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Spirituality means, among other things, orientation towards relationality, sociality. Love is undoubtedly relationality, while considering ourselves special beings who are not the center of the world leads us to a greater attention to the other. This shift in emphasis helps to give a proper orientation to spirituality, usually understood as attention of the individual person towards themselves, towards the dynamics that take place within them.

In dealing with social relations, we can consider Sartre’s approach too destructive (“Hell is other people”) and the Levinas’ one too naively optimistic; surely now we are not here to follow a middle path. Rather, we need to find ways to walk, that will lead to social relations of improvement, progress, growth, at least as a collective human perception. Now, if spirituality in itself can be considered a way of research worthy of continuous deepening, and with it the spiritualities of love, forgiveness, being, no doubt another spirituality that deserves research is that of the relationship with the other or others.

On this topic, Christianity has to offer one more time a category that deserves to be taken for a recovery to a non-metaphysical, non-dogmatic humanism: it is the category of charity, also called, with a greek term, agàpe (αγάπη). How to understand this category in ways free from interference of faith? Certainly we do not intend to get rid of Sartre as if he were obsolete: the other is hell as well, the concept of universal spirituality as evil remains valid. In the way so far covered, however, we have formed a wealth of mind settings that can provide a good context in which to carry out this type of research, because actually it is research: the performative interpretation of charity is also testing and questioning of life to try ways of growth. Even charity is no exception to the lack of objectivity: even an expensive perfume can be considered more necessary than alms to poors, just by Jesus himself (Mark 14:3-9). It can be understood, as well, as a way by which nature criticizes itself, for example about to the law of the strongest.

So, it will be a modest charity, conscious of being always polluted by something, by selfishness, a charity that doubts even about its own existence; surely it will not be important to let the right hand know something about which the left hand doubts even its existence. Charity will be a facet, a reflection of spirituality in course of cultivation, with the desire to share it with others. We know that each sharing is polluted by the desire to overpower the other, but this, rather than detracting us from it, simply is good to remind us that this attempt to love, to share, to cultivate the well-being of feeling ourselves cooperators to good, will also be critical research and self-criticism. In this respect the path of spirituality itself, expressed in this site, can be considered this way.

Additional notes

About charity, a point of misunderstanding is the ambiguity between external gesture and personal relationship. Let’s think, for example, of a poor person who asks for charity: “Give alms, please!”. I give her alms, so I have given her charity. However, we all realize that charity is not this, charity is not almsgiving. What is it then?

Saint Paul raises this problem very clearly in his first letter to the Corinthians 13, verse 3, that is, in the famous “Hymn to charity”: “… and though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing”. That is, even if I gave all my money to the poor, it could happen that I made this gesture without charity. Therefore charity is something else.

The point of reference to clarify the authentic meaning of charity, historically, has been the greek term “agàpe”, but even on this, unfortunately, we fall into confusion: what is this agàpe? Is it just being together to eat? How can we define it, how not to confuse it with what can make it a false understanding? To understand it correctly, we can define charity this way: it needs to be growth of the subject towards other subjects. This may seem a too philosophical, too intellectualistic definition, but, actually, I believe that it is very useful to frame the question correctly. My definition of love is “growing and making people grow”, in a perspective where growing, walking, becoming, in the basic frame of everything. This way we have a useful criterion: for true charity being there, there must be growth, growth of myself, growth of the other person. In this context charity and love are the same thing.

How does charity differ from love? Love includes something more general, while charity refers more to the concrete action, despite the notes we have considered. What is an authentic concrete action? It is the action that contains growth. I was talking about the subject towards other subjects. The act of charity, to be authentic, needs be walking of me towards the other person. As such it never ends, because my walking towards the other person means a universe that walks towards another universe for mutual enrichment.

I spoke of subjects to distinguish from the problem of confusion with metaphysics. Metaphysics means objectification: everything is an object, a thing that exists. Subject instead means taking into account ourselves, our conditioning, with its strengths and weaknesses. The problem of giving alms to the poor can be clarified in the philosophical context. The defect of charity understood as almsgiving is in being understood as metaphysical, that is, as objectivity, the material object, the material action: “I gave you alms, here it is, this is the charity”. The problem is that this way the subject has disappeared and then the criterion I was saying becomes important, that is to say, charity is the growth of the subject towards other subjects, it is the journey of the person towards other people, so that there is growth and mutual enrichment.

