Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Six Wrong Reasons to Give (Title Correction)

America on Line ran an egregious story about reasons to give to charities. It devilishly transforms altruism into egoism--ingenious and ignominious. There is no mention, of course, of God's commands to give, God's love of a cheerful giver, or God's ultimate gift of himself when "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

Please see through this, then see to it that you give as the Bible teaches: "It is better to give than to receive." I have appended curmudgeonly commentary to each point.

Six Surprising Reasons to Give to Charity

Everyone knows there are lots of good reasons to give to charity, especially at the end of the year when there are tax benefits to reap and holiday good will to spread. But this year, many charities are doing quite a bit of giving themselves.Non-profits are trying harder than ever to make donating fun. They have little choice since their costs are rising as charitable donations remain fairly flat. These organizations realize you have to give something to get something.

But before you decide to help your fellow man, check out the charity with Charity Navigator or the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance to make sure that your donation will be spent prudently. The following are some surprising reasons to give to charity:

1) Meet Celebrities: Want to meet Bruce Springsteen, Robin Williams or Bill Clinton? Chances to shake hands with these and other notable people were recently auctioned off at the Web site Charity Folks and Charitybuzz. Be forewarned, these experiences don’t come cheap.

I don't want to meet any celebrities. I am already trying to avoid them in popular culture. If I met Bill Clinton I would say, "Thou art the man," then probably get arrested.

2) Do interesting things: For example, Charity Folks recently auctioned off a chance to shadow the elite Special Operations Division of the New York Police Department, watch the NBC Nightly News from the control room, or attend the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show and a party with the super models. Chances to hang out with the cast of the Howard Stern Show and win a day of beauty with celebrity stylist Rita Hazan were sold recently on Charitybuzz. People with more modest budgets can get in on the fun as well. Aquariums and zoos offer special behind-the-scenes tours for donors, as do some museums.

I can do interesting things by buying the opportunity (going to a concert) or simply doing them (teaching my classes). I won't pretend that I am giving when really all I am doing is getting something.

3) Get cool stuff: Local charities often hold auctions for autographed merchandise from local professional athletes as a way to raise money. If sports aren't your thing, eBay's Giving Works auctions off a huge variety of items. Recent offerings include a Civil War bayonet, a set of porcelain pigs, and a hooded sweatshirt for a dog. Charitybuzz was recently offering teddy bears designed by celebrities, such as "My Name Is Earl" star Jaime Pressly. Many local charities, such as hospitals, operate thrift stores where bargains can sometimes be found.

I'll buy things if I want them, not pretend I am giving.

4) Meet interesting people: Charities are finding that people donate because of encouragement from friends and family. Sites such as for Network for Good, which AOL helped found, bring together donors, volunteers and charities. Even smaller groups are looking to get people more involved through special events.

This one has something going for it, perhaps. But we should find our deepest fellowship in the church, which is a community of giving and receiving. But much of our giving may not translate into meeting interesting people. We are helping people, though; that is enough.

5) Feel real good: Believe it or not, donating to charity helps stimulate the regions of the brain associated with pleasure, according to a study published in the magazine Science by scientists and economists at the University of Oregon. Plus, it's the right thing to do.

Worldly hedonism stalks us everywhere and strikes at will. The comment also assumes physicalism concerning consciousness. Instead of growing in virtue through generosity, we are told to stimulate parts of our brains. There is nothing like a "happy" machine.

6) Enjoy great tax benefits: Maybe it's not that surprising to most people, but remember that you have until December 31 to make a donation and get a deduction on April's tax bill. Uncle Sam likes it when you do the right thing, but it's important to follow the rules. The terms "non-profit organization" and "charity" aren’t synonymous. For example, the IRS doesn't allow people to deduct contributions to political candidates, foreign organizations, civic associations or "groups whose purpose is to lobby for law changes." People should consult IRS Publication 526 or their tax preparer if they have any questions. There are lots of reasons to give to charity other than tax benefits. And no matter which charity you choose or why you decide to ante up, you will likely find it rewarding in ways you never expected.

This is an aftereffect, not a reason, Christianly speaking.


Tom said...


Your title suggests a fallacy: the article gives six alleged reasons to give; you respond that these are, in fact, not good reason to give. Fair enough. But even if they aren't good reasons to give, it hardly follows that they are reasons *not* to give.

More substantively, the article doesn't suggest that these are the only or best reasons to give. Only that they may motivate people who aren't likely to be motivated by a simple desire to do the right thing. I say that if someone gives a bunch of money for a good cause thereby getting to meet the celebrity of his or her choice, we should rejoice that the money went to something worthwhile. What would you rather have the person spend the money on?

To appropriate the words of (I believe) Wayon Jennings, "Don't you think this curmudgeon thing's done got outta hand?"

Oh, and Merry Christmas. (-;

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


You are right. I put the negation in the wrong place. It is now changed.

Nevertheless, none of these are good reasons to give. I'm a deontologist and virtue ethicist, with utilitarian concerns coming in a very distant second.

As to Waylon Jennings, I have no idea what you are talking about.

Tom said...

Hey Doug,

I understand that those who give only for the reasons listed in the article are not thereby virtuous. But I think an assumption of the article is that these reasons might move those who aren't otherwise motivated to give. Now it seems to me that even if their actions aren't virtuous, they still produce some good--good that wouldn't have been achieved by appeal only to morally better reasons. What's so bad about appealing to self-interested reasons for the purpose of having some good done?

The Waylon Jennings line (again, if that is the writer) was used to suggest (with some attempted levity) that maybe you're carrying this whole curmudgeon thing a bit too far. Since the article attempts to motivate some people who wouldn't otherwise do so to give to good causes, I'd think you could find a more deserving target for your curmudgeonly arrows.

Just one man's opinion.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

I was trying to expose bad reasons for giving by giving good reasons, Tom. It was not entirely negative by any means.

Tim Berglund said...

These are all bad reasons, but number five just makes me mad. Stimulate the happy centers of my brain, indeed! Why not just take a pill to do the same thing? I'm told they're not hard to find.

Let the mind/body physicalists have their day in the sun. Modeling joy in terms of brain chemistry will prove to be unlivable before too long.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

May the physicalists desolve into their neurons. Then we Minds will take over.

Jeff S. said...

Speaking of physicalists... I picked up this book to check out over Christmas break. I don't know anything about the author but it looked interesting:

"The Spiritual Brain" A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul