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What Is The Sin Of Sodom?

Painting: ‘The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah’ by François de Nomé (called Monsù Desiderio). In the background, an ancient city is engulfed in flames. Much of the city has already been consumed by the flames. What remains is skeletal and looks ready to collapse. In the foreground, a path leads away from the city. A man is being escorted along the path, by two angels. The path, the man, and the angels are all in shadow, being lit only by the blazing city behind them.

Sodomy. It’s when two men have sex, with each other. It’s being gay. It’s homosexuality. It’s a heinous sin. An abomination. God hates it so much that he torched an entire town that was known for homosexuality. That city’s sin and punishment were so notable, that the name of the city (Sodom) became the name of the sin: sodomy.

But is that what sodomy is? Or has modern Christianity taken a small part of a larger story, blown it up, and completely hidden the true lesson of the story?

We start with Abram and his nephew Lot. They were both prosperous, with growing households and possessions. They were looking for a place to settle down and found a nice area. They decided to each pick a different homestead. Abram gave his nephew first choice, and Lot chose to settle in the extremely wealthy city of Sodom.

Genesis 13:10–13

Lot looked about him and saw that the plain of the Jordan was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar; this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. So Lot chose for himself all the plain of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward, and they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the plain and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the people of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.

After they’d been living in the area a good long while, long enough for Abram to pass his 99th birthday and have the new name of Abraham, God sent messengers to visit Abraham and give him an important message. As the visitors left, God decided to check in on Sodom.

the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me, and if not, I will know. So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom.”

God gave Abraham a heads up and Abraham, knowing Sodom’s reputation, feared that God would destroy the entire city, destroying the good people along with the bad people. Abraham negotiated with God and convinced God to promise that if there were only 5 good people in the city, God would spare the city for the sake of those 5 people.

We now pick up our story, as told in Genesis 19:1–11.

The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. He said, “Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the square.” But he urged them strongly, so they turned aside to him and entered his house, and he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.

But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house, and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.”

Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

But they replied, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot and came near the door to break it down.

But the men inside reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they were unable to find the door.

I was taught that the great sin of Sodom was that the men of the city surrounded Lot’s house and demanded that he surrender his (male) guests, for the men of the city to rape. The sin of Sodom was rampant homosexuality and God would later utterly destroy the city for that sin.

The ancient Jewish commentaries disagree with that interpretation. The rest of the Bible does too, but I’ll start with the commentaries. Why the Jewish commentaries? After all, they’re not inspired Scripture. They have their share of just-so stories and outright silliness. But, they do record what the Jewish rabbis understood the Scriptures to be saying, and what people thought the “rest of the story” was. They show a consistent interpretation about what the destruction of Sodom meant—and that interpretation is consistent with the rest of the Christian Bible.

Pirkei Avot 5:10

There are four types of character in human beings: One that says: “mine is mine, and yours is yours”: this is a commonplace type; and some say this is a sodom-type of character. [One that says:] “mine is yours and yours is mine”: is an unlearned person (am haaretz); [One that says:] “mine is yours and yours is yours” is a pious person. [One that says:] “mine is mine, and yours is mine” is a wicked person.

What does it mean to be a “sodom-type of character”? The rabbinic commentaries explain what that means. The Sodomites strongly believed that what was theirs, was theirs. To the point that they turned away travelers, made sure everyone paid their fair share, and forbid charity.

What good are travelers? Talmud, Sanhedrin 109a.12 asks.

The people of Sodom said: Since we live in a land from which bread comes and has the dust of gold, we have everything that we need. Why do we need travelers, as they come only to divest us of our property? Come, let us cause the proper treatment of travelers to be forgotten from our land, as it is stated: “He breaks open a watercourse in a place far from inhabitants, forgotten by pedestrians, they are dried up, they have moved away from men” (Job 28:4).

Everyone must pay their fair share. No one could avoid that. In fact, anyone trying to avoid their fair share was charged double in recompense. Talmud, Sanhedrin 109b.4 records a story of what happened to one traveler who tried to cross a river without paying the ferry. He was beaten for doing so. When he complained to the judge, the judge fined him the extra penalty and told him to also pay the people who had beaten him. Why pay the people who had beaten him? At the time, bloodletting was a medical procedure. By beating him to the point of bleeding, the ferry guards had done him a service!

And they instituted an ordinance: One who crossed the river on a ferry gives four dinars, and one who crossed the river in the water gives eight dinars. One time a certain launderer came and arrived there. The people of Sodom said to him: Give four dinars as payment for the ferry. He said to them: I crossed in the water. They said to him: If so, give eight dinars, as you crossed in the water. He did not give the payment, and they struck him and wounded him. He came before the judge to seek compensation. The judge said to him: Give your assailant a fee, as he let your blood, and eight dinars, as you crossed the river in the water.

The people of Sodom had a unique way of treating guests. One assumes that this was to frighten away other potential guests. Here is Talmud, Sanhedrin 109b.6.

The Gemara continues to discuss the sins of the people of Sodom: They had beds on which they would lay their guests; when a guest was longer than the bed they would cut him, and when a guest was shorter than the bed they would stretch him.

The people of Sodom loved to act generously, but hated generosity. They practiced charity in a way that ensured that it would never cost them anything. From Talmud, Sanhedrin 109b.7.

When a poor person would happen to come to Sodom, each and every person would give him a dinar, and the name of the giver was written on each dinar. And they would not give or sell him bread, so that he could not spend the money and would die of hunger. When he would die, each and every person would come and take his dinar.

The problem with practicing charity is that outsiders might hear about it and come to Sodom to benefit from the charity. Therefore, it was illegal to be charitable. Anyone caught helping poor people would be executed for their crime. Talmud, Sanhedrin 109b.9 explains that this is what caused God to come seeking for any righteous people in Sodom.

There was a young woman who would take bread out to the poor people in a pitcher so the people of Sodom would not see it. The matter was revealed, and they smeared her with honey and positioned her on the wall of the city, and the hornets came and consumed her. And that is the meaning of that which is written: “And the Lord said: Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great [rabba]” (Genesis 18:20). And Rav Yehuda says that Rav says: Rabba is an allusion to the matter of the young woman [riva] who was killed for her act of kindness. It is due to that sin that the fate of the people of Sodom was sealed.

After reading the commentaries, the story of Lot and his guests looks very different. Lot was a righteous man. He saw travelers in the city and knew well how his neighbors treated travelers. If they stayed somewhere else, they were likely to be tortured in their beds. He urged them to stay with him instead.

The men of the city heard about Lot’s generosity and kindness and were incensed by it. They demanded that he hand over the visitors, so that they could rape and terrorize Lot’s guests. When Lot protested, the men of the city grew angrier at him and decided to give him the same treatment that they gave to anyone being generous. Lot was only saved by the angels blinding the Sodomites.

The sin of Sodom was inhospitality and extreme greed.

What does the rest of the Christian Bible say about Sodom?

Isaiah 1:10–11, 15–17, 21–23

Hear the word of the Lord,
    you rulers of Sodom!
Listen to the teaching of our God,
    you people of Gomorrah!
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
    says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
    and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls
    or of lambs or of goats.

When you stretch out your hands,
    I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
    I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove your evil deeds
    from before my eyes;
cease to do evil;
    learn to do good;
seek justice;
    rescue the oppressed;
defend the orphan;
    plead for the widow.

How the faithful city
    has become a prostitute!
    She that was full of justice,
righteousness lodged in her—
    but now murderers!
Your silver has become dross;
    your wine is mixed with water.
Your princes are rebels
    and companions of thieves.
Everyone loves a bribe
    and runs after gifts.
They do not defend the orphan,
    and the widow’s cause does not come before them.

That sounds a lot like extreme greed and an attitude of what is “mine is mine, and yours is yours”.

Isaiah 3:9, 13–15

The look on their faces bears witness against them;
    they proclaim their sin like Sodom;
    they do not hide it.
Woe to them,
    for they have brought evil on themselves.

The Lord rises to argue his case;
    he stands to judge the peoples.
The Lord enters into judgment
    with the elders and princes of his people:
It is you who have devoured the vineyard;
    the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
What do you mean by crushing my people,
    by grinding the face of the poor? says the Lord God of hosts.

Again, the sin of Sodom was the rich becoming richer by crushing and oppressing the poor.

Ezekiel 16:46–51

Your big sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; your little sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. You not only followed their ways and acted according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it. Samaria has not committed half your sins; you have committed more abominations than they and have made your sisters appear righteous by all the abominations that you have committed.

Ezekiel is writing to the people of Judah, passing along God's judgment on them. What are the abominations that Judah did? I was taught that it was sexual abominations, specifically homosexuality. But Genesis, the prophets, and the commentaries all point in a different direction: it was torturing guests in their beds. It was practicing false charity, while allowing beggars to starve in the streets. It was executing people for being charitable. Those were the abominations of Sodom.

Moving to the new Testament, we see Jesus mentioning Sodom. He does it when He sends out His disciples to evangelize and tells them to depend on the generosity of strangers.

Matthew 10:5–15

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not take a road leading to gentiles, and do not enter a Samaritan town, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick; raise the dead; cleanse those with a skin disease; cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff, for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

Jesus proclaims judgment on any town that does not welcome his disciples (strangers) and provide for them.

