Editor’s Note: Back in March, 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. Please welcome John McNally!
Tell us a little about yourself. Who are you, where do you live, what do you do?
My name is John McNally; I’m a married father of two boys and a grown step-daughter. I make a living as a software engineer and we live in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee.
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’ve been an atheist for 19 years after leaving my childhood faith spent in the Methodist church. I was a pretty strong believer as a child, then didn’t really give it much thought at all during my undergraduate years. Then in my early 20’s while investigating other religions and philosophy, Christianity became unbelievable to me. I could never put it to words like Ebonmuse, but there was just too many inconsistencies and lack of evidence. The interest in religions continued, but basically I don’t see any evidence for supernatural beings, so just decided I was an atheist. I married a lapsed Catholic who is not an atheist. There was some conversation about religion, but there were too many other priorities (such as baseball! Or soccer!). After moving to a new community, one day we drove by a Unitarian Universalist church. I remembered hearing about them performing commitment ceremonies (weddings, or similar) for gays and lesbians. Being liberal, that memory drew me in. It turns out their open mindedness extends to atheists as well and we’ve now been UU for about 5 years. My wife still is not an atheist and I am an atheist; though existentialist, humanist, UU is more descriptive.
Have you given to other charities before joining the Foundation Beyond Belief? If so, which ones are your favorites?
In addition to some local charities such as homeless shelters, we give regularly to Amnesty International and the UU Service Committee which is involved with human rights, environmentalism, and economic issues. A couple new ones this year were Doctors Without Borders and the Wisconsin Humane Society.
Our thoughtful charity giving started with an idea from one of my sisters. Each of us and our spouses decided several years ago to quit giving each other Christmas gifts and instead pool the money for a charity donation. We rotate who picks the recipient and most often it is a local charity for whoever is choosing. For awhile one of my sister’s job was to help refugee immigrants and she’d use the money to buy stuff like a bus pass or driving lessons or used furniture to get them started. Another year it went to a coworker of my other sister who just lost everything in an apartment fire just before the holiday. Other times it was a formal nonprofit charity. I’ve really liked this idea as it connects you with family and you are giving more than you might (or be able to) on your own; and would encourage others to do it. You can give each person involved free choice or if that is not possible, I’d suggest everyone pick some charities to agree on and rotate amongst those.
What membership level did you join the Foundation at?
I originally signed up at the $10/month level, but soon afterward doubled that. The lower level was mainly due to the apprehensiveness due to just recently hearing of the foundation. But given the many deserving charities served by the foundation that level seemed too low.
As a regular church goer I wasn’t the main target of Ebonmuse’s appeal. However, I was really excited to hear of this idea. In the past most of our charitable giving has been as a couple and that will likely continue, but this is a very good way to express my individual identity.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to atheists who are considering supporting the Foundation or other charitable groups?
The Foundation is a great idea. Less than $1.50 a week, if that is all you can afford, will have an effect. I have a job with a good salary and benefits, but I can come up lots of reasons I couldn’t give. I haven’t gotten a raise in a long time, my wife works part time and has had her hours cut. I’ve had health issues including a recent double bypass and there are still health and dental bills on credit cards that we are paying off. And of course with kids there is no end to the expenses. But as a church goer I regularly hear recommendations to give 5% of my income to charity (unrelated to support of the church). We are not there yet, but should reach 2-2.5% this year. My recommendation to anyone is to just get started giving regularly and keep increasing the percentage as you are able and the Foundation Beyond Belief is great for that. It will feel good, I guarantee it.