The Right Kind of Giving

As people on all sides of the political spectrum scramble to
make their end-of-year donations, liberals may be inspired to give
more than ever this year — in an effort to clear their good name.
The progressive reputation for compassion is tarnished in the new
Who Really Cares: America’s Charity Divide: Who
Gives, Who Doesn’t, and Why It Matters
, in which Arthur
C. Brooks mines the data to conclude that religious affiliation
plays a big part in how much we give. Of course, since religion
and political conservatism often go hand in hand, liberals are
left looking a little tight-fisted, writes Ben Gose for the
Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Easy excuses, such as ‘conservatives make more money’ or ‘giving
money isn’t the only way to make a difference’ are out. Brooks
found that, on average, liberal families earn slightly more than
their conservative counterparts, yet give 30 percent less, reports
Gose. However, the major determinant for charitable generosity was
piety, not politics; religious liberals gave almost as much as
religious conservatives, and secular liberals gave more than
secular conservatives. Cash isn’t the only thing religious folks
give more of — they even donate more time and blood than
non-religious Americans.

Brooks insists that his book is ‘a call to action for the left,
not a celebration of the right,’ but Gose reports that some are
wary of that claim, citing Brooks’ involvement with the Wall
Street Journal
‘s op/ed page and his ‘withering criticism’ of
liberals like Ralph Nader. Even in this season of generosity, it
seems that liberals have been slow to get behind Brooks’ ‘call to
action.’ His study has been covered by several publications, but
left-leaning ones have for the most part opted to ignore it. That’s
too bad because, as Brooks also discovered, charitable giving has
benefits in the intangible realm of health and happiness, says

So is it all bad moral news for ‘godless liberals’? Not really.
Writing for
Scientific American, Michael Shermer,
author of
Why Darwin Matters, notes that while
Brooks’ study may demonstrate that religious people give more
and are happier, other data show that religious cultures (headed
up by the United States) are also rife with murder, sexually
transmitted disease, abortion, and teen pregnancy. ‘Religious
social capital leads to charitable generosity and group
membership but does comparatively worse than secular social
capital’ — values that arise from social networks and
individual connections — ‘for such ills as homicides, STDs,
abortions and teen pregnancies,’ Shermer writes.

Of course, bigger-picture perspectives like Shermer’s don’t let
liberals off the hook for giving. To that end, Gose outlines
Brooks’ suggestions for increasing charitable giving all-around —
a list that includes advice for the government, charities,
individuals, and liberals specifically. Among the points: liberals
should work to make the Democratic Party more friendly toward
religion and ignore Democrats who understate the importance of

Go There >>
Charity’s Political Divide

Go there too >>
Bowling for God

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