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Why We Give to Charity

Russell Ballew | Feb 27, 2013

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Russell Ballew | Feb 27, 2013

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

I remember the first time I ever gave money to charity. I was seven and we were watching the Jerry Lewis telethon. I had accumulated some money from delivering papers. It was a bit of a struggle because I knew I would be

giving up the savings I had put away to buy myself another model airplane. I wanted my ninth plane to round out my squadron. Ultimately, I was compelled to give by new stirrings – compassion for the images on the television and gratitude for my own good health. These were new for me and once I gave the money to my mom who then called in with her credit card I felt happy and clean.

This joy compels me to get high on giving to charities here, there and everywhere. I once gave money to a man who came to my house selling non toxic cleanser. He hadn’t even asked. It drives my wife crazy; but I don’t care and I won’t stop. What follows then is the formal apology of unredeemed Charity junkie.

Jerry Lewis Telephon
Jerry Lewis Telephon

I am not alone. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics individual Americans gave $217.79 Billion to charities in 2011. Clearly I am not the only one who enjoys the rush from giving. There may be as many different specific reasons to give as there are categories of giving. However there are a few reasons that certainly stand out.

In the United States God comes first. The majority of the money donated to charity is given to religious institutions. According to Charity Navigator, 32% of all donations, or $95.88 billion, went to religious organizations. This is more than the dreaded Sequestration. You know a person’s loves by where he spends his time and treasure and our first love is our respective faiths.

This is not surprising given how clearly each of the Holy Books extol the benefits of giving. Consider the following passage from the Old Testament.

“He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.” Proverbs 28:27

This promise of gain from charity is a well-established religious tradition. This promise is so thoroughly conventional it goes without saying. Everyone knows that when you do the right thing for others you are rewarded. It is also worth noting that the passage states that closing one’s eyes to the needs of the poor invites curses. As we move forward into the New Testament we discover more. Reflect on the passage below.

“And above all things, have fervent charity among yourselves, for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8

We make mistakes. Mistakes made public can be very embarrassing. Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to “cover the multitude of sins” we make just being human? It bears highlighting that this is not just forgiveness but actually covering of ones shortcomings. That is attractive.

These quotes give more than adequate cause to contribute to charity. But to be thorough let us consider also the Holy Koran.

“You cannot attain righteousness until you give to charity from the possessions you love. Whatever you give to charity, GOD is fully aware thereof.” Quran 3:92.

Beyond covering our sins and rewarding our sacrifices with gains charity leads to righteousness. That is a big word not often used so let’s get a formal definition. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary it means – acting in accord with divine law. The dictionary goes on use the word in a sentence: a righteous man can be trusted to act honorably regardless of the circumstances. I cannot imagine a more profitable human capability than trustworthiness. It means that you are both competent and honest. We all prefer the truth telling fair dealing actor. If by charity we are made more like what prefer and admire in others that is quite likely a great thing.
Last night before I fell asleep I asked my wife if we should turn on the alarm. It was midnight and she said no because she did not want to hear the irritating beep for 20 seconds before the alarm had fully armed. So I said a little prayer and hoped for the best. We all want to wake up and not have suffered harm or loss. This is precisely what Peace means to me.

Peace is defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary as: a state of security or order within a community provided for by law or custom. Law and order fails when too many people have too little to eat or gain. I remember hearing Bob Marley sing: “a hungry man is an angry man” as a child in West Africa. Chaos follows hard on the heels of endemic injustice. The government robbed the people blind. Corruption was a well-established fact that everyone hated. Ultimately too many people were too hurt too abide in peace. A revolution ensued.

The Holy Books all exhort us to have the highest regard for justice. Consider this example:

“The light of men is Justice. Quench it not with the contrary winds of oppression and tyranny. The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men.” – Baha’u’llah, (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp 67-68)

We are learning the truth of this guidance the hard way.

