Who Really Cares – The Myth of the Compassionate Secular-Left

Mitt Romney gave 29.65% of his income last year to charity and gave an average of 13.5% over the last 20 years.  No surprise. He’s a Mormon. That’s what they do along with wacky things like staying married, paying attention to their children, being involved in their communities and other things that Leftists find strange and disturbing. The people we should really be surprised to find generous are the only notionally religious Leftists like Kerry, Edwards, Biden and Obama.

Surprise! The ironclad faith of Secular-Leftists in themselves as vastly more compassionate than anyone else, is, according to the best research, nothing but self-righteous, egomaniacal, self-aggrandizement. Leftists make the Pharisees of New Testament parable look pretty good in comparison. At least when the Pharisees bragged about their piety and how much they gave to the Temple, they actually performed the rituals and gave money. Leftists brag about how compassionate they are and then don’t give much from their own time and pocket books.

This would be a good time to mention again Arthur C. Brooks’ Who Really Cares, which, as near as I can tell, is the only scientific (as much as sociology can be scientific) study of charitable giving in the US. Brooks was very careful in methodology correcting for variables of income, race, etc as well as breaking apart giving to religious versus secular charities.

I found a summary online [PDF] that covers most of the findings of the book in condensed form..  It makes an eye opening read if you’ve always taken the Left’s self-mythology for granted.

Some choice bits:

Conservatives are more likely to give to charity than liberals, but only by a percentage point or two. Liberals, on the other hand, are more likely to volunteer their time than conservatives, but only by a percentage point or two. This might make it seem as if there really isn’t that much difference between the two groups when it comes to giving. However, when factors like average dollar amounts donated are examined, the differences become striking: “In 2000, households headed by a conservative gave, on average, 30 percent more money than a household headed by a liberal.” This, despite the fact that families headed by liberals earned more on average than conservative families. 

The trend remains the same if we consider party affiliation. Registered Republicans were more likely to give, and to give more, than registered Democrats. This tendency carries over in other important ways, young conservatives belonged to more community organizations than their liberal counterparts, they were more likely to donate blood, and they also expressed a greater willingness to make sacrifices for loved ones. The compassion of conservatives is even more clear and abundant when one examines the difference between the so-called “red” and “blue” states. Of the 25 states that had donation rates above the national average, 24 of them cast their ballots for George W. Bush, while 17 of the states below the national average cast their ballots for John Kerry. “In other words, the electoral map and the charity map are remarkably similar.” [emp added]

If you really care, if you’re really motivated by a desire to help others, you give your own time and money, period. Taking money from others to give to those in need can be and often is an utterly selfish act because the taker gains power and sometimes wealth themselves by being the ones who control the transfer of wealth. The lessons of Communism and Fascism demonstrate that those who argue the most strongly for “compassionate” violence-based redistribution by the state, don’t have to be compassionate themselves at all.

It’s should come as no surprise that the real definer of personal compassion is religion. As I argued before, the cultural institution of religion evolved specifically to induce highly empathic, cooperative behaviors. Yes, I said evolved, as in Darwin. I believe, demonstrated by Brooks’ finding, that any religion will do.  The Liberal-Religious are almost as compassionate as the Conservative-Religious, but their numbers are small and shrinking daily. Probably within a generation, there won’t be any religious liberals of any significance at all.

The evidence indicates that “faith creates a positive tendency to behave charitably to others.” Charity, of course, is not exclusive to any particular religion; Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam all preach the importance of helping others in need. There are large measurable differences in charitable giving, however, between religious and non-religious people. Put simply, it’s hard to come up with a single measure where secularists are more charitable than religious people. Indeed, religion seems to dwarf every other variable in predicting charitable behavior. In other words, being religious swamps political affiliation, educational levels, or virtually any other factor in accounting for charitable behavior.


