Billie Silvey
Giving in America
Early this month, I opened my internet browser and saw the headline, â
€œCharles, Camilla head for New Orleans.â€�  My first reaction
was, “Oh, no, not two more storms.  They’ve really had
enough.�

Of course, I soon realized that the Charles and Camilla of the headline
weren’t storms, but the British prince and his new bride.  As I
considered their possible motivation for coming to New Orleans, I
recalled the footage I’d seen of Charles’s grandparents, the
current queen’s parents, visiting victims of the London Blitz.  They
were most sympathetic, pointing out that the palace had been struck
by a bomb as well.  Families who came through the Battle of Britain
know what it means to lose loved ones, homes, everything.

In fact, it may have been foremost in their minds, because they went to
New Orleans from laying a wreath at the World War II Memorial in
Washington.  According to Associated Press Writer Jill Lawless,  â
€œThroughout the royal tour of the United States, Charles has
underlined the bond between Britain and this country--forged, in part,
by the common struggle in World War II.�

Charles’s charity, the Foundation for the Built Environment, is
helping fund reconstruction projects in New Orleans.

But most Americans haven’t experienced the level of devastation
caused by the London Blitz or Hurricane Katrina.  Just how generous
are we?

In an article, “The Christian Paradox:  How a faithful nation gets
Jesus wrong,�
Bill McKibben points out that America may not be
as Christian as we think we are.  Explaining that “only 40 per cent
of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments,
and a scant half can cite any of the four authors of the Gospels,� he
lists a couple of statistics that would be humorous if they weren’t
symptoms of a deeper failure.

According to McKibben, “Twelve per cent of Americans believe
that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.  And three-quarters believe
that the Bible teaches that ‘God helps those who help themselves.â
€™â€�  That statistic can play a big role in the generosity of our
country.

The Joan/Noah confusion indicates our lack of historical perspective,
while McKibben points out, “the quote by Benjamin Franklin is not
only ‘not biblical; it’s counter biblical.  Few ideas could be
further from the gospel message, with its radical summons to love of
neighbor.’�

McKibben concludes that “America is simultaneously the most
professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian
in its behavior. . . .  In the days before his crucifixion, when Jesus
summed up his message for his disciples, he said the way you could tell
the righteous from the damned in this area of helping others was by
whether they’d fed the hungry, slaked the thirsty, clothed the
naked, welcomed the stranger, and visited the prisoner.�

Based on this standard, he pointed out that “In 2004, as a share of
our economy, we ranked second to last, after Italy, among developed
countries in government foreign aid.  Per capita we provide fifteen
cents a day in official development assistance to poor countries.  And
it’s not because we were giving to private charities for relief work
instead.  Such funding increases our average daily donation by just six
pennies, to twenty-one cents.  It’s also not because Americans
were too busy taking care of their own; nearly 18 per cent of
American children lived in poverty (compared with, say, 8 per cent in
Sweden). . . .  Overwhelmingly
Christian America . . . trails badly in
all the categories to which Jesus paid particular attention.  According
to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of households that
were ‘food insecure with hunger’ had climbed more than 26 per
cent between 1999 and 2003.�

As a nation, and as individuals, we need to consider just how
Christian, just how generous, we are.  Do we truly identify with and
seek to alleviate the suffering of others?
December 2005
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