Why do rich people give their money away? Is it because Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor …”? It seems to be happening a lot lately. Is Jesus the reason? Or is there something else behind it?
Yes – Jesus did say that.
And that’s what the Giving Pledge folks joining Bill & Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet are doing.
But isn’t there more to being perfect than just giving lots of money to the poor?
In case you haven’t heard of the Giving Pledge – there’s a shot of their homepage below.
I think this home page tells a lot.
I wrote the initial version of this back when the Giving Pledge was first announced. The site has changed over time.
The original home page said:
The Giving Pledge is a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.
And then there were a bunch of names.
And now? Now there are pictures. Without names.
And with a new slogan.
Giving Pledge signatories span multiple generations and represent a wide range of geographies and industries. They are united by their commitment to use their wealth to help tackle the world’s most pressing problems.
So now it shows generation after generation. But wait. What happens when someone gives away the majority of their wealth? Is there still enough left for the next generation to also give away a majority of their wealth? Doesn’t giving away the majority decrease what’s available on-going?
Maybe it’s just me, but something seems wrong there. For instance, a majority doesn’t really mean an amount significant enough to cause any drop in the continuing generational wealth as time goes on. Interesting.
Interesting, but seemingly incredibly important. Take a look at the image on the new home page.
Interesting, isn’t it? The rich people, rebuilding the world. The way they think it should be.
Also interesting, for those who know how to do it, is the code to display their website. In the image above, those who donate are called “pledgers”. Within the actual code to build and display the website, they’re called “hero”s. You can see this in Google Chrome (and other browsers) by right-clicking on the page and selecting “view page source”. Then just search (control-f) for the word hero. The further you dig into the code, the more frequently the word hero shows up.
There is a reason I point this out. It’s got to do with the quote at the very beginning. And, how that quote ties in with the title – Why do rich people give their money away?
So, with that as background, let’s get into the questions. What did Jesus mean? What do we think philanthropy means? And why do rich people give away their money?
What follows is an update to the original topic. Soon to follow will be new stuff – like Jeff Bezos and where he stands on his relatively recent pledge. You could look back here for the update. An easier way to find out when new things are published is by using the option towards the top right of the page. Or bottom, if you’re on a small tablet or smartphone.
What philanthropy could be about.
Let’s begin with what philanthropy could be about. Specifically, what we’re told it’s about. Not by the rich people. At least not directly. But it does beg the question – do dictionaries get their definitions from what words are “supposed” to mean by those who influence them? Or does meaning come from what actually goes on? I feel like philanthropy is the former. What those who participate in it claim, as opposed to what’s really going on. Let’s see why.
Philanthropy could include what we would generally call charity. Could include.
The definition below is from dictionary.com.
- the activity of donating to such persons or purposes in this way:
to devote one’s later years to philanthropy.
- a particular act, form, or instance of this activity:
The art museum was their favorite philanthropy
- an organization devoted to helping needy persons or to other socially useful purposes.
A number of the examples given above have nothing at all to do with charity. Art Museums and “institutions of learning” especially could have very little to do with people who are in dire need of assistance. Their needs are much more basic that looking at “fine art” and getting a college education from a prestigious / expensive university.
To be sure – I’m not saying they don’t do anything good.
What I am saying is that if this thing makes you feel like they’re somehow living out Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” – and they’re keeping Christmas like no person ever did.
It’s time to wake up.
Although Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol – about “Christmas” – his religious views were far from what Jesus said in the Bible.
The following comes from The University of Santa Cruz’ Dickens Project –
In all his writings, Charles Dickens—a Christian of the broadest kind—is outspoken in his dislike of evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism, but, especially in his fiction, he is very reluctant to make professions of a specific faith beyond the most general sort of Christianity. Nothing more surely aroused his suspicions about a person’s religious faith than a public profession of it, and this aversion formed a fundamental feature of his dislike of evangelicals and dissenters.
It was in these years too that Dickens first felt the need to impart some religious instruction to his children and, significantly, undertook to do this himself by writing a simplified version of the gospels designed for reading aloud (not published until 1934, when it was dubbed The Life of Our Lord). Given the intended audience, it is hardly fair to infer the specifics of Dickens’s faith from this slight work, which is in any case theologically rather inconsistent. But it is often taken as expressing a Unitarian outlook, and certainly what Dickens stresses is Christ as model, teacher, and healer—the comforter of the distressed rather than the saviour of mankind through the crucifixion and atonement.