Charity helps to ease the pain that comes from tyranny and injustice. Ever hear the saying, the world is not fair. Well, it isn’t and some people bear more of the burdens of injustice than others. Charity assuages the actual pain and in many instances grievous harm done by injustice. 12% of all charitable donations in 2010 went to human services.

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice”, Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote in response to an accusation that his activism was disturbing the peace. For the majority of the people in the world peace is not an aspiration – life is just too hard.
They are simply trying to make it. Charities help countless millions to make it every day. Last year charities contributed 5.5% to GDP according to The Nonprofit Almanac. Clearly charity is critical to the livelihood of millions of Americans.

Prosperity can be defined as: the condition of being successful or thriving. It is hard to imagine success as abiding by the benevolence of others. We would all rather have a hand up. The popular adage teach a man to fish and he will eat forever comes to mind. Individual prosperity comes from having marketable skills. In this respect education is indispensable. Charity can and indeed does play a critical role in sponsoring the institutions that systematically cultivate human capital.

The fact that education is the second largest beneficiary of charity underscores that point. According to Giving USA charities received 13% of all funds dedicated to charity. This bodes well for the future. Education quite literally is the mechanism for lending the poor a hand up.

“Man is the supreme Talisman. Lack of a proper education hath, however, deprived him of that which he doth inherently possess…. Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.” Baha’u’llah (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 161-162)

This is not a new insight. In 2003, the average full-time year-round worker in the United States with a four-year college degree earned $49,900, 62 percent more than the $30,800 earned by the average full-time year-round worker with only a high school diploma. (Education Pays 2004 College Board)

The demands of our complex information technology economy require world class capabilities. Education is the way for laying the foundation of prosperity. Charity helps spread the possibility of education to all even in the face of poverty and injustice. We have made fantastic strides forward.

In 1990, the UN announced Millennium Development Goals, the first of which was to halve the number of people in extreme poverty by 2015. It emerged this year that the target was met in 2008. Advances in medicine and technology mean that people across the world are living longer. The average life expectancy in Africa reached 55 this year. Ten years ago, it was 50. The number of people dying from Aids has been in decline for the last eight years. Deaths from malaria have fallen by a fifth in half a decade. – Erika Johnsen 2012 Has Been the Best Year Ever – Really

As we embark on the heart of second decade of this century we see both the extraordinary accomplishments and incredible new vistas available to children the world over as education facilitates the spread of prosperity.

As we come to the end of this apology perhaps you will agree that there are several excellent reasons to be charitable. We are all moved at different times for different reasons. Can you please take a few moments to consider you own reasons for participating in sharing your means with others? For me no one reason triumphs another. What’s paramount is that when you give –whatever the reason – you are no longer alone. You are at one with every other contributor in carrying forward an ever advancing civilization and that my friend is a beautiful thing.

O CHILDREN OF MEN! Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory.

Baha’u’llah (Hidden Words of Baha’u’llah, p 20)

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  • Geoffrey Akhurst
    Jul 8, 2013
    Charity is an act of generosity. Organized charities are reliant on contributions from sympathetic parties who may or may not know the set-up of these organizations. In this respect the Bahá'ís are above reproach by taking donations from members only. The problem with many charities is the potential for misappropriation and misuse of funds. Fraud is also apparent when responsibility is placed on charities by those who abnegate their own responsibility.
  • Apr 25, 2013
    Nice piece Russell, I just noticed a couple typos as I was reading. "According to Giving USA charities received 13% of all funds dedicated to charity." (I'm sure you meant to say "educational charities") and "In 1990 In 1990, the UN announced Millennium Development Goals," Other than that, it was very good.
  • Karie Leishman
    Apr 17, 2013
    I really value your work, Great post.
  • Burton Haynes
    Mar 15, 2013
    I simply want to say I am just very new to weblog and truly loved your blog. Most likely I’m likely to bookmark your website . You actually come with perfect stories. Appreciate it for revealing your webpage.
  • Nauru
    Mar 2, 2013
    I’m not sure where you're getting your info, but good topic. I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more. Thanks for great information I was looking for this information for my mission.
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