Sunday, December 21, 2008

conspicuous charity

I have been thinking a lot lately about philanthropy and charity. Even though I'm not a Christian I am very influenced by the Christian faith and by the traditional Christian holiday season. Despite my disdain for most people who call themselves Christians I do believe in many of the ideals the Christian faith puts forth. One of those tenets is that philanthropy is a duty, and giving selflessly is a virtue.

It seems like everything these days is about greed and ego. You take what you can and leave nothing behind. It’s not enough to do the right thing. You have to make sure everyone else to sees you doing it. When did everyone turn into attention seeking whores with a personal brand? So what if I Google my name and someone else turns up in the top of the list?

It isn’t the same, though, when you very visibly pull a community together to achieve an idealistic goal, then turn around and just as visibly hold your hand out for your reward. Doing something philanthropic then shouting it from the rooftops spits in the face of philanthropy. As someone else asked, "is it strictly charitable giving if you know up front you'll get an award for it?" In this age of self-aggrandizement there needs to be more doing and less quid pro quo, sine qua non. Loosely translated that means "something for something, without which there is nothing."

The recent election and economic meltdown seems to have brought out the absolute worst in many people. Nobody is feeling the least bit ashamed about demanding what they feel entitled to for the good deeds they do. Gays are up in arms because the preacher doing the invocation at Obama’s inauguration supported California’s Proposition 8.
“Let me get right to the point," Joe Solomnese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a harsh letter to the president-elect, "Your invitation to Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration is a genuine blow to LGBT Americans."

Some members of the Hispanic community were complaining because not enough of their people were in the higher offices in Obama’s cabinet, so he appeased them.
"We're glad he listened to our voices and listened to the Hispanic community that came out and delivered for him on election day."

[I am not saying that the Hispanics chosen were not qualified. I'm merely saying that some members of the Hispanic community feels this was repayment for them helping Obama win the Presidency.]

The HRC, which I have donated to in the past, doesn’t speak for me (which is why I don't donate to them). And excuse me; isn’t the idea supposed to be that we are all just Americans and nobody should get special treatment? Why the racial divisiveness?

I really don't get it. It's beginning to look like I'm a dreamer, and I am the only one.


  1. Who do you think you are to tell people how to contribute!?

    Oh... wait... wrong thread. ;-)

    In all seriousness, this is one reason I lean towards moral consequentialism. All this fretting over whether someone's motives are "pure" leads to any number of things simply not getting done in the first place.

  2. I meet many people who say something like what you said, "Despite my disdain for most people who call themselves Christians". You must have distain for most people since us Christians are no better or worse than anyone else. We are all sinners and fall short. Christians may stand out a little more since they know what they should be doing and make pronouncements of what they are going to do but fall short. Many also corrupt the teachings of Christ, either conciously or unconsciously, to fit their needs.

    For those Christians who are not living Christ's teachings, do not distain us. Do as Christ teaches:

    Romans 12:20

    On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."

    I'm sure you do not consider us all an "enemy" but those buring coals can melt the most hardened heart of the people you distain.

    Back to the talk of charity ...
    Being the human I am, some of the best moments in my life have been when I have done something charitable and due to circumstances had not been able to take my rightful credit. After getting over the "pain" of not being able to take credit, I do feel the beauty of pure love. The trick is to do it by design not by mistake!!!

    If you are not offended, Merry Christmas... if so Happy Holidays!!!

  3. @Nate - I have a very strong sense of "fair" and when that gets tweaked I get pissed off. Probably irrationally so. I don't think I analyze people's motives up front, I assume that what I see is what I get. I lose it when they do something that seems magnanimous then turn around and ask for (or demand) a reward of some type. That type of hypocrisy is insufferable to me.

    I think I'm with Melville. Mankind is innately depraved.

    @Marc - I'm not offended. :) The Christians who launch protests against me getting married are not doing as their religion teaches them as far as I am concerned. As you said, they have corrupted the teachings to fit their own world view. I'm okay with people believing whatever they want, just own up to it and don't hide behind a flimsy excuse.

    And I said I agree with many of the tenets put forth by Christianity. That whole "love your enemy" thing isn't one I can buy into.

  4. "One of those tenets is that philanthropy is a duty, and giving selflessly is a virtue."

    Philanthropy has been a difficult thing for me to properly get my head around. Here is what I think now.

    Philanthropy is not a duty. It's not a duty because if God decides to intervene in someone's life and provide them with assistance, He doesn't need your time or money to make it happen. After all, He's God.

    You work hard and without your hard work, you wouldn't have as much. But you could work just as hard but have nothing because you were born in poverty in a third world country. You might consider your time your own, only to have it cut short by dying in a car accident going to work one day. Are you more deserving of time or an opportunity to get a lot of stuff than anyone else?

    Philanthropy is the method by which we give our life a more proper perspective. Giving away your time and your stuff to people who aren't family or friends is to acknowledge that you have no right to either. The philanthropist is not the benefactor, he is the beneficiary.

  5. I will just say that I'm not big on people knowing that it was me that gave some time or money or anything else. I strongly believe in Matthew 6:1-4 that things shouldn't be done so that others see them and then that even your right hand shouldn't know what your left hand is giving. That's not what true "charity" is all about...

    And Melville is right, mankind IS innately depraved. Though he may have a different idea of what that entails than others.

  6. I find it fascinating that there is a gender split in the attitude toward conspicuous charity: erotically aroused woman are more inclined toward conspicuous charity (see references in 'Spent' by Geoffrey Miller), while aroused men do not change their attitude toward charity and prefer conspicuous consumption (BMW, Rolex, etc.) instead.