The Giving Pledge and the Face of God

August 7, 2010

This past week, forty of America’s 400 or so billionaires announced their pledge to give away at least half of their billions to philanthropic causes. http://givingpledge.org/ We doomers are generally pretty hard on the wealthy and, of course, those dreadful Powers That Be and, true to form, I heard nary a word of praise or kindness for these billionaires on the doomer board where I hang out.   But, to give these 10% of America’s billionaires their due, it is a very generous act that, when totaled, amounts to the entire GDP of many smaller countries.

Our world religions speak a lot about giving, and tithing a part of one’s wealth is a requirement of many religions.  If, as I do, you see around you a universe that is conscious and “with conscience”, a universe that derived from a singularity of conscious energy in which we are all embedded, then the history of religion is a history of our struggle as a species toward our own collective conscience.  The stories of the various “prophets” and the metaphors within those stories are our stories, our metaphors for that struggle, plucked out of the reservoir of consciousness and conscience that is the universe.  On this planet, we are the only animals with a voice, so the stories we tell ourselves, the metaphors we use and the actions they call us to, determine not only the fate of those voiceless, but our own fate and that of the planet we all share.

I like those stories – as a writer and storyteller and as a human being. I’d like to think that wherever in the universe there is intelligent life, there are similar stories of their own struggle toward that collective conscience.  Stories like these:

From Christianity:” Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in her two mites. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

From Judaism: “A story is told of a Rabbi whose followers stated emphatically that every night their rabbi went up to heaven. Another Jewish group ridiculed them about this belief. One particular man thought the idea so preposterous that one night he decided to hide under the bed of the rabbi to confirm firsthand the impossibility of such a thing. At about 2 a.m., the rabbi arose, put on his coat, and took an ax in his hand. The frightened but well-hidden doubter followed the rabbi into the forest. Keeping his distance, he watched as the rabbi began to chop down trees then cut the wood into logs suitable for burning. He marveled as he saw the rabbi deliver his secret offering to the widows and the infirm in the town. The next morning in synagogue, when the first group spoke of their rabbi going to heaven, the former nonbeliever surprised his group of followers and said, “Yes – to heaven, if not even higher.”

From Islam:“A man walking along a path felt very thirsty. Reaching a well, he descended into it, drank his fill, and came up. Then he saw a dog with its tongue hanging out, trying to lick up mud to quench its thirst. The man said, This dog is feeling the same thirst that I felt.  He went down into the well again, filled his shoe with water, and gave the dog a drink. So, God thanked him and forgave his sins.”

I love these stories, and the thousands like them, because they come with both a requirement and a promise.  They require that, in our giving we be “pure of heart” and they promise that, if we are, we will see “God”.  As an atheist, I can’t say exactly what that means to a religious person.  I can tell you what it means to me.  As someone who sees the universe as a conscious and irreducible whole, it means that when I give you something out of a sincere recognition that you, too, have a right to have your needs met, I find in that giving the oneness in which we both exist.  I see in you the Thought that is the Universe in its totality.  I see “God”.

Why the forty men and women who took their Giving Pledge did so, I can’t say.  They are all well traveled enough to have seen the many faces of the poor, the devastation we are causing to the planet and the non-human life we share it with and be moved by their plight.  There are certainly enough major problems in the world we share, that the widow’s mite will not be enough to address them; nor will the political machinations and endless “national interests” that accompany most governmental aid.

Whatever their reasons for making the pledge, I hope those of them who gave with a pure heart will indeed look into the faces of those their money helps and see, reflected back at them, the face of God.

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