I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.
— Maya Angelou
As I discussed last week, according to Moses Maimonides’ hierarchy of giving, the most virtuous form of charity is that which enables the recipient to become self-reliant. And anonymous giving is more favorable for a number of reasons. Which is why organized charities are so important, since they help us meet those criteria. In fact, I believe that charitable giving should be a part of everyone’s practice.
Some people do this by the practice of tithing. The modern definition of tithing is to give 10 percent of one’s income to one’s primary religious organization. But tithing need not only be for a formal religious group, nor is it necessarily 10 percent. We can think of tithing as simply the planned, intentional setting aside of a percentage of our income for sharing.
You might be interested to know that tithing is not the exclusive domain of Judeo-Christian practice. In fact, there is currently a backlashbecause of its Pagan roots! against tithing in some of the extremely conservative fundamentalist Christian circles,
According to historian Collin Hansen, “Many non-Jewish and pre-Christian societies also practiced tithing-like giving. Some ancient sources describe how kings imposed a type of first-fruits tax to maintain holy shrines and support clergy. From Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonia to the temples of Apollo in Delphi and Athena in Athens, pre-Christian centers of worship collected tithes for their Gods.
“Ancient cultures as disparate as the Greeks and Chinese—including the Arabians, Phoenicians, Romans, and Carthaginians—gave in ways mirroring the tithe. Some scholars believe ancient cultures hit on the seemingly arbitrary figure of one-tenth because they often did calculations on their fingers.”
Some Christian churches today demand a 10% donation of one’s gross income, while others ask for pledges that would amount to that. But most people do not give nearly this much, nor do they give only to their religious group (if any at all), but to secular, non-faith-based organizations.
Interestingly, the two groups in the United States that give away the highest percentages of their income are the poor (those making less than $20,000 per year) and the wealthy (those making more than $100,000 per year). In fact, families earning less than $10,000 give 5.5 per cent of their income to charity (not necessarily religious ones).
Contrast this to families earning between $50,000 and $60,000 who give only 1.7% of their earnings. (These numbers come from this website, which, in turn, cites its sources extensively).
Should we give more? How can we, without jeopardizing our own security, especially in rough economic times? Tomorrow, I’ll share some thoughts about why we can’t afford not to, as well as offer some strategies for intentional, intelligent giving.
So — today’s random act of giving:
Leave some quarters in the coin slots of the local laundromat, a drink or snack machine, or pay phone. You never know who might really need that little extra help.