Friday, October 4, 2013

PBP: Tithing and speaking up

A little while ago, Terence P Ward, who blogs with me at PaganSquare but also has his own blog--True Pagan Warrior--brought up tithing in a Pagan context. A tith, in general, is regarded as a tenth part of one's annual income contributed voluntarily or due as a tax, especially for the support of the clergy or church. It's generally regarded as a Jewish of Christian thing, but as Terance said, there are many reasons for Pagans to adopt tithing in their practice:

"1.Giving is a good thing. A lot of gods say so, maybe some of yours.
2.10% is an easy calculation, just move the decimal place over one spot to the left.
3.The process can be automated by your bank or payroll office in a lot of cases, making it painless."

He also gives a few examples, including donating to charities that support the environmental, social, or other goals which drew you into your Pagan path, using it to support political actions or campaigns that are in keeping with that path, or send money to a church you belong to, or contribute to a Pagan temple fighting a battle for full recognition.

I live in The Netherlands, for those who had forgotten, and as far as I can tell, there is exactly one initiative--translated as 'The Goddess Temple'--that I could tith to in a religious context, and their ways are so far removed from my own that I cannot possibly support them financially. There are no local initiatives, and the few volunteer projects that could potentially use money for support are--again--so far removed from my path that I will not tith to them. This is going beyond the fact that I will have a negative income until my current job negotiations go through. For me, this post is largely academic at this point.

Tithing generally involves money, but for the purpose of discussing Pagan--or better, Hellenistic--tithing, I suggest we loosen the definition some. You see, I think tithing is important. Tithing means sacrificing something important, something real, in the name of your Gods. In ancient Hellas, temple construction and subsequent use were generally financed from two sources, with a third source being a minor factor; public sponsors and private sponsors, as well as donations.

Public sponsors were governmental, including the bodies and institutions that administrated important sanctuaries. Weathy citizens and archons provided another large portion of the required money through taxes or special levies, or by the sale of raw materials like silver. Especially for sanctuaries that were visited by inhabitants from the whole of Hellas--like Delphi or Olympia--donations were a source of income. 'Wealthy', in this case, was a relative term and many citizens ended up contributing in some way. One of the most well known taxes which paid for religious services was the leitourgia.

Leitourgia comes from the ancient Helenic word 'leitos' (from leos, people) meaning public, and, 'ergo', 'to do'. As such, a leitourgos was 'a man who performs a public duty'; a public servant. Leitourgia were semi-voluntary financial contributions made by the most wealthy of citizens and métoikos in order to finance the state's public expenses in areas of war, theater, and religious worship. The practice was not just prevalent in ancient Athens, it stretched all the way to Rhodos and beyond. The system dates back to the early days of Athenian democracy, but gradually fell into disuse by the end of the 4th century BC.

Men became leitourgoi because of the prestige it brought to them and their family. It was a matter of honor to take part in the practice. The leitourgoi to the festival or war effort were loudly declared, and often plaques with their name on it were put up to show everyone who had financed the affair. Still, many were exempt from serving, and others tried to get out of it at all cost.

I think we should consider adding the giving of goods and time to the Pagan version of tithing. To give food and toys to the needy on a sacred day of the Gods--and to state this to the Gods and those recieving--for example, is as much a way of supporting the community as supporting it through a tith to its local religious center. In fact, even if there was a temple to Athena in my city's center, I think the community at large would be helped more if I donated to my local food bank or homeless shelter than to my temple--not too many people in my community would be part of my temple, but many of them would still need help providing food to their families. How about spending a little time volunteering at your local senior citizen home? Or cleaning up the local forest--especially if you frequent it for worship? How about helping out a freind in need? There are many ways to give back to the Gods and your community that do not nessesarily require a steady income from which you can skim ten percent.

Looking at the ancient Hellenic practice, it is interesting to me that tithing and modern volunteering is concidered something you do silently, humbly. A Christian influence, no doubt. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it removes the extrinsic motivation from the equation, making it a lot less likely anyone will participate. Lets face it, if no one pats you on the back for something you can hardly afford doing, how long are you going to keep it up? Especially without the peer pressure of a religious community that you see every Sunday in church? Without recognition, without honor, only very few people will gladly give something they could use themselves--be it money or the little free time they might have. Intrinsic motivation is a powerful thing, but it takes a lot more effort than extrinsic motivation.

I would like to break the taboo on recognising someone for their efforts. If you manage to give ten percent of your money or time to charity, a good cause, or--even better--your religious community, you deserve one hell of a pat on the back as far as I am concerned. You get bragging rights, and deserve a damn plaque. We do that at our local soccor club, so why not everywhere else? Why not recognise contributions in any way we can? I bet more people would be called to give if they got bragging rights afterwards. The ancient Hellenes had that figured out already, and that's 2000+ years ago.

Giving back is important, and personally, I hardly give anything back to my local community. When I have a steady income, I will donate to the local food back on a regular basis, hopefully every Noumenia. That would, at least, be something. I also visit my girlfriend's grandmother regularly, and spend time with her, mostly by taking her out walking. I also give (back) to my religious community. I blog, work on a volunteer basis with Elaion, and help my fellow worshippers with their questions. I would like to do more, but with the limited religious options presented to me locally, and a limited amount of time and money, this is the best I can do. It is something I hope to change in the future, but this is what I do, for now. This is my honor, my brag. What is yours?

2 comments:

Alice Liddell said...

This was good timing, reading this entry when I did. My fiancee and I just decided to do a monthly donation to charity at the Deipnon. We find it a good reminder to give back to a local charity, even just ten or twenty bucks, whether it is historically accurate or not.

It would be wonderful if a monthly online giving circle could be arranged for Greek recons (of all varieties). If there was a blog or facebook page that could hold voting throughout the month for which charity or interest group to contribute to, then at the Deipnon, all the participants could donate a certain amount to the winning charity at once, maximizing the impact. Organized, intentional giving would really bring the community together.

Elani Temperance said...

Khaire Alice,

I thought you would like to know that I just pitched this idea to the Elaion Facebook members to hear their thoughts. I'm sorry for the late reply; your idea has been in my head since you posted it and I have been trying to work out the logistics in my mind. I thinks it's a really wonderful idea and if enough people come aboard, I would like to take this on.

I hope you will come join the discussion on Facebook; I am sure yoh have some thoughts of your own. This is the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/493505187394238/

Thank you for your wonderful idea!

Gods bless,
Elani