Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Tyranny of Philanthropy?

Is there such a thing as the tyranny of philanthropy?

Without a predominating love of God, love of neighbor will become a limitless project, and the good things we seek for each other “is only the beginning of what [we] will do” ([Genesis] 11:6). What begins as a fitting philanthropy ends with us rallying all the forces at our disposal to serve whatever god of worldly flourishing we have made for ourselves. If people will not be free, then they must be forced to be free. If our global economic system cannot eliminate poverty, then we’ll wipe it away and force people to produce wealth in a new way—even to the point of using fear in place of the old motive of greed. We cannot live by bread alone, and if we insist on making bread the entire focus of service to our neighbor, we will end up tying others down to force the food down their throats—and all the while we will reassure ourselves that the cutting ropes of bondage are there for their own good.

R. R. Reno, Genesis. SCM Theological Commentary on the Bible (London: SCM, 2010), pp. 133-4

If Reno is right, then yes, it’s entirely possible that love for one’s neighbour, especially in the face of oppressive governments, can become an idol. Is this what happens when local churches privilege social action above all else, and all in the name of loving God?


  1. I didn't understand the bit about the oppressive government.

  2. I guess I'm focusing on the idea that altruism and compassion can become idolatrous. If governments oppress - and for different societies and countries, an oppressive government will mean different things - then it's right, of course, to stand against injustice, care for the poor, etc. But surely there comes a point when this proper stance in itself becomes oppressive and thus idolatrous.