Because it came up over at Maggie's, I thought I would share it here.
GK Chesterton's quote in Heretics on charity is worth considering. A lot is packed into a few sentences.
It is true that there is a thing crudely called charity, which means charity to the deserving poor; but charity to the deserving is not charity at all, but justice. It is the undeserving who require it, and the ideal either does not exist at all, or exists wholly for them.
Charity to the deserving is not charity at all, but justice. We think so often that justice must be administered by government these days that we forget that justice also lies within our reach. If a person has been dealt an unfair hand in life, we are righting a wrong by offsetting that.
Many of us think that affirmative action is acceptable in a limited way, and was even more so a few decades ago - but in being institutionalised, it has moved ever-further into the realm of injustice, as formal and permanent structures for any type of disbursement will automatically generate rent-seeking behavior. I have had patients who have deeply abused the disability or government entitlement systems, but they do not provoke anger in me so much for the unfairness of this as that they drain resources from those who need them more. A monthly SSDI check isn't all that much, and even maximising the other benefits like Section 8 housing and fuel subsidies doesn't make one rich. Medicaid is a very valuable resource in some ways, especially if one has ongoing medical expenses. But you can't spend it, can't buy a cup of coffee with it.
Yet injustice still exists in the world, and if we do not wish governments to step in to clumsily, and eventually corruptly and inefficiently address that, then we might take it upon ourselves to address it. It might be kind and generous of us to ameliorate injustice, but I see Chesterton's point that this may not be charity in the full sense. Mercy, grace, charity are what is given to the undeserving, as we are ourselves in the spiritual accounting. If we require that they first be grateful, or humble, or even polite then it is a step down from full charity, however good for their character it might be to learn this.
This causes me a sharp intake of breath every time I encounter it again, and I seem to forget it swiftly.