will do on the appointed day, all for breast cancer, or for the snail darter, or for herringbone fabric makers in upper Botswana? Is there some connection between your doing push-ups and the welfare of the snail-darter? Do the snail-darters get stronger and healthier when you walk more laps? NO, I will not give you a dollar nor a dime for every time you get dunked in a tank. This is just mis-placed enthusiasm: see, I am so sure that the snail-darter is a good cause that I will do something UTTERLY UNCONNECTED to their welfare just to get money from you. Because I cannot myself think of anything I can do that is actually on their behalf, I reduce myself to the role of sniveling accomplice of conning and hoodwinking you into doing something on their behalf.

I know that this sort of fundraising pre-dated the internet, but it seems to me that the impersonal nature of the internet, and the unphysical nature of the operations it promotes, helps people ignore the complete irrationality of this.


I'm not a part of social media, thankfully, so I generally am not confronted with the kind of challenge you mention in the OP. However, your post makes me think of the confrontation I have every day on the way to work with the various homeless I pass along the way (to and from) -- this is a different kind of problem but related to the parable of the Samaritan. Here I am, confronted daily by real live people who are in obvious need -- but unlike the Samaritan and the man beaten by thieves, I don't know what the homeless really suffer from. Many seem to have mental illness -- they are dirty and one man by the train station obviously has disabilities (he is missing part of his arm.) Should I give every one of these people I see something every single day I see them? Will it help them in any meaningful way? Or will I be feeding their drug and/or alcohol habits? Shouldn't I give instead to an organization that works with the homeless, for example a shelter that provides some temporary housing and various social services? For now that is my solution: I give to this religious shelter, which is sort of famous as they also broadcast their own radio show:


As a side note, and a bit of Chicago history, Lydia's amazing father used to volunteer his time at this shelter -- I think he said he served meals and/or participated in their bible studies. I figure any place that tries to bring the Lord to the homeless has to be doing something right.

Jeff, yes, the homeless are an interesting question as related to the parable of the good Samaritan. For sure there are some Christians who would say that it is a simple application, but as you point out, by no means is it so simple, because the homeless you pass have not merely suffered an unexpected crisis (getting beaten up and simply needing temporary care). The man helped by the Samaritan was not seeking help at all (he was unconscious) and certainly was not seeking help that would plausibly enable a destructive lifestyle.

My father used to go (with his church group) to hold services at PGM.

When I was a little girl he used to take me to a different gospel mission (the name of which I do not remember) to sing. I can remembering singing on stage at about age seven when a fight broke out in the back. Everyone was much impressed that I went on singing, but actually, I wasn't at all fazed. I figured the grownups would take care of it.

It seems to me that a more relevant parable to the question of roadside and street beggars than the Good Samaritan is Lazarus and the Rich Man. Here you have someone that is encountered daily rather than someone suffering an unexpected crisis. Is there a relevant disanalogy between Lazarus and the aforementioned beggars? I think there must be, but it is unclear to me what it is.

1) Lazarus literally couldn't walk.
2) There was no other social safety net or shelter whose work consisted of getting Lazarus off the street. Hence,
3) Lazarus's being on the street was not a sign of some other problem besides the obvious. (For example, nobody is supposed to have had reason to wonder whether Lazarus was going to spend the largesse on drugs or drink.) Hence,
4) Direct help really was the best and only thing that could be done for Lazarus. Though as a good capitalist I can't help adding that the very best thing would be teaching Lazarus some non-begging trade that he could do despite his handicap and helping him get started doing it. (Teach a man to fish, etc.)

1) Where are you getting that? It just says that Lazarus laid at the gate, not that Lazarus couldn't walk.
2) I'm not sure those safety nets operate well. Don't you need ID cards to use many of them, which the homeless have often lost, and can't you only stay at shelters for a night at a time and don't they run out of space frequently? I remember that /Travels with Lizbeth/ discussed this to some extent.
3) How do we know that? In the context of 1st century Judaism, couldn't his being at the gate indicate that he is antagonistic to his family? After all, wouldn't they otherwise take him in? We are not told in the parable that Lazarus has no family.
4) I would think that what's relevant is not what is the best thing that can be done for Lazarus but what the best thing the *rich man* can do for Lazarus is. Given that, typically, we cannot help the panhandlers we have been *confronted by* in any other way than giving money (if we work at a shelter, we are not especially likely to encounter them again), it seems like the best thing we can do for them is either (a) give them money or (b) do nothing. I take it that if Lazarus is not disanalogous to panhandlers in some way, (a) is better than (b) (or at least is sufficiently more likely to be better than from our perspective, it's the more reasonable action), and I am not yet convinced that they are disanalogous.

Having conflict with one's family is not remotely like the kinds of things one is worrying about enabling in cases of substance abuse, etc. You're stretching. *Of course* Jesus' point is that Lazarus is merely a helpless person whose poverty is no fault of his own and who isn't doing drugs. If you can't see the difference between that and one's legitimate worries about giving money to the homeless now, you're trolling. As for his disability, there again, you are being dense. He was laid at the gate covered with sores. Um, yeah, he was laid there because he was helpless, because he was _really sick_.

Given that, typically, we cannot help the panhandlers we have been *confronted by* in any other way than giving money (if we work at a shelter, we are not especially likely to encounter them again), it seems like the best thing we can do for them is either (a) give them money or (b) do nothing.

