The Politics of Altruism

It has come to my attention due to some comments of various caring people I know that much like economics in general, there are two major theories of philanthropy at work in our society. Neither of these two styles is wrong, they just approach our societies problems from a different angle. And, much like any other cause with differing methodologies, they are often pitted against each other.

Aid To The PoorThe first method that many of us are familiar with is the direct approach. With this we go out and help build a home for Habitat For Humanity, we donate blood to the Red Cross, or we send canned food to the local food bank. With each of these there is a relatively short road from the donor to recipient. Even in situations like the Red Cross or Goodwill where there may be an administrative level of isolation, there is still a direct connection between the organization we are giving to and the recipients of that donation. Maybe we should call this “Main Street Philanthropy”.

In the second method, there is a more indirect approach. Here we have practices as varied as educating people about problems in other areas of the world to holding benefits to raise money for charities. There isn’t anything at all wrong with this methodology, but there is a bit of distance put between the donor and the recipient. In addition, due to that distance and often infrastructure overhead, there is a certain signal loss before the end is achieved. We can call this “Trickle Down Philanthropy.”

An example of what I am talking about is this. If I have $100 to give, I could go to the grocery, buy $100 worth of food and give that out at the food bank. In this instance, 100% of my donation reaches the end recipients. Conversely, if I took that $100 and sent it to any number of well known charities, part of it would go to processing fees. Part of the donation would also go to pay for office staff, rent perhaps, and maybe even transportation. In the end, it is possible that only $50 of my donation would actually reach the recipient at the end.

And if instead I spent that $100 to give a few lecture or classes on the plight of the impoverished and starving, then it is also conceivable that absolutely none of my money would reach those in need. It is possible that all that money I had to offer was simply washed away.

This would seem like a clear choice to make until we realize that when the Trickle Down Philanthropy method works, it can actually amplify our donation. If that class I spent a $100 to teach was paying attention, didn’t fall asleep, and heeded my message, it is possible that each of the 25 people in attendance reached into their purse or wallet and made a $100 donation to the food bank. And they may also take what they have learned, spread the lesson, and triggered more donations. That amplification of effort is the magic of the Trickle Down theory.

So, here we have two methods of donation – one direct and one indirect. As I said before, neither is write or wrong. Certain people feel drawn to the direct satisfaction of the Main Street method and others have the vision and planning for the Trickle Down method. The truth is, each one needs the other to survive. Without feet on the street doing the work, the Trickle Down method is just so much posturing and conjecture. And without individuals doing the background education, fundraising, and paper work, those people doing the work on the street would have no funds, supporters, or growth. The key is finding where you fit in the picture and applying yourself there. And realizing that just because someone uses a different method, that doesn’t mean they are doing it wrong.

Creation As Gospel

This was part of the reading used in church this past Sunday, and I liked it so much that I wanted to post it here. Enjoy!

It is only in the Creation that all our ideas and conceptions of a word of God can unite. The Creation speaketh an universal language, independently of human speech or human language, multiplied and various as they be. It is an ever existing original, which every man can read. It cannot be forged; it cannot be counterfeited; it cannot be lost; it cannot be altered; it cannot be suppressed. It does not depend upon the will of man whether it shall be published or not; it publishes itself from one end of the earth to the other. It preaches to all nations and to all worlds; and this word of God reveals to man all that is necessary for man to know of God.

Do we want to contemplate his power? We see it in the immensity of the creation. Do we want to contemplate his wisdom? We see it in the unchangeable order by which the incomprehensible Whole is governed. Do we want to contemplate his munificence? We see it in the abundance with which he fills the earth. Do we want to contemplate his mercy? We see it in his not withholding that abundance even from the unthankful. In fine, do we want to know what God is? Search not the book called the scripture, which any human hand might make, but the scripture called the Creation.

       Thomas Paine from The Age Of Reason

Review – The Faith of Barack Obama

The Democratic National Convention started today in Denver, Colorado, and it is no doubt that the nominee of the party for President will be Senator Barack Obama. With that nomination, and even before, come the questions of who is this man, what does he believe in, and where does he stand? As our nation has struggled through the recent hardships of 9-1-1, the Iraq war, and turmoils in our local communities, we are increasingly looking beyond the superficial appearances of our politicians to their core beliefs and values. We are, as a nation, more and more interested in what drives out leaders and makes them tick.

