Sunday, December 17, 2006

The mathematics of faith

The more you give, the more you will get.
How's that for a leap of faith? Yet it is true.
When I started taking giving to charity as a serious commitment in my life, I was amazed to find how true it is. Raise after raise has come my way, promotion after promotion, one lucrative opportunity after another.
The cause and effect is an indirect one, to be sure, which makes it all the more challenging to imagine. Yet it does happen, through the long-term.
Therefore it was with great interest that I read the following article in the National Post, Canada a nation of cheapskates. I can look to my personal experiences and affirm, "this story is all-too true", whereas others may glance into their experiences and mutter, "this must not be true"... for the more it is true, the more false their clinging to a moral foundation for socialism.
Who can deny the mathematics establishing the article's sub-title, "In societies where governments have generous social programs, people give less to charities":

Americans give US$900 per person to charitable causes each year, while in Canada, the average is $400. In Quebec, the average is $176, the lowest amount of any province or territory.

In his new book Who Cares: America's Charity Divide -- Who Gives, Who Doesn't, and Why it Matters, economist Arthur C. Brooks compares the United States to western European nations and finds Americans give on average 14 times more than Italians, seven times more than Europeans and 3 1/2 times more than the French. "There is a view [in Europe] that if something is truly important, then government should be doing it and that discharges my duty to privately help others," says Mr. Brooks. "Maybe this explains something in Canada as well."
In his research, Mr. Brooks discovered those who believe government has little place in many areas of society -- many of them religious conservatives -- tend to give more to charity than liberals who push for greater taxation and more government involvement in social programs.
The same argument may explain Canada's divide.
"When you compare the giving rates between Quebec and Alberta [where average donor rates are $500 a year, the highest in Canada], they look like two very different countries," says David Van Slyke, a professor in the department of public administration at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, who studied at McGill University in the late 1980s.
"Alberta very much has a small-government philosophy, pro-market, pro-individual action, supporting those in need through private-sector dollars."

"In contrast, Quebec has a larger, more established public-sector presence and a much larger and stronger union environment, and each of these contributes to the expectation that it is government's role and responsibility to serve the poor, treat the unhealthy and provide some level of income security among the most fragile of
Beyond the views on government's role in society, a far more influential factor on patterns of giving is religion.
"Giving is a learned behaviour," says Mr. Brooks. "An effective place to learn giving is a house of worship, where you're getting the message week after week after week."
In Canada, 45% of the $9-billion raised for charity in 2004 went to religious organizations. The next highest amount -- 14% -- went to health care, which means that even with all those Terry Fox runs and hospital fundraisers and Walks for the Cure, religious organizations still pulled in three times as much across Canada, more than $4-billion.
Wealth in this country does not necessarily translate into largesse. Just ask Cyrille Esteve, better known as Spoonman, who has been clacking out traditional French-Canadian tunes in front of Ogilvy's on Ste-Catherine Street in Montreal for the past nine years. He makes $8 an hour in the regular season, but on Christmas Eve, his best day, his wage swells to $30 an hour.
"Pierre Elliott Trudeau used to give, but he'd give a quarter," he says. "Imagine, the man's a millionaire. And he'd drop pennies in my plate!"
A growing body of research indicates those who give are happier, healthier, more successful and earn more money.
"There is huge evidence that giving makes people more effective, it gives them more meaning and it makes them more successful," Mr. Brooks says.
"Part of the reason is that people who give feel so empowered and fulfilled -- they feel like they have a voice."
"Charitable giving is a valuable and unique form of expression, in a very different way from a ballot box or a picket sign," Mr. Brooks says.
"There's really no more profound way of expressing oneself humanely than doing that."


dag said...

Og Mandino,author of The World's Greatest Salesman, is, to my mind, the world's worst writer. His books created a storm of interest in my hometown way back when, and when I looked at one of them I cringed, thinking only a man nearly retarded could write so poorly. A large part of his thesis is that one should give away half of ones earnings. On occasion I tell people that story from Mandino's books. I have not yet convinced even one person that it's a smart thing to do; but I haven't yet met anyone willing to be filthy rich, including myself. Yes, Mandino is the world's worst stylist, but his ideas are dead-on when it comes to being-- not just rich but free.

If one can give up half of ones earnings, then there is a gap of serious proportions in ones holdings. If I have a buck and give away fifty cents, I'm in trouble. It means, though, that if I want a dollar I have to make myself maake two dollars. And if I work that hard and then feel good about giving away half of it just because, then I know that I work for the sake of working and not for the sake of the money. I work to make things and to do things, not to have a hoard of cash i fear losing. If I lose the money I have, then I can go out and make twice as much again. It's all attitude. I hate Mandino's writing because he's terrible at it. But he's right on target with his perceptions about attitude. I love that.

There's a writer I like as a person, Primo Levi, who isn't a very good writer at all. One book I refer to often and continuously is his Survival in Auschwitz, the essay "The Drowned and the Saved." Levi claims that most people who entered the death camp were dead from the moment they arrived because they didn't have the will to survive. Yes, they would have survived if they hadn't been murdered, but they didn't have the will to survive in spite of the murder campaigns. Some very few fought, and they were saved, though many who fought just as hard were not. But none of those who didn't fight seem to have survived at all. It was attitude that saved those lucky enough to survive, and luck it was indeed, in Levi's case, that saved him in the final days. He committed suicide in his later years.

Dr. Johnson says that if one of his friends is sentenced to be hanged, Johnson would do whatever he possibly could to save the man, but if the man hanged anyway, Johnson would go for lunch a completely satisfied man, having done all he could. That Classical attitude is too harsh for my over-sensitive self. I could easily benefit from a loss of a great deal of my Romantic feelings, as could much of our Modern West, being mired in sentimentality and false emotion, not true concern or love but mere sentimentality. A little more genuine concern for the living and a lot less emoting and posturing over the whales and spotted owls and so on would go a long way toward relieving some to the worst of Human suffering we witness today. Doing our best, getting over our failures, and moving on to the next task is simply better than weeping over our failures-- weeping in public for show, as do the death hippies and ecologists and philobarbarists and anti-Semites who love nothing better than showing off their latest fashion statements. It's an attitude.

Victor Frankl is a fair writer. He survived the death camps too. He not only survived, he lived each moment of his term, living with an attitude that he was alive then and life is life now. He refused to allow the Nazis to take his life from him before he was dead, and then he survived them. Too many of our own in our time and places weep and moan over things so trivial I could scream. They have so little to complain about that they should well be beaten. Frankl faced murder and extermination of those around him, and he did not despair, did not die, and further, he lived.

So, what to make of his fascist counter-part, B.F. Skinner, Behaviourist monster who reduces Humanity to a social engineering project conducted by the Gnostic elite? I hate Skinner. His work is so terrible that even if he writes circles around an intuitive psychologist like Og Mandino he is still one of the worst writers in modern history. According to Skinner, no one is alive, they just go through the motions, and those motions should be guided by the behaviourists who know how others should behave.

Two writers come to mind here, both of whom I love, Kierkegaard and Dostoyevski, both of whom write about faith in ways different from each other while coming to a similar end. Particularly I recall Raskolnikov in Siberia, and Lisveta. There is only one book that surpasses Crime and Punishment in terms of its beauty on the subject of faith, to my mind, and that is Graham Greene, Brighton Rock. I'll return when I can with a quotation from it that stirs me more than any I can imagine.

It's not the money, it's the life. Even a creepy little bastard like T.S. Elliot understood that when he wrote:

"Where is the Life we have lost in living?"

dag said...

Greene writes in Brighton Rock of a truly evil character, the teeenage killer psychopath, Pinky, and of Rosie, a stupid and repulsive girl who loves him. When Pinky fails to kill Rosie and ends up himself dead, Rosie goes to hear his last message, filed with a bitter hope that his voice will tell the worl the truth about his love for her, a voice she will be able to play to her child when he is born. Rosie doesn't get it, not till it'll be too late, and even then she likely won't grasp the signicficance of the tale. Rosie puts her faith in her own vanity and in her love of a sickening and evil young man, a man who, in turn, is so faithful it's frightening.

Knowing the outcome of the story, we as privilged readers can see the line following where a priest talks to Rosie about Pinky, and we can make our own judgements about faith:

"He said: 'You can't conceive, my child, nor can anyone... the... appalling... strangeness of the mercy of God.'"

Regardless of our religious leanings aor lack thereof, we must surely grasp the failure of vanity. There is not only no charity in vanity, there is a desperate cheating of ourselves in thinking we have something we do truly lack.

Charles Henry said...

"A large part of [Mandino's] thesis is that one should give away half of ones earnings.... I have not yet convinced even one person that it's a smart thing to do.."

Considering our income tax, you'd think the average person would be predisposed to the fact of giving away half their earnings by now!
Actually, isn't it amazing that we as a society still give as much as we do to charity, despite the immense tax burden we muddling-through bourgeois have to contend with.

"Doing our best, getting over our failures, and moving on to the next task is simply better than weeping over our failures.."
Dag, that's about as succinctly wonderful as I've ever seen life explained. Maddeningly, the simplest lessons always seem the hardest to learn, however..

dag said...

Good point about taxes. Here people pay at a minimum half of their yearly income iin taxes, not just direct tax like income and sales taxes but in things that are taxes by another name, such as parking meters, driver's licences, building permits, and the list goes on and on. The problem with all this to my mind is that people become resentful and evasive about paying these enforced donations to the common wealth. Rathere than fel that one is doing something charitable and decent for the nation and the state, one is more likely to find a way to hang on to whatever is possible. People might give at Christmas, and they might give more at Christmas if they had guns to their heads. But why would anyone think it a good thing to put a gun to someones head to make them do what they would anyway? It shows a contempt for Humanity. Those who could and would, as Mandino suggests, give away half their income by choice would be few, but they would be the few who would become exceedingly wealthy, whereas now they are likely resentful and stingey. No one wins in a situation like that. it sems to follow naturaly that the more we find people trying to improve Mankind the worse things get. Shimmbesserung, in German: "Worsening by improvment." We need such a word in English.