History of Australian Red Cross
The Australian branch of this worldwide organisation was formed at Government House, Melbourne on 13 August 1914, exactly nine days after the outbreak of World War I, by the wife of the Governor General, Lady Helen Munro.
The celebrations to mark this anniversary provide an opportunity to thank all Australians for their contributions to the first 100 years of Red Cross in Australia. Almost one hundred years later same spirit of volunteerism is alive and well in Red Cross (www.redcross.org.au).
Australian Red Cross is a member of the International Red Cross Red Crescent (and more recently Red Crystal) Movement with millions of members and volunteers operating in over 188 countries. Its mission is to prevent or reduce human suffering, wherever it is found. (www.redcross.org.au).
The Australian Red Cross website summarises their role well in saying "commitment when others turn away". Red Cross is there for people in need, regardless of nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions. They are impartial, neutral and independent, no matter who you are, no matter where you live. There is no denying the widespread efforts of Australian Red Cross. From blood donor vans to frontline relief during natural disasters, this volunteer movement is a very welcome presence in our nation.
Clothing Donation Campaign
A current Red Cross advertising campaign caught my attention in a cafÃ© recently and caused me to do a double take on the brochure heading. It reads 'What goes around comes around. Karma Machine.'. I initially wondered why Australian Red Cross would be encouraging a specific Buddhist doctrine.
The campaign is related to Red Cross retail stores, which are vital in raising funds to keep their services alive and functioning. The campaign is encouraging schools, workplaces and community centres to have a karma machine (cardboard box) placed on site to collect clothing.
To summarise, this is what the brochure states; "To produce good karma it requires good quality clothes and accessories to run. Good karma is coming your way for high quality clothing. For extra karma shoes, handbags and belts should be 'near new'. Bad karma is guaranteed for stuff we can't resell."
This campaign skilfully uses a very widely used term 'karma' to encourage people to donate good quality clothing and accessories to Red Cross for retail sale. It is a way to cause Australians to realise they should not be just throwing any old thing into a Red Cross collection bin, but to think about their donation and make it count and become useful funds for the organisation.
Donating clothes or accessories is not a means of getting rid of rubbish but it is a serious means for volunteer organisations to raise funds to keep their programs functioning and provide resources.
While the reasons to use this particular belief of karma to encourage Australians to make quality donations is understandable, it also seems to challenge the Movement's underlying principles. One of these principles is Impartiality. It makes no discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions. It endeavours to relieve the suffering of individuals, being guided solely by their needs, and to give priority to the most urgent cases of distress.
Another principle is Neutrality. In order to continue to enjoy the confidence of all, the Movement may not take sides in hostilities or engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature (www.redcross.org.au). By specifically advertising a 'karma machine' it does not seem entirely impartial to religion.
Karma is a fundamental doctrine in Buddism and Hinduism. It is referred to in a number of other faiths, but these two strongly have karma central to their beliefs. It is based on the idea that how you live your life will determine the quality of life you will have after reincarnation. If you are unselfish and holy during this lifetime, you will be rewarded by being reincarnated (reborn into a new earthly body) into a pleasant life.
However, if you live a life of selfishness and evil, you will be reincarnated into a less-than-pleasant lifestyle. In other words, you reap in the next life what you sow in this one. Karma is based on the theological belief in reincarnation (www.wikipedia.com)
It is interesting how widely used the concept of karma is, but often outside the Hindu or Buddist religions. It is now popular to leave out the afterlife. The idea, "Do good things and good things will happen," has become a philosophy deeply penetrating our society.
In the face of tragedy, you will often hear something like this, "It's such a shame. They were such good people," or "He had it coming" (www.gotquestions.org). We have made up a kind of Western karma and it seems the Red Cross have embraced this.
For Australian Red Cross to have a donation campaign using karma as the driving concept for people to give, seems to go against the Movements own principles of Impartiality and Neutrality. It is focusing on a concept unique to a couple of religions, while in process may be excluding a percentage of the population from their campaign (or even offending some). Karma in its true form is not evident in Christianity or Islam amongst many other religions.
God and karma are not interchangeable
For Christians, the Bible talks a lot about reaping and sowing, which some may attempt to link to karma. Psalm 126 verse 5 says, those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. If we make wise, godly decisions, we can expect God to reward us for our faithfulness. If we make rash or sinful choices, we can anticipate negative consequences (Galatians 6 verse 7-8). The act of receiving the rewards of your actions can take place in this life.
It is a present-day activity, and the references make it clear that the fruit you reap will be commensurate with the actions you have performed. In addition, the sowing you perform in this life will affect your reward in the afterlife. This afterlife is not a rebirth or a reincarnation into another body here on earth. It is eternal life in heaven with Jesus, who died so that we might live eternally with Him. (www.recoveringgrace.org).
God and karma are not interchangeable. A Christian desire to do good for others is out of genuine Godly love and to sow into their life, not to get something in return.
Hopefully the outcome of this clothing donation campaign is successful for the benefit of Red Cross funds. Everything Australian Red Cross stands for is wonderful and Australians should give generously to clothing and accessory collections because they want to…not necessarily for good karma.
Laura Veloso is wife to John and the mother of 3 young boys. She is trained in child welfare and primary school teaching and has experience in overseas missions and youth leadership.
Laura Veloso's archive of articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/laura-veloso.html