Generous Conservatives

Surveys and statistics are maddeningly fickle. So don’t exult too much in what follows. I only cite it in case you have been discouraged or elated by surveys saying the opposite.

It’s better just to be a good follower of Jesus and not put your finger in the wind.

In the current issue of Books and Culture Jon Shields reviews the book, Who Really Cares, by Arthur C. Brooks which argues that religious conservatives (of all religious stripes) as opposed to liberals are more generous. Here are some quotes from the review.

Drawing on some ten data sets, Brooks finds that religiosity is among the best predictors of charitable giving. Religious Americans are not only much more likely to give money and volunteer their time to religious and secular institutions, they are also more likely to provide aid to family members, return incorrect change, help a homeless person, and donate blood. In fact, despite expecting to find just the opposite, Brooks concluded: "I have never found a measurable way in which secularists are more charitable than religious people."

Consider some examples. Religious citizens who make $49,000 gave away about 3.5 times as much money as secular citizens with the same income. They also volunteered twice as often, are 57 percent more likely to help homeless persons, and two-thirds more likely to give blood at their workplace. Meanwhile, those who insist that "beliefs don't matter as long as you're a good person" are not as good as those who do think beliefs matter. The former group gave and volunteered at much lower rates.

. . . The secular citizen with a religious upbringing is nearly twice as likely to give to charity.

For instance, Arkansas (where citizens give away some 3.9 percent of their income) is among the most charitable states, while Massachusetts (where citizens give away 1.8 percent of their income) is one of the least charitable. Likewise, the citizens of South Dakota give away 75 percent more of their household income than those in San Francisco.

Of the 25 states that gave a percentage of household income above the national average, 24 went to Bush in 2004.

It is not that liberals are somehow inherently less charitable than conservatives. Rather, the lifestyles and beliefs that contribute to charity are simply more likely to be found in conservatives than liberals.

Citizens are also more charitable when they oppose greater income redistribution and less charitable when they support it. . . They are also more likely to return change to a cashier, give food or money to a homeless person, and donate blood. In fact, the blood supply would decline by about 30 percent if we were a nation of government aid advocates.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.