Vital Signs

Interpreting Compassion

Because the New York Times is a continual source of annoyance and amazement to me, I was predictably stunned and incensed to read last May that this most self-important of publications was presenting as news the following information: "[T]here is no evidence of an anti-poor mentality, at least as measured by reported [financial] giving, among political and theological conservatives." To whom, I wondered, is this news? How ignorant of, and isolated from, politically and theologically conservative Americans must one be to find it "surprising" that they are not "anti-poor, a la Ebenezer Scrooge, in their personal outlook"?

To be fair to the New York Times, the paper was only passing on the latest findings from the world of sociology. (To be fair to the sociologists, however, they made no mention of Ebenezer Scrooge. That reference—so deft, so subtle—was the Times' own.)

The Times article in question was a summation of a study that appeared in the September 1998 issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Curious to know whether the original survey contained anything that could have encouraged the New York Times in its glib exercise in stereotyping, I obtained a back issue of the publication and read the article. Titled "Who Gives to the Poor? The Influence of Religious Tradition and Political Location on...

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