I am back from Bournemouth

and I appear to be hopping mad.

It has, as Vinny said, been emotional. And I was aware I was feeling a bit raw. It appears I am also feeling martial, and uncharacteristically bloggily pugilistic, too. I usually tend more towards pouring the oil on troubled waters, but I have been the troubled water for the last 36 hours or so, and I am too strung-out and overwhelmed to talk about it just at present. I have Missed The Bleeding Obvious, and it has thrown me.

But I have Been Remiss and skipped posting for a day, and feel I need to type something proper-ish, so I offer you instead my lengthy snarls on Operation Christmas Child (the shoe-box stuffing scheme) that I shot onto Shannon‘s blog earlier. You are, of course, allowed to take issue with me. But be gentle, because I’ve had a bad couple of days and will probably cry messily down the innernets at you.

Hairyfarmerfamilysays:

God, the OCC thing really gets my goat! Uncharacteristically, I got into a stonking blog row a couple of years ago about it, which I shall tell you about it at length…! Aren’t you pleased!?
The blogger had stated that she had identified the religious nature of OCC and was choosing to donate via Oxfam, or some such, instead. I didn’t feel her argument was unreasonable in the slightest (perhaps not stated in a balanced way, but hey, it’s her blog, not the BBC!) but I was amazed that there followed a long raft of comments by readers expressing complete shock, horror – nearly revulsion – that OCC had ANYTHING to do with a CHURCH. They thought it was just PRESENTS. Ummm. Exsqueeze me? Just run past me what that Christ in the word Christmas is doing there again?

(Most of my closest friends are stone-cold atheists. I have known a handful of verrrry evangelical Christians fairly well, and liked ‘em too, some of whom participated in OCC in Romania, which is a big OCC recipient country. My own views fall somewhere in the middle, but the point I’m making is that I am incredibly relaxed/indifferent to people believing in any thing (or not) at all, as long as they don’t treat people like things. I say this in order to illuminate the ground on which I stand. Not quite the perfect balanced sample, but no axe to grind, either.)
I was appalled that so many apparently sensible blog-commenters had reacted with EEEUUURKKK!!!s of horror to the news that a Christian festival was being celebrated by an initiative supported and facilitated by Christian organisations. I know that organised religion has dropped in popularity, and I understand why, too, but I couldn’t for the life of me understand at what point the population (as per comment-sample) went from religious indifference to religious… distaste? hatred? intolerance? People were unpacking their shoeboxes, just because they had discovered that the box is accompanied by… wait for it… a LEAFLET??

So, that was the first thing that surprised me. The next thing pissed me off. The OCC is generally only supported, as far as I am aware, by CofE schools. So, all these parents who were reacting in near-fury at the knowledge that they had been tricked into supporting Christan organisations overseas seemed oblivious to the irony that they had, in probability, anxiously elbowed their child into a CofE school. Well, the C stands for Church, blog-commenty people! The rest of the world is a pretty fucking seriously religious place! So get over your indignation, do! There is way, way more religious indoctrination (what an emotive word! it’s called ‘teaching’ in every other subject…) in a CofE assembly than what these kids get with their shoebox, from the (limited, but nevertheless) first-hand accounts I’ve had. Those of us with Christian educations turned out… pretty normal? Basically? But Christians overseas are somehow meant to be mad, bad and dangerous to know? The hypocrisy irked me mightily.

The other arguments were about the charity creaming off the profit and using it for more indoctrination (that word again). I have no knowledge regarding this in particular, or any strong views at all, except to say that most large charities, and some small ones, have been critiqued at some point for, among other things, their admin costs and huge reserves. It’s not hard to level mismanagement accusations, I expect. Are they substantiated? I suspect not.

As for it being an inefficient way to give, well, yes, of fucking _course_ it is. It’s a way for children and old ladies to engage happily with charitable giving because it’s visual, 3-dimensional, and individualised. If a grown adult wanted to make a shoebox their only charitable gesture all year, I’d think they had maturity issues.

And lastly, is the seeming assumption that the churches in these countries are rocking up to Needy Orphan Children, holding out a tempting box in one hand, but making them take the wodge of Religious Danger in the other hand first. This may happen in some places, I suppose. I can’t guarantee it doesn’t, obvs. But I still call Bollocks. In the cases I have heard of, (again, partial, etc) the churches are the only organisations supporting these children. If you look at the recipient countries, they often have shitty State goverments in terms of human rights and Care of the Child. Needy children aren’t high on the priority list, and orphans are damn lucky to grow up neuro-normal. The church cares, though, and it’s a bloody good thing they do, because no other bugger does. Charities have to work with partners on the ground that understand the children, the environment, the State, the endemic corruption, the Whole Ugly Mess. A situation, in short, in which a little spiritual comfort might not go altogether amiss. When did we (not me, obvs) become so icky, so embarrassed, so _anxious_ at the notion of taught spirituality? Afraid of the thought that somewhere, a child is being taught that a God loves them? Have we become worried that religion automatically equals extremism? That evangelical Christians _must_ ALL be brainwashing abusers? I tell you now, they are not.

