Category: Effective Compassion

Blog author: kwoods
posted by on Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Tis the Season!

The Salvation Army Bell Ringers are now audibly calling us to seasonal charitable giving. But the pleas from multiple organizations for our benevolence—from both unprecedented terrorist attacks and natural disasters to the ever-present needs of our less fortunate neighbors—have been virtually ongoing since 9/11.

However, amidst all the research about how much Americans give and who needs what the most, and the gloom and doom rhetoric of so-called donor fatigue, it is appropriate to appreciate another principle as important as charity–freedom. Apart from any “shoulds” and “oughts,” we may first give thanks that whatever resources we have—including time, goods, and financial ones—are ours to give freely. (The IRS variable is ever-present, so it’s not ALL ours to give, but there is some.)

And notwithstanding the [url=http://www.ncrp.org/press_room/index.asp?Article_Id=73]accusatory finger pointing[/url] of [url=http://blog.acton.org/index.html?/archives/140-The-Best-Kind-of-Charity.html]“social philanthropy” advocates[/url] those with little or generous means are on a level decision making playing field: they have the freedom to give to those individuals, causes, and communities, even in countries of their choosing.

In review of unprecedented disasters spanning September 11 to the 2005 hurricane season, a [url=http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/05/AR2005110500276.html]Washington Post headline[/url] blazed “Some disasters compel us to give: Americans reach for their wallets.” And frankly, no where else on the planet do human beings seem so compelled to give and give so generously as Americans. Congressional attention to the [url=http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?c109:8:./temp/~c109CEgfH5]Katrina Tax Relief Act[/url], the [url=http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:s.01780]C.A.R.E. Act [/url] and the recent late night passage of the [url=http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:s.02020]Budget Reconciliation Bill[/url] all attempt to encourage us to give even more to charity.

Tocqueville is among the legion who have articulated this [url=http://www.acton.org/publicat/m_and_m/new/review.php?id=26]unique, overwhelming American response[/url] to needs of fellow human beings. And now ‘tis the season to not just give thanks for the resources that we have but more importantly the freedom that we have to use those resources.

Only in a free society is the true dignity of each human person underscored. Free to earn and free to give. And even the decision about what is “good charity” vs. “bad charity” is a reflection of a society that gives us freedom to have and then to exercise those values. End-of-year giving should cause us to reflect on July 4th as well.

A good story on Moses Maimonides in this weekend’s Washington Post, “The Doctor Is Still In: Medieval Rabbi-Healer Maimonides Linked Body, Soul.”

A key contention is that Jewish doctors like Maimonides “associated healing with basic religious duty.” The main source for the article is author Sherwin Nuland, whose most recent book is on Maimonides. While Nuland caricatures Christians in opposition to Jewish religious interest in healing, the perspective is a valuable one.

The article does note that beyond Nuland’s interest in Maimonides as a doctor, “the bulk of his writing dealt not with the body and its ills but with the soul and the religious laws that govern humankind’s existence.”

On that note, I’ll pass along an observation from Keith Ward’s book Religion & Revelation, regarding the interpretation of apparently difficult passages in the Old Testament, in which God orders murder or genocide: “Commentators like Maimonides argue that since God is creator of all, he has the right to decree the destruction of anyone.” I think the account of the flood would be highly problematic if you didn’t take such a view. Amen, Maimonides!

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Thursday, November 24, 2005

Acton is starting a new ad campaign which aims to raise awareness of effective ways to overcome poverty and world hunger. We encourage everyone to view our ads and to consider them seriously as they join the rest of the developed world in extending a hand to those in need.

If you’re interested in promoting real solutions to poverty, join our partnership of religious leaders. Visit our website to access valuable educational materials and connect with other sound economic thinkers. Together, we can turn goodwill into effective action.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, November 21, 2005

This month’s Esquire magazine is the annual “Genius” issue (with Bill Clinton as the coverboy, which might seem strange until you realize that the word “genius” is related to the words “genii” and “jinn,” which in mythology were often negative spiritual beings, “commonly believed to be responsible for diseases and for the manias of some lunatics”).

Speaking about the trouble with working through and for bureaucratic governments in his article “What I Did on My Summer Vacation: I Went to Africa,” (subscription required) Jeffrey Sachs, director of both the Earth Institute at Columbia University and the UN Millennium Project: “Officialdom the world over is pretty slow moving, pretty impractical, and pretty darn frustrating in many ways, so even when the proof of these concepts is clear, actually getting things done is not so easy.”

