If I don’t do anything, I feel guilty. If I reach into my pocket and hand over a few dollars, I feel guiltier. I thought for a while that the problem was the amount, so I started giving more, sometimes significantly more; but that only felt like an effort to buy my way out of an imbalance between what I had and what the objects (that’s the problem; I was making them [the homeless, the poor, et al.] into objects) of my largesse either lacked or had lost.Fish goes on to relate this phenomenon with his study of 17th-century English literature (he himself is a specialist on John Milton). He notes that such poets as Andrew Marvell and George Herbert have noticed the same tendencies in their own writing. Instead of glorifying God--in the poems Fish refers to--these poets note the unrelenting resurfacing of the ego, of the selfishness that they believed inhered in their works.
The accounts could never be squared. They would always be behind in resources, I would always be behind in the obligation to care for those less fortunate than I. I could just stop giving altogether, but that would seem even worse. Or I could give away all my earthly goods, but the hook of material possessions is too deeply in me for that. I could do more, but I could never do enough.
Charity--or, to use a more laden word, caritas, or the unconditional love of others that is supposedly the essence of Christianity--exists, as Fish points out much more clearly than I am, in a world in which we are ever more inclined toward ourselves, to the exclusion of others.
In the case of the column I linked to, at issue was charitable giving (alms), but anything else that threatens to take us beyond ourselves and our own selfish desires can serve as an example. There's the old adage, for example, that "you always hurt the one you love."
The purest of emotions, the purest of acts, are nevertheless still impure in this world