Meet a Foundation Beyond Belief Member

Editor's Note: Last month, I wrote an essay encouraging atheists to join the Foundation Beyond Belief, a new charitable group doing good for human beings and the world in the name of freethought. I also offered to write a front-page post interviewing anyone who agreed to join the Foundation as a result of hearing about it on my site. This is the next in that series of interviews, which will be posted each weekend. Please welcome Ergo Ratio!

Tell us a little about yourself. Who are you, where do you live, what do you do?

This is actually my most private moniker, so I'll just say I'm a former neuroscientist who is currently in marketing, which is both fitting and ironic, given I am completely numb to advertising. You see that big red "CLICK HERE" button on that website over there? I don't.

If you're an atheist, when did you first become an atheist, and how long have you been one? If you're not an atheist, how would you define your beliefs?

My grandfather was a minister and I was raised in a Christian family, so faith was just assumed and never brought up. As both my parents are educators who value knowledge, growing up I also just assumed that everyone secretly knew it was all nonsense. Realizing I was an atheist was just a gradual process that came with my education.

Four years ago, I couldn't pretend anymore, and I formally announced it to my family during Christmas, sending them each a copy of Sam Harris's "Letter to a Christian Nation" with a hand-written letter to deliver the punchline. Since then, I have urged atheists to open up to their families, the people who are most likely to grant us an audience.

Do you have a blog of your own, or another site you'd like us to know about?

Talkislam.info (not IE-friendly) is a community blog hosted by one of my best friends, Aziz Poonawalla, for sharing and discussing Islam-related world news. If it's happening, they're talking about it.

Have you given to other charities before joining the Foundation Beyond Belief? If so, which ones are your favorites?

FFRF.org has been my staple for a while. I have also donated to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and various children's hospitals.

What membership level did you join the Foundation at?

I started at $50 a month as well.

How do you plan to divide your initial donation?

Right now I'm allocating it all to education.

Is there anything else you'd like to say to atheists who are considering supporting the Foundation or other charitable groups?

One percent of your income can do more good than any ten percent tithe.

April 11, 2010, 2:05 pm • Posted in: The GardenPermalink0 comments
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Fear and Trembling in Mississippi

You've probably heard of Constance McMillen, a lesbian student at a Mississippi high school who wanted to bring her girlfriend as her date to her senior prom this year. The school officials, not even attempting to disguise their bigotry, refused to grant permission - and then canceled the entire prom rather than face a discrimination lawsuit which they'd be certain to lose. (In fact McMillen and her family did bring a suit, and the judge did rule that she had been discriminated against, but he held that it wasn't in his power to force the school to hold a prom.)

In a brilliant move, the American Humanist Association responded by offering to hold a private, LGBT-friendly prom for Constance's school in which everyone would be welcome, regardless of sexual orientation. This was made possible by a $20,000 grant from Todd Stiefel, an atheist philanthropist who serves on the advisory board of the Secular Coalition for America.

As I said, this was a brilliant move. Not only does it reaffirm that atheists and secular humanists support the civil rights of LGBT people, it shows the students at Constance's high school that, after their bigoted school board was prepared to deny them a prom, it was a group of nonbelievers who made it possible after all. It was clearly an excellent idea, winners all around - and everyone agreed, it seems, except the Mississippi ACLU.

To avoid further controversy, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi has rejected a $20,000 gift intended to underwrite an alternate prom replacing one canceled by a local school district after a lesbian student demanded that she be allowed to attend with her girlfriend.

..."Although we support and understand organizations like yours, the majority of Mississippians tremble in terror at the word 'atheist,'" Jennifer Carr, the fund-raiser for the A.C.L.U of Mississippi, wrote in an e-mail message to Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the humanist group.

...Ms. Carr wrote to Mr. Speckhardt: "Our staff has been talking a lot about your donation offer and have found ourselves in a bit of a conflict. We have fears that your organization sponsoring the prom could stir up even more controversy."

Obligatory snark: The ACLU - not afraid to defend the free speech rights of Nazis, but too scared to take money from a bunch of atheists!

