Charity, good deeds, kindness, goodwill gestures ... these are "good" things on their own. I have the same debate in my mind for many years, what is "goodness of the heart".
That is also why I have problems with some religions that espouses the following:
"do good and good karma will follow you"
"you can earn your way to salvation, or lessen the time spent in purgatory on your way to heaven"
"what you sow, so you shall reap"
"do good deeds so you can accumulate good blessings (jik fook in Cantonese)"
We also have people who do charity for ego boosting or fame purposes. I would like to state that charity or good deeds have to be applauded regardless of the underlying motive, we will let their souls be dealt with by the higher powers to be or their own conscience.
Are we to say that if there is no good karma to befall you, that you would stop doing good deeds? If there was no God or heaven, would you immediately stop being nice?
Why are we still in a "stick and carrot mentality" even when we come to religions? Do the founders of those religions know innately how to tap the human condition?
To the really cynical, even if I do some good deeds without any hope for good karma, or being looked on better by my God, without a chance to reduce any time spent in purgatory, without anyone ever knowing it ... one can still say that I probably felt good doing that good deed, and that is compensation already ... something for something.
To me, I think to have to dangle a carrot in front of an act of kindness is pathetic and shallow. Hence I think there is a huge gap between normal good deeds and actual good deeds that are pure and from the heart. Whether there is a God or not, or any religion, humans are created or born with a thinking soul and conscience, and that in itself if properly brought up, will do good deeds out of the generosity of their hearts alone.
The Protestants come closer to that when they believe that Jesus allowed for us all to be in his presence unconditionally. It is an ideal no doubt, but rather than accepting and living life around shallow principles and logic, shouldn't we all at least strive for the ideal, even knowing full well we will probably not touch it. To not strive is a bigger crime against our very being and existence I feel.
The closest thing on earth to unconditional love is probably between a child and their parents. You will see many parents who will abide with their child even when they have been convicted as murderers or rapists. That is, no matter how you fucked up, I will still be there for you, but please try not to fuck up.
Some ideals are not just ideals for discussion or philosophers, some ideals are worth reaching out for because we know we should, ... even when we know in our lifetime we would never touch it, but to stretch and yearn for it makes for a better life having lived.