By David Waters
The founders of Facebook are joining 55 other billionaires who have pledged to give most of their money to charity before they die.
A capitalist plot to redistribute wealth? Hardly. “The Giving Pledge“, started by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, won’t redistribute wealth so much as reprioritize it. Fifty-seven billion dollars (they have more) works out to about $10 per earthling, but it’s the thought that counts.
What interests me more than how much they will give away is why. What has caused some of the wealthiest among us to become so unnecessarily magnanimous and benevolent? Have they found religion?
Major faiths consider charity to be a religious duty, not merely as a kindness but as an act of justice and righteousness.
Are the filthy rich trying to show us how to be just and righteous?
Probably not. Nearly all of the pledges wrote letters of explanation, but only a handful mentioned their faith.
Most of the billionaire benefactors attributed their generosity to doing what is right, fair, kind, moral or just plain responsible — without reference to God, Jesus or any religious figure.
“Both of us were fortunate to grow up with parents who taught us some tremendously important values. Work hard. Show respect. Have a sense of humor,” Bill and Melinda Gates wrote. “And if life happens to bless you with talent or treasure, you have a responsibility to use those gifts as well and as wisely as you possibly can. Now we hope to pass this example on to our own children.”
Words to live by, even if life hasn’t blessed you with billions.
It’s possible many pledges were motivated by faith, but just didn’t mention it in their letters. Some of them might have thought any sort of religious confession was inappropriate or too personal or none of our business.
David and Barbara Green, who co-founded Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. in their family’s garage, attributed their pledge to the Lord and even quoted Scripture.
“We honor the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles,’ David Green wrote.
Hedge fund billionaire Leon G. Cooperman and his wife Toby gave a nod to three secular figures and one sacred book.
“In the early 1900’s Andrew Carnegie said ‘He who dies rich, dies disgraced,'” Cooperman wrote. “In the 1930’s, Sir Winston Churchill observed that ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.’ In 1961, President John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address stated ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’
“Well before all these gentlemen expressed their thoughts, it was written in the Talmud that ‘A man’s net worth is measured not by what he earns but rather what he gives away.’
Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza, is as well known for his contributions to conservative Catholic causes (Ave Maria University) as his contribtions to hungry college students.
“I came into the world penniless and as a Catholic Christian,” he wrote. “I know that I cannot take any of it with me, so it has long been my desire to use the material resources that I have been blessed with to help others in the most meaningful ways possible. My faith has always been a central part of my life.”
The only other religious reference I saw was from Tom Steyer and his wife Kat Taylor. Steyer built a fortune as an asset manager in San Francisco.
“As luck would have it, we live in a city named for a man famous for actively denying his birthright,” Steyer wrote, “a birthright not of ambiguity or even scandal but of confirmed privilege. He stripped himself of his worldly goods (including clothes), identified with animals, and kissed the sores of lepers. Because what he did came to define him, St. Francis is our epitome of a “to do” kind of guy.”
Preach always. When necessary, use assets.
“(Wealth) is an excellent gift of God, answering the noblest ends,” wrote John Wesley, 18th century founder of Methodism.
“In the hands of his children it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked. It gives to the traveler and the stranger where to lay his head. By it we may supply the place of a husband to the widow, and of a father to the fatherless; We may be a defense for the oppressed, a means of health to the sick, of ease to them that are in pain. It may be as eyes to the blind, as feet to the lame; yea, a lifter up from the gates of death.”
Wesley gave away a fortune and died penniless.