But I'm being unfair, because this isn't where the story ends. First, the ACLU didn't actually have the authority to decline the AHA's gift, because a different group, the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition, is organizing the private prom. Second, it appears that this message didn't represent the sentiments of the ACLU as a whole, because they swiftly apologized and announced that they had no objection to the gift. This is a much better decision, and I command the ACLU and accept their apology with no hard feelings. I assume the AHA will do likewise.

Even so, this response says something about how atheists are still looked down upon. Even the ACLU - a group whose purpose is to defend the civil liberties of every American, a group that's more than willing to defend gays and lesbians even though that minority causes no small amount of trembling among Mississippi voters - even their first response was to turn down money from atheists, lest they be tainted by their association with us.

Of course, in a state as conservative-dominated as Mississippi, this may be less of a surprise than it would be elsewhere. Still, it shows how much progress we have left to make in terms of winning public acceptance. And the best way to achieve this is to make a splash, to bring light into the darkest of places - which means that Mississippi is one of the best places to start!

April 5, 2010, 5:20 pm • Posted in: The RotundaPermalink24 comments
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Meet a Foundation Beyond Belief Member

Editor's Note: Last month, I wrote an essay encouraging atheists to join the Foundation Beyond Belief, a new charitable group doing good for human beings and the world in the name of freethought. I also offered to write a front-page post interviewing anyone who agreed to join the Foundation as a result of hearing about it on my site. This is the next in that series of interviews, which will be posted each weekend. Please welcome Thom Wynn!

Tell us a little about yourself. Who are you, where do you live, what do you do?

My name is Thom and I live in Byron, GA, though I'm happy to say I was not born here. I will forever claim my birth state of California (despite only living there a short time and only making it back out once to visit so far) because of the joy it brings me to not have what is commonly referred to as "southern pride". I feel the ideas one supports and the ethics one employs is a much better indicator of character than uncontrollable factors such as where someone was born or what religion they were born into. I have been married to my wonderful wife, Kristi, for 10 plus years and we have 5 beautiful daughters. We both have jobs and work mainly to pay the bills as this is what life is apparently supposed to be about. So, we do what we have to do to survive and continue to pursue our true passion of making the world a better place for others and for our children in the future.

If you're an atheist, when did you first become an atheist, and how long have you been one? If you're not an atheist, how would you define your beliefs?

Well, let's see. We believe in equal rights for all - woman or man, gay or straight, black or white (and every shade in between). We believe that everyone has the right to pursue their own paths to happiness while striving to make others happy in the present as this life is the only one we get and we should appreciate it and do everything we can to make it a better place. We believe that religion belongs in the privacy of someone's home or in their church and never, ever in government or schools. We believe that we evolved through natural selection like every other living thing. We believe that the only way to gain any knowledge about the world we live in is through science and reason. We believe that the bible is a book of fairytales and find it so very odd that the religious can so easily dismiss every other religion while not noticing how ridiculous their particular flavor of religion is to everyone else. Hello Christians, what about the 4 billion people on planet Earth that disagree with you? So, the answer to the question would be most definitely yes.

Do you have a blog of your own, or another site you'd like us to know about?

No blog as of yet unless you count the ongoing social commentary in my head. You can check it out if you like at theworldaccordingtothom@brainspaceforrent.org.

Have you given to other charities before joining the Foundation Beyond Belief? If so, which ones are your favorites?

We have given to other charities in the past, mainly in the form of donating to and helping with animal rescues. My wife has a habit of picking up lost or abandoned animals. We usually end up nursing them back to health then either finding their owners or finding a rescue that specializes in their particular breed (it also seems she has a habit of finding rare breeds). We would probably keep more if our family didn't already consist of the aforementioned 5 children, along with 3 dogs and a cat, not to mention the limited house and yard space. Also, recently we gave through the American Humanist Association to help in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti and were very pleased with their efforts and feel like they were really able to make a difference.

What membership level did you join the Foundation at? How do you plan to divide your initial donation?

We joined at the $30/month level and are eager to begin helping as many different worthy causes as possible. When I first started reading about the different charities, I was especially pleased with the "Big Bang" section as I've always been a fan of the smaller organizations that really have something to offer. What was really great about this quarter's "Big Bang" charity is that it is Smart Recovery, a science based addiction recovery program. Now, that's truly an effort worth getting behind and supporting. Addiction recovery is hard enough without having the added pressure of joining a cult.

