The Christmas season has always inspired me. It’s a time for giving gifts, cherishing family, and reconnecting with old friends. It’s a time for personal generosity and philanthropic giving. It’s also a perfect time to examine the state of charitable giving in America.
Let’s start with what we already know. For one thing, we know that America is still the most generous nation in the world. More Americans give money, and give in larger portions, than the citizens of any other country. In fact, Spain, the most generous nation in the European Union, gives less than half the amount of the average American and volunteers 80 percent less often.
We know that about 90 percent of those who regularly attend a church, synagogue, or mosque give an average of $2,210 per year, based on a median salary of $49,000. Such people total about one hundred million American citizens. Then there are the seventy million Americans who do not attend religious services. They give an average of $642 per year. Among all Americans, including a middle group who periodically attend religious services, 81 percent donate an amount equal to hundreds of dollars a year per person.
We also know that generosity cuts across political lines. Republican or Democrat, it doesn’t matter. The key variable is religious participation. The link is indisputable: charitable giving and religious involvement go hand-in-hand. Giving in America is a part of our national fabric, our national soul—and that soul definitely has religious roots. When the Puritans set foot in what became Plymouth, Massachusetts, they desired to start a new community that would protect and cherish religious freedom. In order to do so they knew they needed to take care of each other along the way. And so the spirit of American giving began, evolving right along side the customs of earning, saving, and investing. Long before the era of big government, Americans survived by sticking together and helping each other along the way. This ruggedly independent yet generous spirit remains the foundation of our vibrant society today; it’s what so impressed Alexis de Tocqueville when he visited America in the 1800s, and it’s what led Arthur Brooks to write a fascinating new book on giving in America, Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism.
Doug Wilson is the the co-author, with Edwin Feulner, of Getting America Right: The True Conservative Values Our Nation Needs Today.
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