Tuesday, March 28, 2023

To give or not to give?

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Stereotypical depiction of a beggar family in Sebastian Brandt’s “Ship of Fools”, printed in Basel in 1494.

Britta-Marie Schenk and Daniel Allemann

Christmas is over. Also the willingness to donate and give money to beggars. However, people who ask for a few francs stay. And then they appear again, the small, nasty thoughts: I can’t give everyone something, where is that supposed to lead? Am I supporting the next intoxication or even the “beggar mafia”? And why is that actually my responsibility – shouldn’t the state ensure that nobody has to beg?

Everything brand new? no way! Moral self-questioning in giving has a tradition, primarily a religious one. In the late Middle Ages, poverty became the Christian ideal – thanks to the rise of the Franciscans and Dominicans. The so-called mendicant monks were propertyless on paper. But they had a clever business model: nobles and bankers could buy themselves a clear conscience with huge sums of money – “pious foundations”. In return, the “paper poor” took care of the salvation of the souls of the beggars who were actually in need.

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