Paying for your ticket into heaven is not charity
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- provision of help the voluntary provision of money, materials or help to people in need.
- material help money materials or help voluntarily given to people in needEncarta World English Dictionary,
St. Martins Press, 1999
Several times on this site I have encouraged giving to charity. I think helping others in need is a worthy endeavour and, properly focussed, charity can contribute to long-term improvements in society. But there is a sense that we non-believers tend not to be as charitable as believers. Is this true?
A study released this week into charitable giving in the USA showed that the most religious states are the ones in which individuals give the most to charity. But, and it's a huge but, if you don't consider the church / mosque / synagogue / temple to be a charity, the picture reverses. Ignore donations to religion, and the most charitable states are the more non-religious states in the USA.
I would guess a similar study conducted anywhere in the western world would show show similar results; the religious seen as more charitable if their religious institutions are considered as charities, and the non-religious as more charitable if religious institutions were taken out of the equation.
So should giving to your church be considered a charitable donation? I'm not talking about giving for tax purposes here, but in terms of the definition of charity - voluntary giving to assist people in need.
What is religious giving?
For many it is tithing - mandatory (not voluntary) giving to maintain membership in the church and to keep open a ticket into heaven. That's not charity. It's looking after yourself.
If tithing is not involved and giving to the church is purely optional, what purpose do the donations serve?
- The donations keep the giver's ticket to heaven open - that's not charity.
- The donations pay the preacher who in turn ministers to the giver - that's not charity.
- The donations pay for the church building which provides the giver a place to worship - that's not charity.
- The donations pay for lobbying politicians, for political action groups, and for advertising to influence laws and regulations favouring religious institutions and religious morality - that's not charity.
- The donations pay off lawsuits for abuses by clergy - that's not charity.
- The donations contribute to diocese funds (and various other higher headquarters) to operate the religion - that's not charity.
- The donations might pay for missionaries - that's not charity, it's recruiting.
I will concede that some churches actually do spend money on what I would consider truly helping people in need - but it is a remarkably small proportion once you remove the costs of proselytizing from the sum. And it still does not make the donation by the church member charity any more than the portion of our taxes which go to help the needy constitutes charity.
Giving to churches is not charity. Donations are intended to primarily benefit the donor - membership in the organization; a ticket into heaven; imposing the donor's religious views on society; spiritual guidance for the donor; and a place to worship.
In terms of genuine charitable giving, donations to religion fail the test.