The Faith Of Barack Obama by Stephen Mansfield seeks to help the reader find some of those answers. The book does not make a judgement call on who Americans should elect as their next president. Instead the author, by explaining Obama’s upbringing and influences, strives to show what it is that forms Obama’s beliefs and how that drives his thought process. The book also pulls no punches. On complicated issues such as abortion and the various laws legislating around the issue, Mansfield clearly points out where Obama has logical struggles and at times has mis-stepped his ideals. But again, the strength of this work is that it offers up the facts on those issues and lets the reader form their own opinion.

The Faith Of Barack ObamaIn addition to detailing the influences that have gone into the Barack Obama’s faith, Mansfield also gives attention to three of the other main characters in this election – Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and George W. Bush. Not only does this help to give a foot in the door for exploring those dynamic individuals, but it also helps to compare and contrast the cast of players. It is made clear that there are more than years of difference in this election, there are also differences of education, social influence, and how their faith was obtained. Revelation versus inheritance versus personal exploration are depicted as paths that help to form the destination.

This book is timely not only in terms of the election and the conventions, but also in terms of where we are currently in US politics. We are seeing, across the board, Republican or Democrat, a renewed interest in values and what goes into a person to form those values. Those values, that faith, is important to the American people and to the world. How our President puts his personal values into action in the world is important to determining how we interact with the world and where this country will be in years to come. Well written, timely, and well researched, this should be considered a must read for anyone on either side of the election interested in learning more about the candidates.

Intro to Faith Of Obama

A new book by Stephen Mansfield has just been published entitled The Faith Of Barack Obama. I guess the title pretty much says it all, and I don’t need to tell you what it is about. My review copy should be arriving in a few days, and I will post a full review at that time. Oh, and by the way, the introduction is by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The Faith Of Barack ObamaA work like this is extremely important right now, and not just because of the upcoming election itself. It is important because it is time for the liberals to take back some of the religious momentum from the conservatives and really start talking about religion, faith, and matters of the spirit. For too long the Democrats and other liberal parties have not even raised a voice as the Republicans and religious conservatives controlled the religious discussion and made it appear as if they were the only ones in the pews. Barack Obama has made his faith and values a center point of his campaign and is forcing, in a good way I believe, the liberal left to confront the Republicans in what they feel is their strong hold. I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of The Faith Of Barack Obama so I can get a better idea of where Senator Obama stands in this all important struggle.

Until then, the publisher was kind enough to send me the first 48 pages in pdf format and allow me to post them here. Please take a look, give it a read, and let me know what you think. And, as I said, as soon as I get the book I will be posting a full review.

The Commanalities and the Differences

If we throw out all the creeds, dogmas, and names of the deities and only concentrate on what is left, might we not come to find a true religion of hope, love, and charity? This struck me a couple of times in the past few days. Once was during the morning’s sermon at my church. And yes, for those of you who may be bewildered, Unitarian churches can have sermons. Anyway, this sermon was on love and inclusion. One of the things that struck me was a statement that, “we find enemies when we ourselves feel weak or unsure.” That really hit a cord. Yes, this can certainly be taken on a national level, but I won’t go into that here – at least not yet. Chuch Organ - The Commonalities and the Differences

What I really thought about was my personal relationships. Many of the people I have bad feelings toward are not bad people at all. They can’t be. They have nice friends and families and live fine lives. So perhaps the reasons for some of my feelings come from the fact that something about them makes me feel weak. Or points out insecurity in myself.

Now, if we take that further and look at why some religions are so venomous in their attacks on others, we may find the same thing. An article in The New York Times yesterday talks about the shifting faiths of the American people. What would make an organized religion feel weaker or more threatened than members leaving the ranks? Perhaps by looking at those people or groups that we dislike or even hate we can find out what our weaknesses or vulnerabilities are.

Finally take that a step further. When we now those problems, when we have found what it is about the other that triggers those distasteful feelings, it is then that we can rise above them. We can move beyond those problems to find our commonalities. We can move beyond the dogmas, creeds, dress, and dance to find that we are focused on the same thing. For example, what do most major religions care about? Be they Eastern or Western, the core of most religions is love, good works, care for the family and community, and the importance of world beyond one’s own self. Concentrate on those things, and maybe we won’t feel so threatened. And if we feel less threatened, maybe we will have fewer enemies.