There is a wonderful article by Olivia at Teen Skepchick that explores the difference between some kinds of religious charity and real charity. She makes several good points, a few of which I’d like to expand on.
We all try to teach our children right from wrong. Most of us try to teach them to be good to others, especially those who don’t have as much as they do.
I’ll admit that we didn’t do a lot of charity work with my kids when they were growing up. There were a few things. When I was active in my Masonic lodge, I’d take the kids with me when I’d deliver fruit baskets to the widows at Christmas. I would also take them to fundraisers for a scholarship we ran. We also gathered food for food drives, and clothes for charity to drop off at various local charities.
The focus was always on doing things that actively helped others. Something real and tangible. Food, clothes; things people who needed then could use then and there.
Before I gave up religious belief completely, we would take the kids to church. When they were very young, we went to an Armenian Orthodox church in our home town in Massachusetts. My wife was Armenian and I was raised Catholic, so except for the service being mostly in Armenian, it was pretty comfortable and familiar.
They would raise money there, but mostly for the upkeep of the church buildings. I don’t remember any real charity events there.
After moving the Nebraska, and after the divorce, the kids mother took them to an Assembly of God church right up the street. This was a big church with a huge altar, multimedia shows, and all different kinds of programs for kids of different ages.
The money they would raise there was for missionary work overseas. I remember thinking how wasteful it all seemed. The money for the lights, cameras (yes, services were taped and the pastor’s image was projected onto a large screen), music, and so on. There was no mention of helping others, unless it was helping to “save souls”.
My daughter saw right through this and though she was only about 9 years old, asked me why they spent so much money on all of that stuff instead of using it to give people food and clothes. I told her, simply, that I didn’t know. She said something to the effect that it was stupid.
Images by NJLA: New Jersey Library Association, FMSC, DanieVDM, compiled into featured image by the author.
My main focus so far has been to make my kids aware of the imense privileges they have. We’re a middle-class family in a socially very diverse part of town and I’m trying to teach them that their normal and their perspective is not everybody’s. And that they should not be assholes about it and understand that they are very lucky, because they do not deserve to go on a holiday and their friends don’t.
I find charity work with children difficult because you easily instill some “white privileged saviour” assholery into them, so I tend to encourage things like environmental activism and animal welfare.