So when Sachs sees problems all over the world, he’s rightly frustrated by the governmental inability to deal with the issues. Through his hands-on experience, Sachs has learned to appreciate the necessary and decisive role private charity plays. He says with respect to the poverty, suffering, and death in developing countries,

It’s not very satisfactory to see this and not act. And so in the last couple of years I’ve started to talk about these problems with business leaders and philanthropists, and over and over again I’ve heard the same response: Don’t wait for the government. I’ll help you. So what kind of accidentally dawned on us was that we could just go ahead and get these concepts proven on the ground. And that’s what we are doing. And many philanthropists have come forward now and said, We’ll give you some backing; show us what you can do.

This is exactly the element that poverty advocate and U2 frontman Bono called for in a recent interview. “We need the marketing firepower,” he said. “We have the churches, the students, the rock stars, the movie stars, the cowboys. What we need now is corporate America.”

Sachs goes on to describe how the idea for Millennium Villages came about, through the interaction of field experts and donors: “…that’s how the Millennium Villages concept was born. The scientists said, Let’s move. The philanthropists said, Let’s move. A year ago we went and met with the community in Kenya and talked to people there about it. And they said, Let’s move!”

Sachs goes on to lay out the foundation for the UN Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), which emphasize both public and private sector engagement, but at over a 2:1 ratio of public over private. He writes of a meeting to find out what it would take to get developing countries out of poverty, “They said the public sector will do some and the private sector needs to do some, and that it should be about a seventy-thirty split. So that’s where the seventy cents came from. And that was adopted by the General Assembly of the UN in 1970.”

It’s unfortunate that the sensitivity that Sachs has at the beginning of the article to the unresponsiveness and corruption of government doesn’t lead him to primarily emphasize private rather than public aid. It’s appropriate to call governments to task for not living up to their pledges, the United States especially. But that finger-wagging shouldn’t take away from the “Let’s move, don’t wait for government” approach. That’s essentially my complaint with the church infatuation with the MDG’s…they tend to overemphasize the role of government and deemphasize personal and private giving.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, November 18, 2005

Among the ways the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) is going about attempting to raise public awareness of hunger issues is the use of “celebrity” athelete spokesmen. Paul Tergat, who won this year’s New York City Marathon, was a recipient of WFP aid when he was growing up in Kenya. Listen to a Morning Edition story on Tergat and the WFP here. Tergat is specifially the pitchman for the WFP’s Race Against Hunger project, targeted at about 300 million schoolchildren globally.

This, of course, is just one of the various WFP publicity efforts, which also include the production of a free downloadable video game, “Food Force.” A review of WFP’s “Food Force” is available here.

Of course, the UN isn’t the only game in town. Feed The Children is an international, nonprofit, Christian aid group “that delivers food, medicine, clothing and other necessities to individuals, children and families who lack these essentials due to famine, war, poverty or natural disaster.” A key part of Feed The Children’s effort is the push for sustainability: “A key goal is to help needy families move past needing help and into becoming self-sufficient members of their community. Through long-term, self-help development programs funded by grants and by our Child Sponsorship partners, tens of thousands of families in countries around the world have increased their ability to be self-sufficient by learning and applying new, marketable skills.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The church thought of this first, but better late than never, I suppose: 10 over 100 is an effort to encourage people who make over $100,000 per year to donate 10% to charity.

Here’s the pledge: I, [type your name here] , hereby make a personal promise to give 10% of whatever I make over $100,000 each year to charity. I will donate money directly to organizations of MY choosing, including charities, relief funds, schools, churches, etc. I understand that this promise is morally, not legally, binding.

HT: Fast Company Now

Update: FWIW, under a “graduated tithe” of the type advocated by Ron Sider, with a scale of, say, $10,000, and basic expenses set at $40,000, you would be giving 60% per $10k once you reached $100,000 in income. So at the $100,000 level, you’d be giving a total of $25,000 or 25%. Beyond this, you increase gradually until you would be giving 100% of the money earned past $140,000. A PDF scale version of a type of graduated tithe is available here.

