Tuesday, December 28, 2004

I Can Do It Myself

Thanks for the Memory to reader David at Ace of Spades HQ.

Ace is, to say the least, miffed at suggestions by a Norwegian UN official that the US is stingy.

This story has been big news on the Blogs today. Most of the conservative blogs have been busy mocking the following quote by Jan Egeland, the Norwegian in question:

"There are several donors who are less generous than before in a growing world economy," he said, adding that politicians in the United States and Europe "believe that they are really burdening the taxpayers too much, and the taxpayers want to give less. It's not true. They want to give more."

The tone of much of the derision has been along the lines of "How stupid, no we don't want to give more. We're AGAINST more taxes."

While I agree with those bloggers about being against more taxes, I have to say, egeland is right in one respect: We do want to give more. But what he fails to uderstand is this: What we don't want is our government taking from us and calling it giving. We'd rather be free to give, and to choose how we give and to whom. If we are granted that freedom, we will give.

And thanks to David, I have evidence that bears that out. The US government may not give as much in total foreign aid as some might want, but Americans as private citizens give threefold as much:

There is no comprehensive measure of how much Americans donate overseas, but a conservative estimate, based on surveys and voluntary reporting, puts annual private giving around $35 billion. Even this low-ball figure is more than three and a half times the amount of official development assistance (ODA) given out in a year by the U.S. government. In the third wave of foreign aid, it is private money that is making the difference.

That's been my point all along. And I believe that the same truth applies to domestic welfare as well as to foreign aid. That's why I linked to Samaritan's Purse earlier today. That's why I encourage giving to local and national and international charities, both religious and secular. That's why I'm such a huge fan of Extreme Makeover Home Edition, and why despite some issues with her politics and religious views, I admire Oprah Winfrey's Angel Network: PRIVATE ENDEAVORS ARE A MORE EFFICIENT CONDUIT FOR CHARITABLE WORK THAN GOVERNMENT AGENCIES.

Go and Do the Same

Those are the last five words in the Biblical passage known as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. They're also my way of encouraging us all to help the victims of the SE Asia Tsunami. And appropriately, I would suggest that the orgasnization you use as a conduit for that help be Samaritan's Purse. This excellent organization, most famous for its annual Operation Christmas Child, is a Christian aid organization run by Billy Graham's son Franklin. They have a good reputation for honesty, and it is my understanding that they undertake to keep overhead low, meaning as much of the donations they receive as possible go directly to aid and relief. For this reason, I would encourage anyone to give to them. If you have strong objections to the Christian message connected to their efforts, I understand, and encourage you to find a secular aid organization and give. But whatever you do, give.

Between Heaven and Mordor

Thanks for the Memory to A Youth Pastor.

I have been for all my life a fan of fantasy literature, particularly that of C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien. Part of this preference for those two authors in particular has to do with the sentimetal memories tied to when I first encountered them.

As a child, my mother would read the Chronicles of Narnia to myself and my sister. This wass usually on the frequent trips we took as a family, when there were long periods of time in the car with nothing to do. She was an expert at reading right up to a moment of crisis in the story, and then putting the book aside to be continued later. I suspect that this was in part a way of making us behave. But what she may not know is that it was also a hallmark of the master storyteller, or that it fired my lifelong passion for reading.

I "met" Tolkien much later in life. I began reading the Lord of the Rings during the Christmas holiday after I dropped out of college, before I'd found a job, and I devoured the entire trilogy in less than a week. For someone whose life was in complete chaos, with no sense of purpose and no plans for the future, who had just lost a fiance and any sense of accomplishment, the theme of perserverence beyond the end of hope embodied in Frodo's quest was a comfort and a challenge.

The other factor weighing in on why I love those two is, of course, the Christian faith in which I share with them. Even as a child, I could plainly see Christ reflected in Aslan. And in the corrupting power of the Ring I saw a clear warning against compromise (which I have sadly failed to heed at times). Good only triumphed by remaining good. "Do not repay evil for evil," as the Bible says.

And yet these two devout authors set me up for a conundrum, guided me on a path that led to moral dilemma. In one fell swoop they both strengthened my faith, and yet instilled in me a love of fantasy literature that eventually presented me with a crisis of faith: What should my attitude be towards magic in Fantasy literature? As a Christian, I believe formly in the Biblical prohibition against practising magic or witchcraft. But for some reason, I just couldn't work up as much of an aversion to it when I read about it in a fantasy story set in an imaginary world. At times I felt guilty about it. I took flak from other Christians because of it. But I never felt convicted.

Today The Youth Pastor's Blog pointed me to an article about this very topic that references the take Tolkien himself had on the issue. It's well written, and confirms much of what I've always thought about the issue, but could never articulate. Thank you, Mike Perschon, and amen.