Monday, March 19

The Bootstrap Ethic

The Charity Organization Society was England's leading private charity agency in the late nineteenth century. It operated on the Biblical principle of aid to foster self-help. According to Charles Loch Mowat, the historian of the society, it embodied an idea of charity, which claimed to reconcile the divisions in society, to remove poverty, and to produce a happy, self-reliant community. It believed that the most serious aspect of poverty was the degradation of the character of the poor man or woman. Indiscriminate charity only made things worse; it demoralized. True charity demanded friendship, thought, the sort of help that would restore a man's self-respect and his ability to support himself and his family. True charity demanded gainful employ.”

The Society aimed to implement to the fullest extent possible the bootstrap ethic so predominant in Scripture. Again, according to Mowat, it sought: “First, to place in gainful employ those able to work; Second, to occupy, with industry within the Society, all those incapable of placement; And, third, to acquire the means with which to supply the other incapacitated needy with the necessities of life.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the premiere Victorian pulpit master, was a public advocate and avid supporter of the Society. He heralded it as “a charity to which the curse of idleness is subjected to the rule of the under-magistrate of earthly society: work.”

This was the appropriate aim of Biblical charity, he said, “ to rid the impoverished of the curse of idleness” and to “rebuild self-reliance and productivity.” More than anything else, he argued, “the poor need jobs.” So, the Society sought to explore the markets, equip the applicants, and expand the opportunities so that full employment could be secured for all but the totally infirm.

The results were remarkable--a revolution not unlike that of Thomas Chalmers in Scotland a generation earlier took place in the industrialized centers all throughout Britain. Poverty was transformed into productivity and the poor themselves became engines of prosperity.

8 comments:

Jim said...

Dr. G, don't know another way to do this, but you'll probably want to read this.

You may remove this comment at your discretion.

zimbloggy said...

In America, things like welfare have been established by the Government, giving much of the money to people who could earn it themselves. They have taken away what the churches are supposed to do and now many of the churches don't nearly do as much of the charity work that they used to.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

I don't mean this as an attack, but I am confused by several points in your post.

First, you say the bootstrap ethic is predominant in Scripture. But the whole point of the Gospel is poverty is overcome by Charity alone, not by working hard. "He hath filled the hungry with good things" refers to the Cross of Christ, not to giving them gainful employment.

Second, Charity toward the poor is absolutely essential for the Gospel. "If any of you, having the worlds goods, sees a brother in need, but closes up the bowels of compassion, the Love of God is not in Him" (or something like that). Nevertheless, this program seems to be based on the principle that it is the rich and productive who are truly blessed. But "Blessed are the poor" and "Wo to ye rich." And "He hath put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low estate, he hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent away empty-handed." Isn't poverty better than riches?

Yes, there is a paradoxical interpretation of these words, but as Bonhoeffer says, isn't the literal to be prefered? Shouldn't we rather be with the humblest of humble men, that is on the Cross, humiliated to absolute poverty, than being profitable members of society?

George said...

Matthew: Hard work and charity are intertwined in Scripture. It was charity for landowners to leave the edges of the fields unharvested for the poor, but it was work for the poor to glean. This is the essence of charity in the Old Testament--it is not either/or, it is both/and. Even the Apostle Paul admonishes, "He who will not work shall not eat." True charity is not promiscuous giving; it is, whenever possible, a hand, not a hand-out. My books, Bringing in the Sheaves and Micah Mandate both develop this idea more thoroughly.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

But if charity implies hard work, we are either saved by hard work, or without charity.

True Charity is promiscuous giving. Like say, broadcasting seeds on both good and evil soil. Or saving and sanctifying based solely on giving, never on works.

Johnny! said...

Matthew, once the saving and sanctifying is accomplished, what are we commanded to do? Work, or our faith is dead.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

"As you therefore received Christ, so live in Him." Yes, true faith works, but the work of true faith is only accomplished by gift, and is not "hard work" but taking up our cross and following Him.

Once the saving and sanctifying are accomplished, we are commanded to enter the bridal chamber.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." Luke 6:20