We can also keep in mind the etymology of the word charity: being dear, making myself dear, making myself dear to the other, being for him not evil, hell, as Sartre said, “Hell is the others”, but rather a person who for the other must turn out to be a beautiful, positive, constructive, interesting, good experience.

In this context of understanding charity as walking from myself as a subject towards the other subject, we can also keep in mind another idea that comes to us from Saint Paul in First Corinthians 9. That is to say, exploring assimilation to the other, making oneself similar to the other, sharing their condition, being like them, like the others. Paul says, in first Corinthians 9, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law…”. “I have become all things to all people”, that is, almost reaching the point of becoming a sinner to be similar to sinners. This is nothing but what Jesus did, becoming man to share the condition of sin. Here it would be necessary to discuss the being a non-sinner of Jesus. We could understand having shared this too, even being a sinner, but we are not going to discuss this theological problem here. What is important is the essential criterion: this walking of the subject towards the other subject means exploring the the horizon of the different one, to the degree of denying myself, that is, doing what I wouldn’t agree with, what I wouldn’t want to do. The criterion of walking has this particularity, that is, being able to do the opposite of itself, being able to deny itself. Walking can therefore also mean stopping, obviously not to turn stopping into a final rule, so that we are not walking anymore, but to explore different experiences. In this context, walking, love, charity, are the same thing, with this special ability to include self-denial. This is the meaning of moving towards the subject.

At this point I would like to highlight some negative things that occur when, rather than being there a walk towards the other subject, there is an affirmation of my subject. When there is an affirmation of my subject, an affirmation of me, it happens mostly at the expense of the other subject. I am referring, in particular, to those hypocritical activities where they do something that is not exactly the utmost love for the poor, because there is an injustice in the distribution of goods, there is exploitation of the masses, of ignorance, and yet they say “The proceeds will go to the poor”; the masses fall for it, but apparently not only the masses. They falls for it and say “Good, good!”, but actually it’s all false. An indicative gesture, that happened some years ago: the car maker Lamborghini gave one of its most recent car models, one of the most expensive models, to Pope Francis. The proceeds will go to the poor. That’s all false, it’s all hypocritical. Lamborghini means luxury, luxury means unjust distribution of goods. That is, what should belong to the poor by social mechanisms has been taken away and given instead to those who are richer. Carrying out a commercial activity like Lamborghini means carrying out an activity that creates social injustice, creates an unjust distribution of goods and therefore what sense does it make the proceeds go to the poor? It would be like selling weapons, selling tanks, and then spending part of the proceeds on peace. If you are going to do this, don’t make tanks instead. In this context, Jesus was more outspoken when he said to that rich man “Do you want to come with me? Start by selling everything, give it to the poor and then come with me”. I cannot create love for the poor by placing self-affirmation among that. Philosophy helps to clarify this: charity cannot have metaphysics, that is, the material object, as its basis. Charity must have the subject at its base, it has to be growth of the subject towards other subjects. Metaphysics, that is, material goods, at most must be at the service of all of this. There might be those who say “But they are anyway steps forward, it’s better than doing nothing!”. No, it’s not better than doing nothing, because we’re in that mechanism. Selling tanks and then giving the proceeds to the poor, for peace, is not better than doing nothing, it means constructing falsehoods, it means accustoming the masses to hypocrisy, accustoming the masses to the idea that charity can be lived in this false way. Jesus’ saying “Let not your right hand know what your left hand does”, is also based on this logic. That is, letting know means affirming oneself and therefore saying “Look how good I am, see this gesture of charity of mine”. It’s like giving the Lamborghini to the pope, like selling tanks and giving the proceeds for peace. That is, at the bottom lies the affirmation of the subject, who takes refuge behind the metaphysical gesture, behind the materiality of having given alms.

Now we can understand what I said at the beginning. Authentic charity has to refer to this criterion: it must be a journey of the subject towards other subjects. Then it can be an interesting experience, an experience that makes us grow and that promotes the well-being, I would even say the happiness of everyone, although “happiness” is a term that I don’t like very much, because it is overused.