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The God Squad: Finding charities to aid Nepal

Q: What reliable charities can we contribute to that will efficiently help the less fortunate people in the earthquake-ravaged area of Nepal?

– Counting My Blessings

A: The horrible earthquakes in Nepal killed more than 8,500 people, with many thousands more injured, homeless, starving and cold. The situation reminds me of wise words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

“What seems to us more important, more painful and more unendurable is really not what is more important, more painful and more unendurable, but merely that which is closer to home. Everything distant, which for all its moans and muffled cries, its ruined lives and millions of victims, that does not threaten to come rolling up to our threshold today, we consider endurable and of tolerable dimensions.”

Nepal has rolled up to our threshold, but soon enough, it will become a distant place again. We must allow our compassion to narrow that distance now.

However, giving to a charity to help victims of the earthquake reminds us once again of how hard it is to give away money well.

In general, any charity that uses more than 30 to 35 percent of its funds for overhead is not efficient enough to warrant your support. So how do you know if a charity asking you for money is legit? I consult Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org) and Give.org (give.org). Give.org is the work of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, which uses 20 criteria to evaluate a charity.

Giving is necessary now to keep our hearts from hardening, but our faith is also challenged. In the past, I’ve described the way Judaism, Christianity and Islam deal with the problem of reconciling the suffering of the innocent and the goodness of God, a problem called theodicy.

Considering that the earthquake occurred in Nepal, a country made up of mostly Hindus (85 percent) and Buddhists (10 percent), I think that this would be a good time to consider how Hinduism and Buddhism cope with suffering.

For the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the suffering of the guilty is justice, but the suffering of the innocent is a fundamental, perhaps the fundamental challenge to God’s benevolence and omnipotence.

In the East, Hinduism and Buddhism don’t have this problem of reconciling a good God with natural evil because, in different ways, they both believe the world was not created by a single good, loving and powerful God.

In Hinduism, there are many gods, and in Buddhism, there are no gods, so suffering is not a problem for God, but a problem for us. In the West, the world is the scene of salvation. In the East, the world is the obstacle to salvation. Our attachment to the world makes us suffer, and it’s only by achieving nirvana through enlightenment (Buddhism), or through release (moksha) from the cycle of death and rebirth in reincarnation (Hinduism) that we can escape the suffering that’s the lot of all unenlightened beings.

The Eastern view doesn’t make the suffering of those survivors of the earthquake evaporate, but it does put that suffering into a larger spiritual context. The idea in the West that God has to do right by each and every one of us can produce anger and religious confusion. In the East, we will have other lives after this one (Hinduism), or we will understand that everything in the world has no essence (shunya) and is therefore on the deepest metaphysical level, unreal.

My personal top charitable choices are the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Catholic Charities, but there are many other fine organizations doing holy work on both lists. Take a moment to visit their websites for information about how to donate funds. Also, make sure to designate your donation so that 100 percent of your gift will go to Nepal earthquake relief.