In case you’re not familiar with what Unitarians believe – here’s something from Wikipedia on the topic –
Unitarianism is historically a Christian theological movement named for the affirmation that God is one entity, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism, which defines God as three persons in one being. Traditional Unitarians maintain that Jesus of Nazareth is in some sense the “son” of God (as all humans are children of the Creator), but that he is not the one God himself. They may believe that he was inspired by God in his moral teachings and can thus be considered a savior, but all Unitarians perceive Christ as human rather than a Deity.
No wonder Christ was never mentioned in this A Christmas Carol book about Christmas!
And no wonder a man – any man, not necessarily Scrooge – could keep Christmas better than anyone.
Apparently Jesus wasn’t good enough to even compare to Scrooge.
What’s this got to do with the Giving Pledge and why do rich people give their money away?
You may be wondering – what’s this got to do with the Giving Pledge?
Well – I think quite a bit.
These people – however much good they want to do – appear to be making it more about them than anything else.
On the original home page, there was a list with all their names on it. Then you could hover the cursor over one of the name blocks – and see a picture of the person(s) named. (Now, some of the pictures are right there on the home page. The rest require another click.) Back to the original – you could click on the block – and you can read about that person. For instance, the original had:
Paul Allen – co-founder of Microsoft, along with Bill Gates –
“By dedicating resources that can help some of the world’s most creative thinkers accelerate discovery, I hope to serve as a catalyst for progress — in large part by encouraging closer collaboration and challenging conventional thinking. When smart people work together with vision and determination, there is little we can’t accomplish.”
And if you wanted to learn more about them and what they’re doing – the FAQ and media links got you more than enough information about how great these people and their activities are.
Let’s compare the Giving Pledge heroes to the quote from Jesus
Let’s begin with just the one sentence from Jesus. We’ll add the context in a moment.
If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.
So far – so good. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. These folks have pledged to give away more than half of their fortunes so they seem to be at least on the right track.
Well, at least their on the same track Scrooge was on. On track with that Unitarian view of Christ as a human and the rich people as heroes for doing what they’re doing.
To be sure, no matter the means by which the money was obtained, meaning no matter how ruthless they had to be to get that much money, these people are giving it away now. And there is this thing in Christianity about forgiveness.
But let’s keep going.
The thing about that quote from Jesus, it can be misleading. It’s often used to give a message that isn’t what Jesus actually said, and certainly not what He meant. We’re looking at rich people who give their money away. Not unlike Scrooge.
However, what did Jesus say, in context? And how does it apply to these giving pledge heroes?
The Rich Young Man – Matthew
19:16-29 pp — Mk 10:17-30; Lk 18:18-30
Mt 19:16 Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life ?”
Mt 19:17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
Mt 19:18 “Which ones?” the man inquired.
Jesus replied, “ ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’’”
Mt 19:20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
Mt 19:21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Mt 19:22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Mt 19:23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Mt 19:25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Mt 19:26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Mt 19:27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
Mt 19:28 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”
Some would look at this and say there’s no way for a rich person to get into Heaven, because there’s no way a camel can go through the eye of a needle. But that’s putting God in a box. Of course a rich person can go to Heaven. And I’m sure that some how, in some way that I can’t begin to imagine, God can maybe also put a camel through the eye of a needle. He is, after all, God. Not that God can literally do anything – for instance make a square circle. But if there is a way to get a camel through the eye of a needle, God knows it.
Part of the reason for this thinking that rich people can’t go to Heaven, I believe, comes from a misquoting of this verse about money:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
And where does that come from?
Love of Money
1Ti 6:3 If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
1Ti 6:6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
It’s not that “money is the root of all evil”.
It’s that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
There’s a big difference there.
Others would look at it and say there’s nothing wrong with having money as long as you do some “nice” things with it.
Still others would look at it and say there’s no problem with money as long as you give it away. (Or at least more than half of it.)
But still, we can’t get away from what Jesus said in verses 9-10.
9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
It’s not about “just” the money. We’ll get into that more in a future installment on this topic.
Should we desire money or ???
There’s one other thing to consider as well. Jesus talked about money frequently. One of the things he said was about treasures in Heaven versus here on earth.
Treasures in Heaven
6:22, 23 pp — Lk 11:34-36
Mt 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Mt 6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
Mt 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
Between these two things, money and what Jesus calls treasure in Heaven, we see something important. The relationship each of these people, those in the Giving Pledge, have with both God and money must be examined.
