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" If you ask me to do something that doesn't work because people will otherwise think I'm not nice, I will tell you flatly that I don't care"

New Abell post tonight, and with it, I ask this question - what is your real motivation in a charitable act when you know going in it's not going to help, if not to make yourself feel better, and how is that somehow superior to doing nothing?



Compassion in Cold Climates


Your name is Steinthor. You live in Iceland, the third generation of your family to do so. And, by the reckoning of some people far away, it is the year 987.

As a young man, you went on Viking voyages, but then came home and settled in as your father had, as a farmer on a fine patch of grassland by a river. You, your family, and your extended household work hard during the short summer to provide for yourselves during the long, dark winter. In some years, your household's survival during the winter is more assured than in others.

During this particular long, dark winter, yet another blizzard arrives, not the last you expect in the months to come before the weather changes. And on this night, there is a knock on the door. The person standing there, half frozen and hoping for your hospitality, is a noxious neighbor who has repeatedly proven himself to be no friend. He was traveling and was caught out, still miles from home. His horses are dead, he is wet to the skin, and visibility is nearing zero.


Will your life be better if you turn him away and he perishes in the snow? To put a blunt point on it: it probably will. Can he make it home alive if you don't take him in? Probably not. Perhaps even certainly not. If you don't take him in, someone will find his frozen corpse in a snowdrift two or three months from now.

What do you do?

Patheos columnist and friend Teo Bishop recently posted a piece on compassion, and what it means to Pagans. In the discussion stream following that piece is a paragraph by a Heathen writing as LaurelhurstLiberal (who is not me). If you want an excellent short version of what's to come here, you might go and read that, but Teo asked me to write more on the topic.


As I've said here before, Viking Age Heathens didn't write much. We don't know if they went in for abstract philosophy or theology. A reasonably safe bet is that they didn't. What we do know about them comes mostly from myths and family sagas written much later, at a time when a predominantly oral culture was giving way to a torrent of writing. This recorded the remembered culture of an immensely practical people, as their descendants realized that something worthwhile was slipping away from them.

The lack of the crisp logic produced by some cultures is regrettable. But if we don't have the points and lines and planes of a dissertation, we do have the colors and shapes and shadows of lives actually lived. An important part of Asatru, the Religion With Homework, is looking at these old stories to identify The Things That Change versus The Things That Stay The Same. I'm not the kind of Heathen who longs for life in the Tenth Century. I do look at life in the Tenth Century to help myself make sense of life in the Twenty-First.

If you're not familiar with Heathenry, let me introduce you to some new words.

Inangard and Utgard: Inside and Outside, Us and Them. While Us-and-Them thinking creates some of the world's significant ills, it's pointless to pretend that we don't live in communities of various scales. These communities have Insides and Outsides, and those distinctions often matter a lot. Now that we have that out of the way, we get to learn what we can wisely do with this knowledge. Don't be surprised if that takes up a lot of your lifetime.

Frith and Grith: Happy To See You versus We'll Put Up With You. While I'm sure we'd all prefer to deal only with those people we really like, the world works better if we are open to the possibility of going beyond that. There will always be lots of people we don't like, and they won't just go away. When dealing with such people, it's also helpful to have some protocol for piloting through these episodes without resorting to steel or, more recently, lead.

Continued at link

Answer Question

Asked by NotPanicking at 12:10 AM on Apr. 29, 2012 in Religious Debate

Level 51 (421,174 Credits)
Answers (16)
  • Interesting...I'm the type that would take someone in during their time of need, regardless of my past relationship with said person.
    My thought is, I would hope that I would be helped in my time of need. Taking a chance that I wouldn't, but wouldn't I be the better person?

    Answer by PMSMom10 at 12:20 AM on Apr. 29, 2012

  • Or is this considered self gratification?

    Answer by PMSMom10 at 12:21 AM on Apr. 29, 2012

  • but wouldn't I be the better person?

