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Author Topic: The Purpose of Charity  (Read 4953 times)

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Offline Moondazed

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Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #100 on: January 30, 2014, 10:18:36 AM »
I wonder if the answer you seek is scientific, as in, "What part of the brain is firing when someone does something charitable?"  Trouble is, you won't find a single, concrete answer, and maybe that's the part that bothers you?  That there may not be a clear cut, definitive answer to this question?

I think it's important to understand one's motives, but I wonder why you feel the need to apply the label DOING IT OUT OF SELF-INTEREST to every single human being who performs a charitable act.  Have I mentioned before that it feels like you may be trying to avoid feeling bad about yourself because you do everything from a position of self-interest?  Please understand I'm not stating that as a fact, it's just a possible motive that I get from reading through this thread, for the position you're holding no matter what anyone says that has admittedly convinced you that you may be wrong.

It seems that your belief that beliefs are unchanging is at play. :)

Offline Iniquitous

Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #101 on: January 30, 2014, 10:21:55 AM »
Iniquitous Opheliac, in order to avoid incurring your wrath, I will retreat in a timely fashion from your current argument. For one thing, I have yet to think on it. I will return to your topic later. I do have one question, though; what do you think is driving you? After all, you do seem to be mercilessly punishing yourself by doing these charitable acts. Why do you think that you do them?

Last post for me at this time. I have to go get coffee and then 'donate' money to the state so I can have up to date tags on my car (and thus be legal) as well as time since chances are good I'll be standing in line for awhile (end of the month, everyone who procrastinated now trying to get it done in a hurry.)

Ok!

I'm going to pounce on something you said because it reached out, smacked me in the face and made me blink. "....After all, you do seem to be mercilessly punishing yourself by doing these charitable acts."

First off, while I tend to lean towards masochism to a degree, that is reserved for the 'bedroom play' - so, no, I do not do what I do out of some desire for pain/discomfort. Let's get that out of the way right now.

Second, re-read that one sentence for me. I find it most telling about how you view acts of charity. To you, it is punishment. No one (except masochists and sadomasochists) likes punishment, and most people actively try to avoid punishment.

And that leads me to the question of whether you bring this debate up because you want to prove, come hell or high water, that all charity is done for selfish reasons or if you bring this debate up because you are of the belief that charity shouldn't be done at all.

Now, for why I do it.

You are my brother. Moondazed is my sister. Val is my brother. Kythia is my sister. We are, every single one of us, related. We are family. Why on earth would I not help my family if I have the time and money to do so? It isn't about me - it's about (we'll use the vague term here for simplicity sake) them. It's about making sure that my family has what they need to survive. It's about extending my hand to my family and helping them when they cannot help themselves.

Offline Valthazar

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Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #102 on: January 30, 2014, 10:27:05 AM »
ValthazarElite, thank you for acknowledging my perspective. Now, in an attempt to clarify my argument, I will define self-interest from my point of view. For me, self-interest is, vaguely, the controlled urge to feel good. When I say that there is self-interest in charity, I mean that, in performing charitable deeds, we expect some sort of goodness to return to us from it, such as a lessening of guilt or merely that warm feeling you get from being charitable.

Like I have already said, I acknowledge your viewpoint, but I feel that your definition of 'self-interest' is far too broad.  According to you, it is an umbrella term that covers almost every human behavior, which is certainly very valid.  On the other than, I feel that given the existence of terms like 'selfless acts,' that your definition of self-interest is flawed. 

This is a fundamental difference of opinion, and one that cannot be debated, since there is no correct answer.

Offline TorterrableTopic starter

Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #103 on: January 30, 2014, 10:38:55 AM »
Moondazed: I am trying my utmost to give the implication that I am, indeed, malleable, and that I am, indeed willing to change my beliefs. I do understand that my lack of experience with charity is, admittedly, lacking, and thus I may be coming from a less educated viewpoint which is what causes my beliefs. I have, indeed, begun to change my beliefs, I would like to think; Inquitous Opheliac's story has somewhat changed my opinion. And it's not so much neuroscience as "What thought process (both conscious and unconscious) eventually leads us to perform charitable deeds?" I derive my opinion from my own thought process and what I see of yours, to an extent. That is why Inquitous Opheliac's story befuddled me and made me stop in my tracks; her thought process was inexplicable through my hypothesis of self interest, which is why it proved me wrong, or so I thought.

