The concept of ‘charity,’ or giving support to those less fortunate through donations of time, food or money, began from the teachings of most of the word’s established religions. The following are some passages from religious texts or beliefs from major world religions and their beliefs on this concept of charity.

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.  Martin Luther King Jr.

The Christian Bible has several passages related to helping those less fortunate. One of the more well-known ones is Luke 21:1-4, “Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving. Mother Teresa

Buddhists distinguish between genuine and impure motivations towards giving. Impure motivations include being shamed or intimidated into giving, giving to receive a favor, or giving simply in order to feel good about yourself. The Buddha was clear in his teachings that when one gives, they do so without any sort of expectation of reward.

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. The Dalai Lama

In Islam, every wealthy adult Muslim is to give at least 2.5% of his or her wealth in charity every year. Allah says, “O you who believe! Spend out of what We have given you” (2:254). Such charity should be given without conditions and only that which has been earned honestly is to be given.

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth. Muhammad Ali

In Hinduism, at least one-tenth of income is supposed to be donated to those less fortunate or to donate to one’s place of worship. As with other religions, such charity is supposed to be done selflessly, without expectation of acknowledgement or reward.

The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer. Gandhi

In Sikhism, sewa, or service to the community, is essential to the life of a Sikh. Sikhs are expected to give up some of their time and energy to help others, and to share some of the rewards they have enjoyed in life, rather than being focused solely on accumulating wealth.

Blessed is the godly person and the riches they possess because they can be used for charitable purposes and to give happiness. Guru Amar Das

So does this mean you have to be religious in order to give back? Of course not. Organizations like Atheists Giving Aid encourage those who do not believe in any form of organized religion to donate to them (as opposed to organizations that are affiliated to a particular religion) or to join them in the charitable efforts that they participate in.

Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile. Albert Einstein

In the West, charities were first started up by religious organization. Then a shift occurred, with more charities and non-profits being created that had no affiliation with a religious organization. Another shift occurred when the primary source of funding shifted from individuals and groups, to governments. Now governments are tightening their belts, meaning there are fewer and fewer funding opportunities available. While all charities and non-profits have been hit hard by government belt-tightening, the services for ethno-cultural communities are among the hardest hit – given the cutbacks come at a time when ethno-cultural communities in the Lower Mainland are growing at an exponential rate. What government’s withdrawal means is that charities are turning back to people and businesses for support – but that does not necessarily mean all of them are deserving of your support.

It is a sad reality that some charities have very high operating costs (costs of rent for a building, equipment, staff, etc.) meaning only a portion of what is donated actually goes to the actual cause. That’s why it’s important to do your homework–ask questions and expect answers. Find out how much a charity is taking towards ‘administrative costs’ (the costs of just operating the organization) – if it’s too high, then think long and hard about whether that’s the place you want to donate your money or time.

Being charitable is an important part of life – whether you are religious or not. Only through helping each other will we be able to strengthen the ties that bind us together as a healthy, happy society.