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Clockwise from top left: Lorna Dueck, Vettivelu Nallainayagam, Michael Higgins, Guy Nicholson, Sheema Khan, Howard Voss-Altman
Clockwise from top left: Lorna Dueck, Vettivelu Nallainayagam, Michael Higgins, Guy Nicholson, Sheema Khan, Howard Voss-Altman

Faith Exchange

Religion, the original NGO? Add to ...

Lorna Dueck: I think we will always have good Canadians who don’t need God to be philanthropic. But I’m in the group that tends to be naturally fearful, tight and selfish with my personal resources. Since “MINE” is my first instinct, Christian teaching helps me think through my reluctance to give. When you process God’s invitation to a “just world,” as Howard so rightly mentions, and realize how humanity’s response is indispensable, that becomes a motivational source for generosity. From religious teachings, you can derive truths to deal with the selfish fears that keep you tight-fisted. If you rule out faith interactions that challenge us to sacrifice and love, I think it will be more difficult to keep growing generosity.

Guy Nicholson: Religious households have been found in the United States to give a substantially larger percentage of household income to charity. And a 2007 survey found that at least 40 per cent of Canada’s charitable dollar was collected in places of worship. Do you believe religious people are generally more generous, and if so, why?

Vettivelu Nallainayagam: I am not certain that religious people are more generous than others, but our religions certainly emphasize the importance of giving. Hinduism is also known as Sanatana Dharma (Righteous Conduct) and emphasizes dana (giving) as an important responsibility of every person. Also, giving should be without any ulterior motive. So it is ingrained in the teachings of Hindu religious leaders. I can quote one verse from the famous Tamil classic Thirukural: “Thou shall not take even the life-saving medicine if there is a visitor at home.” It means that a person is enjoined to give and receive pleasure from it.

Lorna Dueck: It’s probably a combination of guilt and goodwill – or, putting it more positively, duty and delight – that prompts giving among religious people. On the negative side, there’s confusion over the concept of tithing – the Old Testament law that 10 per cent of everything we receive should be given away to take care of the needy. It’s a standard that can be misused to be legalistic and cheap. That limitation changed with the teaching of Jesus and the interpretations of the early church that “Each should give what he has decided in their heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” ( II Corinthians 9:7) Any church worth its salt speaks about money with those who regularly attend, and helps them gain perspective on how it fits into a healthy life. Money, the Gospel teaches, is to be moved out of worry and into simplicity, joy and generosity.

Sheema Khan: I don’t know if religious people are more charitable. However, from a spiritual perspective, wealth is a gift from God. And we are reminded that we will not take our wealth with us when we die. In fact, spending in the way of God is encouraged as a way of attaining closeness to God. There is a beautiful narration from the Prophet, who said God says, “Spend, O child of Adam, and I will spend on you.”

So, those who are observant, and seek the pleasure of God, often give. Of course, one’s intentions should also be pure – that is, one should not give for the sake of showing off, or to have others admire their own generosity. There is another narration from the Prophet about an individual who gives, supposedly for the sake of God. However, as God knows one’s intentions, it is revealed that the person’s true intentions were for admiration. As such, his charity was rejected.

Howard Voss-Altman: It’s difficult to say whether religious people are more generous than non-religious people. However, our faith traditions emphasize charitable giving as an essential component of advancing the cause of justice.

I would like to address Lorna’s comment about Jesus’s teachings breaking through the “legalisms” of giving. The Torah is quite emphatic about the obligations we have to ensure justice for every member of the community. God’s concept of justice was not about so-called “legalisms,” but rather a heightened concern for the stranger and the poor.

Michael Higgins: I think the more challenging question is not why people of faith give proportionately higher but why those without any professed religious commitment or allegiance give less. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s “Big Society” and former U.S. president George W. Bush’s brazen cultivation of faith communities as a way of ameliorating social inequities are desperate admissions, as I see it, that secular society needs religion to do the work of the government in building up the commonweal.

Guy Nicholson: A few possible answers to that question: Loss of a philosophical rationale for giving? Loss of the community associated with faith? Greater faith in other institutions, such as government, which has its own redistributive methods?

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