Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Charitable Giving and Presidential Politics

We have now been told by Senators Biden and Obama that people, particularly those making six figures, will be "patriotic" if they "jump in" and "spread [their] wealth around" Senator Biden told us that Christianity requires us to "help those who need help the most." To this, we may as Christians say Amen and Amen. However, it does not appear that Mr. Biden and Mr. Obama are practicing what they preach. Before these two TELL us what to do with our money, it is worth looking at what THEY actually HAVE DONE with their own. Charitable giving for Senators Obama and Biden is nothing short of pathetic. Before getting in to the numbers, I should say that charitable giving nationwide (2-3%) is not good either and though it's higher for committed Christians (same is true of Canada: study) we (and I mean WE) too are not giving out of our abundance what our fellow Christians overseas are out-giving us out of their scarcity: see link1 and link2. That said...

First, Senator Biden's charitable giving since 1998 can be found here. As you can see, in 1998 he gave an astounding $195 out of $215k. Fluke? Well, he has earned $2.5 million over that time and gave $3,600 or far less than 1% of his income. Mr. Biden, it's time for YOU to "jump in" and get "patriotic" or so it would seem. Mr. Obama has been more charitable, but not much more. He has earned $3.9 million since 2000 and gave $146k -- that's 3.7% (thanks mostly to a really charitable year in 2006 when he gave 6.1%). Most years he gave less than 2% during that time. At least they are in familiar company with previous Democratic candidates like Al Gore and John Kerry.

Hat's off to the Clinton's for out-giving each of these. Their charitable giving reached 9% from 2000-2007, giving in the millions out of their tens of millions. But none of these compete with the tremendous charitable giving of either Bush or McCain. All gave in excess, and for the McCains, well in excess, of the 10% mark (McCain typically gives in excess of 20%). Sarah Palin did release her tax returns over the past couple years and her charity amounts to about 3% ($4k out of $146k). Not great (only 2.5 times as much as the typical giving of Obama, but 19 times as much as Biden). Compared to Biden she's a saint, given their respective incomes and family obligations over this period.

These figures are consistent with the evidence provided by Arthur Brooks in his book Who Really Cares, which is the most comprehensive study of Americans' charitable giving done to date. Highly committed Christians and political conservatives are more charitable with their own money then seculars and political liberals, even if the latter are more 'charitable' with other people's money than their own (read: taxation and income redistribution).

Perhaps even more interesting than these numbers is why they are so under reported in the mainstream media.


  1. I haven't seen the study you cite, but I believe most studies of charitable giving by Christians count donations to churches (tithes) as charitable giving. Obviously non-Christians don't go to church and so don't have this kind of outlet for giving. Moreover, while Christians are commanded by God to tithe, non-Christians do not view giving as obligatory in any fundamental religious sense. That said, for non-Christians and political liberals, the closest they have to a church is the government; it is the agency through which good is done on earth. Therefore, the tax is their tithe. But the government cannot achieve the good of which it is capable if taxing is voluntary. Therefore, liberals push for higher taxes. However, until the government is authorized and funded to go out do all those good things, like provide for us from cradle to grave, what incentive do they have to donate to private charities, incapable as they are of achieving anywhere near the good government can do? For liberals, non-government giving (though it may make us feel better about ourselves) is essentially otiose.
    The bottom line is that Christians and political conservatives may or may not be more generous than seculars and political liberals, but you can't determine which based on the studies you cite because generosity is defined so much differently by the two sides. In other words, we have to challenge liberals at the level of political and religious philosophy to change their definition of generosity. We certainly should not use these studies to pat ourselves on the collective back for being more generous. That's nonproductive because it's just talking past the other side.

  2. Well, the studies I cite consider BOTH money given to religious charities (including churches) and churches given to SECULAR charities. That is, Christians give more to secular charities than seculars ON TOP of their charitable giving to churches. Second, anything you say about where seculars and liberals give can be said of Christians and conservatives. Everyone, regardless of attitude, MUST give to government whether you think of it as charity or not. I don't deny that Christians often give to charity because they are trying to escape Hell or earn Heaven. Jesus said that this is not ideal (blessed is the one who gives without expecting anything in return). But if there is something about Christianity that inclines some to give for less than ideal reasons, there appears to be something about secularism and political liberalism that inclines one to give little or none at all.

    Political conservatives and committed Christians as a matter of public record ARE more generous with their time and money (see the Brooks study) than seculars and political liberals. The truth of Christianity DOES NOT turn on this. I did not say that and don't believe that. But if Christianity is true (as we assume a priori) then we should expect to find evidence in the world consistent with its teaching. This is one such evidence (real observable work of the Holy Spirit)

    I certainly understand what you are saying about the point at which we should challenge non-Christians (their worldview not their giving). Trust me, I'm a presuppositionalist. I'm not trying to establish the truth of Christianity inductively by looking at evidences and building an incremental case for the faith based upon a series of particular observations. However, as a presuppositionalist, we can deductively make sense of the evidence we see. IF Christianity is true, THEN we should expect to see that Christians will move in the direction of the character of Christ. Evidence that this happens (giving, volunteering, crime rates, etc.). That is, Christianity is not true because it works; rather, it works because it's true.

    We believe the same thing with respect to the Bible and resurrection. We don't accept the inerrancy of the Bible and the fact of the resurrection based upon an inductive look at the scriptures or history, but based upon the testimony of God in Scripture. However, because that testimony is true, we should expect to see/find in the scriptures no errors and evidence of the resurrection in history.

    If any Christian pats himself on the back for ANYTHING, he is not acting like a Christian.