And religious people don’t just give to churches; they measure higher in terms of giving than secular people in almost every possible dimension, including: donations to secular charities, informal giving, acts of kindness, and even honesty. The evidence shows that religious people are more likely to: donate blood, give food or money to the homeless, and express kindness and compassion to less fortunate people. In fact, the data shows that religious people are even more likely to return excess change given to them mistakenly by a cashier than secularists are. This is not, of course, to say that secularists never help others, or that religious people always do. Rather, it is simply to say that there is a large gap in giving between the two groups.[emp added]

It doesn’t bode well for the future that the population is growing ever more secular and arguably more individually self-centered.

It is an interesting fact that families in San Francisco donate the same amount to charity per annum ($1,300) as families from South Dakota. Comparing these communities is compelling because a family in San Francisco makes, on average, about twice as much as a family from South Dakota. This means the average South Dakotan family donates a significantly higher percentage of their income to charity.

Makes you wonder what the comparison with uber-Left Berkley would be.

People who favor income redistribution do give less to charity. It’s also true that someone on welfare is far less likely to make charitable donations than a low-income worker who earns their paycheck. Indeed, the working poor donate more of their money to charity than middle-class earners. This suggests that government redistribution can create a vicious cycle of dependency that actually discourages charity.


Critics of welfare contend that policies that encourage dependency also depress characteristics associated with charity. The evidence supports this belief: people on welfare are half as likely to engage in charitable behavior as people not on welfare. By the 1990s, the welfare system appeared to be broken, creating a cycle of dependency that was unpopular with the American people. Nevertheless, many still argued that reforming welfare would prove catastrophic to the poor. The worst predictions, however, never materialized. Indeed, reforming the system – moving people from welfare to work – actually helped lower the poverty rate. Furthermore, charitable giving among former welfare recipients actually increased following welfare reform.


If welfare discourages charity, it follows that it may encourage the opposite, namely selfishness, crime, and other failures of character.

It has always been a great puzzle to Leftists why their compassionate programs don’t seem to transform the poor into paragons of virtue. Perhaps it has something to do with welfare subsidizing irresponsible, self-destructive behaviors while at the same Leftists telling the poor that nothing in their lives is their fault and by extension nothing that happens to them is under their control. Leftists’ rationales for welfare create recipients who exhibit a dangerous mix of feeling helpless combined with a profound sense of entitlement. The working poor know better. The school of hard knocks is the best teacher.

Of particular interest to me is that Brooks carefully controls for all variables that might skew the relationship between religion, politics and giving. For example, by reflex Leftists claim that Brooks is counting Religious-Conservatives’ tithes to churches which Leftists argue is more akin to paying country club dues than charity. Nope, he corrected for that. Religious-Conservatives still give a higher percentage of their time and money to purely secular charities.

Brooks also accounts for race, ethnicity, and any other factor you could think of. It all comes out the same. Secular-Leftists fall far short of Religious-Conservatives when it comes to donating their own time and money to help others.

Of particular note, Religious-Conservatives donate blood at nearly twice the rate of Secular-Leftists. Blood donation is a form of charity that puts the rich and the poor on equal footing (Brooks corrects for income anyway.) I can’t think of any plausible argument for Leftists can make to explain why they don’t pop down and give blood at the same rate as conservatives.

The only semi-plausible explanation I could think of is that most gay men are probably Secular-Leftists and they are (or were) not allowed to donate for fear of disease transmission. But, I think it unlikely that half of the pool of potential Secular-Leftists blood donors could be gay men. There just aren’t enough gay guys to go around. Unless non-gay-men-Secular-Leftists have substantially higher rates of blood borne diseases than their counterparts on the Right, then Leftists are just selfish jerks. If they do have higher disease rates that opens up an entirely new area of discussion.

Here’s a fun bit.