Inquitous Opheliac: Good luck with your date tags! Hopefully the line isn't terrifyingly long. And sorry about the "mercilessly punishing" statement; I tend to get melodramatic when I get invested in my arguments. I meant nothing insulting or ad hominem in any sense; you just completely screwed with my thought process. Personally, I love volunteering, especially tutoring kids; it's really fun, and I get a lot of satisfaction seeing them smile when they see me.

That being said, I think, for this argument to continue, we would have to further define the idea of "self-interest". If you see the world as your family (a beautiful viewpoint, I must admit), then there is a biological term that justifies being charitable. The biological premise (the name of which I forgot) is based around the fact that you want your own genes to spread, and thus you would be willing to sacrifice half of yourself to your brother, an eighth to a cousin, and so on. This is a very rough summary of the theory; I will have to look it up.

As much as I think this could support my own argument, as I go further down this road, I realize it doesn't. You see the whole of humanity as your "family", no? If this is true, your so-called "self-interest" in helping your family would be an interest in helping the whole of humanity continue in its existence on this earth. If the self-interested intent of your charity would be to help the whole of humanity itself, can it really be called self-interest?

To this, I have no response. I am stumped, and I have been..."changed", as one might say. Currently,  my mindset is that the "self-interest" that I previously attempted to define is actually...well, not "SELF-interest". I am wracking my brain trying to find some way to consolidate my previous mindset into this one, and it is difficult...so I have another question.

Is it possible that our intent to aid ourselves is somehow "combined" with our intent to help the whole of humanity? Do we cater to both our own selves and the greater good in performing charity?

Offline Valthazar

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Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #104 on: January 30, 2014, 10:45:58 AM »
Is it possible that our intent to aid ourselves is somehow "combined" with our intent to help the whole of humanity? Do we cater to both our own selves and the greater good in performing charity?

Perhaps for some, but I don't think you can paint broad strokes as to the underlying reasons.  For most of us, myself included, it's simply a matter of empathy, and not wanting to see others struggle.

I'm sure according to your broad definition of 'self-interest,' you could semantically view this as self-serving behavior.  But realistically, it's far from it.

Offline TorterrableTopic starter

Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #105 on: January 30, 2014, 10:51:35 AM »
Well, I suppose I am trying to find a "broad stroke" that helps define most of humanity, and by most of humanity I hope to encompass all of us here.

On the surface, it seems to me and you and everyone else, that charity is empathy, but could there be some deeper urge? Some thought process that functions biologically and deeply down in your mind that actually drives your urge to do charity? THAT is what I am trying to find, and I feel like I may have found something close to it.

Yes, I wish I could define or have a better word for self-interest. It's not quite self-serving. To me, semantically, it is less "evil" than greed and self-serving. It's the idea that you look out for things that benefit you, I suppose.

Offline Valthazar

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Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #106 on: January 30, 2014, 11:00:44 AM »
On the surface, it seems to me and you and everyone else, that charity is empathy, but could there be some deeper urge? Some thought process that functions biologically and deeply down in your mind that actually drives your urge to do charity? THAT is what I am trying to find, and I feel like I may have found something close to it.

It's certainly an interesting thought, but before hypothesizing what the biological driver is, first ask if there is even any biological basis at all.  You'll find a lot of varying theories on altruistic behavior based on observable data, but very little in the way of concrete conclusions.  Many of these theories are heavily flawed by the author's own biases going into the study.

As a very extreme case to show how data regarding altruistic behavior can be heavily flawed, there are actually some academicians who attempt to use observable data to demonstrate that Caucasians are more altruistic as compared to other races.  Anyone with a rational mind can point out the flaws with this conclusion based on the available data.