Jude 1:7

Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

Again: is this ‘unnatural lust’ a sexual lust? Or is it greed and an unnatural lust for money? Yes, Sodom was sexually immoral. They wanted to rape Lot’s guests. But they didn’t limit their depravity to homosexual rape. They were clearly ready to rape everyone, both women and men. We know this because Lot offered them his daughters as a substitute. Clearly, he believed that the men of Sodom might accept that peace offering. Their sexual immorality was a weapon that they used to terrorize others and protect their wealth. They used many weapons to act abominably and unjustly enrich themselves. Homosexual rape was just one of their many weapons.

Taken altogether, I do not believe that the “sin of sodomy” is a sexual sin. The sin of sodomy is greed that holds tight to what is mine. It maintains its power through any means necessary. It refuses to give in an open-handed manner. And it resents anyone else who does.

“If you have ears, hear!”

(I first read this information on Patheos: We are Sodom. Me being me, I wanted to seek out the original sources. And that’s how you get this post. Thanks also to Mendy Kaminker and his essay Sodom and Gomorrah: Cities Destroyed by G-d - Chabad.org.)

“What Do I Do When Someone Asks Me For Money?”

Kevin Nye answers “What Do I Do When Someone Asks Me For Money?”. You should read the whole thing. His discussion on setting boundaries and on interacting with the homeless—rather than making them feel invisible—is spot on.

I found Kevin’s perspective interesting, because in homeless services. He knows the clients, the issues, and the daily struggles. As such, I wanted to quote from this section, dealing with our assumptions and our fear that “they’ll just spend it all on drugs”.

The assumption that a person experiencing homelessness will spend your generous donation on drugs or alcohol is pervasive in a way that absolutely does not align with data. The numbers of people struggling with substance use and addiction is lower than the general assumption, though it is still a major part of the conversation.

More to the point, addiction is such that it drives a person to pursue the substance they crave through any and every obstacle. While I’ve seen many people through recovery, and many who are far from it, I’ve never once heard of someone who kicked their addiction because they ran out of money. Even though this narrative affects so much giving behavior, I’ve not once heard someone say, “Yeah, I was about to give up and stop using heroin forever, but then that nice lady gave me $20 and I was able to score.”

Frankly, even if they are planning to spend your money for that, you might be preventing far riskier behavior in order to meet that perceived need. That feels “icky” to many of us, perhaps like we are enabling bad behavior. While this conversation exceeds the limitations of this piece, it is worth pointing out that the gift of money to a person has little to no effect on their ability to manage addiction. Only larger interventions like treatment, healthcare, and housing can interrupt something of that magnitude.

Sometimes, we wonder if giving cash is even helpful to the problem of homelessness. And to be fair, I’ve never seen someone lift themselves out of homelessness based on the money made from solicitation, (except when someone was trying to get a bus ticket or gas money back to a place they have refuge.) However, I have seen that money buy someone a clean pair of socks. I’ve seen it allow someone the dignity of a meal at their favorite restaurant after a hungry day. I’ve seen it buy someone a weekend in a hotel to get out of the rain, or just to take a brief respite before returning to the streets. These are not nothing. Your gift may not lift someone out of their desperate situation, but it might provide an immeasurable amount of solace and even joy in the midst of their despair.

Above all else, homelessness dehumanizes. It isolates, it discards, and it amplifies the fear we all have that maybe things aren’t going to work out for us. In your daily interactions with people experiencing homelessness, their homelessness is not truly at stake. Their humanity, though, is – whether you end up giving them money or not.

This entry was tagged. Charity Christian Living Drugs Homelessness Poverty

What's a Women's Issue?

What's a Women's Issue? →

Mona Charen writes, at The Weekly Standard, about a Jewish charity called In Shifra's Arms (ISA). Its goal is to support women who have an unintended pregnancy, want to have the baby, but are being pressured into having an abortion. For all that the mainstream feminists focus on supporting a ”woman's right to choose“, they mainly support a woman's right to choose an abortion and provide precious little support for women who want to choose life, but are pressured (by men!) to choose abortion.

These are some of the women that ISA has helped.

A 42-year-old married immigrant from Russia with older children had not expected to be pregnant again. Her husband, a truck driver, was tyrannical and difficult. Money was tight. He was so insistent that she abort the child that he left the family home for a week. When he returned, he actually drove her to the abortion clinic. She sat immobilized in the car. "I'd done it before," she told Nathan, "and I just couldn't do it again. Even if my husband divorces me, I cannot do it."

She turned to In Shifra's Arms, where she found sympathy and then tangible help. The first step was helping the client to decide what her own wishes were. Since money was tight, the mother elected to get certified as an X-ray technician. In Shifra's Arms helped her with funds for babysitting for two semesters.

Her husband did not divorce her, and in time, was happy about the new addition to the family. All are now doing well and are grateful to ISA.

Another client was in her 30s when she contacted ISA. An Israeli, she was living in the United States with her American boyfriend. When he learned of her pregnancy, he angrily demanded that she get an abortion. Worried that this might be her last chance to become a mother, she refused. Her parents were both dead, but she did have an uncle in America. A secular liberal and abortion advocate, he chided her for getting pregnant in the first place and urged her to abort. When she declined, he refused any assistance. "You did this to yourself," he said. "Don't come to me."

