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Good news: giving is up

"It is an old saying that charity begins at home," writes Richard Cumberland, "but this is not reason it should not go abroad."

And according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Americans are — once again — "going abroad" with their goodwill and donating impressive sums to the nation's biggest charities. Amid the strife of politics, agony of war and uncertainty of the economy, Americans are digging down and offering billions to the less fortunate. And that, more than anything else, may show the true state of the union. It shows the nation to be on solid ground.

Contributions dipped in 2002 because earning power was down. In 2003, however, donations jumped 2.7 percent to $47 billion. The Salvation Army benefitted most last year with $1.3 billion. The American Cancer Society also did well. Now, with Christmas on the horizon, non-profits will again be making a major push for help.

We encourage readers to contribute what they can. Just as crime is a two-edged sword — harming the victim and diminishing the criminal — giving is a two-way blessing that enriches both the giver and receiver.

And with all the talk today about stitching up rifts and doing away with divisiveness, charitable donations are a good way for a person to put his money where his opinions are. The funds are shared without discrimination. And just the act of offering help, in fact, is a practice that cuts across all religions and philosophical borders.

The Christian position about sharing is well-documented. The Jewish Talmud also stresses, "Loving kindness is greater than laws; and the charities of life are more than the ceremonies."

And despite tensions between Muslins and others, Islam's holy book, the Quran, is poetic and precise about charity: "Prayer carries us half-way to God. Fasting brings us to the door of his palace. And alms-giving procures us admission."

Indeed, it may be some time before nonprofit charities re-experience the boom of the 1990s, back when percentage increases each year were measured in double-digits. But just the news that there is a surge in sharing — despite the conflicts — shows that people have kept their hearts alert.

That truth alone, in fact, should be enough to soften even the hard-nosed and hard-hearted and make them feel a little more generous toward their fellowmen.