There are many worthy causes in the world but the restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral, in Paris, after the 2019 fire is not one of them
Following the devastating fire that engulfed Notre Dame, many prominent business people pledged hundreds of millions of pounds to help restore the famous Cathedral.
That’s important to keep in mind. It is a Cathedral, a moment to the Virgin Mary. Notre Dame’s full name is ‘Notre Dame de-Paris’ – Our Lady of Paris. It is not just stone and brick, it is a holy site that is dedicated to a revered figure in a religion that around a fifth of the planet subscribes to.
It houses some of the most important sacred artifacts in Christendom, like the Crown of Thorns that Jesus is said to have adorned during his crucifixion. It doesn’t simply signify the French Spirit but is a deeply meaningful and important site for the Earth’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
That it is a religious site and not just a building, has been lost upon many. For example, the BBC had ample time to put together a news report for their flagship 10 O’clock news programme. But somehow, when reporting a fire in one of the most famed Catholic Cathedrals in existence which houses many important relics and artifacts, none of these words were mentioned in their news feature; Christian, Catholic, Mass, Holy Week, Sacred.
If there were ever to be a fire in the Kaaba in Mecca, it’s extremely difficult to imagine a BBC news feature on this hypothetical disaster not mentioning words like Hajj and Muslim and Islam.
Historic and culturally significant sites like Notre Dame deserve to be restored and preserved. One need not agree with or affiliated with the institution in question to respect the call for their sites to be restored to their former brilliance.
To use the example of the Kabba in Mecca once again (the Kaaba is a building at the center of Islam’s most important mosque which is a site of pilgrimage), should it go up in flames, I would be fully supportive of efforts to restore it, despite not being a Muslim.
I am an anti-royalist, but I appreciate the history and significance of place likes Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, and acknowledge the importance of preserving these buildings (though I would personally rather they become museums).
One need not feel any particular attachment to Westminster or the White House to appreciate the importance of putting money into these buildings to make them fit for the 21 Century (Westminster is currently undergoing renovation – it is in such a dilapidated state that a fire service team needs to be stationed there 24/7 to deal with any fire hazards).
But above all, we need to stop looking at this as a zero-sum game. We need to stop pitting cause against cause, and acting like it is all or nothing when it comes to charitable giving and donations. One need not ignore the plight of Yemen, where a third of the country is at risk of starvation, to support efforts to rebuilt Notre Dame. In the same manner, supporting the restoration of Notre Dame need not make you immune to bombings in Gaza. Support of one cause need not mean neglecting a cause which saves lives. We can do both at once.
Many online messages have been posted that run along these lines: “Why are we giving money to Notre Dame when we could give money to x.”
‘X’ here can be so many things. As vague and ill-defined as ‘starving children’, or pin-pointed and precise like ‘Gaza’ and ‘school children in Yemen’. On the face of it, the logic seems so obvious; the money that will go to Notre Dame could be much more effectively spent in a country like Yemen.
But pause for a second and think where this reasoning leads us. Have you given money to a charity which trains guide dogs? Did you feel happy after doing so? Imagine I told you this was an objectively bad decision. That I said to you: “Don’t you realize guide dogs are really, really expensive to train? Why didn’t you use that money more effectively? Why didn’t you give money instead to a charity that can actually cure blindness in Sub-Saharan Africa via relatively simplistic cataract surgery?”
Have you donated money to a charity that is against animal cruelty? That is a worthy cause, but imagine I said to you: “Why did you do that? Your money can be more effectively spent elsewhere. You could have bought a malaria net for a poor African. Malaria is a major killer in Africa, but nets cost less than £2, and last for 3 or 4 years. Why didn’t you give the money to charities which provide malaria nets for poor people in Africa?”
Chances are, you wouldn’t like me very much. There are so many worthy causes out there. Pitting one against the other in a sort of zero-sum game is not an advisable way to proceed, and could lead to a sort of paralysis which stops people from giving at all.
And, whilst I don’t wish to question people’s sincerity, the cynic in me is cynical about other people’s cynicism. How many people who say, “why are we giving money to Notre Dame instead of ‘x’ cause?”, have actually ever given a single penny towards ‘x’ cause? Perhaps skip that daily coffee or a new item of clothing that you really don't need, and instead put that money towards the worthwhile cause of your choice.
The restoration of Notre Dame need not come at the expense of an incredibly worthy cause which saves lives. People are able to support the renovation of Notre Dame while also; calling on the British Government to stop selling bombs to Saudi Arabia which kills Yemeni schoolchildren; raising money for relief efforts following the devastating cyclone in Mozambique; giving money to local causes at home, such as guide dogs.
Money is misspent every day on frivolous things; the restoration of Notre Dame is not one such example.
Do you agree? Are we simply pitting cause against cause? Let us know your views in the comments section below.
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