punchy line

...and he (Simon Peter) saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth ... not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. - Jn 20: 6-7
-Jn 20: 6-7

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Why Not Supporting a 'Good' Cause Can Be Truly Compassionate

Unlike what our critics sometimes say about us, the Christian perspective is not overly negative, but nor is it naively optimistic. 

However, I appreciate that this is sometimes difficult to tell from an outsider’s perspective.

Consider the following example.

You’re at the grocery store and about to pay your bill when the cashier asks, “Would you like to donate to such-and-such an organization or a foundation-for-this-cure?”  Or “Would you like to donate to end (insert disease) forever?”  

Of course the answer, especially to the phrasing of the last question for all Christians is an emphatic, “Yes!  Of course I want for disease-x to be eliminated!”  

But hold on a minute. It’s more complicated than that.

Now, if you’re a Christian up to speed on some of the ugly-methods-in-the-name-of-a-good-cause-scientific research conducted in the medical field today, such a seemingly benign request to support what appears to be an indisputably worthy endeavor should make several bells go off in your head.   Why?

Thanks to a wonderful invention called the internet, you now know that many organizations use morally reprehensible methods, for instance, the destruction of human life, in their 'quest for a cure.'  And they do so despite sound evidence that such practices are unnecessary, not to mention completely unproductive.

And so how does the store scenario end? You say “No thank you,” and walk out feeling like everyone who overheard you is shaking their heads at your overt callousness.  You hope they didn't notice that you were wearing a cross or scapular as you withheld your donation to alleviate the suffering of cancer patients worldwide.  I concede that, from the outside, it may look like we don't care about sick people. But, in fact, the opposite is true.  We’re actually the ones being consistently compassionate in that instance, because, as charity-touting Christians, we are concerned for all of our brothers and sisters in Christ, including those in danger of being exploited.

I don’t know about you, but, upon entering adulthood, not being able to unflinchingly support medical research has actually brought me great sadness.  Sometimes the injustice of it all really hits me.  I remember a time, pre embryonic stem cell research, when we kids enthusiastically handed over our allowance money to the cashier and took delight in writing our names on the paper shamrocks that became plastered, along with hundreds of others, at the front of the store. 

Make no mistake, though, now that I know which organizations perpetrate harm on people for the sake of people, thanks again to the wonderful internet, I would not risk donating to any such organization.  And I do realize that there is no way to completely isolate oneself from stopping all of one’s money being used for evil;  these days, it seems like every restaurant or business trendily gives to one questionable cause or another. You can’t even buy a box of cereal or a coffee mug without being informed that part of your purchase goes to an association which is investing in ‘cure research.’ I try to avoid these items, again, not because I hate people and want them to suffer, but, as Christians, we are called to observe and practice the cardinal virtue of justice, and minimizing our participation in evil is a part of becoming fully just.

Of course, you will meet some Catholics that openly support many of the organizations in conflict with Church teaching.  These Catholics do more harm than good when they don’t want to hear about all the “dreary stuff” and my suspicion is that their desire to “do good” in the world enables a convenient denial that “good,” indeed, has become evil (such as when you don’t support a popular organization) and “evil” has become good (as when the potential to save life requires the condoned destruction of life.)

This all sounds very negative, I know, but it’s true and nothing is more compassionate than telling someone the truth and living it consistently yourself.

In truth, we Christians also have hope.  Real hope, not the kind that sounds nice on the news only the have the rotten bottom fall out from under it a generation later.   There have been several advancements and ‘miracles’ using the completely ethical and effective method of adult stem cells.  There have been recent breakthroughs using reverted skin stem cells (iPs) which are cheap to manufacture and produce incredible results.  The day I am asked to support those companies championing such effective and fruitful research or the day that all companies observe ethical stem cell research is the day I will be able to give again!  And it appears to be in sight.

Even my state, California, which took three billion dollars of taxpayer money (you heard me) and sank it into embryonic stem cells (while they hiked up state university tuition by almost 30% in the meantime) has almost silently shifted funding to adult stem cells instead.  So much for ‘progressive’ thinking.  It turns out the only ‘morality’ liberal minded stem cell companies observe is: money.  If they can make a cheap stem cell and a profit more quickly than an expensive, unyielding embryo, then they’ll readjust their moral compass accordingly.  Trust me, for a Californian, somehow the words, “I told you so – and thanks for making us bankrupt as you made your buddies rich,” just don’t even come close to expressing all we could about this subject.

I realize that well-meaning people support organizations believing them to be admirable.  However, although an end that someone seeks may be 'good' (like a cure for a disease, for example) for something to be fully moral, its ends and the means to achieve it as well as its circumstances must also be licit.  That’s ‘straight Aquinas,’ in case you wondering.

But from the outside, I’m sure it totally looks like we’re a bunch of inconsistent do-gooders who don’t believe in helping our sick neighbors.  In truth, we are concerned for the good of everybody involved including those who are sick, those who treat them, those who work in pharmaceuticals and those at the embryonic stage of life who are the most vulnerable.

As someone once said, “As a former embryo myself, I like to think I had a dignity even at that point that no one should be allowed to violate.”

See?  Holding a value for every human life is not a negative perspective at all.  Nor is it overly positive.  It acknowledges reality.  A cure for people must be found but not at the expense of the life of another.


  1. Thank you for this. Have you read about how Pepsi uses a company that uses embryonic stem cells as part of its quest for better tasting soda? (the cells are used in the chemical process, not in the soda itself.) GROTESQUE, but where is the outrage?

  2. I hate those requests during checkout. I always feel manipulated. Anyway, a lot of those corporate charities are basically shams. I remember when a former employer tried to force employees to give to the United Way. They were like the charity Gustapo. If you didn't give you were made to feel like an outsider.

  3. Knowledge is power. Thank you for the insight, so I can make an informed decision (or donation).

  4. Thanks for this great article! Allison, a slight correction - Pepsi does not use embryonic stem cell but uses cells lines from the kidneys of aborted fetuses. This, of course, is still morally reprehensible. You can read more about this on the National Catholic Bioethics Center ncbcenter.org

  5. Thanks everyone, for commenting and thanks for the clarification, Anonymous. Knowledge is power.

  6. This is right on. I always tell them, "No, thank you. I have very specific charities to whom I give my money." That is, of course, only when I am not otherwise busy handing a child some sprinkles or a piece of bread or something else to keep them from screaming or climbing out of the cart...or trying to divert my six-yr-old's eyes from the smut magazines that line the checkout counter. (She only makes very limited trips to the supermarket with me now that she can read.) During those moments, I am far less diplomatic and the cashier usually gets a distracted, "What?! ... No."


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