Her boyfriend seemed to agree. Her unwillingness to abort was an affront. The abuse was first emotional and then eventually physical. (Some men beat their wives or girlfriends in hopes of inducing an abortion.) It became so extreme that she moved out. The local women's shelter was full, and while she had stayed with friends for a time, she felt she couldn't impose for too long. Out of options, she turned to a Christian crisis pregnancy center. There, she was safe, but uncomfortable. The center featured Christian worship, which was awkward. Through an Internet search, she discovered In Shifra's Arms. ISA cooperated with a local Chabad rabbi to find the pregnant woman a place to live for three months, and linked her with a domestic violence group. They advised her to return to Israel before the child's birth. In Shifra's Arms paid for her plane ticket and two months rent in Israel along with psychological counseling. She delivered a healthy baby boy. Her child, she reported from Israel, was the best thing that had ever happened to her.

The American left focuses on protecting abortion rights to such a degree that they're often hostile to crisis pregnancy centers that offer choices other than abortion. But many women don't want abortions. They just want a helping hand. Surely true feminism requires you to support women when they choose life. I'm glad ISA is doing that.

Why Can't We Sell Charity Like We Sell Perfume?

Why Can't We Sell Charity Like We Sell Perfume? →

Dan Pallotta argues, in the Wall Street Journal, for treating charity more like a business and letting charitable organizations spend more, to do more.

Business can't solve all of the world's problems. Capitalism can—but only if it is permitted in the nonprofit sector. If we free the nonprofit sector to hire the best talent in the world, take fundraising risks, use marketing to build demand and invest capital for new revenue-generating efforts, we could bring private ingenuity to bear on those problems and would not need to look to government to fill the gaps.

I'm game for it.

L.A.'s richest man ups the ante for city, cancer fight

L.A.'s richest man ups the ante for city, cancer fight →

This is very interesting.

And on Wednesday in Washington DC, Soon-Shiong and his L.A.-based NantHealth will unveil a joint venture with Verizon, Intel, Blue Shield of California and others to create a nationwide system for doctors to share DNA and other data on cancer patients. It will enable doctors to do genetic analysis of a patient's tumor in less than a minute -- a job that now can take from eight to 10 weeks.

"This is something the federal government should have done, but we waited and waited for them," Soon-Shiong told Reuters in an interview.

"It's unconscionable that cancer patients get the wrong diagnosis 30 percent of the time and that it takes so long to treat them with appropriate drugs for their cancer."

Soon-Shiong emigrated to the United States more than three decades ago with his wife Michele Chan, an actress who had a starring role in 80's show "Danger Bay" that aired on CBS and the Disney Channel and guest roles on " MacGyver." Since then, he has methodically climbed the ladder of success by adroitly mixing science and business.

He created drugs to fight diabetes and breast cancer and then sold the companies that produced them for a combined $8.6 billion.

In the four years since selling those companies, he quietly spent more than $400 million of his own money to build a national fiber optic network that would link cancer clinics throughout the country -- the groundwork for the health superhighway.

This entry was tagged. Charity Innovation

Can Matt Damon Bring Clean Water To Africa?

Can Matt Damon Bring Clean Water To Africa? →

Ignore the too-cute by half photo that gives Matt Damon a halo and give the article a shot. It's a pretty interesting look at the effort to bring clean water wells to Africa and the unconventional ways that Matt Damon is pursuing this goal.

Still, even after White had led dozens of projects, he remained frustrated. "Projects -- everyone's projects -- were failing at a really high rate." Communities had broken wells or faucets that villagers were unable to repair, or the wells produced water more dangerous than that of the filthy rivers that flowed nearby. There were also few, if any, sanitation projects. "In the '80s and '90s, the approach was really supply-driven -- 'We are here to give you your water project,' " he says. Dig a well, put up a plaque, take a picture, and scram. "People were designing projects for people, not with them." White came to understand that community engagement (a term rendered almost meaningless by politicians, major brands, and social-networking companies) is a life-or-death strategy in the developing world. "There needs to be a water committee. At least 80% of the community needs to sign up and raise money for the project, participate in its construction and up-keep," he says. That's how a project turns from top-down charity to bottom-up sustainability.

This entry was tagged. Charity

Why You Should Never, Ever Cosign a Loan for Anyone

Why You Should Never, Ever Cosign a Loan for Anyone →

Very good advice, from Megan McArdle.

If you think that they really need the money, and that you're not just helping someone dig themselves even deeper into financial irresponsibility, then my advice is to just give them the money.

Give them the money?  I can't possibly afford to do that!

Well, my friend, given the default rates of primary borrowers, that is what you're doing when you cosign--with the additional cost of origination fees, interest payments, late fees, collection fees, a black mark on your credit report, and probably, a destroyed relationship.

