This is an amazing incident of generosity and love for poor children that we rarely see even among believers. The fact that this man is a declared atheist makes it a fascinating story. It reminds us that there can be a dialogue and cooperation with those who do not share the Catholic faith and those who claim no faith at all. Here is what the news reported:
NY, MAY 25, 2007 (Zenit).- The Cardinal’s Scholarship Program of the Archdiocese of New York received a record-breaking gift of $22.5 million from self-styled 80-year-old atheist Robert Wilson to provide educational scholarships for disadvantaged inner-city children. An anonymous donor inspired by Wilson’s gift gave an additional $4.5 million to the effort.
Cardinal Edward Egan: “We are grateful…for this historic and far-sighted support from Mr. Wilson for the education and future well-being of our neediest children in the archdiocese.”
Robert Wilson: “Let’s face it, without the Roman Catholic Church, there would be no Western civilization. Shunning religious organizations would be abhorrent. It was a chance for a very modest amount of money to get kids out of a lousy school system and into a good school system.”
It does give us pause and an opportunity for reflection. There seems to be little or nothing of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of selfishness, unless Mr. Wilson expects significant tax benefits or prizes the esteem of men. His words convey that he sees the possible return in regard to the poor children themselves and the doors that will open to them because of a better education. I bet you, however, there are critics shaking their heads, totally perplexed by his charity.
It was related to me that some in the New York public school system are steaming, arguing that this money was rightfully theirs. Unfortunately it is a system riddled with waste and various social engineering agendas and values that impede the very work they hope to do. Catholic schools seem to do a better job at educating while passing on traditional values that help insure success and true happiness. Catholic schools also seem able to do their job for a lot less money, meaning that what resources they do have assist more children and families than the public sector. This Wall Street Investor made his millions in reckoning what were and what were not the best investments. Given that he is not a believer, I suspect there is nothing capricious in his choice.
What would be going through the mind and heart of such an investor? A believer might be motivated by his faith, hoping that such an act of charity would cover a multitude of sins. Okay, we cannot buy our way into heaven, but it might be a wonderful act of solidarity with Christ’s sacrifice by which we are ransomed. Such would not be the case for a true atheist. What might move him to such generosity?
- Since there is no afterlife, such a donation would be a lasting legacy so that he would be remembered after he is dead.
- He may genuinely desire to leave the world of men a little bit better off then when he first entered it.
- Secular humanitarians actually exist who love their fellow men and desperately want to improve the lot of others in the human family.
The problem with such sentiments is that often, separated from the Gospel, such good intentions and love can become easily misdirected and corrupted. Foundations can be established to help the poor and to fight disease by supplying condoms or making contraception and abortion available. Separated from God, the faith and values that should govern charity and love can become twisted or expunged. The efforts to help others and the love expressed can become tyrannical and oppressive. We are fortunate in this particular case that Mr. Wilson and the Church were on the same page about educating disadvantaged children.