When giving is smart and when it isn’t

Reprinted from the Foundation for Economic Education

With the advent of the Christmas season, thoughts are turning towards the theme of gifts and giving. Such matters call for joy in people of all ages, but not always. Sometimes we give the wrong things to the wrong people, and sometimes we give them for the wrong reasons. And while many Christians bemoan the fact that gifts and giving can distract us from the “real cause of the season,” that’s an issue for another article—one that relates, fortunately, to everyone’s free will and personal choice.

The origin of Christmas, of course, is the birth of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is appropriate to ask, “What did Jesus say about gifts and giving?”

Whatever your faith or denomination, or even if you choose neither, you probably recognize in a general way that Jesus encouraged giving. You probably know that he spoke favorably of giving to the poor — but not because he disapproved of wealth or the rich per se (sorry, socialists) but for the fairly obvious reason that rich people don’t need material gifts.

What would we think of Jesus if he had advised, “Give your charitable dollars to those with the largest bank accounts?” We might think he was as mad as he exhorted, “Give your charitable money to the government.” And if a large audience inquires today, “What have you done for the poor?” I think he’d be dumbfounded to hear a response like, “We voted for the politicians who said that they You will take care of that. “

However, something Jesus said in Matthew 5:42 (also recorded in Luke 6:30) deserves careful attention. It is often cited by critics of Christianity as evidence that Jesus spoke nonsense about gifts and giving.

Let me explain.

A few days ago, I gave a talk at a very good Students for Freedom conference in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. objective? Was Jesus a socialist?“, The title of my last book. I have argued that nothing in his teachings remotely endorses the ethics or economics of a centrally planned economy, forced redistribution of wealth, envy or denigrate the successful, stifling profit-driven enterprise, mandatory societal equality, or government ownership of the means. from the producer. This question came from an objective young man (an Ayn Rand follower) that I know and respect: “But what about Matthew 5:42 in which Jesus said, ‘Give to him who asks you, and whoever wants to borrow from you do not go away’?”

subtext? Jesus was either a Socialist or a Joseph or both. Taken literally, it seems to advocate the indefensible. Simply giving anything and everything to anyone who asks for it is a sure recipe for sinister results. One can quickly lose everything, and a lot of it to bad people putting the proceeds towards some very bad purpose. And the sucker who gave it to them wouldn’t even be able to take care of himself and his family.

Did Jesus really tell us to go bankrupt? Have we been advised to be terrible stewards of our wealth by giving even to the unworthy, the slothful, the degenerate, the thieves, the deceitful? Has he sincerely suggested that self-sacrifice for any conceivable purpose is a virtue, even if it goes against the values ​​we hold to be honest and noble? Would he agree if you knowingly allowed others to take advantage of you financially?

To answer in the affirmative to these questions is to denigrate the real Jesus in the service of an ideology or worldly enmity. It portrays him as a cartoon character that we can arrogantly dismiss.

A single sentence that is interpreted out of context or regardless of the speaker’s full perspective is always a license to hurt. It can easily lead to erroneous or incomplete assumptions and erroneous conclusions.

For example, Ayn Rand once wrote, “The man who does not value himself, cannot value anything or anyone.” Oh really? This, in isolation, is a remarkably sweeping and incisive statement. It is not difficult for me to imagine a man of the slightest personal esteem still placing some value on his lunch, his shoes, or at least his treat. We would not be fair to Rand if we failed to consider what she really meant, if we did not allow her some license to use a literary device to make her point.

Rand also wrote: “When I die, I hope to go to Heaven—whatever that may be—and I want to be able to afford entry.” Should we jump to the conclusion that Rand believes in heaven after all? Of course not, because we know she didn’t.

Rand is sometimes misunderstood as opposed to charitable giving, too selfish to accept one person doing good for another. Her hero is in Atlas ShruggedJohn Galt, says to Dagne Taggart, “I will warn you now that there is only one forbidden word in this valley: the word.”Give. “

But her hero V.I upstreamHoward Roark lavishly pays the mortgage of his friend, sculptor Stephen Mallory, and also pays for their meals together. What Rand (like me) opposed was both morality and “public policy” to force one to sacrifice one’s values ​​in favor of another. Agree with her or not, we should at least consider her thoughts fully and in context. The same goes for Jesus.

Rand was right about a lot of things (I wish I could get the objectiveists to admit that Jesus was, too) but she can also be personally responsible, paranoid, judgmental, and intolerant. (See economist Murray Rothbard’s article for details.) It has made, for example, indefensible statements about Native Americans, even denying owning any of them or recognizing property rights, but this does not lead many Objectivists to reject it outright.

