The Olasky Interview: Karl Zinsmeister


MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Thursday, September 5th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. 

Good morning. I’m Megan Basham.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: The Olasky Interview.

We’ve heard from a lot of you how much you’ve enjoyed Season 1 of The Olasky Interview podcast. We’re already working on Season 2 and those will be available soon. 

But in the meantime, WORLD editor-in-chief Marvin Olasky is still interviewing some of today’s influential thinkers and Christian leaders.

BASHAM: A few months ago, he spoke Karl Zinsmeister, a journalist and author. Zinsmeister is a vice president for the Philanthropy Roundtable. In the 90s, he was editor in chief of The American Enterprise. Then he went on to become George W. Bush’s chief domestic policy adviser.

In today’s Olasky Interview, Marvin asks Zinsmeister about the connection between philanthropy and faith…

MARVIN OLASKY: We want to talk tonight about philanthropy. What I think is fascinating is that so many Americans, according to surveys, believed that the charitable work and service that happens across America, including providing food and clothing and disaster relief, well, it just happens. And it would happen even if there weren’t, religious people, religious organizations doing this. But one of the things you’ve found out as well, that’s hardly the truth. Could you tell us about that?

KARL ZINSMEISTER: In theory there are lots of ways to be a good person. We all know that. And you can  be interested in the welfare of your fellow human being for a whole variety of reasons. But in practice, when it comes to actually sacrificing your own self interest and changing your life and giving up some of your income some of your time to make sure that other people have interesting lives too, that’s much rarer. And there are very few institutions that actually encourage help and indeed insist on that.

One of the most important of which is religion. Religion doesn’t have suggestions—it has commandments and it says you shall take an interest in the welfare of your fellow man. Religion is a terribly important influence in society to get us out of our shells and to, and to encourage us to show some concern for the thriving of our fellow, of our fellow men and women. And so the reality is, who actually is it that adopts children, for instance? Well, Christians adopt hard to place children at the rate of 5 percent whereas the rest of the country adopts them at the rate of 2 percent—two-and-a-half times the rate.

If you look at who actually mentors people coming out of prison today. The biggest bulk of individuals you find really putting their money where their mouth is and doing the hard work of helping those folks not return to a life of crime are very often religious folks. You know, who is it that actually runs the homeless shelters? There’s research that I cite here that she found that 6 out of 10 of the beds for homeless people that are provided in major urban areas now come from religiously inspired groups. 

So you can go the whole panoply, you know, education, alternative education, hospitals, all kinds of areas. A lot of the selfless work that gets done in our society today—in fact, a predominance of it—is done by religious people, religious organizations with religious motivation. And if that motivation goes away, we have a much colder, much more selfish, much more heartless society. 

OLASKY: Yeah, so these nice pie charts here show that Americans who attend church weekly and pray daily are 67 percent more likely to do that than other Americans giving to the poor in the past seven days by donating money, time, or goods.

Annual charitable donations, persons with some real religious affiliation more than twice as much as those with no affiliation. And yet if you ask people, well would all these good works still happen if there were no people of faith, we really just organization to do them, fifty-seven percent of the people say yes, it would happen anyway. So there’s a communication gap going on here.

ZINSMEISTER: It sure is. And I think a lot of it comes from a rising hostility to religion. There is a feeling that not only is religion not necessary for you to be a good person, but there is active antipathy for religion increasingly in our society. [But] Marvin and I, and I’m sure most of us in this room, would be very resistant to the idea that religion is handy because it produces good social results.

We don’t find our faith because we want to have more good results coming out of the other end of the pipe. You either have faith or you don’t, you feel it or you don’t. You recognize your place in a vast universe or you don’t, but for people for whom this is a foreign concept, for people who don’t have a personal faith, I would hope they would at least see that religious people act very differently in the world, that they, they simply have different priorities and principles that they put into effect. And that in most cases, those are very pro-social as opposed to anti-social behaviors, but that, that factual reality is increasingly lost in public debates.

OLASKY: Yeah.

ZINSMEISTER:  The fact that in academe there’s so much sneering at religion, so little willingness to take religion seriously on your average college campus. Because much of the social science infrastructure, most of the much of the journalism mainstream, conventional world are dismissive of religion, they are not seeing an understanding the tremendous power that faith has to change people’s lives.

You know, and I know that if you’re talking about the really hard questions like addiction or like helping a prisoner avoid returning to the life path he was on, in literally a majority of cases you are talking about faith, there is no effective secular solution to those kinds of things. It has never been demonstrated that you can do it with money or with laws or with rules. You can do it with interchange. 

Interchange has tremendous power. So the large world out there that doesn’t understand the language of interchange that has never studied it, it doesn’t take it seriously, that can’t imagine its power is blind. You don’t have competitors in that area. You have a wide open field – those of you who have a sense of what faith is capable of motivating and challenging and encouraging people to do.

So that I think is a very exciting thing for the shrinking number of people who do understand faith and who do practice faith and are in touch with its powers. And, and I would really encourage those folks to take, take advantage of that kind of the backhanded compliment, the double edged sword there. There’s this, the fact that so much of the culture is going to be hostile to you when you go out there as a person of faith can work to your advantage if you turn it around.


(Photo/WORLD News Group)

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