Dan Fincke on Humanist Charity

Dan Fincke has a great essay on the importance of organized humanist charity, with a special shout out to the Foundation Beyond Belief and the Humanism at Work conference I’m organizing for July in Chicago. As usual, he expresses my position with far more depth and eloquence than I could ever do.

So, why get involved with and support the explicitly humanistic charities? And, specifically, why support Foundation Beyond Belief?

For several reasons. For one thing, religious people give more to charity on average, and they do so not because they’re intrinsically better people, but because their religious communities afford them more regular opportunities. They are the sorts of organizations that routinely exhort people to charity and organize the opportunities to give one’s time and money. They are the kinds of groups that centralize values in the first place. People go to church and typically get charitableness preached to them constantly throughout the year. This value is reinforced regularly and then as an outgrowth of that, opportunities to do what they at least perceive to be charitable are motivated.

If humanists care about compassion and human empowerment as much as monotheistic religious people care about compassion and serving God, then we should emulate their successful models of values inculcation and the means they have developed for transforming those values into actions. And if humanists are already coming together for community, both online and in the real world, it would be outrightunethical for us not to conscientiously be turning our communal life into one that led to concrete actions embodying our values. If we are going to gather around our shared humanistic values, we are hypocrites if we only want to do this so that we might talk about our values rather than tangibly implement them.

It’s clear that all people can be good without God, but it’s also clear that it’s hard for people to be good without good influences. Humanists should be proactive about creating communities that aim to be good influences on their members. Many people desperately want such communities. Routinely irreligious young adults run back to the faiths they were raised in upon having children because they see moral education as crucial and they are humble about realizing how hard that is to do right. So, they dutifully turn to what they see as the only game in town for systematic inculcation of moral values: religion.

If we humanists are convinced that theistic, faith-based religious institutions are actually teaching a lot of terrible moral and intellectual values, which threaten to stagnate or regress people’s moral and intellectual growth, then it is absolutely incumbent upon us as humanists to offer robust humanist communities of value formation and values implementation that people can turn to instead of theistic religious ones when they’re trying to raise their kids to be ethical people with community support.

I don’t think that building humanist communities that work to help improve the lives of others is exclusive to working with other groups. I have helped out many religious organizations do similar work and I will continue to do so. But I believe there is a great deal of untapped potential in the broader atheist and humanist community that can turn into a huge force for good if we provide the means of channeling it to good causes.

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  • The Gregarious Misanthrope

    Another factor in the charitable giving of church-goers is that a good fraction of that goes directly to the church and back to the membership in myriad ways: inexpensive primary education, child care, social gatherings, outings, etc. Also, the giving goes to the building and grounds. It’s little different than a social club.

    To the extent money goes outside the church community, it is often on ill-conceived mission trips so the well-privileged can provide free labor on some project in an underdeveloped country. The cost of airfare alone could probably employ an entire village for a number of weeks or months. I often wonder if the benefits accrue more to the visitor than the visited.

    On a dollar for dollar basis, I doubt the church crowd is doing as much good as the humanist crowd.