Do You Give Less Than You Think?

August 30, 2012

An interesting article from the folks over at the Association of Religion Data Archives:

Churchgoers like to think of themselves as generous and cheerful givers, but for many the flesh appears to be weak when it comes to living up to their own standards for charitable giving.

A quarter of respondents in a new national study said they tithed 10 percent of their income to charity. But when their donations were checked against income figures, only 3 percent of the group gave more than 5 percent to charity.

The people most likely to misreport high levels of giving were those who said faith was very important to them and those who attend services more than weekly, according to a report by University of Notre Dame sociologists Christian Smith and Heather Price presented at the recent Association for the Sociology of Religion meeting in Denver.

The findings from the Science of Generosity Survey not only suggest the need to take a closer look at self-reported figures on tithing, but indicate the strong internal conflicts many religious individuals face when it comes to giving.

Like the Gospel parable of the rich young man who refused to give up his possessions, parting with their personal treasure is one of the greatest challenges facing people of faith, research indicates.

There is “in many American Christians … a kind of ‘comfortable guilt’—that is, living with an awareness and feeling of culpability for not giving money more generously, but maintaining that at a low enough level of discomfort that it was not too disturbing or motivating enough to actually increase giving,” Smith, Michael Emerson and Patricia Snell report in their book, “Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money.” “Many Christians did not have clean consciences about money. But neither did they seem prepared to change their financial dealings in ways that would eliminate their modest levels of guilt.”

Read it all.