    Is endangering the survival of your own family better? At the end of the story in this example, you let the neighbor in, merely tolerated, not welcomed, with the understanding that the slightest offense will put him back outside (and the shared knowledge that it isn't an idle threat). It's not an open arms welcome, and the moment the balance tips, he's out the door.

    Often, the idea of charity comes across more as doing something because of appearances, not because of an urge to help or an indication that the situation can actually be improved. That shouldn't be confused with situations where good can obviously be done, but those aren't nearly as common as we like to believe.

    Comment by NotPanicking (original poster) at 12:29 AM on Apr. 29, 2012

  • I didn't read past your first question. If I know that my charitable act will in no way help at all, then I look to some place else in which to be charatible.

    Answer by popzaroo at 12:48 AM on Apr. 29, 2012

  • I don't do anything for appearances, only for the desire to help.

    Would I endanger my family, no! If I felt the person in need was someone that would, I would try to find an alternative way.
    I just can't turn my back on anyone in need.

    Call it one of my faults, just my MO

    Answer by PMSMom10 at 12:55 AM on Apr. 29, 2012

  • Hmmm... it's late, and I'm not sure I have thought this through.

    I think this way of seeing things makes a lot of sense... in a very honest about ourselves kind of way. I like that.

    The example of the man who would take his neighbor in, on the condition he mind his manners... there is nothing wrong with that. I have had such neighbors. Part of me would leave them out in the cold just because I really don't want to even have to put up with them... ever, at all. However, I would have to consider what problems that decision would cause later on. So, I'd likely be doing it for the sake of appearances. I'm not one who cares to endanger my family, so that would be the first and foremost consideration though.

    Answer by anime_mom619 at 1:21 AM on Apr. 29, 2012

  • A more modern-type example might be giving money to the guy on the street corner. The one with the witty sign that says, "saving for a hooker, anything helps". I like that guy. Hey, at least he's probably being honest. But I don't make a lot of money, and that dollar given to the man so he can buy his booze or his hooker or whatever could go to put food on my table. What do I choose? Do I be one of many who enable this guy to continue his life on the streets? He's likely not going to change. Or do I feed my kids? The money will do more good if I keep it. It's not going to make me feel better knowing he just spent my last dollar on whatever habit of his, and it's not going to help him get off the streets because he likely doesn't want to.

    Answer by anime_mom619 at 1:27 AM on Apr. 29, 2012

  • So I guess I'm trying to say that personally, if I know something isn't going to help, I'm not gonna do it. If I do help, it's likely to have conditions placed on it. Something like, I will donate X amount, but only if it goes specifically to Y. I can't do something just to make myself feel good, because the practical part of me will be thinking about all the reasons it's wrong. I can't do it for appearance sake only because of the same reason. Usually if I do something nice, there is some level of selfishness involved though... I think that's just human nature, isn't it?

    Answer by anime_mom619 at 1:31 AM on Apr. 29, 2012

  • I'm sorry but it's early here and I for the life of me don't know why I'm attempting to put my thoughts down after such an insightful question has been asked, but here it goes.

    I missed the part where you mentioned WHY letting my neighbor in from the cold would be endangering my own family. So not fully seeing that point but understanding that this man has not won any "Neighbor of the Year" contest either I would still choose to let him in. For his sake, no. For appearences sake on my behalf, no. However, considering what year you're talking about I would have to take into consideration if this man loses his life out in the harsh weather than he won't be there to help his family survive the cold, dark and long winter. Their survival chances drop considerably and then more is at stake. I would put value in the lives of his family above his own by letting him in, if that makes sense. Again this is not knowing

    Answer by IrishInSpirit at 7:04 AM on Apr. 29, 2012

  • what the danger of helping such a person is potentially doing to my family.  If he is believed to be a murderer or some other dodgy lot than I would do what most people do now a days when a JW knocks on their door and that's either slam the door in their face, tell them off in a not so respectful way or just don't answer the door; in other words IGNORE HIM.

    For me charity has very little to do with a person's religious views but more to do with how they view their act is going to better serve the community.


    Answer by IrishInSpirit at 7:09 AM on Apr. 29, 2012

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