In an article written in the aftermath of the painful Notre Dame blaze, Carl Kinsella wonders — perhaps “questions” is a more cynical and correct term — how this kind of tragedy can pull such incredible monetary donations out of the pockets of billionaires:

Arnault is the CEO of LVMH, the world’s largest luxury-goods company. He is the richest person in Europe and the fourth-richest person in the world according to Forbes magazine, with a net worth of $91.3 billion, as of this month. Perhaps the best-known brand overseen by Arnault is Louis Vuitton. Handbags, suitcases, you know the ones.
By comparison, Pinault is worth a paltry €30billion. He’s more of a Gucci man, and he also owns Stade Rennais FC.
Between them, they have significantly more money than several European states — such as Croatia, Serbia, Slovakia or Slovenia. If you had €3,000 in your bank account right now and you donated a tenner to the restoration effort, you’d be giving proportionally the same amount as these two.
Something to think about.

I, too, found myself in awe of the kind of money thrown at the Notre Dame restoration effort. In just 48 hours, Paris had enough money to restore the church a few times over.

But I don’t agree with the solutions Carl is implying are needed in this quote:

If two men in a world of more than 7 billion people can provide €300million to restore Notre Dame, within six hours, then there is enough money in the world to feed every mouth, shelter every family and educate every child. The failure to do so is a matter of will, and a matter of system.

“And a matter of system.”

I was nodding with Carl until this point. “Will”, yes. “System”, no.

By stating the system has failed humanity implies, first, that the system did not create the incredible wealth from which these billionaires are able to donate, and second, that the system should be fixed to rectify the failure.

Both implications suggest Carl would prefer the financial capital be taken from these billionaires rather than given out of goodwill. I could be wrong, but that’s how I read it. Be it through taxation, forceable seizure, or whatever terminology deemed socially appropriate, when I read Carl’s words, I read a statement effectively blaming the wealthy for world poverty.

The system which created this enormous wealth is also largely responsible for decimating world poverty over the last 50 years. The system which created this enormous wealth has improved the standard of living for the middle class and working class, introduced technology to the masses at affordable prices, and broken down social barriers at a far greater pace than at any prior point in human history. World poverty has dropped a dramatic 26% since 1990.

That’s incredible. The system should be commended for it.

Obviously there are still problems today. Obviously there are further social barriers to tear down. And obviously there are still hungry mouths to feed. I promise, I am not suggesting otherwise.

But the system created this wealth in the first place. Were we to dramatically alter the system, the logical conclusion is that the wealth would not be generated, the cathedral would have burned, and we would be unable to rebuild it.

The other way to think about these massive financial donations is to consider the aspect from a religious and social angle. Our religious and social institutions are not teaching, and worse, not acting as proper stewards of the power of generosity and the impact of helping out a neighbor. Giving and entrusting your gifts to someone is one of the most powerful blessings in life. If you’re the recipient of a gift or a steward of a gift, there’s an inherent responsibility to handle the gift properly and use it for which it was intended.

It’s within the institution of giving that things have fallen apart. Not within our economic system.

The two viewpoints can be summed up as such:

  • It’s a shame our economic system does not take more from the wealthy and give more to the poor.
  • It’s a shame our religious systems have not taught the power of giving our wealth to those in need.

One is taxation. The other is gift.

I’ve seen a lot of people write cheques to pay both taxes and to give money to the church or those in need. I’ve never seen someone happily write a cheque to pay taxes. And I’ve never seen someone angry about giving money away.

There’s another stanza in Carl’s piece I wholeheartedly disagree with:

As is often the case, those nightmarishly frustrating contrarians were everywhere, taunting the mourners — remind everyone that the church was just bricks and mortar. Presumably these diehard deconstructionists also argue that art is “just paint on a canvas” and that their children are “just smaller people who look like me and live in my house.”

Notre Dame is just bricks and mortar. And no, art is not “just paint on a canvas” or whatever the second phrase means.

Notre Dame is a house of God. He lives everywhere, unconfined and transcendent. If we view Notre Dame as anything more than bricks and mortar, we walk the line of worshiping the building rather than God.

Are we to believe the entire building process was an act in sole servitude of art and historic timelessness? The entire building process was an act of worship. In many cases, the artwork housed inside Notre Dame was also completed as an act of worship. Those who built Notre Dame and created the artworks inside never lived to see the glory of their work. They knew this. Their work was for the glory of something greater than themselves.

Their work was worship.

Worship is not finite. It does not begin or end. It does not burn, or spoil, or ruin. Worship is an act, and how we worship has taken many different forms.

To a degree, I’d say the act of rebuilding Notre Dame will encompass the same spirit through which it was built. To a degree, I believe the rebuild will be done in worship.

But if the rebuild is done as an act of worship to the greatness of humanity and history — rather than God — then the point is missed.

It seemed fitting, in a way, that this tragedy happened during Holy Week. The fire was a reminder that, no matter how powerful, knowledgeable, educated, and wealthy we think we are, the forces of nature and the power of God are uncontrollable.

By the grace of God, nobody was seriously hurt.

By the grace of God, the fire did not destroy the great bell towers, the stained glass, or the homes around the cathedral.

By the grace of God, there is enough wealth in this world and enough heart still left to give some of the wealth generated to restore such a monument.

By the grace of God, we can rebuild the church, restore it to a level of former glory, and remember the act of rebuilding as a form of worship — a form of recognizing something greater than ourselves.