Did I Hear You Call Me A Philanthropist?
I grew up in a Protestant tradition that had no creeds. Well, we did sing "Just As I Am" and that was pretty close to a creed. So, when I branched out as a young adult and encountered the Apostle's Creed and, especially, the phrase "I believe in the holy catholic Church", I could not understand how the fellow Protestants were blithely mumbling the words without a hesitation. How could that be? What had I missed? I grew up thinking Catholics abducted babies and shipped them off to Rome and practiced strange rituals late at night. Everyone reading this who grew up in a similar non-creedal church knows what I mean. After some instruction I began to understand that the Creed was affirming the holy and universal church - not just those who practiced Catholicism. I grew to understand that catholicism, the historical Church, was okay but it didn't allay my concerns about those who practiced Catholicism.
Today, I learned about a couple of surveys that polled people on their perception of two words: philanthropy and philanthropist. It turns out that people have a very high regard for the concept of philanthropy. It means doing good things for the less fortunate. It includes not only giving large sums of money but very small gifts to a wide variety of causes. It includes raising money for charity - not just giving. As well, it embraces volunteering for worthy organizations - civic, religious, and secular. Even if the service does not include giving money, it is perceived as philanthropy. Bottom line: virtually every good thing you do could be considered philanthropy. It is innately good and available to everyone. It is universal.
On the other hand, the term philanthropist is not quite so positive. While not as negative as the classic Ambrose Bierce definition: "A rich (and usually bald) old gentleman who has trained himself to grin while his conscience is picking his pocket", it is still nothing like the warm feelings we have toward philanthropy. How can a person who practices something we so highly prize be characterized in such a negative light - so un-philanthropic. I've seen the same when the word "Christianity" is used. The response is relatively positive among non-Christians. Test the word "Christian" and it is negative and loaded with images of narrow, bigoted, angry and unloving people. The very people who practice something so highly prized are seen as un-Christian.
So, I am thinking about it. How can people find it so appealing and rewarding to become involved in philanthropy and yet are reluctant to be called philanthropists?
|Steve S from Princeton NJ||July 24, 2012, 2:19 pm|
|Not to miss the main point, but most protestant churches believe do not capitalize the word "Catholic" and note that it is meant to mean "universal", not "[Roman] Catholic". This is similar to noting that when the founding fathers talk about being a democrat, they are not speaking about the Democratic Party. A short and balanced view is in: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Marks_of_the_Church
A quick comment to your main point, about philanthropy: I do not believe the historical use of "philanthropy" meant the super rich -- it was simply meant the spirit of doing good for one's fellow human being (Cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philanthropist). A designation of "philanthropist" however, has come to be associated with someone whose "occupation" is now giving away money. Many draw from Christ's teaching on the widow's mite (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4), that it is not about how much you give in absolute amounts, but spirit and sacrifice. "The Billionaire's Pledge" to give away at least half of their wealth before they die, while admirable, should possibly be thought of in these terms (Cf. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/aug/04/us-billionaires-half-fortune-gates). We can all be Christian Philanthropists, we do not need to be massively wealthy to do so.
|chris||July 19, 2012, 2:05 pm|
|I wonder if it may be because anyone can do philanthropy but to be called aa philanthropist implies wealth, elitism, and special status; often accompanied by an agenda that is secret or suspect. And that short-lived The Philanthropist TV show didn't help either :)|