The Hurtful Santa

At the risk of sounding anti-Christmas, I just want to push back a little bit on this story of paying off layaway accounts at Kmart. I appreciate random acts of kindness. I think they keep us humble and makes the act of generosity or hospitality come alive with a sense of wonder and surprise. It is a good thing and the sense of anonymity is very important to me because it harkens back to the Sermon on the Mount passage about giving in secret (Mt. 6:3,4 – But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you).  That being said, having finished reading the book, “When Helping Hurts”, which is a great read for anyone dares to help others as  more than a hobby or whim, I’m not so sure if these random acts of kindness actually accomplish much, or more cynically speaking, what is the point of these random acts of kindness?

One of the key points that the book makes is that applying the wrong kind of help (relief when there should be development, for example) actually doesn’t solve the problem, it just prolongs it. So, what is the point of this “secret Santa”? It seems like it is more about the giver than the receiver. Anonymity of the giver is wonderful in the sense that the receiver probably can attribute the favor to the goodness of humanity (or perhaps divinity, hopefully; but the anonymity of the receiver is extremely problematic in this case. Without knowing what is on layaway and why means that the deed can’t be considered “good’ out of hand. What good the deed actually accomplishes also remains an unknown. In true random fashion then, an act of “kindness” could easily be an act of enablement or paternalism or self-righteousness, which is why incarnation always demands relationship. There is no good gift without knowing the giver and without the receiver being known.

Jesus, 1 / Santa, 0.


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come. View all posts by David Park

2 responses to “The Hurtful Santa

  • Melody

    “incarnation always demands relationship”

    woah, so much truth here it hurts. of course we all know that our acts of generosity are ((mostly)) about making ourselves feel good. if we are honest with ourselves that is.

    i will have to read this book. so, are you suggesting that the giving toward compassion and world vision to support a small child kind of giving isn’t good? i think you are…. say more to help me understand where you’re coming from.

    • David Park

      Melody, although the writers don’t mention specifics like World Vision or Compassion, it really does insinuate that in the long run even those types of aid will not only have diminishing rates of effectiveness but ultimately carries with it a paternalism that can do harm. Now I’m reading Lupton’s “Toxic Charity” which makes similar arguments.

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