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Real Charity is Voluntary

December 2nd, 2006 by Matt

A friend recently e-mailed me a link to this article.

It points out that religious conservatives give more money to charities that assist the poor than liberals do. If the data is correct, it highlights an issue I came to realise several years ago.

Consider two situations (a) and (b). In (a) my neighbour is in need, I take out my chequebook and give him some money; in (b) my neighbour is in need I take out a gun put it at another’s neighbours head and say to him, give that guy your money or else.

As a Christian, I advocate the former. Those on the political left, while claiming to support the former, frequently support the latter (the gun being the force of the state and the means taxation).

These two are clearly not the same, the first is generous, voluntary giving the second is violence against others.

However, so often in discussing this issue with other evangelicals (a) and (b) are conflated. I am told that because we have a duty to give charitably to the poor we have a duty to support socialist welfare programs. This is a non sequitur. Failure to be attuned to this distinction means that genuine desire to assist the needy is misguidedly thrown in behind acts of state-sanctioned violence and threats against innocent people.

Surely, the real test of virtue is what you are willing to do with your own money in the absence of a gun being held to your head and not what you want the state to force others to do with theirs.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • I remember seeing a link to this article over at Theologyweb. The reactions were interesting, from outrage and disbelief to comments like “yeah, but they couldn’t replace the welfare state, healthcare, education etc…”

    Quite frankly I’d be doubtful of any study that contradicted these results. It makes pretty good sense – lefties don’t think charity is the job of the citizen, conservatives do. Non-theistic conservatives don’t think they have a good given duty to care for the poor, religious conservatives do.

    What a shock, people who think that charity is the job of the citizen are actually giving more to charity!

  • It really is rather obvious isn’t it? Still sometimes you need a bona fide study to get the obvious through to lefties – and even then it doesn’t always work!

  • I totally agree with what you said. We should avoid pushing people to give and forcing them under the veil of 'duty.' Duty is without any heart. It's doing what you have to do without any emotional attachment, without any personal commitment involved. But to geniuinely give is to give with all your heart, which is an opposite of mere duty.