This entry was tagged. Charity Debt

Free Trade and Christian Charity

It's popular among the Christian left to talk up the "Old Testament" values of social justice: caring for the poor, paying fair wages, not perverting justice, etc. They're fond of the Old Testament prophets and the prophets jeremiads against wealth and privilege.

Increasingly, the Christian left is also fond of promoting Democrat candidates and talking about how Republican candidates only look out for the rich and powerful. The exact people that the Old Testament prophets inveighed against. Ergo, the Old Testament prophets hated Republican ideals and all good Christians will vote against Republican ideals.

If that's true, what should we make of the Democrats record on free trade? After all, the poor in America are far richer than the poor in the third world. By any just standard, the America's poor are rich. They're poor only if they're exclusively compared to other Americans. Free trade is the biggest and best "social justice" platform in existence. Free trade spreads the wealth around the entire world and gives opportunities to billions of people in the third world.

If we do as the Democrats demand -- if we restrict free trade -- we remove opportunities from billions of impoverished people. "Fair trade" would take jobs away from those that need them the most. "Fair trade" would raise prices for those that can least afford to pay them. "Fair trade" would benefit rich Americans (that is, all Americans) at the expense of the global poor.

Is that Christian? I don't think so. But don't take my word for it. India has good reason to fear a Democrat government.

So, pressures will mount for protectionist measures and beggar-thy-neighbour policies in the US, hurting countries like India. Apart from erecting import barriers and subsidising dumped exports, US politicians will seek to curb the outsourcing of services to India. Visa curbs will slow the movement of skilled workers and their dollar remittances back to India.

[Obama] has voted against trade barriers only 36% of the time. He supported export subsidies on the two occasions on which he voted, a 100% protectionist record in this regard.

In 2007, he voted to reduce visas issued to foreign workers (such as Indian software engineers), and to ban Mexican trucks on US roads. He sometimes voted for free trade - he supported the Oman Free Trade Act and a bill on miscellaneous tariff reductions and trade preference extensions. More often he voted for protectionist measures including 100% scanning of imported containers (which would make imports slower and costlier), and emergency farm spending.

In 2005 he voted to impose sanctions on China for currency manipulation, and against the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). He voted for the Byrd amendment, a disgraceful bill (later struck down by the WTO) that gifted anti-dumping duties to US producers who complained, thus making complaining more profitable than competitive production.

Obama says the North American Free Trade agreement is a bad one, and must be renegotiated. He has opposed the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement on the bogus ground that Colombia is not protecting its trade union leaders from the drug mafia. In fact, such assassinations have fallen steadily from 205 in 2001 to just 25 last year. Obama is cynically twisting facts to woo the most protectionist US trade unions. This cannot but worry India, which may also be subjected to bogus slander and trade disadvantages.

Unlike Obama, McCain voted against imposing trade sanctions on China for supposedly undervaluing its currency to keep exports booming and accumulate large forex reserves. India has followed a similar policy, though with less export success than China. But if indeed India achieves big success in the future, it could be similarly targeted by US legislators and, will need people like McCain to resist.

Obama favours extensive subsidies for US farmers, hitting Third World exporters like India. This has been one of the issues on which the Doha Round of WTO is gridlocked. McCain could open the gridlock, Obama will strengthen it.

Obama also favours subsidies for converting maize to ethanol. The massive diversion of maize from food to ethanol has sent global food and fertiliser prices skyrocketing, hitting countries like India. But McCain has always opposed subsidies for both US agriculture and ethanol. While campaigning, he had the courage to oppose such subsidies even in Iowa, an agricultural state he badly needs to win if he is to become president.

I want to help the poor. I want the poor to succeed and become rich. I don't want to protect the rich at the expense of the poor. That's why I support open borders, free trade, and no import / export tariffs. That's why I'm surprised that so many people who talk so much about helping the poor consistently support policies that will make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Heating Aid, The Right Way

Last year I was extremely critical of Governor Doyle's plan to increase heating aid for poor Wisconsin residents. This year, I'm still critical of the state's heating aid program.

I'm certainly not opposed to helping my poor neighbors. In fact, I don't really think I have much of a choice in the matter.

[esvbible reference="Matthew 25:34-40" header="on" format="block"]Matthew 25:34-40[/esvbible]

But I want my assistance to be precisely targeted, I want it to help those who need the most help, and I want to give it myself -- not have it taken from me by an overbearing government. That's why I was glad to find Alliant Energy's Hometown Care Energy Fund.

Through the Hometown Care Energy Fund, Alliant Energy offers free, confidential financial help for the elderly, disabled and families trying to make ends meet.

Hometown Care Energy Fund is supported by Alliant Energy and its many caring customers, employees and shareowners.

When you give to Hometown Care, your donation goes directly to neighbors in need in your area, with funds administered by local community action programs.

