Hampstead Heath, in leafy north London, is proud of its walk-on part in the history of Marxism. It was here, on a Sunday, that Karl Marx would walk his family up Parliament Hill, reciting Shakespeare and Schiller along the way, for an afternoon of picnics and poetry. On a weekday, he would join his friend Friedrich Engels, who lived close by, for a brisk hike around the heath, where the “old Londoners”, as they were known, mulled over the Paris Commune, the Second International and the nature of capitalism.
Today, on a side road leading off from the heath, the Marxist ambition remains alive in the house of Eric Hobsbawm. Born in 1917 (in Alexandria, under the British protectorate of Egypt), more than 20 years after both Marx and Engels had died, he knew neither man personally, of course. But talking to Eric in his airy front room, filled with family photos, academic honours and a lifetime of cultural objets, there is an almost tangible sense of connection to the men and their memory.
I believe that all of our actions can and should be filtered through these questions: is this action life-giving or is it death-dealing? Is it both or neither? In what ways? How do I know this? Because, after all, we often think something is life-giving when, in fact, it is death-dealing. We all have blind-spots and we all inherit ideologies and cultural or religious paradigms that make it difficult for us to evaluate our own actions. This, I think, is especially true when it comes to the ways in which we understand charity today, and so I wish to highlight some of the ways in which charity falls into the realm of that which is death-dealing, in contrast to the life-giving actions of the community that assembled around Jesus. This will be done with a series of seven contrasts.
Long before Occupy Wall Street, the Sisters of St. Francis were quietly staging an occupation of their own. In recent years, this Roman Catholic order of 540 or so nuns has become one of the most surprising groups of corporate activists around.
The nuns have gone toe-to-toe with Kroger, the grocery store chain, over farm worker rights; with McDonald’s, over childhood obesity; and with Wells Fargo, over lending practices. They have tried, with mixed success, to exert some moral suasion over Fortune 500 executives, a group not always known for its piety.