I have found that one of the deep-seated drivers of people’s attitudes is their views on what human beings basically are. Although there are lots of subtleties in opinion it basically comes down to two poles: humans are good or humans are bad.
Consider the two opposite takes within Christianity.
On the one had we have the view, sometimes associated with John Calvin but much older, that humans are inherently flawed, evil, sinful creatures. We inherit this nature from Adam and pass it down to our children. Humans are, to put it more practically, not to be trusted. We assume that given the chance any given human will display the worst possible behavior. They will be lazy, greedy, and generally selfish. This is a theology that places a heavy emphasis on sin and separation of the world from God.
On the other hand we have the idea that human beings are made in God’s image and that image is not lost due to sin, merely distorted. Yes, we are prone to sin and selfishness but ultimately any given human is capable of love and compassion and selflessness. In practical terms we can expect, overall, human beings to act more positively toward others than not. They will be decent neighbors, reasonable people, and not cause undue problems that cannot be solved with open dialogue. This is a theology that places a heavy emphasis on the idea of the Imago Dei, the Image of God, in humanity and the belief that ultimately we are all God’s children whether we choose to acknowledge that or not.
How then do these beliefs alter how we practice Christian love?
For those who hold the first view, acts of charity are ultimately evangelical tools. They are meant to draw people in to hear the Gospel and be converted. Final reconciliation with God in Heaven, not their well being on Earth, is the only consideration. Beyond the evangelical, any assistance should be earned. The old phrase was “the deserving poor” – a category of people who worked hard but due to circumstance never had the chance the be elevated. Lots of talk of responsibility accompanies this. This view is especially prone to retribution theology, the belief if you have good things you must be a good person and if you have bad things you must be a bad person. At an extreme this leads to idolization of material goods and those that have them and the demonization of the poor as just getting what they deserve. It tends to hold up a standard of what is normal and right and condemn deviations from it. It is very personal, in the sense that each is given what they deserve in life.
Those who hold the second view see things differently. Acts of charity are based on the image of God seen in other humans. In its heart it holds that all humanity deserves the basics of life, the chance to prosper and to be happy, for no other reason than that they are human. It is less concerned with individual actions and more focused on the forces that shape communities. It is willing to risk loss due to theft or fraud to aid those who are in need. It acknowledges that the relationship of any one to any other is based on Christ’s relationship to us, we will never be “worthy” of Christ’s Love. He loves us just because we exist. That is the nature of Grace. Therefore we have no reason to hold back anything due to the perceived worth of the recipient. Either nothing can make you worthy or everyone is just by virtue of being human.
So, where do you fall? When you look at others and think about giving to them? Whether it be from your pocket or from your church or from your government, your anthropology shapes your practice of the Christian Life.
Biblically, I think the second view is closer to correct and if I am wrong I would prefer to err on the side of Love.