Is Philanthropy the Answer?
ALTHOUGH natural disasters, poverty, hunger, disease, and looming environmental threats dominate the news, a happier trend has also been observed—one of generosity. Announcements of wealthy individuals donating hundreds of millions, even billions, of dollars to worthy causes sometimes make the news. Celebrities are commonly seen using their fame to spotlight serious problems. Even many people of modest means contribute to a variety of causes. To what extent, though, can financial generosity help, especially in the long term?
A Golden Age of Giving?
The trend in giving seems to be gathering momentum in some lands. “At the beginning of the twenty-first century, there are more [philanthropic] foundations holding more assets in more countries than ever before,” noted one source. As the ranks of the rich swell, giving is expected to continue. Not only will some have more to give but as the wealthy die and bequeath their assets, the share going to charities is expected to increase. For good reason, the British news journal The Economist stated that we may be seeing the dawn of “a golden age of philanthropy.”
A factor in this trend is the failure of governments to address pressing global problems. A UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa cited a “vacuum of political leadership” as one reason for growing celebrity involvement in global health issues. Whether the problem involves poverty, health care, the environment, education, or social justice, the rich in particular have “a growing impatience with the inadequacy of governmental and international efforts to solve or ameliorate those problems,” says Joel Fleishman in his book The Foundation: A Great American Secret—How Private Wealth Is Changing the World. Eager to make a difference now, some wealthy philanthropists try to apply methods that gave them success in business.
The dawn of the 20th century saw an earlier so-called golden age of philanthropy. Such financial titans as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, Sr., decided to use their fortunes to help the needy. These benefactors saw that traditional charities, while feeding starving men or nursing sick children, did not address underlying causes. Sensing the need for a more strategic approach to giving, they created institutes and foundations that would foster social change and fund research aimed at eliminating problems at their roots. Since those early years, literally tens of thousands of such organizations have been established worldwide, well over 50 of them with assets exceeding one billion dollars.
There is no denying the good that has been accomplished as a result. Countless schools, libraries, hospitals, parks, and museums bear testimony to that. Likewise, programs to boost crop yields and food production have helped to provide more food in poverty-stricken lands. Funding for medical research has contributed to advances in health care and, in some cases, to the eradication of certain diseases, such as yellow fever.
Today with global problems being fought with greater urgency and with more resources than ever before, the opportunity for success seems bright to many people. A former U.S. president declared to a group of philanthropists in 2006: “It is impossible to overstate the impact private giving will have on public good.”
Many, though, are more cautious in their outlook. Laurie Garrett, an expert in the field of global health care, wrote: “One might think that with all this money on the table, the solutions to many global health problems would at least now be in sight. But one would be wrong.” Why? She cites costly bureaucracy, corruption, the lack of coordinated effort, and the trend among donors to restrict which health issue—AIDS, for example—their funds are to be used for.
Because efforts are uncoordinated and money is being “directed mostly at specific high-profile diseases—rather than at public health in general,” Garrett feels that “there is a grave danger that the current age of generosity could not only fall short of expectations but actually make things worse.”
Why Money Is Not Enough
The success of philanthropy, no matter what its aim, will always be limited. Why? For one thing, neither money nor a good secular education can eliminate such problems as greed, hatred, prejudice, nationalism, tribalism, and false religious beliefs. Although these things add to mankind’s woes, they are not the root causes of suffering. As the Bible points out, even more fundamental factors are involved.
One factor is human imperfection born of sin. (Romans 3:23; 5:12) Our imperfect state inclines us toward wrong thinking and wrong conduct. “The inclination of the heart of man is bad from his youth up,” says Genesis 8:21. By giving in to this wrong inclination, millions engage in sexual immorality and drug abuse. These activities, in turn, contribute to the spread of various diseases, including AIDS.—Romans 1:26, 27.
A second root cause of human suffering is our inability to rule ourselves effectively. “It does not belong to man . . . even to direct his step,” says Jeremiah 10:23. The “vacuum of political leadership,” referred to earlier, is one reason why many philanthropic organizations bypass government. The Bible explains that humans were meant to look to the Creator as Ruler, not one another.—Isaiah 33:22.
What is more, the Bible promises that the Creator, Jehovah God, will address all the problems afflicting mankind. Indeed, he has already taken major steps to that end.
The Greatest Philanthropist
The word “philanthropy” comes from a Greek word that means “love of mankind.” No one has greater love for mankind than our Creator. Says John 3:16: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” Yes, Jehovah gave much more than mere money to free humans from the viselike grip of sin and death. He gave his precious Son as “a ransom in exchange for many.” (Matthew 20:28) The apostle Peter wrote of Jesus: “He himself bore our sins in his own body upon the stake, in order that we might be done with sins and live to righteousness. And ‘by his stripes you were healed.’”—1 Peter 2:24.
Jehovah has also addressed the problem of rulership. To that end, he has put in place a world government called God’s Kingdom. Ruling from the heavens, that Kingdom will remove all the wicked and will bring peace and harmony to Planet Earth.—Psalm 37:10, 11; Daniel 2:44; 7:13, 14.
By fully addressing the root causes of human suffering, God will accomplish what is well beyond all humans, individually and collectively. Accordingly, rather than set up philanthropic organizations, Jehovah’s Witnesses, in imitation of Jesus Christ, prefer to devote their time and financial resources to announcing the “good news of [God’s] kingdom.”—Matthew 24:14; Luke 4:43.
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“God Loves a Cheerful Giver”
That statement, found in the Bible at 2 Corinthians 9:7, is a guiding principle for Jehovah’s Witnesses. When giving of their time, energy, and material possessions for the benefit of others, they strive to heed the exhortation: “Love, neither in word nor with the tongue, but in deed and truth.”—1 John 3:18.
When the need arises, such as when natural disasters strike, the Witnesses view it as a privilege to help those affected. For example, after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma hit the southern regions of the United States, many thousands of Witness volunteers poured into the affected areas to assist with relief work and reconstruction. Under the supervision of local relief committees, the volunteers repaired and restored over 5,600 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses and 90 Kingdom Halls—virtually all that were damaged.
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Money cannot eradicate the root causes of human sickness and suffering
© Chris de Bode/Panos Pictures