My concern is that you are entering this discussion with a bias.

Offline Beguile's Mistress

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Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #107 on: January 30, 2014, 11:01:52 AM »
I don't think the reasons why people give to charity are all that important.  The giving is what counts.  People who want to give will give.  People who don't want to give will find many reasons to refuse to help others in need.  This does not include those who want to give but don't have the resources.

Offline TorterrableTopic starter

Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #108 on: January 30, 2014, 11:08:33 AM »
ValthazarElite: True, true. And, while I know it has been pointed out many times, could you help me identify my bias so I may be aware of it and attempt to make up for it? I am not trying to prove that a certain race, gender, or religion tends to be more altruistic; that would be nigh on impossible, as the definition of what altruism is depends on the culture one was raised in. I am trying to identify a basis for altruism, to search human nature to see why people are charitable.

My original bias was that I thought humans are inherently bad, I suppose. At the very least, they are not "good". However, through the argument, I have been convinced that people do, indeed perform good deeds for humanity without expecting anything in return, and this, by almost all definitions, would be considered good. Thus, humans are inherently "good". Can one be "good" and also be "greedy" (I wanted to use self-interest, but I have been overusing that without knowing what it means completely) at the same time? I am trying to see (not prove, mind you; I'm not sure if I believe in that or not) if that is true and/or possible.

Beguile's Mistress: Frankly? It's probably not important at all. However, it does help give insight into what people are, what makes them function, if we know why they act charitably. It  may be a small insight, and it may be an insignificant insight, but it is one nonetheless, and insights into human nature are almost always useful and important.

Offline Valthazar

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Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #109 on: January 30, 2014, 11:26:44 AM »
ValthazarElite: True, true. And, while I know it has been pointed out many times, could you help me identify my bias so I may be aware of it and attempt to make up for it?

The bias was in the way you were approaching this issue from the beginning.  Based on your personal experiences, you found that there were times you were motivated to perform charitable acts due to self-serving intentions.  That is purely your personal experience (and perhaps several others), but there is nothing to suggest that this good vs. greed concept is an issue that all individuals performing charitable acts encounter.  However, you approached this issue from the beginning by using this personal motivator as the standard for seeking opinions from others.  Rather than evaluating this in a neutral manner by purely asking what motivates people to be charitable, and using these responses to develop further discussion, you were applying your own personal experience as the standard throughout the thread.

But I'm not criticizing you, there's just no way to not have a bias when it comes to these kinds of discussions.  That's just the nature of it.  I'm sure you gained some perspectives on the good vs. greed concept, but realize that it is an over-simplified understanding, that does not convey the full picture.

Offline Paladin101

Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #110 on: January 30, 2014, 11:30:58 AM »
TOrterrable, your bias is that you are entering the discussion with your mind made up that there is a biological reason for altruistic actions. You are saying it is not a choice of empathy, it is not a decision to do a kind act for the sake of doing a kind act, you are saying all of these are not possible from the get go. You are entering this pursuit, already decided that there IS a biological reason for why people do nice things.

And, not to be insulting, but I find that mindset to be petty, and frankly very insulting.

I actually grew up with two men who are the embodiment of what you say is true of us all. Every action they took was self serving, and in some way benefitted them. It made them feel like they were helping others, made them feel like good men, when in reality they were the closest thing to true evil I have ever met in my life. One of these men would tie my mother to the foot of the bed to make certain she didn't go anywhere, or disturb him in the night. Yet he would go to church and give money, and help people, to make him feel like the great man he perceived himself to be.

