One of my readers pointed a few things out in regard to my previous post on Bill Gates and “charity-as-a-ticket-to-heaven”, so I thought I better clarify a few things. First of all, I do not look down upon Bill Gates for being an atheist (I am not intimately familiar with his beliefs, but from what I’ve seen written, he describes himself as such). Secondly, I do not look down upon him for being charitable (which would be ridiculous) or for perhaps not wanting to die (which no one really wants).
What I was trying to point out was a rather interesting peculiarity which arises from secular charity. Call it “charity praexeology” if you will. If we posit that everyone does something for a reason, we may then ask ourselves : Why are people charitable? I know, this is not a very polite question, but bear with me.
The foremost reason which I believe lead people to engage in charity is that they simple have empathy for other people. And Bill Gates does likely fall into this category. There is, however, a complication – assuming at least basic knowledge of economics and capitalism in general, then for many people the most effective way to benefit others is by trade. This goes especially for people who have a very high value on the marketplace, due to their ability to create large quantities of wealth (for instance, Bill Gates). During the last decade there has also been some publicized works that have shown that much of charity to the third world has actually retarded their progress and lead to more misery – what they really needed was trade. Now, this is not something people want to hear. Everyone really wants to believe that 50 million dollars spent vaccinating children against polio will lead to a bigger positive effect than 50 million dollars spent on trading with businessmen and capitalists in the same country. But that might not be the case. And when it comes to people who have shown a remarkable talent for creating wealth through business and trade, they would most likely do more good finding someone else to work the charitable business, and focus themselves on earning money (and funnelling their profits into charity, if they so wished)
Now, I’m fully willing to accept that the Bill Gates charity-work comes from a genuine wish to help people and that maybe he just has a different view of the economics of it all. In that case, he mostly just needs a class in austrian economics, although I would say that when billionaires engage in drives to shame other billionaires into donating more to charity (again – Warren Buffet anyone?) one occasionally starts to wonder what their real motives are. However, not wanting to judge Bill Gates as a person, I will leave the speculation at that, and instead focus on the point I was trying to make last time regarding charity and atheism.
Assuming one does in fact NOT do charity work out of a genuine compassion of others, why would one do it then? This is where praexology can help us out. For christians and other believers, there is usually one reason that atheists do not have : In Gloriam Dei (for the glory of God). Depending on your specific beliefs, it may either be a pre-requisite to applying to heaven (Catholics), or something that all good Christians do (for Protestants – therefore you are not a good Protestant if you do not do it, even if salvation among protestants are Sola Fide/Sola Scriptura).
It gets trickier when we get to atheists. Assuming thay do charity, but by their actions prove (perhaps through using very inefficient means when they could do things otherwise) that it is not strictly the end-result that matters to them. Why then, would atheists do charity? There really are only two reasons, which I would prefer to ascribe to no one. The first reason is that they are doing it for emotional or other personal benefit. This is fine – as long as one doesn’t call it charity. Also, we may discuss the morality of using the suffering of others to gain personal benefits (even if one does it through some sort of “charity” – efficient or inefficient as it may be). An excellent example of this is the Swedish political establishment and government in general. We hand out a ridiculous amount of money in foreign aid – much of which has been proven to go straight into the hands of dictators who buy guns and shoot their own population. As this was discovered, did this stop? No. We MUST give away ridiculous amounts of money in foreign aid, because it leads to personal financial gain for a lot of government employees.
The final reason that one might do charity beyond those mentioned above is because one wants it for the social benefits it may give you – one wants to be seen as a charitable person, and thus care only about how actions make one look, and not what the end result is. Okay, so back to Bill Gates. According to what I’ve outlined above, we have to conclude that either
a ) Bill Gates needs to learn some economics in order to efficiently do charity-work, as it is becoming more and more general knowledge that “trade not aid” is what brings people and societies out of poverty and misery.
b ) Bill Gates is in fact fully aware of the economics included, but is as I previously proposed trying to do what Christians might do – be charitable because they believe it leads to eternal life, or what Buddhists might do – be charitable because it betters their Karma.
c ) Bill Gates is a prick who wants the best seats at the “billionare philantrope dinners” so he can shine in his own glory.
Now, I really do not want do believe that (c) is the truth. Hopefully it is not. And it is quiet possible that (a) is the truth – and then hopefully Bill Gates will start using his skills to set up economic business in areas of poverty. But if niether (a) or (c) is true, we are left with my original conclusion – Bill Gates really would like to not die, and might be hoping that he can through charity reach something resembling eternal life. I’ll leave you with yet another annoying Bible quote to demonstrate the whole argument :
“Take heed that ye do not your almsgiving before men, to be seen by them; otherwise ye have no reward from your Father who is in Heaven.
Therefore when thou givest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.
But when thou givest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth, that thine almsgiving may be in secret; and thy Father who seeth in secret, Himself shall reward thee openly.
Sorry for the longish post – the more something makes me think, the more I generally feel I need to write about it. As always, thanks to those who leave comments that give me a reason to revisit my arguments.