In 2006, more than 1,699 families received an average grant of nearly $248. Your generous contributions of $244,000 helped share the warmth with those who needed it the most.

Their description of the program didn't offer the kind of information I was really interested in, so I asked some questions.

  1. How much of the funds collected funds are paid to community groups? 100%? Or does Alliant Energy keep some of the funds as administrative fees? Alliant Energy distributes 100% of the donations to agencies, but allows the agencies in WI to use up to 6% of the funds for administrative purposes.

  2. Does Alliant keep track on exactly how the community groups use the money? Do they use 100% of the money for heating aid or do they keep some of it as administrative fees? Besides the up to 6% used for administrative purposes, the rest is distributed as agencies see fit for heating aid.

  3. The website says "your donation goes directly to neighbors in need in your area". How big is the local "area"? I live in the Village of Oregon, in Dane County, Wisconsin. Is the money I donate disbursed to community groups in Oregon, in Dane County, in Southern Wisconsin, or in the entire state of Wisconsin? The area is by county. A donation from Oregon would go to Energy Services Inc of Dane County.

  4. The site says that "A customer's payment history may also play an important part in selection for a Hometown Care Energy Fund grant." Does this mean that customers with a solid record of payment -- who suddenly fall behind -- are preferred over customers who habitually don't pay their bills. Yes, agencies take this into account in awarding their grants.

  5. Finally, does the program encourage customers to economize on other areas of finance before receiving grants? For instance, if a customer was paying for cable television but unable to pay their energy bill, would they first be encouraged to cancel cable before receiving grants? Yes, the reason we use the agencies we do to distribute the funds is the often first take an Energy Assistance application from the customer which may provide them some state aid. Second they may discuss with them their income and expenses. Last these funds are there to help them if needed.

I hate cold weather with a passion and am very grateful for on-demand heat. I can't stand the thought that some of my neighbors might be cold because I was too stingy to help them out. Now that weather is getting frigid, we're donating money to the Fund each month.

As we approach Thanksgiving and you think about your blessings, this is a great way to share your wealth with those less fortunate.

Disaster Relief in Bangladesh

In case you haven't been paying attention to the news, a huge cyclone ripped through Bangladesh a few days ago.

Soldiers and relief workers raced Monday to get aid to millions left homeless by the cyclone, as officials said the death toll had topped 3,100 and was certain to keep rising.

According to the Red Cross, the final toll could be anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000.

"The immediate and critical needs are for food, clean drinking water, shelter materials, clothes, blankets and cooking utensils," said EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel.

"The enormous damage to infrastructure, coupled with losses of both crops and livestock, mean that urgent action is also needed on basic rehabilitation. Otherwise, disease and malnutrition could claim many more victims."

Most of the deaths following Thursday's cyclone were caused by a six-metre (20-foot) high tidal wave which engulfed coastal villages, or by flying debris and falling trees that crushed flimsy bamboo and tin homes.

Food stocks, crops, livestock and drinking water sources -- as well as entire stretches of road -- were washed away by the wave that smashed into the coast along with Cyclone Sidr, and in many places the situation was desperate.

Red Cross and Red Crescent workers said they were using their network of volunteers to distribute dried food and plastic sheeting for temporary shelters, but that many helpers were themselves victims.

"Our estimate is that 900,000 families are affected," said Red Cross official Shafiquzzaman Rabbani -- a figure that accounts for around seven million people.

My wife and I have "adopted" a child through World Vision's Sponsorship program. As a result, we're on the regular mailing list. Today, we received a message about their efforts in Bangladesh.

Dear Sponsor,

Last week, we alerted you to the devastating category 4 Cyclone Sidr that struck Bangladesh. We want to update you on World Vision's relief response to the survivors and to ask you to continue to pray for cyclone and flooding survivors and relief workers providing urgent assistance.

World Vision continues to rush emergency aid into Bangladesh following one of the worst cyclones in a decade, which left over 3,000 dead and millions in desperate need of food, water, and shelter.

Seven of World Vision's projects were hit, three of them severely, and we are now sheltering over 20,000 people who lost their homes. Please know if a sponsored child is directly affected by a disaster, that it is our policy to notify sponsors as soon as possible.

Supporting 20,000 people isn't cheap, even in a third-world nation. We donated money tonight and we'll probably send more next month. Have you donated? Even $10 or $20 will go a long way towards helping those devastated by the cyclone. It will take you less than 5 minutes to donate.

As a Christian, what better way is there to reflect the love of God? You could fly over there and share the Gospel directly. But Gospel presentations without material help are worse than useless. Saudi Arabia is donating more than $100 million. Does the world's largest "Christian" nation want to be missing in action? When Bangladesh's Muslims remember who helped them after a disaster, what will they remember about the world's Christians?