Via Best of the Web Today, an interesting comment from Senator John Kerry:

Democratic Sen. John Kerry called the Republican budget approved by the U.S. Senate “immoral” and said it will hurt cities like Manchester.

“As a Christian, as a Catholic, I think hard about those responsibilities that are moral and how you translate them into public life,” the Massachusetts senator said at a rally Saturday in support of Democratic Mayor Bob Baines, who is running for re-election.

“There is not anywhere in the three-year ministry of Jesus Christ, anything that remotely suggests – not one miracle, not one parable, not one utterance – that says you ought to cut children’s health care or take money from the poorest people in our nation to give it to the wealthiest people in our nation,” he said.

Kerry criticized the Senate spending plan, which would cut an estimated $36 billion over five years, saying it would reduce funds for police, after-school programs and children’s health care.

In one sense, Kerry is correct: one would search in vain to find any point in the Gospels where the Lord does any direct issue advocacy on the modern welfare state (“verily I say unto you, blessed is the Congress that slashes federal low-income health care funding, for they shall have much loot to pass on to their fat-cat special interest contributors…”). But the implied assertion that those who support such cuts in federal spending are anti-poor, or even anti-Christian, deserves more careful scrutiny.

What comments such as these reveal is a philosophy that, as Rev. Gerald Zandstra has noted, lacks “any real discernment about the proper role of government with respect to the issues of poverty and charity.” When the government assumes the primary responsibility for the care of the poor, it does not enhance a society’s morality (as Kerry and others like him would argue); rather, it erodes the moral foundations of the society:

To assign the problem of poverty solely to the government radically short changes the person in need. The poor, in surrendering them to the care of the government, are increasingly estranged from the family, church, charity, or local community who would benefit greatly by becoming involved in the life of someone who requires real help. There is a mutual benefit in all of these relationships that form the firmest foundations of civil society. In these relationships, we can care for the poor and, more important, see the whole person and experience the dignity that is inherent in the human soul.

Such a placement of responsibility is not only corrosive to society, but also harmful to the church, as Rev. Robert A. Sirico notes:

The specific problem this confusion presents to the church is that it disintegrates charity into an entitlement and collapses love into justice. If all relations are based merely on state-enforced justice, what becomes of the virtue of love? Especially when viewed from a religious perspective, the disadvantages of an expansive welfare state are sadly apparent. Promoting the government as the resource of first resort lessens the incentive of people in the pews to become personally involved in needed projects and relegates the church to the role of lobbyist. To the extent that the church functions as a lobbyist, rather than itself clothing the naked, feeding the hungry and performing the other traditional acts of charity, the church loses a rich source of its own spiritual nourishment.

This has, in turn, led to a secularizing of the social assistance systems (schools, hospitals, orphanages, health clinics). This development minimizes the moral influence of religious mediating institutions which are so critical in helping to stabilize troubled families.

The moral of the story? People of faith should think twice before using religious language to defend the maintanance and expansion of the welfare state. What seems at first glance to be a sound moral choice may be self-defeating in the long run.

evilmonkeyJordan Ballor, associate editor at the Acton Institute, responds to a study published by Joan Silk, a researcher at the University of California, which finds that monkeys do not exercise compassion.

Silk’s team placed a chimp in a situation where it had the option of pulling one of two ropes. Pull the first rope, and the chimp received a bit of food. Pull the second rope, and the chimp received the same bit of food, but a monkey in a neighboring cage also received a similarly-sized morsel.

What Silk found was that “the chimps were entirely indifferent” to the situation of their neighbor. They pulled the first rope about half the time, and the rest of the time they pulled the other. And this indifference was manifested even though the neighboring chimp would often plead or implore its potential benefactor to pull the second rope. “They had their face right up there sometimes. But the begging gestures don’t seem to have had a big impact on the chimp’s behavior,” Silk said.

Ballor reflects on Silk’s research, commenting that “even though not all humans act compassionately, and perhaps not all animals act selfishly, the important reality to recognize is that we necessarily make moral conclusions about such behavior.” Selfless compassion, says Ballor, is a manifestation of the imago dei: “We were built for a purpose, to love God by loving our neighbor.”

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, November 2, 2005

There’s a new venture, Kiva, that according to the founder Matthew Flannery is “a startup focused on connecting lenders with micro-businesses online. We provide the world’s first and only online micro-lending opportunity and just opened to the public 3 weeks ago. We have now started over 30 businesses in Uganda and are scaling at a rapid pace.”

