There is little good news in the Notre Dame fire story.
Yes, it’s good that the artefacts and art were saved, and the beautiful stained glass windows remain intact for now. But other than the fire itself, a lot of the events surrounding the fire leave a bitter taste in the mouth.
There have been those who immediately linked the fire with immigration and Islamist terrorism, with precisely zero evidence supporting it.
There was a significant amount of ‘whataboutery’ on social media, conflating the sorrow over the burning cathedral with a lack of sorrow for unrelated issues around the environment, such as this comment from Radio 5 Live presenter, Nicky Campbell.
The destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral is appalling and depressing: people the world over are rightly heartbroken. I only wish more people were as heartbroken about the millions of hectares of forest being wilfully burnt globally and destroyed forever.
— Nicky Campbell (@NickyAACampbell) 16 April 2019
For the record, the Notre Dame fire is a tragic event with an as yet unknown cause. Nothing more. Stop comparing it to other things to further an argument.
Because they’re worth it
And as the eye-watering donations began to roll in, the biggest arguments started to rage. If Bernard Arnault, the richest man in Europe, can donate €200 million and hardly have that dent his fortune, why couldn’t he and others wipe out the inequality in the world in one fell swoop?
The issue is ‘the system’, this vague concept that keeps the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. But that’s an argument for another time.
Instead, you should look at why they have donated. It is because they want to look benevolent and caring for the world when they mostly care only for themselves; a flex of the muscles, a chance to show off. But it is a no-brainer from a PR perspective. You may not have thought positively about L’Oreal before but you might now when you know their owners donated another €200 million.
A Catholic tale for a Catholic building
Which brings me to the Bible. After all, Notre Dame is above everything else, a place of worship. That has been its primary function for the vast majority of its 850 years, even if the last part of those has seen it become more of a tourist attraction. So it makes sense to look for a reason in the book that inspired its building.
And wouldn’t you know it, there is a story that bares an uncanny resemblance to what has happened over the past couple of days.
In both the gospels of Mark and Luke, there is the story of Jesus teaching at a temple, and watching as: ‘the crowd put their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few pence.’
Seeing this, Jesus tells his disciples: ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.
‘They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on’.
You may not believe in all this but its relevance to recent events is unquestionable. It shows that when the rich are donating their money, it is because they can, but when the poor do, it is because they want to, because they truly value what little they have.
And if Monsieur Arnault and co are hoping to find favour in the afterlife through their generosity, they should know that it is the people donating to Notre Dame that can’t really afford to that will be further ahead in the queue.