Examining religious-political affiliations more closely, one can find, of course, religious liberals and secular conservatives. Looking at the four main religious-political affiliations can tell us a lot about charitable trends in America. The four main groups include:


Religious Conservatives: At 50 million people (19.1% of the population), this is the largest group of the four. Members within this group are the most likely to donate money, but this likelihood is only slightly higher that the level found among religious liberals. Religious conservatives also give away more dollars than any other group ($2,367 per household compared to $1,347 for the national average) and their rates of volunteerism are 10 percentage points higher than the general population. In sum, religious conservatives make up the most charitable group in America.


Secular Conservatives: About 20 million people (7.3%). This group tends to lag the general population in terms of income and education. This group is made up disproportionately of single men. On average, secular conservatives donate about $661 per year and are 16 percent less likely to volunteer than religious conservatives. This makes them the least charitable of the four groups discussed.


Secular Liberals: About 30 million people (10.5%). Secular liberals tend to have the highest education and income levels of the four groups. Secular liberals, by definition, do not spend much time affiliating in houses of worship, but their overall rates of participation in civic groups is low too. They are 19 percentage points less likely to donate money and 12 percent less likely to volunteer than religious conservatives.


Religious Liberals: At 18 million (6.4%), this is the smallest of the four groups. This group includes a much higher percentage of African Americans than the other groups. Education levels in this group are also quite high, second only to levels among secular liberals. They give to charity at a rate nearly as high as that of religious conservatives, making them the second most charitable of the four groups.[emp added]

So a little over half the population falls solidly within these four groups (the book goes into greater detail.) Note that the Secular-Leftists are not the most selfish group. That title falls to the Secular-Conservatives. Since “conservative” is a catch all for all non-Leftists, the Secular-Conservatives would be people like…

…. like me.

Damn. He’s probably right about me.  I give now and then as someone in need comes across my path. Heck, right now I’m putting a roof over the head of a friend of my son who has fallen on hard times. Still, I know that I am nowhere near as systematically generous with my time and money as my religious relatives are. There really isn’t any excuse for not giving to those less fortunate and  there is always someone worse off than you. Going to have find some room in the budget.

I have my own hypothesis about why Secular-Leftists exhibit such a gap between their vainglorious image of themselves and the cold reality of how they selfishly allocate their personal resources. I’ll let that lay for now.

I will say that Religious-Conservatives need to get right back in the face of Leftists every damn time the Left accuses them of selfishness. Science says otherwise. Religious-Conservatives need to point out that, as a group, they put their money where their mouths are when it comes to compassion while Secular-Leftists, as a group, don’t.

We need to challenge Leftists self-delusion and fraudulent self-marketing at every opportunity. They are using this baseless mythology to enrich themselves, gain power and avoid personal responsibility while the negative consequences rip through society at every level.

As in many areas, it’s time to make these jerks put up or shut up.

Read the book. It’s full ammunition to cut these arrogant, narcissistic, self-righteous jerks off at the knees.


14 thoughts on “Who Really Cares – The Myth of the Compassionate Secular-Left”

  1. Bill Brandt,

    Yes, I think it rather obvious that “compassion” is just a tool for psychological, social and political dominance. It’s very telling in my thinking that Leftists will never abandon an implace program even though there is near universal agreement that it has failed. The failure of Great Society welfare and the subsequent destruction of the families of the poor being a good example. Leftists fought welfare reform like mad even though welfare communities had turned into hellholes. Clearly, they cared more their own self-regard, status and power than they did the notional targets of their compassion.

    It’s frightening how they will destroy individuals and communities while smugly secure in their own self-righteousness.

  2. Among the ironies is that, according to Haidt, the left over-values, pretty much to the detriment of any other value, their definition of “fair” & “care.” Of course, this isn’t true in the real way you (and Brooks and about every other study like that) demonstrate. (How many on the left took pay to sit in the Wisconsin capitol & how few Tea Partiers were?) And of course it is equally untrue of the theories – socialism may pull down the upper classes via confiscation and regulation, but it never empowers the poor nor even makes them less poor.

    And that’s not even discussing the moral impairment that comes to all when a society’s policies and theories are based on coverting other’s goods or lives.

