There’s one born every minute…

Jesus was a sucker. Hear me out.

According to the Gospel of Matthew he said “Give to everyone to asks and do not refuse the one who wants to borrow from you.”[1] If one were actually to try this, they would soon find that they no longer had anything to give away! Indeed, in the post-Derrida and Post-Levinas time in which we live, the “impossibility” of the “pure” gift or “pure” hospitality is commonplace. In fact, these more recent philosophers were preempted by a couple thousand years since the author of the Didache, an early Christian document from around the turn of the first century CE, already instructed readers to “let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give” (Did. 1:6). That is, charity is important, but you should hold on tightly to your contribution until the object of charity has been evaluated.

But me, I’m not a sucker; I’m an expert. And thanks to the internet, I can become so with almost no effort and no real understanding of the issues involved. The flip-side of being an expert is, of course, being a critic. Kierkegaard, in The Present Age, scathingly characterized his contemporaries as “reflective” rather than brave or noble. They were those who, on reflection, could criticize the hero and convince themselves that such deeds are better left undone. Sadly, we don’t even live in a reflective age anymore. Ours is the age of the knee-jerk reaction; the age of unsupported criticism by “experts” who don’t understand.

This was recently driven home to me again when the Invisible Children put out their Kony 2012 video. Some who genuinely understood the situation criticized factual inaccuracies and political oversimplification, but an alarming number didn’t and instead cried “government conspiracy” or attacked the character of those who were trying to help.[2] I even learned a new word, “sheeple.” Apparently, anyone who is persuaded or inspired by anyone else about anything is in danger of being a “sheeple.”

Criticism has become our self-defense. It is our way to prove that we are not suckers, that we are our own masters (or mistresses). But to have such a posture as the default raises its own problems. We lose the ability to evaluate an idea for what is good in it. We lose the ability to be inspired. We lose the ability to attempt the heroic. And we lose generosity towards other people both in the way that we interact with their ideas (often manifested in ad hominem attacks) and the way in which we respond to their requests for help.

In our critical age, Jesus seems unbelievably naïve. But, so what? Maybe he was on to something that we, in our current social and political context, are unable to grasp. Maybe what the world needs is more suckers to give to all who ask.[3]

Ben Edsall
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[1] Matthew 5:42 (and similarly Luke 6:30). The term “borrow” (δανείζω) is often used in the sense of lending out with interest (as in Plato’s Laws 742C). In context I am inclined to shade the meaning away from technical financial language (similar to the use of the same term in the Greek of Deut 15:8-10) but, if it does have the technical sense, Jesus’ statement has interesting implications for financial institutions, especially in light of other biblical injunctions such as returning a person’s collateral should they need it to survive (Deut 24:13).
[2] This is true even though their proposed help was not without problems. For an insightful response to the Kony 2012 developments, see this piece at Time.
[3] I’d like to head off certain criticisms at the start, here. I am not trying to argue that systemic injustice ought to be ignored or that more holistic ways of helping those in need (through rehabilitation, micro-business, etc.) are not valuable. They are crucial. But they are also a function of our initial impulse to help rather than to criticize.

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