Is there anything else you'd like to say to atheists who are considering supporting the Foundation or other charitable groups?

It feels great to be a part of an organization that's going to make a difference; to be a part of something that will benefit many deserving causes and to be able to do it for all the right reasons. We should all do what we can because we can make a difference and we can do it without proselytizing. Let's show the world what it means to support worthy causes with no ulterior motives.

April 4, 2010, 8:55 am • Posted in: The GardenPermalink2 comments
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How Much Good Do Religious Charities Really Do?

I just finished reading Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's book on what we can do to improve the status of women worldwide. One of the book's major arguments is that, despite their opposition to abortion and contraception, religious groups often do more good than secular liberals give them credit for:

Religious conservatives... have also saved lives in vast numbers by underwriting and operating clinics in some of the neediest parts of Africa and Asia. When you travel in the poorest countries in Africa... the people you almost inevitably encounter are the missionary doctors and church-sponsored aid workers. [p.142]

Kristof and WuDunn write that both religious and secular groups do important work, and that liberals, moderates and conservatives from across the political spectrum should be able to cooperate to accomplish more. I agree! And so does Saad Mohammed Ali, a U.S. resident and former Iraqi refugee who's fluent in English and Arabic. He applied for a caseworker position at World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, for a job that involved helping Iraqi refugees resettle in America. On the face of it, he seemed ideally suited. And World Relief would have thought so too - except, it turns out, for one small, insignificant detail (HT: The Wall of Separation):

...a few days after he applied for the position last December, [Ali] got an unexpected call from the same manager at World Relief: She was sorry, she told him, but the agency couldn't offer him the job because he is not Christian.

Saad Mohammed Ali, you see, is a Muslim. And no matter how well qualified a Muslim might be to help the people World Relief wants to help, World Relief doesn't hire Muslims. It only hires evangelical Christians.

The opponents of atheism often accuse us of believing that no religion has ever done any good for anyone - a position that's obviously absurd and is held by no atheist that I know of. (Even Christopher Hitchens, atheist firebrand extraordinaire, says only that there's no good which a religious person could do but an atheist couldn't do.) The argument that atheists actually make is twofold. First, we assert that churches and religious groups' charitable work comes from the universal human sense of compassion, not from any specifically religious teaching. (This is most clearly shown by the fact that every religion, regardless of its beliefs, does work like this. Even Hamas builds schools, hospitals and orphanages.) Second, we assert that in spite of this, the religious beliefs of those groups often hamper their efforts by causing them to accomplish less good than they otherwise could have - even worsening the very problems they're trying to solve.

The clearest example is Roman Catholicism: the church does social work that helps the poor and AIDS victims in Africa and Asia, but by their hard-line opposition to condoms, they're making the problem worse by ensuring that there will be more poor people and more AIDS sufferers. A similar case is that of abstinence-only sex education. I don't doubt that the Christian evangelicals who support these programs genuinely want to reduce teen pregnancy and STDs. The problem is that their approach has been shown to be not nearly as effective as comprehensive programs that teach about contraception.

So too with World Relief. The problem isn't that they do no good at all, but that they artificially and arbitrarily limit the good they do by turning away perfectly qualified candidates just because they don't hold the right beliefs. And because atheism, as a movement, is relatively new and unorganized, we don't yet have the infrastructure to offer an alternative path to people who are rejected by religious charities that refuse to hire nonbelievers.

The major churches have been been running social programs for decades, have local branches all over the world, and have support from governments and wealthy, well-connected donors. They have a head start on us. We're working to organize and to catch up, but this takes time - and since they won't work with us or hire us in the meantime, it's more difficult to get our own efforts off the ground. This makes any straightforward comparison, of the "atheists don't do as much charitable work as religious people" sort, misguided and ignorant. (Another thought: How many current employees of World Relief are not evangelicals, but are afraid to disclose their beliefs lest they lose their jobs?)