    Compassion requires knowledge. Some choices may appear wrong to you (e.g., feminists often see stay-at-home moms as making the wrong choice.) A compassionate person is an imaginative one, who sees many productive ways to lead our lives, the most productive usually the one we choose. It has not been my sense the left has sufficient imagination or breadth of vision – at least some of them.

  3. I think you have overlooked a psychological point: liberals consider their taxes to be, at least in part, charitable contributions.

    More liberals live in high tax states. It seems to me that this factor has to be taken into consideration. What you consider “secular liberals” are really religious liberals – they just worship the state.

    Factoring out religious conservatives’ church contributions is not quite good enough, because of the income disparities.

    To me, the critical difference lies in the blood donations. What I think it comes down to is The Linus Factor. Linus, from “Peanuts,” once remarked that he loves humanity, but that he couldn’t stand people. I suggest that liberals love humanity, while conservatives love people.

  4. Punditius,

    I think you have overlooked a psychological point: liberals consider their taxes to be, at least in part, charitable contributions.

    Yeah, they probably rationalize it that way, however, it would only be the disparity between the liberals total tax burden dedicated to services that parallel charity e.g. welfare and just the differences in taxation. I doubt it’s any near to closing the gap correcting for income.

    Brooks makes a point repeatedly that government spending isn’t by definition “charity” and he is correct. When it comes to measuring how people really feel, spending their own time and money is the only true definition.

    In fact, Leftists themselves savaged the use of the word in relation to welfare programs in the 60s. That is why we now call them “entitlements” based on the Leftist’ premise that the recipients were merely collected what was justly owed them, what they were “entitled to”. By that standard, paying employees or settling a lawsuit would constitute “charity”. They chose that word because it already had a legal meaning and broader cultural associations that different from either charity or welfare. Leftist often express outright anger that social welfare payments constitute “charity” because of the implication that recipients were obligated to feel grateful to their benefactors instead of smugly entitled to what was inherently their due.

    Factoring out religious conservatives’ church contributions is not quite good enough, because of the income disparities.

    Not sure if I understand. The income disparities favor Leftists. Discounting church donations even those that go towards charity makes the Left look better, just not enough.

    To me, the critical difference lies in the blood donations.

    Yes, I think so as well which is why I emphasized them.

    What I think it comes down to is The Linus Factor. Linus, from “Peanuts,” once remarked that he loves humanity, but that he couldn’t stand people. I suggest that liberals love humanity, while conservatives love people.

    I think that Leftism is about dominating and controlling people using compassion as a pretext. Doing so lets them take money away from those they hate while making other dependent on them for income and benefits. It’s a sweat deal especially when you add in all the psychological perks of arrogant self-righteousness.

  5. Conservatives also make the liberal definition of charitable contributions–they also pay taxes but they give more besides. The liberals are just hypocrits–“do as I say, not as I do.”

  6. Comparing charitable giving with Obama, especially prior to his election to the senate when he suddenly edged it up from close to zero to merely miserly.


  7. “Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm; but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”

    ― T.S. Eliot

  8. Morgan – interesting quote and my first thought is that most geniuses are aware of how much they don’t know – so many of the Left are smug and quite ready to tell you why you are wrong –

  9. Somewhat missing from this fantastic discussion is qualitative choices donors of charities make. I proudly donate to a faith-based organization in the San Fernando Valley. This organization recently purchased a house and allows 5 to 6 drug addicted men to live there, were in addition to food and shelter, they receive counseling while they battle their personal demons. The counseling is also provided by the charity.

    I am in the “Religious Conservative” category and I consider that house a charity.

    I know many “Secular Liberals” who give more money to charity than I do, both in terms of percent or in terms of whole dollars. However, their charities often include The Getty Museum and PBS/NPR as well as other already well-heeled organizations. I have difficulty considering donating to the Getty, with its multi-billion dollar endowment, a charitable act.

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