The Gifting God: A Trinitarian Ethics of Excess

The Gifting God: A Trinitarian Ethics of Excess

The Gifting God: A Trinitarian Ethics of Excess

The Gifting God: A Trinitarian Ethics of Excess

Synopsis

Theories of generosity, or gift giving, are becoming increasingly important in recent work in philosophy and religion. Stephen Webb seeks to build on this renewed interest by surveying a distinctively modern and postmodern approach to the issue of generosity, and then developing a theological framework for it. He contends that in many ways society has become suspicious of charity and generosity. This cynicism has led to quick and easy judgments, that, in turn, have led to a new orthodoxy with its own troubling consequences. Webb believes that we need to recover the generosity that our culture obscures behind this monologue on self-interest, and that theology, as a form of critical thought, can play a helpful role. Throughout the book, Webb argues for a theory of giving that is other-oriented without being self-negating. He maintains that the generosity of God's grace, properly understood, can reorient our own idea of the gift and must be correlated to our own practices of exchange and reciprocity.

Excerpt

Everybody in the United States seems to be involved in a great debate about gift giving that has inestimable political ramifications. Now more than ever before, we need theological clarification about what generosity is and how giving should be formulated and practiced. Although private acts of donation are widely lauded as crucial for the health of our country, public acts of giving are coming under increasing scrutiny. On one side of the current debate, giving is the problem, and the solution demands an honest reconceptualization of generosity. To simplify an ongoing conversation, conservatives are arguing that giving must be connected to merit, that gifts should be earned. Generosity should be careful, calculated, measured by what it produces. The language of giving, in other words, should reflect the language of business and economics. A gift should be an investment. Otherwise, gifts are wasted, squandered; they create disorder and dependence, and thus giving threatens to become, ironically, immoral.

On the other side of the debate, giving is still presented as the solution to many problems, even though the pressure to articulate how giving works makes the supporters of generosity uncomfortable and hesitant. The liberal tradition persists in defending a giving without strings attached, without, that is, an explicit expectation of a return. Liberals are rightly guided by the insight that if generosity is not at least a bit disinterested (that is, uninterested in the repayment of the gift), then it is hardly generosity at all. Yet even liberal theoreticians of generosity acknowledge that giving must be connected to the common good--or at least constrained by a responsible community--in order for giving to achieve its ends.

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