Don’t you think that being raised in Christianity makes it more likely that you will make decent contributions to others like you do with your charity contributions? I know that one does not have to be Christian to be decent, but it seems, for many of us, to help increase the odds of being decent at least some of the time.
This is a really interesting question. And maybe unanswerable! Why are those of us who are concerned deeply about others and their welfare so … concerned? Is it because we are religious? Or, as in my case, because we used to be religious?
In one of my public debates with Dinesh D’Souza a few years ago, this came out as a point of disagreement. Dinesh believes that only Christianity drives people to be concerned about others who are in need. For him, it is not religion in general, but Christianity in particular, that makes people want to be charitable.
In the debate, I found that view to be a bit outrageous. Really? Only you Christians are concerned about others? No one but Christians are? So I pressed him on the issue. First I raised the fact, it’s an indisputable fact, that there are lots of highly significant charities in the world that are not Christian.
I cited, for instance, one of the amazing organizations that this blog supports, Doctors Without Borders. They do absolutely stunning work out of a sense of common humanity, not because of religious beliefs. Dinesh replied that I was overlooking the fact that the organization originated in France which has historically been a Christian country. So even though the organization itself is not necessarily Christian, it would not exist without Christian roots.
So I pressed him harder: did he mean to say that people who lived in countries where there had never been a significant Christian presence were not interested in relieving pain and suffering, that people in China had no humanitarian impulse at all? Yes, he was quite emphatic, that is what he meant. People in China do not care about human suffering (other than their own).
I found, and still find, this to be absolutely incredible and scandalous. But, frankly, I didn’t know enough about charities in non-Christian countries to be able to pursue it. Maybe someone on the blog does.
The question posed above by a reader on the blog is slightly different in that it is personal, about those of us who are driven by charitable concerns. Is it because of a religious upbringing? Again, I don’t know that there is any way to answer the question, except by looking for studies of charity among those not brought up religiously. But again, Dinesh would respond that all the people we could study in our context were in some sense deeply influenced by the Christian tradition.
Maybe one response to *that* would be that one of the reasons the Christian tradition has always succeeded as well as it has is that it appeals to the better side of human nature and the deeply rooted sense, in most people, that we should help others in need.
But the question has made me think about myself a bit more, and about what drives my own charitable interests.
The first thing that comes to mind is an issue that I’ve pondered a lot over the past few years, which is why everyone doesn’t share the same concerns for helping out others. I’d be interested in knowing your personal response to that question. On one level, I guess I’m always puzzled that other people aren’t like me in all sorts of ways – in their political views, their religious views, their ethical views, and so on. Like most people, I think my views about all such things are just so sensible and clear, and yet on every issue I, like everyone else, is in the minority! Necessarily, every view we have about everything – even the most important issues in our lives — is a minority view. Go figure….
But it seems especially odd to me when it comes to charity. I know lots of very good and humane people who simply, at the end of the day, are not interested in helping out others in need. People who are very well off and living in luxury who think they are doing a great thing if they occasionally will give a hundred bucks to charity. The idea of giving a lot – even if it wouldn’t affect them or their lifestyles an iota – is simply beyond the realm of possibility for them. I have trouble getting my mind around that.
On the other hand, I know others who dedicate their lives to helping out others – living on much less themselves so as to give what they can for others, or spending the majority of their waking lives working to help those in need. I tend to “get” that approach to life better, and I stand in awe before it. I’m not like that either, though I often wish I were.
But my main puzzlement remains the first group, those who really just don’t care much if others are suffering. Or if they care, they aren’t willing to go out of their way to do anything about it.
It may be that my religious past did elevate those kinds of concerns for me personally. When I was a late teenager and became born again, I came to believe it was my religious obligation to give a tithe – a literal 10% — of my income to the church (or to missionary work, etc.). I did that even as a dead-poor college student struggling to make enough money to get by on. My religious communities supported and advocated that level of giving. Maybe that’s how it all got rooted in me.
I still believe in giving a serious percentage of my income to charity. And I do this blog, as you know, not for the jollies of it but to raise funds for charity. That is a different commitment, one involving lots of my time and effort. But the pay off, for me, is worth it.
Do I do it because of a deeply rooted religious sense of duty for others? I don’t know! Do I think others should do comparable things? Yes! Do they feel driven to do so? Some do some don’t. Some do far, far, far more. Some do almost nothing. Why is that? I really don’t know!