Frugal Christian is a term that should never apply to charity. It's not up to our government and it's not up our church boards. Joyful loving giving is up to us.

This entry was tagged. Charity Fiscal Policy

Should We "Give Back" at Thanksgiving?

This Thanksgiving, President Bush wants us to give back to our communities.

In a reflective mood as he looks toward his final year in office, President Bush delivered his first official Thanksgiving speech Monday, urging Americans to "show their thanks by giving back" and to remember that "our nation's greatest strength is the decency and compassion of our people."

It was a call to action, in a sense, from a president whose first instinct after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was to ask the public for "continued participation and confidence in the American economy," a request that has been widely interpreted as advice to go shopping.

By contrast, Mr. Bush on Monday asked Americans to consider the "many ways to spread hope this holiday: volunteer in a shelter, mentor a child, help an elderly neighbor, say thanks to one who wears the nation's uniform."

Now, I'm certainly no opponent to charity. I love giving and sharing my resources. But I agree with Thomas Sowell. All of this talk about giving back "irritate[s] me like chalk screeching across a blackboard".

I have donated money, books, and blood for people I have never seen and to whom I owe nothing. Nor is that unusual among Americans, who do more of this than anyone else.

But we are not "giving back" anything to those people because we never took anything from them in the first place.

This Thanksgiving, my family and I will be thankful for all of the ways God has blessed us. We'll be most thankful for the gift of forgiven sins and the gift of becoming children of God. We'll also be thankful for the gifts of family, friends, strong jobs, material prosperity, and much more.

In response to our thanksgiving, we will give to others freely and generously as a reflection of the free and generous gifts we receive from God. But we will not be giving back. Not to Madison's poor, because they've never given us anything. And certainly not to God -- nothing we do for Him could ever begin to approach even a partial repayment for what He's given us.

This entry was tagged. Charity

Doing Good for the World, The Right Way

Beth Hanley, I weep for thee.

Armed with a Georgetown University diploma, Beth Hanley embarked in her 20s on a path hoping to become a professional world-saver. First she worked at nonprofit Bread for the World. Then she taught middle school English in central Africa with the Peace Corps. Finally, to certify her idealism, she graduated last spring with a master's degree in international relations from Johns Hopkins University.

... Hanley, a think tank temp who dreams of aiding the impoverished and reducing gender discrimination in developing countries, is stuck. ... Numerous young Washingtonians bemoan the improvisational and protracted career track of the area's public interest profession. They say the high competition for comparatively low-paying jobs saps their sense of adulthood, forcing them to spend their 20s or early 30s moving from college to work to graduate school and back to work that might or might not be temporary.

No, wait. I don't weep for you.

dispatches from TJICistan: Little Miss Perky Nose and Silk Blouse is not making mad benjamins

You know, somewhere there's a guy, toiling in a cube, who just spent six weeks working out a way to make toilet paper with 1% less energy input, thus cutting the cost of goods sold by 0.25%, while keeping the TP just as soft and smooth as it was before.

...and that man has added more to the sum total of human happiness and productivity over those six weeks than little-Miss-altruist Beth Hanley has in her decade of getting elite degrees, wasting time in the Peace Corps, and getting her masters degree in international relations.

I'm not saying that Mr-TP-improvement is a hero ("because what's a hero?").

And I'm not saying that little-miss-perky-nose-and-silk-blouse is a bad person.

But, aside from her own sense of self worth, what has she accomplished in the last decade?

Pretty much zero.

Transterrestrial Musing: Get Out the Hankies

Who is more of a humanitarian, a Norman Borlaug, who through his technological efforts saved untold millions from hunger, and even starvation, and was reasonably compensated for it, or an Albert Schweitzer or Mother Theresa, who labored to help a relatively few poor and ill, while living in relative poverty? Obviously the latter derived personal satisfaction from their hands-on retail efforts, but I don't think that they ever whined about their lifestyle.

These people do in fact need to grow up, and understand that there are other ways to help people than forming non-profits and NGOs, or working for a government bureaucracy. People are helped most by technological advances that make essential items--food, transportation, communication, shelter--more affordable and accessible to them, not by those who provide them with handouts and sympathy, and keep them in a state of perpetual dependency.


Understanding Your Charitable Urges

Why do you donate to charity? Is it because you truly want to help others or do you just want to feel better about yourself? For many people, it's feeling better about themselves.

Many people donate hair to make wigs for children with cancer. It turns out that donating money would be better.

Perhaps they would be less adamant if they could visit Ms. Coffman in the Locks of Love office in Florida. Every day the hanks of hair arrive, filling some 10 postal bins, representing the best intentions of donors, but so much of it destined for the trash.

"A check would be easier for me," Ms. Coffman said. "But would the donors get out of it what they do? No."

I think people going on missions trips to build houses in third world countries suffer from the same problem. Ideally, they'd donate a week's worth of pay rather than a week's worth of time. That money would then be used to hire local workers. The money would stretch further, help more homes to be built, and boost the local economy.