One more point to highlight: according to AU, World Relief gets up to seventy percent of its funding from the U.S. government. That's your tax dollars and mine, American readers, going to underwrite jobs that we can never be hired for because we don't believe the right dogmas. This glaring constitutional violation would be excellent grounds for a lawsuit, if the right-leaning Supreme Court hadn't slammed the door in our faces by ruling that, due to legal technicalities about who exactly is spending the money, freethinkers have no power to compel the government to respect the First Amendment. We're at a double disadvantage: the government can take our money, use it to fund prejudiced, proselytizing religious charities without our consent, and then to cap it off, arrogant religious apologists demand to know why we aren't accomplishing as much good as those charities!

March 31, 2010, 4:43 pm • Posted in: The RotundaPermalink19 comments
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Meet a Foundation Beyond Belief Member

Editor's Note: Earlier this month, I wrote an essay encouraging atheists to join the Foundation Beyond Belief, a new charitable group doing good for human beings and the world in the name of freethought. I also offered to write a front-page post interviewing anyone who agreed to join the Foundation as a result of hearing about it on my site. This is the next in that series of interviews, which will be posted each weekend. Please welcome Steve Bowen!

Tell us a little about yourself. Who are you, where do you live, what do you do?

I'm a middle aged (although 50 is the new thirty) middle class white British male, originally from South London, but now living in Ashford, Kent. I have a bachelors degree in Biology from the University of East Anglia (a formerly obscure but now infamous establishment) where I majored in genetics.

Professionally though, I've been out of pure science for many years and have been an engineering purchasing manager since my late twenties. I'm irritatingly extrovert, which is why my hobbies are performance oriented, being into amateur dramatics and music (jazz/blues guitar mainly).

I have two daughters 19 and 10, and though divorced from both of their mothers enjoy a good relationship with them. I also became a grandfather 18 months ago which is a concept I am still getting my head around. I currently live with my partner of three years above the pub we opened last year (she runs it with her mum) where we have a great social life and feature live music regularly (check out http://theorangesashford.moonfruit.com).

If you're an atheist, when did you first become an atheist, and how long have you been one? If you're not an atheist, how would you define your beliefs?

Yes I'm definitely an atheist. I guess I've been ambivalent about religion as long as I can remember. I was politely asked to leave the cub scouts when I was nine because I refused to take part in the closing prayer session they insisted on at every meet. I wasn't always a sceptic or a materialist though as I flirted with all sorts of spiritual fruit-loopery in my teens and early twenties (though that may have been mildly chemical based :)

Do you have a blog of your own, or another site you'd like us to know about?

I'm a newbie blogger having started Atheist MC only in January this year. It's not of the philosophical quality you find on Daylight Atheism, really it's just my 20 second rant about stuff that catches my attention on the BBC news as I drive into work. Another excuse to let off steam in public.

Have you given to other charities before joining the Foundation Beyond Belief? If so, which ones are your favorites?

Up to now I've only given regularly to conservation and environmental charities, I've been a long time supporter of the John Aspinall Foundation for example. I've tended to only give to humanitarian charities for specific disaster appeals. The reason is, it is difficult to find humanitarian charities that do not either have some religious agenda, or support other aid agencies that do. For the recent Haiti quake I followed up on a suggestion made on DA for Partners in Health, who confirmed the secular nature of their work to me in an email before I committed funds.

What membership level did you join the Foundation at?

I went in at the $20 level as I already have standing order commitments to other charities, I will keep this under review however.

How do you plan to divide your initial donation?

I have gone for humanitarian and educational programs as a balance to my conservation donations elsewhere.

Is there anything else you'd like to say to atheists who are considering supporting the Foundation or other charitable groups?

Money can be tight, and to be honest one of the most satisfying ways to get involved with charity is not to donate but to help. My partner and I play at charity fund raisers for local causes for example. Getting directly involved is a win-win strategy because you get to meet people, have fun and make a difference. You can also have fun confounding the inevitable people who will bless you for your "Christian soul". If however you do have the free cash, Foundation Beyond Belief has got to be the best tool presented so far for channeling donations in a rational secular way.

