(This post does not address the issue of the tax-deductability of charitable donations.)
The idea of the Vatican selling its artwork to feed the hungry of the world was brought up recently. A few days ago, Will Smith has said he will participate in an art auction to raise money for the hungry in Haiti. And now, following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, I imagine there will be similar ventures to aid Haitians in this most dire time of need.
Why does charity, to the secular world, always seem to involve getting something tangible back? Let's take the example of the Vatican auctioning off its artwork and giving the money to feed the hungry. It wouldn't be giving its money to feed the hungry, it would giving the money of the auction-winners to feed the hungry; the end result would be: 1) the hungry fed (for a while), 2) the auction-winners in possession of beautiful artwork, and 3) the Vatican no longer in possession of beautiful artwork. Why couldn't the auction-winners just circumvent the whole process and donate the money themselves without receiving the benefit of artwork?