Powerball and generosity

Last week all kinds of people were speculating about what they would do if they got to split the $1.6 billion Powerball jackpot. After saying they would pay off loans or buy a house or a car many of them said how much of their millions they would donate to charity. Actually, the best indicator of how one would handle his/her newfound fortune probably would be how he/she currently deals with money. Generous people are likely to remain generous. Certainly most of us could and should donate more, but we don’t have to wait to become wealthy to do it.

For decades Americans on average have given approximately 3% of their income to charity. A variety of research studies have shown that religious people are more likely than secular people to be generous. Almost all religions preach the virtues of social interconnectedness and giving of our time and resources. The top six states with the most charitable giving are Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina. These are states with high church attendance. The six states ranked the lowest for generosity are New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Some experts say that along with lower church attendance in New England its people are known for being independent and self-reliant.

According to an analysis of tax data by The Chronicle of Philanthropy poor and middle class Americans give more to charity than their wealthy counterparts. Of course, there are generous people in all states and at every income level. Some sociologists point out that as we become wealthier we tend to become more individualistic and make fewer connections. Poorer people are likely to rely on and enjoy a sense of community. Often they see needs first-hand and might develop empathy based on personal experience.

Many of us remember well this New Testament story. As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘Truly I tell you,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” (Luke 21: 1-4) All that we have belongs to God. The question is not how much of God’s resources we give away. It is how much we keep.

 “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

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