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Thomas: American generosity is fueled by the faithful

POSTED: August 1, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Americans are the most generous people on the earth.

WORLD Magazine recently reported that, "A new study by the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Prosperity says that Americans account for 45 percent of all philanthropic giving worldwide. Not only is that significantly more than any other nation on earth, it's also dramatically more on a per capita basis. One example: The average American gives 14 times more to charity than the average Italian."

The Hudson Institute also revealed that the U.S. government gives more than any other nation on earth. According to their study, in 2006 the United States gave out $23.53 billion in aid, almost twice as much as No. 2 Great Britain ($12.46 billion). However, when private giving is included in the numbers, the U.S. total rises to $192 billion.

These numbers should not be surprising. Along with being the world's lone military superpower and lone food superpower, the United States is the world's lone economic superpower as well. Although we account for only about 4.5 percent of the world's population, we account for more than 25 percent of worldwide economic activity.

WORLD Magazine also reported that the results of the Hudson Institute study came as no surprise to Arthur C. Brooks, a fellow at the Hudson Institute. "Americans give at least twice as much as anyone else," Brooks said. "And we're giving now more than ever before."

WORLD adds that, "Brooks said the myth of the ‘ugly American' has persisted in part because ‘it's in the interest of a lot of people' - those who want to see the size and role of government enlarge, for example - ‘to portray Americans as callous and uncaring.'"

"Callous" and "uncaring," along with "hypocrite," are favorite labels that many "big government" liberals try to attach to conservatives, especially Christian conservatives. Too often, they claim, Christians are driven politically by the issues of abortion and gay marriage, while ignoring the plight of the poor, the sick, those suffering from racism, etc. I submit that it is Christians who are most concerned with the suffering of others, and part of the evidence is in their "social activism."

When it comes to social involvement, recent George Barna research showed a significant difference between what he describes as "active-faith" Americans (the vast majority Christians) who tend to be more conservative in their politics, and "no-faith" Americans, who tend to be more liberal.

Barna reports that, "One of the most significant differences between active-faith and no-faith Americans is the cultural disengagement and sense of independence exhibited by (no-faith Americans) in many areas of life. They are less likely than active-faith Americans to be registered to vote (78 percent versus 89 percent), to volunteer to help a nonchurch-related nonprofit (20 percent to 30 percent), to describe themselves as ‘active in the community' (41 percent to 68 percent), and to personally help or serve a homeless or poor person (41 percent to 61 percent)."

There is also a significant difference between active-faith Americans and no-faith Americans when it comes to the amount of money donated to charitable causes. On this, Barna notes that, "The typical no-faith American donated just $200 in 2006, which is over seven times less than the amount contributed by the prototypical active-faith adult ($1,500)."

Furthermore, as of 2005, according to the Christian Science Monitor, of the top 10 U.S. charities that are categorized as social services or relief/development, nine are Christian charities.

When it comes to domestic charity, total U.S. giving in 2006 was just over $295 billion according to The Giving USA Foundation. Of this amount, 83.4 percent was given by individuals, which far outpaces the giving by U.S. corporations, whose total giving came in at 4.3 percent (giving by foundations made up the other 12.3 percent).

Now, I am not saying that all Christians are conservative in their politics, and neither am I implying that all Christians are generous while all non-Christians are not. In fact, I would suggest that while Christians do most of the charitable giving (as they should) in the U.S., they could (and should) be doing quite a bit more. For example, Generous Giving also reported that, while religious observers give significantly more than the nonreligious, their giving still only amounts to 3.4 percent of their annual income.

If Christians want to give less of their money to government, while at the same time having more control over how what they give is spent, I suggest that they give more to the churches and the charities that are "loving their neighbors as themselves."

Also, Christians should invest not only their money, but also their time in caring for those in need. In this way we can show our fellow Americans what should have been clear all along: The church is better at charity than is government.

Trevor Thomas is a Gainesville resident and frequent columnist; Web site.



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