Meanwhile there is my mother, who now is with a good man, and they have financial trouble. They had this christmas just barely reached the point of treading water in the financial issues they had, and barely managed to buy presents. Yet they went to the cafe, where they talked to the waitress that just moved to this area. They found out she was a single mom working two jobs with a 3 year old boy. And they learned she hadn't been able to really buy him anything for christmas. They went out, and hurt themselves financially to spend a couple hundred dollars on a kid they hadn't met, and bought toys, food, and snacks, so that this kid would have a good christmas. They didn't hurt themselves financially from a deep seated biological need to make themselves feel good. They did this action because they have both lived through hard times, they have both been abused, both been hurt, both lived through rough patches, and they saw someone who was having a hard time, and they wanted to help.

The perception that every action we take has a biological source removes the concept of the soul, of the spirit, of our inner desire to help others and do good. Of the CHOICE, and that is key to my life philosophy, the CHOICE to take action, and at expense to yourself aid another. In the secret service, there is one agent whose only job is if the president is attacked, he is supposed to jump in the path of the bullets. That is his ONLY job, not to find the shooter, not to push the president to safety, he is supposed to get in the way of that bullet and take it. How does that help him? What biological stimuli would override the urge to live? Sometimes we choose to do the right thing, we choose to live and act with honor, we choose a life of duty and service to others. Explaining it away as some simple biological impulse cheapens the sacrifice made by many, and makes light of those who seek to aid those around them. Are you saying that Mother Theresa was only such a good, helpful person because her biological impulse was greater than that of others?

Again, I am not trying to deride or insult you Torterrable, I just think perhaps your life experiences haven't exposed you to some things it seems like myself and others here have encountered, and which probably inspired our acts of charity to others.

Offline Kythia

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Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #111 on: January 30, 2014, 11:44:33 AM »
At the end of the day, Torr, I think it comes down to how you identify the group you are part of.  Utter selfishness is being in a group of one, perfect altruism is being in a group of 7 billion (or whatever the population of the world is).  Most sit somewhere in between.

The time IO uses to do her stuff is time she's not lazing in the bath, sleeping or whatever would be pure IO time.  The money Paladin's mother used was money she didn't spend on a luxury for herself.  These people have clearly chosen to value one act over another, and have decided that the benefit's of the action chosen outweigh the costs.  To me, part of that is an implicit acceptance that the person receiving the benefits is "one of us".  Otherwise there are, effectively, no benefits.  It would be like burning a pile of notes (bills) - money lost with no resulting return.  But by including the recipient in the "us" then there is a benefit to the group those people identify as part of.

I manage a team of volunteers at what is technically a charity, though probably not in the sense this thread is meant in.  A lot of them are older women, widows predominantly, who gain a lot from their volunteering.  Social interaction and a sense of being useful perhaps most of all. That's not as a result of me per se, nor my exquisite management skills.  It's just the nature of the beast.  However, I do think its a good model to bear in mind - that if something can be gained for the giver as well than that pile of benefits just grows: both the group and the individual gain.

Offline TorterrableTopic starter

Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #112 on: January 30, 2014, 11:45:49 AM »
ValthazarElite: I suppose it is impossible to come into an argument without bias, just as it is impossible to make a truly sweeping statement about human nature. However, in over-simplifying this understanding, I am hoping to come up with something that I can think about and use to understand people better in the future. Almost all sweeping statements about human nature are generalizations; that is the nature of it. But those generalizations are what we use to know people. E.G If people feel hungry, they will eat. We can infer that this will be mostly true, but what if I like to exercise when I feel hungry? Maybe it kills the hunger so I don't feel hungry anymore. Even if I am this exception, we can apply this statement to most of mankind.

As for my own personal bias, yes, I admit, that is the way I came in because I had not explored the topic as fully as I have now. However, I would like to add that, although I did feel that I had some self-interest in performing charity, the great majority of it was because I did want to help others. It is nearly impossible to hear and see other's personal experiences and know what they mean to do by presenting that experience; one tends to target and focus too specifically on certain parts without taking the whole picture in mind. That is just the nature of the beast.