While they were getting all that money, did they have a good relationship with God? Or was the money / the job / the power / whatever the driving force behind them? As I said, there’s forgiveness if it wasn’t God. However, looking at the example of the rich young man, we see that the relationship with God must take precedence over whatever the previous relationship was with the money / the job / the power / whatever.
If God wasn’t number one in their lives before, while they were amassing all that money, something needs to change.
If God isn’t number one in their lives as part of the Giving Pledge then they are not fulfilling what Jesus told the rich young man.
If the main thing about giving the money away is to preserve or even create a good legacy for themselves, then God isn’t number one. The website appearance tends to show that in fact they are still number one, not God. The description says nothing about God. But they do talk about how great these people were in life. The names and images are all about them as well.
I researched at least the two people whose names are on this Pledge group – Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Here’s what I found.
Bill Gates –
“The moral systems of religion, I think, are super important. We’ve raised our kids in a religious way; they’ve gone to the Catholic church that Melinda goes to and I participate in. I’ve been very lucky, and therefore I owe it to try and reduce the inequity in the world. And that’s kind of a religious belief. I mean, it’s at least a moral belief,” Gates says in an interview with Rolling Stone in the March 27 issue of the magazine.
When asked if he believed in God, he responded, “I think it makes sense to believe in God, but exactly what decision in your life you make differently because of it, I don’t know.”
Read more at The Religious Life of Bill Gates
Kind of a religious belief. At least a moral belief. Don’t know what decision in life would be made differently because of a belief in God. It’s like it seems like he thought it would be a good idea to put God in there someplace. But didn’t know how to do it / what to do / who knows what?
It reminds me of what C. S. Lewis wrote:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would be either a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” – C.S. Lewis
You can’t believe in the Christian God and say what Bill Gates said. Further, whatever “God” Gates was talking about, if it was indeed the God of the Bible, he certainly didn’t learn anything about Him.
Buffett has quickly and efficiently handled inquiries into his religious beliefs, simply stating that he’s agnostic, even though he was raised Presbyterian. He has said:
The nice thing about an agnostic is you don’t think anybody is wrong.
As one of the world’s most successful investors and financiers, this isn’t a surprising take on religion. Good investors must understand very clearly if they don’t know something and face up to that. Leaps of faith and speculation often results in disaster.
Read more at The Religion and Political Views of Warren Buffett
There’s no need to say anything further about Buffet. He doesn’t believe in God. Any “god” Period.
Conclusion – Why do rich people give their money away?
If you want to be perfect – don’t do what these guys do.
If you want to be perfect – do what Jesus said.
If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.
Also remember this:
The Greatest Commandment – Matthew
22:34-40 pp — Mk 12:28-31
Mt 22:34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Mt 22:37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Which translates to – whatever is preventing you from following Me (Jesus), get rid of it in a fashion that follows the greatest commandments and then spend the rest of forever with Jesus.
When we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, there’s no room for loving money, for the sake of having money.
The Bottom Line (pun intended)
I want to add one more passage. One that doesn’t directly include money.
The Great Commission
Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Why the Great Commission?
Well, some, but obviously not all rich people do claim to believe in God. And maybe, to some extent, they do. And yet, along the way to amassing huge amounts of money, it’s very difficult to imagine what all they had to do in order to get it. How many things did they do that are against the teachings of Jesus along the way to getting that money?
That’s just one reason we need to look at the rich people who give their money away, especially in such a public manner.
If/when they talk about God, is it God as He presented Himself in the Bible? Or is it a God made in the image of the person giving away the money? To Jesus, doing the right thing includes doing the right thing for the right reason. It includes glory going to God, not to the person.
The point is, bottom line, if we want to know about God, we have to learn from someone who knows about God. About God as He told us about Himself.
Non-Christians shouldn’t judge God by what’s said by people who don’t know anything about Him.
And as much as rich / smart people might say they can build a better world, there’s a simple reality. They cannot. They are very much the reason this world is what it is. The reason for the haves and the have-nots. The discrepancy between the rich and the poor. And the knowledge gap between the “smart” and the apparently, according to them, something other than “smart”.
When Jesus came to earth, the poor and the underprivileged were glad to see Him. They knew the eternal life He promised was from God. And that it was infinitely better than anything here in this life. But now, the rich / intelligent people tell us that God doesn’t exist. Or if He does, He doesn’t really have a place in our lives.
That’s so sad. It makes for a hard life here and now. And takes away the possibility of a better life later. And so often, just to allow them to feel better about themselves.
monopoly board Image by joaoxfranco from Pixabay
monopoly man image from ???