By: Shayna Herszage | Opinions  | 

Causes and Cathedrals

On April 15th, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned down beyond repair due to causes still under investigation.

Immediately after the fire, French president Emmanuel Macron began making calls for donations to help with the cost of rebuilding the Notre Dame. Within a day of the fire, nearly $1 billion were raised in funds, primarily from French billionaires.

Backlash arose soon after the fundraising began. Professional golfer Thomas Pieters tweeted, “Kids are starving to death in this world, and the EU wants us to donate to rebuild a building. I don’t understand.” While some supported the raising of funds, others were irritated that these funds were going to the rebuilding of the Notre Dame cathedral while other tragedies go unfixed.

Still, the Notre Dame cathedral is something familiar. Even the many who have never gone on a vacation to Paris have read or seen “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” or have at least heard of it. It is a part of a long list of international landmarks that have grown familiar and, in a strange sense, it is comforting to know that these landmarks are constant. No matter what happens in an ever-changing, incredibly messy and unfortunate world, the Statue of Liberty, Notre Dame, the pyramids in Egypt and the like continue to exist.

As a result, I understand a need to rebuild this stability. The world may be a mess, but if the names we have always seen on Pinterest dream-boards and in tour booklets remain in existence, at least something can feel constant.

The next reason is admittedly perhaps a more pessimistic perspective of humanity. Problems such as world hunger and dilapidated small-town schools have been in existence far longer than anyone’s angry Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr posts. Meanwhile, wealth, charity and lack of charity have existed just as long, if not longer than, these problems. If people have never banded together to solve these problems in a day before, why believe that Notre Dame is taking the potential that could easily go to any “more worthy” cause? The ability to fix problems by having the wealthy band together is not a one-time magic wish that can apply to any situation.

Additionally, not every cause can be the center of every person’s attention at all times. When a school receives a large donation, people ask why the soup kitchen did not receive the donation instead. When the soup kitchen receives a large donation, the school asks the same question. The recipient of donations will always be considered undeserving in comparison to some other cause that is not being attended to at the given moment. However, this is no reason to call a cause undeserving. People cannot focus on all the problems in the world all at once.

The last reason is more from a logistical perspective. Problems such as world hunger and education are not issues isolated from the rest of the world. They exist in part due to factors such as climate, government decisions and deeply ingrained inequalities in national and international society. Such things cannot be fixed with a big check. The Notre Dame fire, meanwhile, is thus far considered an isolated event — no foul play has been found — so a check and hardworking construction staff may very well be all it takes to solve the problem.

The narrative seemed simple to me at first — rich European families donate their inheritances to build big cathedral instead of solving world hunger. However, I have come to realize that it is more complex. We must consider the emotional connection the world has to familiar landmarks, the mostly unchanging ways of humanity and charity, and the fact that money alone can not solve all of our problems. We must understand that the world is imperfect, and, rather than looking to the wealthy for salvation, we must look to ourselves to change the world where we see fit.


Photo Caption: The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris before the fire.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons