Chris Stedman’s latest column expresses a position I have come to hold more and more strongly over the last year or so, which is that atheists and humanists need to build communities and engage in service projects that help better the human condition locally, nationally and globally. He makes the argument that Dale McGowan has been making for years:
In American Grace Robert Putnam and David Campbell discuss the fact that, overall, religious Americans are more civically engaged than the nonreligious—they volunteer more often and give more money to both religious and secular charities. They are, per Putnam and Campbell, better neighbors.
But Putnam and Campbell also found that nonbelieving spouses of believers are just as civically engaged if involved in their partner’s religious community. So the connection between religion and civic engagement seems to have less to do with belief and more to do with belonging. Communities connect people and inspire them to do more to help others.
With fewer organized communities, atheists have fallen behind in this arena. This doesn’t mean that atheists don’t care about and help their neighbors; it means they have fewer opportunities and venues to do so.
Precisely right. That was the whole purpose of creating the Foundation Beyond Belief, about which he has some very kind words:
You just have to look around to see examples of a shift underway.
A great place to begin is with Foundation Beyond Belief, an amazing organization constantly growing in their work to empower atheists to donate to important causes. But their efforts go beyond giving—their Beyond Belief Network, which helps to support local nontheist service groups, is sponsoring a nationwide Week of Action later this month that encourages nontheists to take time that week to do at least one good deed, organize a service project, or participate in an interfaith event.
Looking ahead, this summer Foundation Beyond Belief will host Humanism at Work, “the first of its kind [conference focused on] on how nontheists can put their compassionate humanism to work for a better world.” And if that weren’t enough, Foundation Beyond Belief is also supporting Pathfinders Project, an initiative aiming to launch a Humanist Service Corps.
These are just a few examples of the many ways that, as nonreligious communities are growing, atheists are working to demonstrate what we already know to be true—that nontheists care deeply about improving the conditions of life for all.
To me, this commitment is central to atheism. If we take seriously our position that it is unlikely any divine or supernatural forces will intervene in human affairs and resolve our problems, then it is truly up to us. Human beings of all beliefs and backgrounds have to work together to make this world better. This conviction is atheism and Humanism’s call to service.
Some Christians believe that faith without works is dead. Perhaps we could say the same of atheism. Fortunately, more and more nontheists are demonstrating that atheism is alive and well.
This is a powerful argument. Because we understand that no deity, no supernatural force, is going to come down and solve the endemic problems that exist in all human societies, we know that we are the only ones who can do it. We have a moral obligation, I believe, to do what we can to help those in need. I’m so encouraged by what I see happening in atheist and humanist communities all around the country and feel so fortunate to be a part of it.