Two weeks ago, the Immanuel Baptist Church encouraged dozens of people to go hungry, ironically to raise awareness for world hunger.
The inescapable irony of consensual fasts is that starving one individual does not automatically feed another.
Even more ironic, of course, is that the Immanuel Baptist Church is not the first religious institution to hold a fast to raise hunger awareness. Last April, World Vision held its annual 30-Hour Famine. Participants included high school students, college students and young adults.
“It’s tiring and at the end everybody’s hungry,” admitted 13-year-old Logan Cox, who volunteered with the Immanuel Baptist Church.
Nevertheless, when it comes to raising money for causes, the most profitable ventures tend to be those that ask its participants to do something that would otherwise be deemed impractical or downright stupid.
A fine example of this trend is the Ice Bucket Challenge of last summer. What started as an inane summertime campaign to cool down and select a charity for donations became distinctly linked to ALS once one of the nominees nominated his wife’s cousin, whose husband had the disease.
What’s so ironic about voluntarily self-submersing in paralyzingly cold water? The disease for which it raises money is known for incapacitating its victims by weakening the muscles progressively until the stricken cannot walk, speak, swallow or breathe.
A particular weakness of the Ice Bucket Challenge is that such a chilling movement can only be replicated during the warmest months of the year. As one Facebook user, who wished to remain anonymous, astutely asked last November, “Does nobody care about ALS anymore?”
Beyond technical issues like timing, the prevailing trend within these movements involves the kind of suffering people are willing to put themselves through in order to placate their inherent feelings of guilt for not having been born into poverty or beset with a life-threatening condition.
The question remains, do they raise money because people believe in the cause? Or are they effective because of the publicity that comes with collective self-sacrifice?
Perhaps there is another reason that unorthodox fundraisers are effective. Whether it’s dumping ice water for ALS, going hungry for world hunger, or running the Boston Marathon for cancer victims who are too weak to run, they all unite the global community in an act of solidarity. Maybe the acts of starving, freezing, dehydrating, cramping and collapsing are worthwhile endeavors at awakening empathy for the profoundly disadvantaged.
But what does that say about the people who choose to dedicate their professional lives to easing the burdens of others? Are they not the ones most worthy of all that publicity and honor?
Maybe the people who care most do not help the needy for fame or glory. In a culture that worships the rich and famous for being filmed while doing stupid things, it is policemen, doctors, nurses, teachers, firemen and human rights workers who bring balance and order to abject dysfunction.
What sets these workers apart is their willingness to contribute on a daily basis to make the world a little safer, fairer, healthier and more educated. Far from a media holiday and a chance to show off in front of their friends, they see service as a civic obligation. Not a want, but a must.
– Leah Zazofsky