BBC Radio 4:Catherine Pepinster - 16/09/17

We wake this morning to feel less secure after yesterday's attempted bombing in London and a heightened security level of critical. It has sadly become an increasingly regular state of mind we are all having to cope with.

Yesterday I had planned to talk about what it feels like to be insecure in a different way to rely on the charitable giving of others and food from the food banks of hundreds of churches and supermarkets. The message was rooted in an ideal which directs us to think about each other in an inter-dependent way, an ideal which it feels to me even more vital to hang on to in the face of terrorism.

My thinking about this arose from the comment of the MP Jacob Rees Mogg who described the expansion of food banks as an uplifting example of charity. It’s hard to know whether being uplifted or getting a warm glow is what people feel as they hand over cans of beans and packets of soup to a foodbank. And is that what charity should be all about?

The roots of contemporary charity are found in religious tradition, with almsgiving a key tenet of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. One of the most famous stories in Scripture is of the widow’s mite. As Jesus watched her giving just two small coins while the rich gave much greater alms to a collection, he said hers was worth far more than theirs.

The gift she made was a real sacrifice, made not to feel good, but with love of her neighbour. Compare that with the scene in the famous movie Deliverance when some tourists listen to an astonishingly talented banjo player. When one of the visitors exclaims at the boy’s talent, another patronizingly says, give him a couple of bucks.

Could that be described as charity? The man was certainly under no obligation to give but it meant nothing to him to chuck someone a few coins.

The word charity derives from the Latin word caritas, meaning love or a high price, which links it to the idea of sacrifice. The philosopher Thomas Aquinas described caritas as loving God above all things, and our neighbour as ourselves.

But Christian teaching urges charity to go much further than making donations to good causes and people in need wherever they are in the world. It says our responsibilities are much wider than this, describing the structures in societies that cause people to be oppressed, to be violated, and to endure iniquity, as social or structural sin. Structural sin, says the Catholic Church’s social doctrine, is “a direct assault on one’s neighbour”. It is an obligation on everyone work for justice and stand up for the common good.