The Common Good

Steve Jobs and giving anonymously

In other instances, religious doctrine plays a strong role in maintaining anonymity. Jewish teaching and tradition holds that anonymous gifts — in which the donor and the recipient are unknown to each other – are at a higher level than gifts that are identified.

In Christian practice, that belief is stated by Jesus in Matthew 6:3: “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” It comes immediately before Jesus first recites the Lord’s Prayer, considered by many the holiest of Christian prayers.

“The way Jesus talks about it is very appropriate for any wealthy celebrity or businesspeople who are actors on the world stage: ‘Don’t make a performance out of doing something for someone else,’ ” says Cathleen Falsani, the web editor and director of new media for Sojourners.net. “If you do it for reasons that are altruistic, then you shouldn’t do it to glorify yourself.”

Falsani covered the charitable efforts of Justin Bieber in her new book “Belieber!: Faith, Fame and The Heart of Justin Bieber” (Worthy). Exploring the nexus of fame and charity in that book, she thinks that for some, the marching orders for anonymity are simple: “Because Jesus said so… You can argue about the meaning of various things Jesus said, but certain things are not debatable. It’s very clear what he’s saying in Matthew 6. There’s no wiggle room.”