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Jul 12, 2007


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Peter Kirk

I'm surprised that Brooks or you are surprised. Conservatives who believe in supporting the poor by charity actually do so. Liberals who believe the poor should be supported by the government put their efforts instead into electing governments which do what they want them to do. No group is uniformly hypocritical. So it is a misuse of these statistics to make an anti-liberal point.

But the real distinction seems to be between religious and secular people. Regardless of political alignment, religious people give significantly more than secular people.

the casual relationship between charity and prosperity, which seem to go together. Brooks concludes that charity actually leads to prosperity.

(I assume you mean "the causal relationship".) Interesting, a secular preacher of the prosperity gospel!

Michael W. Kruse

Peter I'm not surprised by Brooks findings and I'm not surprised that Brooks is suprised. The Progressive assumption is fequently that the Progressives care about the poor and Conservatives say they care about the poor but really don't. The would not buy you assertion "Conservatives who believe in supporting the poor by charity actually do so." I'm not using the statistics to make an anti-liberal point. Brooks is using the statistics to make the point that the presumption by liberals that conservatives don't care and put their money where there mouth is, is wrong.

Yes, I meant causal relationship. I'm uncertain with you are being tongue-in-cheek or serious, but I suppose it is a kind of prosperity gospel. The "good news" is that if you are other-centered and engaged in community you tend to develop the attributes that make you successful in other spheres of life.

Peter Kirk

I'm a bit serious. See my own post on this subject.

Michael W. Kruse

Thanks for the link Peter. Brooks isn't saying that we should give in order to get prosperity in return. I think actually he is making the same observation that haunted John Wesley. If you teach people to work all they can, save all they can, and give all they can, you end instilling values and behaviors that lead to prosperity. Wesley was always concerned that this inevitable prosperity would then divert people from holy living.

Shouldn't we want prosperity for ourselves and others? Shouldn't we nurture those virtues that generate it?



Out of curiosity how did they define charitable giving? Were there any criteria for example feeding people who are hungry etc? Or is this simply how much could you write off on your taxes?

I ask because I wonder how much of what was given was aid or alms and how much was pseudo-political action (I know both sides are guilty of that ...) but my question remains.

Peter Kirk

Nate, you ask a good question. I was also wondering how much of the charitable giving from the religious conservatives is in fact tithes and offerings to churches etc, and how much of that is spent on beautiful buildings and large well-paid pastoral staff rather than on any kind of aid, or on mission. A proper comparison would need to consider only money given in aid to the poor and underprivileged, although I realise that there are all kinds of difficulties in defining that consistently and fairly.

Michael W. Kruse

Excellent questions. The short answer is:

“It is clear that religious people do not outperform secularists in charity simply because of their gifts to houses of worship. Religious people are, inarguably, more charitable in every measurable way.” (40)

And this includes giving to the poor. The paragraph in the post that begins under the hyperlink is getting at that to some degree.

"... [Religious Conservatives] will give away more than one hundred times as much money per year (as well as fifty times more to explicitly nonreligious causes)."

Now the long answer:

I have included Brook’s description of charity below. He measures charity in terms of money and time given. He essentially asks:

Did you give one dollar? If yes, you are a donor? How much did you give?
Did you give one hour? If yes, you are a donor? How much did you give?

Of 225 million Americans (adults):

75 million never give money to any cause.
130 million never volunteer time.

The problem is that it is exceedingly difficult to narrowly differentiate between types of giving. Take religious versus non-religious, is a gift to the Salvation Army (a church) a religious gift or a gift to help the poor? Is a gift to a church to buy tools and equipment to help clean up vacant lots in the neighborhood a religious gift? Brooks gives some anecdotal evidence. Religious households are ten percentage points more likely to make some United Way contribution (61 to 71) and they give 14% more than secular households to non-religious causes. (38) If liberals and moderates gave blood at the same rate as conservatives the blood supply would jump 45%. (22)

Sources include:

Population Panel of Income Dynamics
The Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey
The General Social Survey (The premiere social science database.)
The International Social Survey Program
Arts and Religion Survey
Giving USA
The Maxwell Pool
American National Election Survey
Giving and Volunteering in the United States
America Gives

Again, I think many Religious Progressives have a narrative that goes something like this: We care about the poor and in addition to seeking government involvement we put our money and time where our mouth is (And they do almost to the same level as Religious Conservatives.) Conservatives, religious or otherwise, don’t care about the poor. Progressives, religious or not, are like us in putting their money where their mouth is. Thus, we stand on the side of secular Progressives and join with them in condemning conservatives as greedy, mean-spirited people who don’t care about the poor.

In fact what you have is Religious Conservatives and Religious Progressives agreeing about putting your money where your mouth is in helping the poor out of your own pocket and time. Where they disagree is on the role government should play in the equation. Religious Progressives falsely conclude that because Secular Progressives agree with them on government that Secular Progressives are also charitable. And I would add, as someone who leans toward the conservative side on this topic, that I don’t think Religious Progressives have a sound Christian anthropology on the effects that government involvement in the community has on diminishing charity and fraying social ties.

Here is Brooks on Charity:

“Before talking more about charity, we should define it with a bit more precision. “Charity” comes from the Latin caritas, meaning “affection.” Scholars go to great pains to distinguish charity from other concepts of giving, such as philanthropy (from the Greek for “love of man”), and categorize giving with different sorts of motives – from altruism, to religious duty, to social prestige. But in common usage, “charity” encompasses all these things as long as they involve personal voluntary sacrifice for the good of another person (as well as, perhaps, the good of the giver).

I define “charity” very broadly. Charity can be monetary or it can be nonmonetary – gifts might be time, or even blood. Charity can be religious or secular, depending on the beliefs and tastes of the giver. It can be formed, such as a check written to the Red Cross, or informal, such as babysitting for a neighbor in need.

I use such an expansive definition of charity because I don’t want to leave anything out. The restrictions I do insist on, however, are that charity has to be consensual and beneficial. Were it not so – should the giver or receiver be forced or harmed – and exchange would be either involuntary of unbeneficial and thus hardly an express of “affection.” It is these voluntary, beneficial, “affectionate” acts that have the ability to transform the giver in a unique and important ways.” (6-7)

Peter Kirk

Thanks for your answer. It is now clear to you and me that the level of giving correlates strongly with being religious, and very weakly with politics. It is a shame that you confused this clear message with your misleading follow-up post with the maps, which probably says more about where people are religious than about where they are charitable.

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