The effort still looks to be in its infancy, but as of October 11 Kiva was officially out of “beta” testing. This means “we spent 6 months testing our software and our processes and we no longer consider this whole thing to be a ‘test’.”

Simply put, this is a great concept that can have real, concrete, positive effects in the lives of those living in the world’s poorest nations. Access to capital is a huge problem in many of these areas. Banks often cannot take on the risk of providing low-interest loans with terms long enough to spark development because of governmental, monetary, and economic instability in these countries. Now those of us who are concerned and live in the most prosperous nation in the history of the world can charitably take on that risk.

One of the great things about the microloan solution is that it attempts to find solutions that really work and address problems that arise in the real-world economic systems. These kinds of answers are an excellent alternative to economically misinformed campaigns like the “fair trade” movement.

Of course, not only for this particular venture but for all such efforts, effectiveness, transparency, and stewardship are key elements. Read more about Kiva’s due diligence process here.

The good news? “Due to the recent overwhelming interest in Kiva,” there are currently no businesses listed still looking for loans. The bad news? The need is great in the developing world, but it is difficult to bring these entrepreneurs to light. There is a lot of infrastructure work that needs to be done. Kiva is pursuing this in partnership with the Village Enterprise Fund.

HT: Seth Godin’s Blog

Real estate mogul and reality show guru Donald Trump made a guest appearance on the NBC soap opera “Days of Our Lives” last week and, in a real stretch, he played himself. The brief cameo was in the context of Mr. Trump’s visit to the Horton Foundation, a charity based in the fictional town of Salem. The dialogue between Trump and Mickey Horton gives us some insight into Donald Trump’s view of economic success and the resulting responsibility:

Donald Trump

Mickey: Thank you very much, Mr. Trump, for your generous contribution to the Horton Foundation on its anniversary. And I can assure you that it will be put to very good use.

Donald: Well, I’m glad to do what I can, Mickey. I’ve always believed that with success comes a responsibility, and that responsibility is very important — helping those in need. Your foundation’s been doing a great job for a long time. Happy 40th anniversary, and keep up the great work.

Mickey: We’ll try. I want to thank you for taking time out of your very busy schedule to come all the way up here to Salem.

Donald: I’ve been hearing so much for so long about what you’ve been doing, and I really had to come up and see the place for myself. It’s great. It’s really terrific.

Now of course in many ways this view might be an artifact of the need to find some device for Donald Trump to appear on “Days”. But this season of Trump’s reality show, “The Apprentice”, gives us some other clues in this regard.

On his own show, the reward for the winning team in Week 3 was to “give back to the community” by “distributing tens of thousands of dollars worth of free electronics to kids in the hospital.” This is in distinction to past rewards, which include jet-set getaways and expensive jewelry and gifts.

Joy to the World: Mark enjoys his time with hospitalized kids during Excel’s Santa Claus moment. (Week 3: Tech Expo)

(Kevin T. Gilbert/Blue Pixel)

“It puts everything into perspective,” said Josh. “You can’t really quantify the value of giving a gift and a smile to a kid.” Added Mark, “It was like being Santa Claus.”

And on Martha Stewart’s version of “The Apprentice”, for which Trump serves as executive producer, the Week 2 reward again was “an opportunity to give back to New York City. The corporation banded together with New York Cares to help the Hudson Guild community organization create a garden in Manhattan’s Chelsea district. They transformed a dingy dirt patch into a beautiful oasis of flowers outside the Guild’s new recreation, arts, and children’s center. Working alongside volunteers and neighborhood children, the candidates of Primarius [the winning team] were touched by the joy of giving.”

These are just some of the most recent examples of compassion coming to the small screen. The newest show this season is NBC’s “Three Wishes”, hosted by Christian musician Amy Grant. I’ve discussed before the issue of mixed-motives in the commercialization of compassion, especially with respect to ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”. I’m still inclined to give such shows the benefit of the doubt…whatever the motivations, there is good being done. And even if there is duplicity and the motive is purely that of economic self-interest, this merely attests to the foundational reality of mutually beneficial exchange at the heart of the market system.

This post has been crossposted to Blogcritics.org.