March 27, 2010, 2:48 pm • Posted in: The GardenPermalink0 comments
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Meet a Foundation Beyond Belief Member

Editor's Note: Earlier this month, I wrote an essay encouraging atheists to join the Foundation Beyond Belief, a new charitable group doing good for human beings and the world in the name of freethought. I also offered to write a front-page post interviewing anyone who agreed to join the Foundation as a result of hearing about it on my site. This is the next in that series of interviews, which will be posted each weekend. Please welcome ANTLink!

Tell us a little about yourself. Who are you, where do you live, what do you do?

My name is Gabe, and I'm a 28-year-old freelance Japanese to English video game translator living in Japan.

If you're an atheist, when did you first become an atheist, and how long have you been one? If you're not an atheist, how would you define your beliefs?

I was born into a Jewish family, and was more or less agnostic for most of my life (though I never liked going to synagogue, and would have forgone my Bar Mitzvah had my parents given me a choice). At times, I would lean towards the atheist side, and at others towards the "Maybe there really is a God after all" side. In 2006, like many others, I read Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, which convinced me of the rationale for the atheist position and helped me to realize that it was what made the most sense. I have been an atheist ever since.

Do you have a blog of your own, or another site you'd like us to know about?

I have my own site, but it is still essentially 99% content-free. Currently the only place I update regularly is Twitter, although I rarely touch on atheistic topics there; most of my tweets tend to be about Apple or gaming. If that interests anyone here, you can find me at http://twitter.com/GGlick.

Have you given to other charities before joining the Foundation Beyond Belief? If so, which ones are your favorites?

I have given to other charities before, but I can't say that I have any favorites. Being a freelancer, my income is very irregular, so I've tended to give on special occasions or where there is an obvious need; the most recent example being Chile.

What membership level did you join the Foundation at?

For now, I have joined the Foundation at the most basic level (see above about irregular income), but I plan to upgrade to higher levels in the future as circumstances allow.

How do you plan to divide your initial donation?

I was unable to choose between all the worthy causes, so I elected to go with the "greatest need" one and have them distribute my donation as they see fit. A great option for the indecisive activist!

Is there anything else you'd like to say to atheists who are considering supporting the Foundation or other charitable groups?

Man, this is a difficult question... All right, this may sound kind of corny and/or be overly obvious, but I guess my message would be: even if you don't have the money to contribute to charity, I would encourage you to think about the kind of world you want to live in, and do what you can do to help bring it about, even if it's just a tiny bit at a time. This is almost certainly the only time we will get in this world, so let's all do our best to do what we can to make it that much better for ourselves and everyone else sharing it with us.

P.S. Adam, I've been wanting to tell you this for a while: you're a wonderful writer, appear to be amazingly knowledgeable on a number of subjects, and explain every imaginable aspect of what I consider to be the ideal freethinking position in ways I can only dream about. Thank you for making Daylight Atheism and Ebon Musings, and for all the ways you help, and help others, contribute to making atheism a positive force for good.

March 21, 2010, 5:13 pm • Posted in: The GardenPermalink5 comments
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Meet a Foundation Beyond Belief Member

Editor's Note: Earlier this month, I wrote an essay encouraging atheists to join the Foundation Beyond Belief, a new charitable group doing good for human beings and the world in the name of freethought. I also offered to write a front-page post interviewing anyone who agreed to join the Foundation as a result of hearing about it on my site. This is the next in that series of interviews, which will be posted each weekend. Please welcome TPO!

Tell us a little about yourself. Who are you, where do you live, what do you do?

I'm a happily married man in my late 30's who enjoys hiking, astronomy, earth science, science fiction and many other activities you may or may not care about. I live in lower Alabama just a couple of miles from the Florida State line and I am a network administrator for a local Air Force squadron.

If you're an atheist, when did you first become an atheist, and how long have you been one? If you're not an atheist, how would you define your beliefs?

I spent the most part of my first fifteen years going to a small Pentecostal church which exposed me to the whole speaking in tongues and flopping on the floor with the Holy Spirit spectacle on a weekly basis. I pretty much became an atheist over the summer of my fifteenth year when my church had a bible reading contest. Before this event, which I won, I was the type of kid who would admonish my peers and even older teenagers for cursing on one of the larger Baptist churches' basketball courts I frequented after school. Once I actually read through the "King James" version of this book, not once, but twice, I decided that I could not in good conscience worship the god depicted within its pages. I stopped going to church after this and studied up on several other religions over the next couple of years but I think I became an atheist that summer in 1986.

