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Culture Books

Love and charity

Karl Zinsmeister (Patrick Henry College)


Love and charity

Profiling givers who made a difference in the lives of others

“Philanthropy” means the love of mankind, but some philanthropists finance hatred. One of America’s biggest nonprofits, the mass-murdering Planned Parenthood, grabs money from contributors as well as taxpayers. But before we run to remove tax exemptions from nonprofits, keep in mind that at least 2,000 pro-life centers around the country benefit from 501(c)(3) status. Churches and Christian charities benefit from the longtime understanding that they deserve tax deductibility because they help not only believers but all people, directly or indirectly.

Karl Zinsmeister’s The Almanac of American Philanthropy, published on Jan. 8, reveals better than any previous book the breadth and depth of the U.S. nonprofit sector, which now employs more than 1 out of 10 American workers, plus volunteers whose unpaid efforts are the equivalent of an additional 5 million to 10 million full-time employees. Total giving by individuals, foundations, and businesses is now more than $360 billion. Donation rates in the United States are now two to 20 times higher than in economically comparable countries.

The Almanac presents statistics, profiles large and small givers, and offers a cornucopia of profiles of both thoughtful and quirky givers. Among the stories: Milton Hershey produced not only candy bars but havens for endangered children. Alfred Lee Loomis funded the development of radar. Albert Lexie turned tips from a lifetime of shining shoes into hospital care for kids. Others built libraries, created parks, taught slaves to write, and helped refugees. Editor Zinsmeister skillfully rebuts the notions that charity is second-rate because it may be uncoordinated and unprofessional. He shows how foundations can be far more nimble and farsighted than government workers.

If we truly want to understand the love of mankind, we have to understand love among the Trinity and then love between husbands and wives. Peter Leithart’s Traces of the Trinity (Brazos, 2015) mostly operates too high up the ladder of abstraction to move hearts, but his Chapter 3 on sex is perfect for married couples on Valentine’s Day.

Biographical lessons

Robin Lane Fox’s Augustine: Conversions to Confessions (Basic, 2015) goes 600 pages deep into the intellectual turmoil of the great theologian. Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer, by Scott Hendrix (Yale, 2015) is a readable account with specific detail: Did you know that Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, collected 5,005 relics by 1510, including two complete teeth, six skull fragments, and particles of bone from the left hand of the Apostle Bartholomew? Luther lessened their value when he mocked the official notion that indulgences attached to the relics could reduce time spent in purgatory by 1.9 million years.

Michael McVicar’s Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism (University of North Carolina, 2015) shows its lineage as a dissertation: some stodgy writing, but thorough research with neither cheerleading nor hatred. Those who want to learn about Rushdoony (1916-2001) and others among a vivid cast of characters—Gary North, Greg Bahnsen, and the theologians of Tyler, Texas—could start here. The same goes for Finnish scholar Markku Ruotsila’s Fighting Fundamentalist: Carl McIntire and the Politicization of American Fundamentalism (Oxford, 2015). Ruotsila with scholarly dispassion examines the fiery pastor (1906-2002) whose pioneering use of media, lobbying, and alliances made him “the Barry Goldwater of the Christian Right.”

Charles Spencer’s Killers of the King (Bloomsbury, 2014) tautly brings out the human drama of the regicides in 1649 who executed Charles I. For example, agents in Holland seized former Parliament member Miles Corbet, 67. As Charles II was about to execute him, Corbet still said killing the king had saved many lives that would have been lost amid renewed civil war. Corbet said that had he been allowed to hide amid the Dutch, “I might have died in obscurity, and been carried out into some hole in a dust basket, where my death would have signified nothing”—or “some noisome disease, or lingering sickness; might have [left him] long weltering.” Instead, he became “a seasonable, holy and lively sacrifice unto God.” —M.O.