In extension of the church concept of allowing sinners to pay penance (i.e. be absolved from his or her sin commited by donating money or doing some form of work), this term also has sociological meaning, in that the modern world tends to allow its citizens to pay their way out of guilt towards the worlds problems.

A heavily debated topic, it states that many modern causes, including environmentalism and human rights issues can be hampered by allowing people to rid themselves of any sense of responsibility toward the cause by simply donating a sum of money to one or more organizations. Aside from the debate of whether that organization spends its money properly, one argument states that the sudden absolution felt by donators kills the ongoing struggle for the cause. In other words, if people make their donations, they think the problem has been sufficiently dealt with. Any further call to arms against atrocities against environment or human rights (or any other cause) risks being met with the argument that "we donated, so shut up already!". The frightening prospect is, that the easy path to moral absolution for modern man means, that problems are allowed to continue.

The most common argument against acting upon this is, that if no one is allowed to pay their way out of further feelings of guilt, the organizations dealing with the problem will suffer a significant lack of funding.