Humanist and Church Charity: A Comparison

Conor Robinson, one of our four young Pathfinders in the middle of a year of humanist service projects around the world (and the guy who came up with the concept), writes in the Foundation Beyond Belief’s newsletter about encountering several groups of Christians “working” in the Dominican Republic.

ThePathfinders spent January working to build twenty latrines in the remote Haitian community of La Fond-Jeannette. Twenty new latrines mean lower levels of harmful bacteria in the water supply and fewer health problems related to waterborne diseases such as cholera and dysentery.

In the Santo Domingo airport, as we prepared to leave the country for Ecuador, we encountered not one, not two, but THREE separate church volunteering groups wearing matching, brightly colored, sparkly-clean t-shirts with slogans like, “Touching the lives of others because He touched us.” These groups had been in the Dominican Republic building churches. We had just traveled six hours to get across the border and another 14 hours to Santo Domingo after building twenty latrines in a place where churches are nothing more than banana leaf canopies on poles.

I invite you to imagine the foil we provided to the Christian volunteering groups. They in their clean, matching outfits; we in the grays and browns of whatever clothes were closest to passing the odor test, after traveling the same roads whose near impassability makes development in rural Haiti so damn difficult. It was a contrast not only of sights, but also of smells.

More than 60 Christian volunteers to help build three churches in the Dominican Republic, where there are already churches — clean as baptized babies. Four humanist volunteers to help build 20 latrines in Haiti, where the lack of running water, health care, and roads leads to high rates of preventable illness — dirty, unrepentant sinners.

Of course, there is another major difference between the large church groups and our small ragtag band of humanist volunteers — money. Church groups can afford to build more churches and hand out Bibles in a country where there is already a church on every block and a Bible on every nightstand. We stripped the cost of 20 latrines down to $300 apiece in Haiti, a price that includes the transportation, materials, tools, and expertise of a local mason. But to date, we have raised only $1,200 of the $6,000 we spent to stop the spread of cholera and other waterborne diseases.

If you believe (as we do) that a volunteer should arrive at the airport sweaty, smelly, dirty, and tired from the exhilarating and exhausting experience of working alongside and learning from people in need, APPEARANCES BE DAMNED, then please support us! Make a contribution to our Latrines for Haiti fundraiser. Every $300 represents one of the latrines we left for a family in Haiti, but each dollar counts.

Please help if you can. None of the money donated goes to the Pathfinders themselves, every dollar goes to provide clean and safe water for those they are helping.

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  • Trebuchet

    …the Dominican Republic, where there are already churches — clean as baptized babies.

    But those are Catholic churches, not true Christian ones.

  • karmacat


  • tfkreference

    Donated, with a mention of Dispatches in my comment.

  • had3

    Just bought a toilet! Woohoo, best home improvement ever.

  • Randomfactor

    Same as tfkreference.

    This is the kind of real-world impact the MRA’s DDoS attack is holding back. Bastards.

  • democommie

    Got no money. But here’s a t-shirt slogan for them:

    “If your JESUS exjsted, he wouldn’t be helping you build houses of worship;

    he’d be helping us build shithouses.”

    Yeah, I know, it’s rude. Fuck it.

  • parasiteboy

    While the pathfinders are trying to help the communities by keeping their water clean(er), the church groups are increasing the number of unclean sources of water. Most holy water contaminated with fecal matter: study

  • parasiteboy


  • Bob Dowling

    Isn’t this just Mary and Martha writ large? (Luke 10:38-42) Christians don’t need to do anything useful, so long as they worship. Useless fuckers.

  • jws1

    @#9 – Well they sure are good at patting themselves on the back for preferring to offer (questionable) good thoughts rather than good deeds for others. This is why I would like to see all tax-free charities audited every year; let’s see how much they spend on themselves compared to others.

  • David C Brayton

    I’m sure those were bad people because they were wearing matching outfits. [snark]

    As Atticus Finch once said, try not to judge another person until you’ve had a chance to walk a mile in his shoes.

    First, wearing a uniform is a very powerful thing. These folks were traveling to the third world with different cultures, religions, languages and races to do what they believed was good, charitable act. I’m sure that can be very scary. Identifying as a member of a group made it much easier for some folks to do this work.

    Also, these folks likely truly believe that churches are good things. And let’s not kid ourselves-the sense of community a church creates can be wonderful.

    It’s quite possible that they had no idea that there was an over supply of churches–they were likely just doing what their leaders told them to do.

    And getting into the hinterlands of a third world country is likely a very challenging thing to do, not something everyone, even with the best of intentions, could undertake..

    Questioning the motives of the charitable isn’t very productive. I personally hate it when someone assumes that they know what I’m thinking, even if they are right.

  • jws1

    “…even if they are right.” Wow. Sounds sounds stubbornly childish. Never question the motives of charity? Rubbish; sometimes a person is so eager to stick out a glad hand because the other hand has a knife.

  • had3

    Braylon: if they were charitable, I wouldn’t question their motives. Their charity was on par with bringing caviar spoons to Haiti, and I would surely question those motives; I don’t know why repairing a corporation’s buildings is considered charity when there are plenty of the company’s buildings still standing and functioning. If the first thing people did after Katrina was to repair the Mercedes Superdome for the football team (which foster’s community building too), while pressing health needs were apparent, and then I found out it was NFL charities who sent the workers, I would absolutely question the motives. What’s the difference here?

  • Robert B.


    “Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more fair or flat;

    Lo, it is black already with the blood some Son of Martha spilled for that!

    Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed,

    But simple service simply given to his own kind in their common need.”

  • dingojack

    “Touching the lives of others because He touched us.”

    They weren’t of the Catholic variety by any chance?

    :) Dingo

  • dalbryn

    Well, no one poops in heaven so if all these people get saved and then die young of preventable illness, problem solved right?

  • caseloweraz

    @Robert B. (#14):

    That sounds to me like Kipling. Am I right?

  • a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    “Touching the lives of others because He touched us.”

    Ooh! Please let them have been Catholics.

  • Robert B.

    @17: Yup. “The Sons of Martha.”

  • neXus

    I donated the first time you mentioned this charity on the blog… I’m saddened that they haven’t been able to raise more funding. I’ll help spread the message around to my family.