Do you have a blog of your own, or another site you'd like us to know about?

Yes, I run a blog titled "The Perplexed Observer" which focuses on Skepticism, Science, Environment, Religion and many other subjects from an Atheist/Secular Humanist perspective.

Have you given to other charities before joining the Foundation Beyond Belief? If so, which ones are your favorites?

Yes, some of my favorites are Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, Oxfam America and the Red Cross.

What membership level did you join the Foundation at?

I could only afford to join at the second level at this time.

How do you plan to divide your initial donation?

Equally among the different categories.

Is there anything else you'd like to say to atheists who are considering supporting the Foundation or other charitable groups?

Yeah, and you can read it here: http://theperplexedobserver.blogspot.com/2010/01/secular-charities-humanist-philanthropy.html.

March 13, 2010, 9:12 am • Posted in: The GardenPermalink1 comment
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Meet a Foundation Beyond Belief Member

Editor's Note: This past week, I wrote an essay encouraging atheists to join the Foundation Beyond Belief, a new charitable group doing good for human beings and the world in the name of freethought. I also offered to write a front-page post interviewing anyone who agreed to join the Foundation as a result of hearing about it on my site. This is the first of those interviews, which will be posted each weekend. Please welcome Daylight Atheism commenter Peter N!

Tell us a little about yourself. Who are you, where do you live, what do you do?

My name is Peter Nothnagle. I live in Iowa City, Iowa, USA, where I am a self-employed recording engineer specializing in recording and editing classical music CDs.

If you're an atheist, when did you first become an atheist, and how long have you been one? If you're not an atheist, how would you define your beliefs?

By a happy accident of birth, my parents seemed to have only the minimum socially-required religious leanings for educated people in the '50s and '60s. Thus, although I was dragged to the Catholic church on Sundays, I was never required to buy in to the teachings and traditions, and I never did. I was always interested in both history and science, and by my teens it was obvious to me that Christianity was just a mythology like all the rest.

Do you have a blog of your own, or another site you'd like us to know about?

Nope.

Have you given to other charities before joining the Foundation Beyond Belief? If so, which ones are your favorites?

I have sporadically donated to Doctors Without Borders, International Planned Parenthood, and various medical research foundations. I also get my long-distance phone service from CREDO, which overcharges shamelessly but remits the excess to worthy causes.

What membership level did you join the Foundation at?

I scrolled down the list of contribution levels until I hit one that hurts, just a little. But it's a good kind of hurt. I will work just a few extra hours each month, which is a ridiculously easy way to help people in desperate need, as well as supporting the cause of reason.

How do you plan to divide your initial donation?

I divided it among human services options: education, child welfare, and poverty.

Is there anything else you'd like to say to atheists who are considering supporting the Foundation or other charitable groups?

I am happy to support an explicitly nonreligious charity like this. Together we encourage other atheists to come out and stand up. I hope the Foundation has a lot of success and by their example, other atheist-themed public service institutions will be established.

March 7, 2010, 2:33 pm • Posted in: The GardenPermalink4 comments
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Atheists, Do Some Good: Join the Foundation Beyond Belief

Over the past year or so, I've become increasingly aware that, for the atheist movement to make a difference, speaking out isn't enough. Speech is a valuable tool, but it isn't the only tool. Almost as important is our money and our effort - the way we spend it, and the causes we support. To build the world we want to see, we must be willing to act in concrete ways that advance the goal of creating a secular community.

This concern of mine is bolstered by surveys which show that evangelical Christians and other members of religious groups give more - not a lot more, but more - to charitable causes than atheists. This holds true even if you don't count donations to a believer's own church. (NB: I have serious concerns with this study's methodology, especially the way it lumps committed atheists in with infrequent churchgoers as "secularists". Nevertheless, I think the larger point has validity.)

Obviously, I don't think that this is because religious people are more generous or more caring than atheists. I think the explanation is much simpler, as I wrote in a post from 2007 which predicted this finding: religious believers give more because they have more opportunities to give.