I can’t account for the unease that OCC seems to engender in people. Deciding not to participate because of your own beliefs: I get it entirely. But creating a firestorm of indignation because of its unclean, sinister Christian nature…? Kind of not getting that at all. I’m either missing something, or everyone else is…

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6 Responses

  1. I hesitate to support charitable works from religions of which I am distrustful, but being in the US, I have a great variety of religions from which to choose. But it would seem…(let’s be polite for a change) silly for someone whose child attends a CofE school to object to CofE charitable works.

    Regardless, anyone who is willing to take goods and services to countries where there is at best disinterest in the poor and at worst outright opposition to aid from churches has my respect.

    I don’t get it either…but then, I am not in on the cultural references there, so it’s pretty clear why I am clueless. Have you Googled OCC scandals?

    • I have. The Muslim Weekly seem pretty loud, and have set up an Anti- campaign. Not charmed with their presentation of rhetoric as fact, and essentially think it’s the best case of pot calling the kettle black I’ve ever seen!

  2. The other point that people miss is that even people who say they don’t have a religion, do. They are usually adhering to Liberalism, based on Scientific/Rationalist/Enlightenment principles (my Husband who teaches philosophy could pin this down more accurately). It’s a great religion, which teaches absolute tolerance of everyone else’s, but it often comes unstuck when other people express their religious views, at which point, those other people are considered narrow-minded, indoctrinated, over-bearing…

  3. Didn’t you know? Christmas is supposed to be about Santa Claus and the chocolate Countdown to Christmas calendars.

    I would not participate in OCC myself or similar shoebox appeals or actually in food banks for very similar reasons – they are not very good ways to help people – in particular, the shoebox type giving actually takes away from local people who would otherwise earn money from making and selling the items. People who take pens to give to African children make me Very Very Cross. They make pens in African countries. The local shopkeeper sells them. Buy them there and give them away by all means! But don’t buy them in Smiths and pay excess baggage to take them somewhere. Crazy.

    I’m not keen on the religious literature (it’s the tone rather than the actual religious content). But that’s not my only objection.

    I’d love to see a “we want to give a teddy and toothpaste and soap and a new hairband to a girl in Romania but made locally” type tick box appeals, give money but you know what for. Like the Oxfam Unwrapped gifts crossed with child sponsorship.

    And I fully appreciate that children need to do something concrete to appreciate the point of charity. We (Brownies/Rainbows) have made cakes to sell for charity, we’ve brought our old clothes/toys/books to swap and then give the surplus to charity, and we’ve decorated pots and planted flowers to give to a care home (which we weren’t allowed to go to as it’s for high need residents). It’s HARD when you are 7 to make something for someone else or give something away that used to be yours. It’s especially hard when you don’t meet the person the present is for. They all did it like troopers.

    (I don’t believe in asking girls to raise significant amounts of money, though we also filled Smartie tubes once – if it’s sponsorship or bring-a-pound I might as well just raise subs as it’s only the parents who give, at this age).

  4. My main problem with this sort of thing is that usually the boxes come with more than just a leaflet like a whole back up organisation which proselytises until it is fit to burst. As someone who is not a Christian and half of whose family hails from a region where these boxes might well be sent to people who have their own jolly fine religions thank you very much I wouldn’t do them myself or have my kids do them. Always smacks rather of cultural/religious imperialism rather than charity to me. Generally I think proselytising is a Bad Thing so prefer not to encourage it. However the problem doesn’t actually arise for me as the kids don’t go to a CofE school and Water Aid is the charity of choice for non-school PTA fundraising.

  5. My view on this might be surprising, given my strident “I don’t do religion stance” – I don’t have a problem with the boxes. Really. Yeah, it comes with a leaflet which doesn’t fill me with glee, but the charity that our school uses solemnly vows that it does not hand out pressies on the basis of religion or lack thereof. I’d rather a little boy or girl have a Christmas present and a leaflet they can use to color on (and hey, we included crayons in our boxes!) than go without. In our house Christmas IS about Santa Claus and advent calendars. I’m absolutely happy to help another family have the same view. I don’t “do” church, but if a church helps a little boy or girl who are going without, then the church and I can overlook our mutual distrust of each other. Hypocrite, me? On this, and many other things, no doubt.

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