Rich Karlgaard:
And now for a topic that chills any conversation: tithing. Yeow! Take a dull subject–only life insurance is as boring–and combine it with cloying guilt. That’s tithing.

In the red states the face of tithing is often a pompadour on Channel 46 beseeching you to wire $1,000 to his 800 number. The money, he croons, will return to you tenfold, in divine time, perhaps as a shiny new Harley-Davidson. In the blue states the face of tithing is aNatural Resources Defense Council Hollywood-style shakedown.

On top of that, tithing is … but wait a minute. Along comes a friend–educated and rational–who is glad to tell you of his experience with tithing. He grew up in a strict church, where failure to cough up 10% of the paper-route money was a ticket to perdition. So of course he turned against tithing and the church. As time passed he moved away, earned degrees in engineering and law from elite colleges, got married, started a family and even returned to church. Yet though earning a princely salary, he and his wife were astonished to learn they couldn’t save a dime of it.

Now in early middle age, my friend hears yet another sermon about tithing. But this one is different. It makes no references to perdition or Harleys. Just a modest promise: Tithing will liberate the tither from financial worry. That’s it. You might be 10% poorer, but you’ll stop worrying about it. That was the idea, nothing else. The minister earned extra credibility with the congregants that morning by telling them not to give all their money to the church, to spread it around.

That day my friend and his wife pledged to tithe. They started to give away 10% of their income, every paycheck. Almost immediately a mysterious transformation took place. They found they were able to save 10% of their income. At last. They retired their house mortgage ahead of schedule, too.

My friend calls it the 10-10-80 rule. Tithe, save and spend joyously, in that order. As a partner in a professional services firm, he has some control over his income. It has gone up since he began to tithe, though his industry is flat. My friend takes pains to avoid calling this God’s bountiful Harley. He will say, however, that absent financial worry he feels more creative and energetic about his work. Clients evidently like his attitude.

More here.