Seeking for Righteousness

The Personal Blog of Kaimi Wenger

Utah and “Generosity”

My co-religionist and frequent sparring partner Matt Evans has a new post discussing how “Red States” are more “generous” (more on this definition to come) than “Blue States.” For the chart that Matt discusses (which was put together by someone else), click here. Matt also notes that Utah and Wyoming have the highest “generosity” totals.

However, as the chart makes clear, generosity is measured by the amount of itemized charitable contributions. I have reservations about a system where itemized charitable contributions are considered the equivalent of generosity.

Generosity can be defined (to use dictionary definitions) as “Liberality in giving or willingness to give”, or “the trait of being willing to give your money or time”. The term has a definite connotation of being willing to go the extra mile to help others out.

At the very least, many kinds of generosity are simply not reflected in one’s itemized charitable contributions. Whether giving money to a homeless person on a street or in a subway, helping out a stranger, visiting the sick, many things are simply not reflected on one’s tax return. (One imagines the tax return of a certain Samaritan, writing off “oil and wine, inn lodging, and 2 pence cash paid”; or perhaps a revision of the famous passage in Matthew 25 — “Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee asick, or in prison, and came unto thee? These things are not reflected in the itemized deductions section of our tax returns!”).

The general problems with using tax return data as evidence of generosity are compounded when the data is arguably tainted by other factors. Many residents of Utah, a state Matt lauds for its generosity, are Mormons — members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. (Full disclosure: In case readers have not yet figured it out, I am a church member as well). The church requires that members pay a tithe of 10 percent. There are strong social (and church members believe, spiritual) consequences for not doing so. There is a strong possibility that many members who pay tithing do so not because they want to be generous, but because the Bishop will take away their Temple Recommend if they don’t; they may be subject to censure (formal or informal)* and feel ostracized from their community. (This is not to say that such payments are not charity of some sort — just that they may be less motivated by a true impulse of generosity and more by selfish reasons).

*EDIT/UPDATE: I had originally written that non-payment of tithing might lead to disfellowship (an official discipline), but Matt informs me that non-payment of tithing alone is not grounds for formal disfellowship.

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November 17, 2003 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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