By MARC McDONALD
``Jesus looked up and saw some rich people tossing their gifts into the offering box. He also saw a poor widow putting in two pennies. And he said, `I tell you that this poor woman has put in more than all the others. Everyone else gave what they didn't need. But she is very poor and gave everything she had.'''
---The Bible, Luke 21, verses 1-4, Contemporary English Version
The answer to the question posed by this story's headline is: of course Gates' philanthropy is a PR stunt. If it wasn't, he'd just give the money away anonymously, instead of jetting around the world with his media entourage.
Unlike the fawning mainstream media, I'm not impressed by Gates' decision to give billions to charity.
For years now, Gates has been on a mission to try to polish his image. It's been a huge success, with glowing accounts of his generosity appearing in media outlets worldwide, including a Time magazine "Person of the Year" cover story last year. That's the kind of positive PR that you simply can't buy---of course, unless you're Gates.
This kind of "feel-good" warm and fuzzy adulation certainly can't hurt the image of Microsoft, which many of us with memories longer than the past five years recall as an extraordinarily greedy, ruthless and cut-throat corporation (which is really saying something in Bush's America). And all this positive PR certainly can't hurt during a time when Microsoft's business practices are facing scrutiny by EU antitrust regulators.
But it's important to remember Gates isn't going to sell all his assets and give the money to the poor (which incidentally, is the course of action that Jesus said is the only way a rich person can enter heaven----see Mark 10:21). Gates, who is worth around $50 billion, is giving away billions to charity---but he will still have enormous amounts of money in the bank until the day he dies. More money, in fact, than he could possibly ever spend, even if he made lavish spending a full-time occupation.
I'm sorry, but I really don't see how Gates is "sacrificing" anything. He still gets to lead a life of unbelievable lavish comfort. He still gets to have everything in the world he ever wanted. He still gets to be able to buy, on a whim, anything on earth that he chooses. The money he gives away is the equivalent of you or I dropping a quarter in the charity jar at the local convenience store.
But with this philanthropy/PR stunt, he gets to do all of the above AND have the world's media bowing at his feet, proclaiming him to be a person of good works on a par with Mother Teresa. Basically, Gates gets the gratitude of the whole world for giving away money that he couldn't possibly have ever gotten around to spending in the first place.
It may impress a lot of people, but it wouldn't have impressed Jesus. As the verse quoted at the top of this article shows, Jesus wasn't impressed by the total amount people gave to charity as much as the sacrifice they had to go through to give to charity.
I have a friend who gives to charity all of the time. He probably gives away $5,000 a year. It doesn't sound like much until you consider that he only earns $15,000 a year, doing back-breaking manual labor. To me, that's a real sacrifice, not what Gates is doing: giving away money that he'd never get around to spending anyway.
What's more, across America, and worldwide, there are tens of millions of people who routinely give to charity, both in money and time. Unlike Gates, they have to make a real sacrifice to give to charity. They have to carefully sort through their finances to find enough to donate, in order to have enough money left over to pay for the electric bill and groceries. And, unlike Gates, many of these people choose to donate anonymously. None of their donations and sacrifices will ever be honored by a Time magazine cover story. None of them will bask in the glow of having the entire world bow down to them and tell them how wonderful and generous they are.
On this issue, I agree wholeheartedly with Jesus: the widow who gave her last two pennies is far more worthy of praise than the likes of Gates.
If Gates really wants to impress me, what he needs to do is release his tax returns for the past 20 years. No, I'm not implying that he's cheating on his taxes. But I do think it'd make fascinating reading for working-class Americans to see all the various generous tax loopholes that only rich people get to enjoy in this country.