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God Squad: A family gift isn't tithing

I'm a Catholic of modest means and try to comply with the Bible's 10 percent tithing of income by allocating the money to several charities besides my local parish. Since it's not clear to me if and under what circumstances family members can be considered "charitable causes," I've never considered them as such. My reasoning is to give my modest gifts to those who have nothing vs. those who have something.

The problem is, I'd love to help my adult married children when unforeseen problems arise. Both are parents, and their spouses work as well. Both families are in debt and pay mortgages on homes too small for their children. As a working new Social Security recipient, I'll have $1,500 annually to allocate to charity. Would setting aside part of this money as an emergency fund for my children or for the education for my grandchildren qualify as tithing? -- A., via email

Your question fills me with admiration for your generosity and compassion.

My understanding of Catholic law is that care for your family is not included in tithing. We're obligated by God to give a tenth of our income to charity, regardless of how meager that income might be. We're also obligated to care for our children, though that obligation is reduced when the children are grown and have families of their own.

My suggestion is to continue tithing yourself by supporting worthy charities. If your children have emergency financial needs, consider supporting them in their time of need and deducting that money temporarily from your tithing budget. Explain to your children what you've done and that you expect them to help repay your debt when they're back on their feet.

NOTE: There was a huge response to my recent column on near-death experiences (NDEs). Here's an example:

I have a bone to pick over your treatment of "George" vis a vis his NDE. I sensed a man looking for a little encouragement in his faith -- don't we all need some? -- and I thought you were pretty cavalier with him.

Granted, the entire subject has been co-opted by pop culture. Starting with, I think, "Poltergeist," we've been conditioned to "go to the light" if we ever wake up dead! I work in hospitals, and I remember listening to a well-meaning ICU nurse whispering this over and over again to a dying, comatose patient. I was half moved and honestly, half appalled.

However, I'm drawing a blank on your resolute separation of science and faith. Science is nothing more than natural law, an expression of divine calculation. At some point, surely belief and the mechanics of the spheres must come together. While I understand your stance that faith must be paramount, surely you won't begrudge a man a little experiential self-reassurance.

Yes, we've all heard the doubters' physiological rationale of the anoxic brain somehow producing identical visions in the hundreds of people lucky enough to have been yanked back from the brink. Personally, I find it easier to believe in 1,000 angels dancing on the head of a pin. But then, I'm comfortable with the ultimate interleaving of faith and analysis.

Far be it from me to cry "Repent, Rabbi!" But perhaps a gentle nod to George that "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio . . . " would not be amiss. Assuming, of course, that calling him Horatio doesn't terminally confuse things.

-- Always a fan, G., via email

I'm as supportive of ESRs (experiential self-reassurance) for NDEs as the next guy/theologian/rabbi/golfer. However, I am troubled by using pseudo science as a crutch for real religion.

It's not that science cannot confirm faith; it can. Einstein was supposedly asked by Gandhi, "What do you do?" Einstein answered with equally terse brilliance, "I trace the lines that flow from God."

Indeed, faith can confirm science through nature. Consider the magisterial wisdom of Psalm 104:24: "O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches." However, I believe (and so did Einstein) that science is not and cannot be the essential confirmation of our faith. Faith is confirmed by God, Holy Scripture, the moral code, love and hope. Science plays a part, but only a supporting role.

The essential problem with NDEs are that they're not true science; they have other explanations, and they further and deepen the spiritually corrosive idea that unless science proves something, it is not proven.

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