If you're a member of a church that passes the collection plate every week, that regularly organizes blood drives, soup kitchens, after-school programs, and that regularly exhorts its members to volunteer and to participate, then of course you're more likely to give, simply because the possibility is always before your eyes. Atheists have no comparable social organization, and that makes charitable giving take more time and effort. When you do it yourself, you have to do all the legwork: remembering to make your donation, deciding on a cause, compiling a list of suitable charities, researching their background, and selecting criteria to choose a winner. It's just easier when all this work is done for you, and the only thing you have to do is sign on the dotted line.

The other advantage religious people have over us is that their donations are highly visible. When a theist gives to, say, Catholic Charities or Lutheran World Relief, there's no doubt about where that organization's budget is coming from and who's supporting them. By contrast, atheists often give to non-sectarian groups like Feeding America or Doctors Without Borders - and there's nothing wrong with that, but because people of all creeds support those groups, there's nothing to mark our charitable dollars as coming from atheists. This makes our good works invisible, which often leads ignorant religious apologists to claim that atheists have never done anything for our fellow human beings.

What we need is an option to give to charity in a way that does good for others, while also making it clear that atheists and nonbelievers are underwriting the effort. And there are already ways to do this - as I've mentioned before, there's Kiva, the microfinance site whose largest lender community is made up of atheists. But Kiva is a long-term effort, aimed at the eradication of poverty through capitalism, and there's still a call for groups that answer urgent needs.

Well, now there's a group that answers all these challenges at once. I'm happy to report on the recent launch of the Foundation Beyond Belief, a meta-charity helping atheists and freethinkers to do good (and I love that logo!). The Foundation was the brainchild of Dale McGowan, the secular parenting author whom I've interviewed before. There are some other familiar faces on the board of directors as well, including fellow blogger Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist.

The Foundation is not itself a charity. Rather, it has a list of major issues it seeks to address - environment, poverty, education, child welfare, and so on. Each quarter, it picks an existing charitable group serving each of those issues, one that has a track record of effectiveness and that doesn't proselytize. Foundation members' donations are funneled to those charities, divided among them according to the individual member's choice. You can choose to split your donation equally among all the charities, or give it all to a few or to one.

The Foundation's business model answers both of the challenges I posed above. As an explicitly secular organization which only supports non-sectarian charities, it makes our donations visible in the same way that religious charities are visible. As Dale McGowan puts it, through the FBB, our donations become "a positive collective expression of our worldview". And while the Foundation does accept one-time donations, that's not its preferred means of giving. Instead, it encourages people to sign up as members, committing to donate a fixed amount per month - as low as $5. This helps give atheists that regular reminder that we've been lacking until now.

I'm tremendously excited about the potential of this project! I became a member of the Foundation a few days ago, and I've started at $50 per month, but that's just a beginning. If I'm satisfied with how my money is spent, I plan to ramp up my contribution very soon, and I hope to eventually do the majority of my charitable giving through Foundation Beyond Belief. If the goals of this project are ones that you also share, I encourage you to join me there.

And to sweeten the pot a bit, I'm going to make a special offer. If you join the Foundation as the result of reading this post, and if you leave a comment and tell me about it, I'll do a front-page interview with you about yourself, your blog if you have one, and your reasons for joining. This offer may not remain open forever, so take advantage of it soon!

March 2, 2010, 6:40 am • Posted in: The GardenPermalink34 comments
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An Appeal for Haiti

We now interrupt your regularly scheduled flame war for this important announcement.

As everyone has no doubt heard, Haiti was hit by a colossal earthquake last night; the city of Port-au-Prince is in ruins, and tens of thousands of people may be dead. If you're able to help, please consider making a donation to the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders. And if simple human compassion doesn't move you, consider it doing it to spite that wicked, heartless old fraud Pat Robertson, who said that the people of Haiti got what they deserved for rebelling against slavery. His religion made him evil; now, for Haiti's sake, I hope that our atheism makes us good.

UPDATE: I'm proud to see that atheist organizations are joining the effort. As commenters have mentioned, there's the Foundation Beyond Belief. The American Humanist Association also has a relief fund, and the FFRF has made a donation to Doctors Without Borders.

January 13, 2010, 9:19 pm • Posted in: The FoyerPermalink28 comments
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