Paladin101: I take no insult from what you have said. I would, however, like to correct your inference about me; I have simplified my edited hypothesis into biological terms so that I may have a better way to explain it. Originally, biology did not come up at all. For one thing, the predisposition that I thought biological actions were the basis of all humanity did not arrive until fairly recently in the argument, and I use the "half of my body for my brother" as an example of how I think the thought process of altruism might work.

You may think its petty and insulting, but I think that humans are biological machines as well as social animals. You focus on the social part, I tend to believe the biological part is more applicable for the true background of human nature. That being said, I do not mean to discount the social side of it. I have already admitted, multiple times, that I do indeed lack the experiences to be completely well read on the subject. Nevertheless, I still attempt my foray into it because I want to know, even without these experiences. Would it not be preferable for all of us to learn without having to experience? For us just to know?

Your concept of "soul" is a completely different and hard for me to comprehend idea. Again, the biological stimuli that you so hate is just an oversimplified example to explain a thought process that is much more complicated. The vague feeling of this thought process (as I do not quite know it yet) seems to be "I love humanity, and want it to live and continue in a good way". This feeling originates because we consider humanity to be family, and we want it to continue "us", which would also mean continuing "me". Did that make sense? We do charity because we want humanity to continue and be happy. We want that because we want humanity to keep "ourselves" alive somehow.

I am also curious as to why you think being biological "cheapens" us. We are biological; when we are born and how we are made is a purely biological process. It is only recently, though, that we have begun to internalize that idea...but that is a whole different story.

Offline TorterrableTopic starter

Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #113 on: January 30, 2014, 11:49:27 AM »
Kythia: Interesting. The group-identification process is not something that I have contemplated before. In cases where we help people overseas and far away, or where we volunteer at cat shelters...where does that put us in the group-identification process?

The idea of multiplicative social and "humanity benefit" growth definitely seems to play a part in volunteering. I want to see how deep this idea goes, and why this idea comes up.

Great. I thought I had a general conclusion to this argument (for me, anyways), and then this comes up.

Offline Beguile's Mistress

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Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #114 on: January 30, 2014, 12:02:06 PM »
Beguile's Mistress: Frankly? It's probably not important at all. However, it does help give insight into what people are, what makes them function, if we know why they act charitably. It  may be a small insight, and it may be an insignificant insight, but it is one nonetheless, and insights into human nature are almost always useful and important.
Actually, the reasons why people don't give, other than the fact they haven't the resources, would be of more interest to me.  A character like Ebenezer Scrooge is usually given more attention than one who donates all they have or devotes their lives to helping others.  In fact, more often than not we expect people to give. 

Most of the people I know who give just do it and don't talk about it.  Those who don't give usually spend a lot of time complaining about the poor, those on welfare and the dole and putting down anyone who needs assistance.  That has been my experience.

Offline TorterrableTopic starter

Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #115 on: January 30, 2014, 12:06:42 PM »
Beguile's Mistress: I suppose it might be that odd lack of talk about why people give. We have large backstories and tons of thought towards those who don't give, such as Ebenezer Scrooge.

I suppose it's just where our interests lie. Despite what I have said in the argument, I am a romantic optimist at heart; I am looking for why people do good, and hoping that it can be identified as good as well. Nevertheless, there is a whole obstacle course of "good" and "bad" to step through in this discussion, but, ultimately, I am trying to understand why people are good. The reasons? So I can understand good people better, and maybe, just maybe, convince the "bad" people that they can be good.

A discussion about why people are bad and greedy would definitely be interesting, though, although I cannot begin it here as that would be off topic.

Offline Oniya

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Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #116 on: January 30, 2014, 12:10:34 PM »
For people who claim that those who help others or do charity are driven at some level by a desire for self gratification, well I can firstly say there was a psychologist who agreed with you. I can't recall his name but one of his key philosophies was that all actions are at heart driven by a selfish need for self gratification.

I think you're referring to Maslow's hierarchy of needs - which is still debated as a model for human motivation.  While a good portion of that pyramid is arguably 'selfish', the top layer (self-actualization) includes things like morality (It's the right thing to do), problem solving (What can be done to fix this?), acceptance of facts (Somebody's got to do it) and spontaneity (I just feel like doing it.)