When Jesus said, “Give it to him who asks of you, and whoever wants to borrow from you, do not turn away from him,” was he advocating some kind of socialism? stupid question. Socialism implies the concentration of earthly political power and the use of state coercion to achieve certain goals. Jesus did not claim the state in any way in this passage. He never supported compulsory giving at sword point. Whatever you think he was calling for, it was supposed to be a personal choice, not a government job. If he said, “Go plant a tree,” we would not be justified in inferring that he preferred government-run collective farms.

So, the remaining issue is his sanity. How could anyone advocate something so insane as self-destruction at the behest of someone else’s whims or greed? Jesus did not.

Looking again at both the context and the perfection of his teaching, it would be foolish to take a completely literal view of Matthew 5:42 as the final judgment. This, at best, would be a “straw man” argument. The supposition that he was “absolutely” foolish about gifts and giving is at odds with other statements made by him or his closest disciples throughout the Gospels.

Jesus asserts in Matthew 7:10, for example, that a good father would never give a serpent to a child (even if the child asked for it). In 2 Thessalonians 3:10, the Apostle Paul exhorted a rule that would revolutionize modern luxury: “If anyone does not work, let him not eat.” In 1 Timothy 5:8, Paul condemns healthy people who refuse to provide for their families, which of course one cannot do if one gives everything to whomever one wants.

The most reasonable conclusion one can draw from Matthew 5:42 is that Jesus was encouraging generosity of the heart — not blind, indiscriminate, self-destructive giving that would defeat the purpose of giving in the first place, but wise stewardship and philanthropy that produces actual results. positive.

I’m not familiar with a thematic food pantry, soup kitchen, orphanage, hospital or blood drive but would welcome any one of them if they pop up. In the meantime, I am grateful that people, many times believers, are starting and dealing with such worthwhile issues every single day. The world would be a much darker place without them. Actions speak louder than lectures. I know that the thematics are not against gifts and giving because I get requests from their organizations asking for monetary gifts all the time.

Gifts and giving are an alternative – in fact, antidote– for a false compulsory charity of the welfare state. If you inherited a million dollars and decided to help those in need who deserve it, the last thing you would probably do is cancel a check to your state welfare department. Not even socialists and welfare states do. Just check the “Donations” line in the federal budget if you have a microscope.

Countless acts of voluntary, joyful, and charitable giving avoid the wasteful expenses of the state mediator. They prevent demagogues from buying votes with other people’s money. They stir the Christmas spirit 365 days a year. If you’re looking for evidence of how Christians — their enterprise, their determination and yes, their generosity — can improve lives, see Alvin J. The wonderful Schmidt (also included in the recommended readings at the end of this article).

When you offer your own resources, you tend to expect some change in any bad behavior that may have contributed to the problems the person in need is facing. If a charity proves ineffective or corrupt, the benefactors vanish; When the welfare administration squanders public money and perpetuates social problems across generations, it usually gets more tax revenue.

Giving to a worthy cause, such as helping those in need, is often an expression of love — and who can make a credible argument that the world already has all the love it needs?

Charitable people understand that this world is far from perfect, and that circumstances require action to prevent harm, relieve distress, and rebuild life. The best way to do this is to promote a free economy that by its very nature produces goods and opportunities beyond anything socialists can dream of. Problems that will inevitably remain are ready to be solved through charitable giving that is felt in the heart. Smart people realize that expecting government to do this job well is a pipe dream.

If Jesus is urging us to dig as deep as it takes to help the deserving get back on their feet—a fair deduction from Matthew 5:42—I must say that this is much better advice than doing nothing or waiting for politicians to do it. I think many objective people would agree with that.

If you choose to submit this Christmas season, think twice about it. Give wisely. Give affectionately. I give generously. Give from the heart. Give people and causes that will make the world a better place. This may be the Christian thing to do, but it is also truly The thing to do regardless of creed or denomination.

Ayn Rand and the American Indians by Mary Ruart

Science confirms creation, not coincidence by Lawrence W Reed

Did Jesus despise money? by Lawrence W Reed

Why should we give free to the poor this Christmas season? by Lawrence W Reed

Christmas meaning by Lawrence W Reed

Yes, Elisha Decken is a good Samaritan who deserves a medal by Lawrence W Reed

Was Jesus a socialist? by Lawrence W Reed

How Christianity changed the world by Alvin J Schmidt

Ayn Rand’s Sociology of Cult by Murray Rothbard

Lawrence W Reed

Lawrence W. (“Larry”) Reid is President Emeritus and Senior Fellow of the Humphreys and Ron Manners Global Ambassador for Freedom at the Foundation for Economic Education.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Grove City College (1975) and a master’s degree in history from Slippery Rock State University (1978), both in Pennsylvania. He holds two honorary doctoral degrees, one from Central Michigan University (Public Administration, 1993) and Northwood University (Laws, 2008).

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