Rubbish. We can give them food. (In fact, Lazarus needs food.) We can offer them food coupons. I have known of a friend who did this, but the woman said she wanted money for cigarettes, and she allowed him to buy her an orange juice at McD's only to pour it over his feet. Similar anecdotes of people who are not remotely like Lazarus could be multiplied without number.

We can work at or donate to shelters, missions, etc., that give people who have real needs (rather than being able to work but refusing) actual things they need in ways that cannot be readily exchanged for *stuff that is harming and killing them*.

I take it that if Lazarus is not disanalogous to panhandlers in some way,

If you think that Lazarus is analogous to the majority of contemporary panhandlers, then you don't know much about panhandlers.

There is no single answer to "the homeless" you see on the street as you go to work because each one is there for some reason fairly specific to them. Some are alcoholics. Some drug addicts. Some are immigrants who lost the only (illegal) job they could easily get. Some (many) are mentally ill. A number have handicaps and fell through the cracks of the safety net. A few are just regular joes who lost their job and had one failure after another of the many layers of safety net. Money will help some of those, but for others it is contra-indicated. You can't always tell by looking.

One of the things that you might be able to do is focus in on just one of them and develop a relationship. Hand him a (sealed) granola bar out of your bag as you pass by. Hand him subway card / token instead of money. Better yet, stop and TALK for 3 minutes. Ask his name, tell him yours. Gradually, over time, explore a bit - why is he on the street. What is his REAL need down below the mere lack of money. Find out if he goes anywhere (shelter, etc) regularly. Find out if he is being seen by doctors at all. See if he has looked for work (if not handicapped, for example). I did all this with one guy, eventually got to the point where I helped him take the GED, and helped him (a tiny bit) get a part time job. But it took months of a little this and a little that - often stopping to say hi without any money or anything else. Sometimes handing over a good deal more, e.g. to buy a second-hand suit. But one thing this taught me is that MONEY alone is not "what is needed" in all cases, sometimes it is an ear, sometimes a phone call to an agency, sometimes a subway ride. You just can't assume that money will solve things, especially for those mentally handicapped.

The reason I give this level of detail is to demonstrate what Lydia said: It is the fact of being in front of someone, (and, in the case of a homeless person, over and over and over, so that they are in a certain loose sense a neighbor) that gives you the opportunity to discover why he is in need and what he actually needs. And the fact that you choose to help THIS person, or THAT charity kitchen, and not with the 22 others also in need matters not: As Mother Teresa of Calcutta said in taking care of destitute people on the street when someone said "but there are millions more beyond that one you pick up", her response is valid: I can take care of this one and show him love, and that's a good thing whether there are 3 more after him or a million.

What actual answer does a pro-lifer has to Self-ownership argument.

Pointing out that it is a separate human being and thus has its own right to live. What you cannot seem to grasp is the difference between the basic concept of self-ownership and selfishness.

Wrong thread, Mike.

Tony's comment fits with the point that it was easy enough for the rich man to know something about what Lazarus really did need. Lazarus was not a stranger he passed on the way to work who could have been begging for any reason, a bad reason, a good reason, or no reason.

While I largely agree with the post and concur in the main with the suggestions for dealing with confrontedness, I cannot escape that the Parable of the Good Samaritan has, as its point, the irreducibility of responsibility in the sphere of love or compassion. Jesus is challenging the taken-for-granted non-responsibility of Jewish people toward "others." The issue then is not the same as in confrontedness, where the concern has more to do with the overwhelming volume of needs that confronts us through cyber-connections and social media. Lydia, of course, was not ruling out any class of people against whom we might prejudice our compassionate response.

Perhaps a more helpful set of Scriptures to guide us through confrontedness-burden are those that limit our responsibility to the God-given resources we have received: "And the Lord said, Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall set over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will set him over all that he hath. But if that servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he expecteth not, and in an hour when he knoweth not, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint his portion with the unfaithful. And that servant, who knew his lord's will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more." (Luke 12:42-48)

Elsewhere, Jesus offered reward if the amount of giving were no more than a drink of cold water. And Paul offers this (2 Corinthians 8:12): "For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according as a man hath, not according as he hath not." And we remember the rich young ruler who left Jesus sadly, because he was unwilling to part with his possessions to meet needs with which he had not yet even been confronted! His gift, it seems, was to be put forth and, after that, he would seek out the people who needed his help.

I think you will agree, though, John, that the order to the rich young ruler--literally to divest himself of all that he had--was specific to him and not an order to all. In fact, the apostle Peter specifically states (in chiding Ananias and Sapphira for lying) that they were *not* under obligation to sell their property and bring the price to the apostles, but that they were obligated not to _lie_ about the amount they had received for it.

In fact, God, being all-knowing, would realize that if all those who own the means of production were to divest themselves and spread the resulting sums broadcast, this would be destructive of society rather than helpful. The owner of a productive business (assuming that its goods and services are not harmful) does more good with the _organized_ wealth he has which is providing jobs in an on-going fashion than by dismantling the business, selling the assets, and giving the money to the poor.

This is why actual personal vows of poverty and non-ownership of property have been regarded as special vocations taken on by a few, not as a model for Christian life or for society generally.

There will, in fact, be more to give if we participate in the process of creating and exchanging wealth. (And for that matter, even many monasteries support themselves by selling goods--be it special-label alcoholic beverages, recorded music, or pure-bred dogs, all of which I have heard of in real life being sold by monks or nuns.)

Hadn't heard about the dogs. The alcohol, though, that's pretty famous. Which is rather odd, I will admit. There is also bread, and a few other comestibles.

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