Offline Valthazar

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Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #117 on: January 30, 2014, 12:12:15 PM »
Most of the people I know who give just do it and don't talk about it.  Those who don't give usually spend a lot of time complaining about the poor, those on welfare and the dole and putting down anyone who needs assistance.  That has been my experience.

To the contrary, and not to turn this into a political thread, but many political conservatives (the type who would normally lament about the extent of welfare and food stamps) donate heavily to their churches and local charities.  As we all know, many of them are devout Christians.  Their political views are a different issue regarding the role of government.

Offline Moondazed

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Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #118 on: January 30, 2014, 12:14:30 PM »
I wonder if the concept Paladin is talking about is akin to the 'humanity' factor, in the sense that it's very easy to dehumanize people if one gets too embroiled in their ideals.  I once had a discussion similar to this one with an economics student and any time I tried to discuss living, breathing people he dismissed it and said he didn't want to get that 'granular'.  Of course he didn't, because once you apply something like an over-arching economic tenet or accept an idealogy such as believing that humans are purely biological creatures, those pesky individual cases with the complexities of actual people can seriously get in the way! :)

Offline TorterrableTopic starter

Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #119 on: January 30, 2014, 12:17:39 PM »
The idea, Moondazed, I think, would be that, despite all those pesky individual complexities, the end result is the same. Our biological programming and natural desires etc. etc. overrides our personalities, because in the end, we can all be statistics.

I am hungry. I am going to eat. I could, of course, totally mess with the overarching hypothesis that I eat when I'm hungry, but let's face it; that is, indeed, what I do, because I am a human and that is simply how I work.

Offline Oniya

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Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #120 on: January 30, 2014, 12:20:58 PM »
As do all organisms.  Failing to do so usually disagrees with you, sooner or later.  (Apologies to Charles Dodgson.)

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Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #121 on: January 30, 2014, 12:23:44 PM »
And yet there are hunger strikers for various causes.  Parents give children their last piece of food.  Etc.  A grand overarching hungry=eat hypothesis is either incorrect or, as I suspect, so incomplete as to be basically useless.

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Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #122 on: January 30, 2014, 12:25:55 PM »
If only we were that simple and everything could be broken down to that level.  Fundamentally, I think we're very much influenced by our chemistry, but it's just not that simple.  There have surely been times in my life when I wished that wasn't the case, when I wanted to know exactly why my youngest son is on the Autism Spectrum, when I wanted to know exactly why someone did something stupid in the name of love, and breaking it down to, "this neurochemical fired that neuron", would have been incredibly comforting, but at some point I guess I decided not to pursue that line of thinking because I don't see enough empirical evidence to support it.

Have you seen David Eagleman's TEDTalk about being a Possibilian?  He's speaking of religion, but his theory applies to so much more than that, in my opinion.

http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/TEDxHouston-Dr-David-Eagleman

Offline TorterrableTopic starter

Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #123 on: January 30, 2014, 12:37:59 PM »
Moondazed: I will attempt to watch that in the near future. Nothing is, of course, as simple as we wish it, but knowing the simple things helps us understand the more complex things better. Knowing addition helps us with multiplication, and so forth.

What I am trying to find here is some sort of behavioral truth, sort of like Piaget's stages of development. If we know this truth, we approximately know the process that our minds go through before we do charity, and, as such, we know ourselves, as human beings better. Admittedly, Piaget's stages have been proven in various ways and has more evidence and testing and such, but the general principle, I would like to think, is the same.

Offline Iniquitous

Re: The Purpose of Charity
« Reply #124 on: January 30, 2014, 01:44:58 PM »
To the contrary, and not to turn this into a political thread, but many political conservatives (the type who would normally lament about the extent of welfare and food stamps) donate heavily to their churches and local charities.  As we all know, many of them are (what they perceive to be) devout Christians.  Their political views are a different issue regarding the role of government.

There. Fixed that.