It would be a far more generous and effective way to donate. But people wouldn't feel nearly as good about themselves. And, often, that's what really matters.

This entry was tagged. Charity Virtues

UW eye doctor gives world better vision

UW eye doctor gives world better vision

"In the past 25 years, the cases of avoidable blindness have doubled to 35 million presently. At this rate, by 2020 the number will double again to 70 million," he explains. But in the face of those statistics, he finds great hope: Aided by recent improvements in lens manufacturing and surgical techniques, 90 percent are curable with simple cataract surgery that costs $20 and takes 20 minutes of surgery.

There have been roadblocks along the way, however. Cataract surgery removes the clouded eye lens and replaces it with a synthetic intraocular lens. When CBF started the eye camps, these lenses cost about $300, making them "unaffordable" for the program.


In 1992, CBF and its partners helped create Aurolab, an intraocluar lens and suture factory in Madurai, India. The factory produces high quality lenses and sutures at a low cost, making the surgery available to poor people throughout the world. At $2.50 per lens and $1.00 per suture, Aurolab distributes the supplies to not-for-profit organizations in 120 countries.

Now that's the kind of charity -- and innovation -- I can get behind. Way to go Dr. Suresh Chandra!

This entry was tagged. Charity Innovation

Why Should Christians Tithe?

I was all set to write a blogpost about the need for Christians to tithe 10% of their income. First, let me tell you why I was going to write that. Then I'll tell you why I'm not going to write that.

I was thinking about American Christians, our wealth, and whether or not we share our money as God commanded. I looked up the U.S. population. According to the CIA World Factbook, the U.S. population is around 296 million people. Of those 296 million, a little over ¾ claim to be Christians. The median income in the U.S. is $44,473 dollars a year. That would mean the median tithe in the U.S. should be $4,473 a year.

Let's assume that half of the people that claim to be Christian are lying. Let's assume that the other half of the people that claim to be Christian actually are dedicated church-goers. That would mean we should see 114,596,977 people tithing an average of $4,473 a year. Total tithe in the U.S. would then be somewhere above $500 billion a year. Unfortunately, total 2004 charitable giving in the U.S. only amounted to $250 billion.

Why do I bring that up? Yesterday, I read an article about Joan McCarville, a woman that had had one transplant too many. She needed a lung transplant, but couldn't get one unless she and her husband ponied up over $330,000. That sounds like a lot of money. Until you consider the fact that either a lot of people are lying about being Christians or else the church is being woefully underfunded. Just imagine what the church could do with an extra $250 billion a year! Area churches would certainly be able to help out a lot more people like this unfortunate woman.

As I say, that's what I originally planned to post. Then I went searching for information on tithing. I found an interesting dialog from Dean VanDruff about tithing. It is entitled "The Tithe, A Biblical Perspective". It really gave me a lot to think about. You really, really, really should go read the entire thing, but I'll excerpt some of it to give you a taste:

"The tithe" as part of the Law is no more applicable to us than making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year is. It is mentioned in the New Testament only a couple of times, generally in the context of rebuke to the Pharisees concerning fastidious observance of the ceremonial Law.

Christians in general reject the idea that we are "under the law", yet tithing somehow gets exempted. But it is all or nothing, when it comes to the law, is it not?

For the Jews the tithe was a "party" (or feast, if you like) and was to be "consumed in the sight of the Lord". God's command to tithe includes consuming "whatever your heart desires", including "strong drink"! Imagine using up a tenth of your agricultural increase every year in a single party! Wasteful, extravagant, and flesh mortifying; yet God's clear command. With this Jewish (and historic) perspective, no wonder the prophet Malachi (3:8-11) asks: "How have we robbed from You, Lord, by not tithing?" If you understand the Jewish idea of party-tithing, you will appreciate his question. God commands His people to enjoy themselves by bringing the bounty together so that "There may be food in my house" and then feasting and enjoying themselves in His sight.

A different perspective, no? It certainly gave me something to think about. So I'll refrain my haranguing the church about there being a clear need to tithe more. On the other hand, there's certainly nothing wrong with giving more of your income to the local body of believers. After all, there are a lot of big, legitimate needs all around us. Our individual contributions might be small, but together they could accomplish quite a lot. I'd rather give my share of the $500 billion to the church than to the government.

And Joan McCarville? Well, it turns out she'll have most of the cost of her transplant covered. There is a medical relief fund setup, if you would like to help out with the rest of the cost. Contributions can be sent to the Joan McCarville Lung Transplant Fund, Farmers State Bank, P.O. Box 145, Hollandale, WI 53544.

UPDATE: The VanDruff's have something else up that I found interesting: Bible Study: Money in Scripture. I only skimmed it earlier, but I think it's worth reading through more carefully later.

This entry was tagged. Charity