An atheist asked me a question,“Why do you spend so much money building beautiful churches? That money could be used to help the poor.”
I tried to explain saying that it is God’s house and so we must make every effort to make it beautiful. If we want to make our houses beautiful, why should be negect God’s house? I also told him about the splendour of the temple which king Solomon had built.
Spending money on churches and helping the poor are not mutually exclusive, which is what the athiestic question seems to be driving at. The reduction of the argument can be reduced to “Why don’t all Christians sell everything they own and give it to the poor?”
Some other points such a person should consider is:
a). How does “money help the poor”? Do we just throw buckets of cash at a group of poor people, and watch, amused, as they fight over the dollars falling from the sky? No, of course not. We BUILD THINGS with the money, namely shelters, 2nd hand clothing stores, educational centers, etc. “Teach a man to fish, and he fishes for a lifetime”, is the central theme of all, effective poverty programs. Simply, and only, giving people money never (or very rarely) works.
b). (and this isn’t really a separate issue from a), above, it actually builds on it, no pun intended) What else can we “build” to help the poor other than the centers listed above? Don’t church buildings help the poor too, by giving them a free place to worship, and do so comfortably? This is even just a secular benefit, a physical. It doesn’t even take into consideration the spiritual benefits church buildings provide.
I suppose one could get into a pragmatic debate about what is the bare minimum one could spend on church construction, and then give the rest to the poor. However, that’s really a side issue, as it doesn’t address the fundamental question of: Does spirituality have any value?
This is the question that faces every atheist. The “money that went to church construction could have gone to feed the poor” argument is really a comfortable, if not obtuse way of avoiding the question for the atheist. He (or she) can then easily feel “justified” by being an atheist in this situation, since “those foolish deists are denying starving people food when they could be helping them”.
However what the atheist here doesn’t realize is, he’s answering his own question. He’s inserting his own bias (there is no god, therefore anything devoted TO god is wrong) into the situation, to justify his situation. It’s circular logic really, and ultimately a red herring.
Anytime an atheist asks me such a question, I turn it around and ask him, “Boy, that’s a nice car you have, why?” Or, “boy, that’s a nice computer you have, why?” Or “Boy, that’s a nice collection of books you have there, why?”
Unless the atheist has taken his own, complete vow of poverty, and works only for the poor, all the time for the poor, he’s ultimately going to be a hypocrite when he asks the question above, because, who gets to decide how much money is “ok” to spend on oneself or one’s faith, and how much is “too much”?
The atheist? He’s the only one that gets to decide?
For the same reason that the United States government does not sell all of the national parks and lower our taxes. Some things are held for the common good.
But perhaps your friend does not realize that the Church received these buildings and art treasures as gifts, and she cannot simply dispose of them now because the donors wishes would not be respected if that were done.
Further, your friend ought to consider the positive impact on the local economy that occured every time a cathedral was built. Stone masons, craftsmen of all types, artists, etc. all were employed during the hundreds of years that it took to build some of these buildings. Then there were the farmers and other local business owners who benefitted from having all these workers in town buying their goods and services.
IOW, a lot of people owed their livelihoods to the construction of a Cathedral and might have been unemployed or empoverished if the concentration of labor had not occurred; thus, the “poor” benefitted tremendously.
I completely agree. It’s ridiculous to me, for non-believers to assume that just because we’re a Church, we should be spending alllll our money on the poor. It’s attitude like that that contributes to how the christian community just gives gives gives and never gets ahead- it can’t be just us! It has to be every affluent person in this world, equally contributing. People scream about equal rights? Contribute equally, and then talk. The Catholic church has done an insurmountable amount of good for downtrodden people all over the world, I don’t think suggestions that we should build “cheaper” churches are merited. This is our house of worship, the house of the Lord- it should be respected and represented as such!
Exactly!! Which brings me to the point I was trying to make, but didn’t quite do it… There will ALWAYS be poor. So we might as well honor God in the proper way. Just as Jesus told His disciples when the woman washed His feet with the expensive perfume. “There will always be poor, but I will be with you only a short time”. I guess that’s relevant.
Does he live in a house? If so, why doesn’t he give it to the poor, along with all of his possessions?
Couldn’t the poor use them?
I suspect your friend is about as sincere as Judas, who chastized Mary for anointing Jesus with a similar argument and then sold the Lord out to his enemies for 30 pieces of silver.
In the case of the Church, it is a house for the poor. It is a place where they can see beautiful works of art and architecture, be fed and have their thirst slaked, and be treated with the dignity and respect that is their human birthright.
You know the saying ‘give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach him to fish and he’ll eat for his whole life’?
If all the Church property (not to mention all the other private property - no-one should be exempt if the Church isn’t) were sold and given to the poor, it would give them what - a few days’ worth of food each maybe? At the end of which they’d be back where they started and we’d have nothing left to give - or to support ourselves with.
Take the Sistine chapel - don’t you think the Church is doing more good for more people by retaining it, preserving it AND charging tourists to come and see it (which money then, at least in part, goes on charitable work) than by selling the darn thing and having nothing left once the money’s been given away?
Very good question, to which I would answer, “You are correct. God dose not care for beautiful buildings but for the hearts of men. However, it would be unwise to spend all money on the poor. Money must be used prudently: firstly for the poor and needy, secondly for the Church, thirdly for one’s country, and fourthly for one’s family.”
I could say something like, “I’m poor. Do you have a problem with me giving to my church?”. Perhaps he would. Or perhaps the athiest in question means people with no money at all; they get food from food banks, etc. Others have already given the answer: The church is for the poor, whether it is food for the stomach or for the soul.
At the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. I learned that some of the most generous donors came from the poorest countries. This mosaic was one specifically mentioned. I don’t think they would appreciate that someone wanted to sell it off out from under them.