Typical recent newspaper story

EVER since the Notre Dame fire I’ve been seeing comments complaining about the large sums of money pledged for the rebuilding.

These remarks are usually along the lines of, “If they can give that much to rebuilding a cathedral, why can’t they give as much to help the starving in Yemen or to fix the plastic problem in the oceans?”

I’ve seen these comments in the press and on social media. Words like “backlash” and “angry” are bandied about. And, frankly, I’m exasperated.

It’s difficult to tell exactly what’s behind this particular bandwagon (and it is a bandwagon, popular and easy to jump on to), and I suppose there are different motivations for different people. But here’s how I interpret some of the sentiments being expressed:

“Why are you giving money to rebuild a stupid cathedral? The causes I care about are far more important.”

To me this smacks of the “donation police”, i.e. if you’re not giving to what I think is important you should be publicly reviled. This kind of complaining isn’t new; the New Testament tells how Jesus’ disciples were horrified when a jar of expensive perfume was poured on Jesus’ feet, when it could have been sold for a high price and the proceeds given to the poor! Jesus told them off, saying the woman had done right and they were free to give to the poor whenever they were wanted.

But back to today. The “donation backlash” begs a few questions, like:

  • Should the cathedral not be rebuilt at all? If it should, who should pay?
  • Would it be OK to donate a smaller amount to the cathedral? Or would it be OK to donate a big amount provided an equal amount is donated to your particular worthy cause as well?
  • How do we know what other causes the Notre Dame donors are already giving to? And why is it any of our business anyway?
  • If the Notre Dame donors didn’t give to the rebuilding, would they necessarily give to the starving / the oceans / {insert your worthy cause here}?


There seems to be particular irritation at the size of the donations. I can’t help thinking there’s a bit of envy going on here. “Huh, it’s alright for you; I can’t afford to give 100 million Euros to anything.” Maybe we’d be happier if the donations were all small, and it took 10 years to get enough money to even get started.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying these other worthy causes don’t matter; of course they do. I am saying that slagging off the Notre Dame donors is unfair to them and unhelpful both to Notre Dame and to other causes that need money. I think it’s far more pertinent to ask myself what I give, or what I do to raise awareness and funds for important causes.

Look: I don’t see any problem with hearing about an amount of money and thinking, “Gosh, if we had that sort of money for xyz it would make such a difference.” If that spurs efforts to raise money, that’s great. But there’ll always be choices to make, more needs than resources, and differences of opinion over what matters “most”. So please, let’s cut out the anger and jealousy and get on with being as generous as we want to be, and allowing others to do the same.