Atheist Doctors Also Care for the Poor

Here’s a study you can quote during talks and debates with theistic friends.

From the Chicago Sun-Times (emphasis mine):

Atheist and agnostic doctors are as likely to provide care for the poor as religious physicians, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Chicago and Yale New Haven Hospital.

The study is based on a survey of 2,000 doctors with a 63 percent response rate. Thirty-five percent of non-religious doctors, compared with 31 percent of religious doctors, said they were likely to care for people with little or no health insurance.

Usually, studies show that religious people (in general) are more likely to care for the poor, but this is the first time the question was asked specifically to doctors.

I get a line in the article as well:

“People who are not religious generally believe that you have to help other people because this is the only life you have,” said Hemant Mehta of Orland Park, author of I Sold My Soul on eBay: Seeing Faith Through an Atheist’s Eyes.

I hope the intended meaning comes across in the brief quotation, but I was referring to Humanist principles of doing good because there’s no reincarnation or Heaven to look forward to. We have to help each other live the best life possible here and now.

One of the study’s authors seemed disappointed in his own results:

“We can say a lot of doctors are doing a lot of good, whether religious or not,” said Dr. Farr Curlin, one of the authors of the study, published in the Annals of Family Medicine.

Curlin, who attends a nondenominational church, said the findings disappointed him.

“Caring for the poor is an expression of faithfulness and commitment,” he said. “But many religious physicians don’t make the connection.”



[tags]atheist, atheism, Chicago Sun-Times, agnostic, religious doctors, physicians, Hemant Mehta, Orland Park, I Sold My Soul on eBay: Seeing Faith Through an Atheist’s Eyes, Farr Curlin, Annals of Family Medicine, Humanism, Humanist[/tags]

  • severalspeciesof

    It’s good to point out studies that show atheists being as ‘good’ as the religious. (Though this one really doesn’t, as it only points out self perception, not actual “doing’) However, you bring up the idea that other studies have shown that religious people (in general) are more likely to care for the poor. I would like to see these “studies”, as I believe that they also may not have been done properly.

    Just a thought.

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  • http://crossimpact.net Cody Clark

    It does not follow that because this is the only life we have, that we “must” help others. I am not saying that atheists don’t help people. I am just saying that lack of belief in an afterlife does not guarantee generosity. Someone can just as likely be stingy with their “only life” as they can be generous with it.

    The problem with most Chrsitian/Atheist dialogue is that most atheists have as incomplete an idea of who God is as most Christians do. They argue over the existence of an idea that we expect most Christians to grow out of by adulthood. The “God” they so predictably fight over is a developmentally-appropriate version of God for children. We’re supposed to grow deeper in our understanding, but rarely do so.

    Personification of God is a convenient shorthand – a way to apply words to something that is way beyond words. A “handle” we use to relate to a transcendant reality. We first start with God as a person because we are persons and we relate naturally that way.

    At some point, though, we’re supposed to get beyond the convenient personification of God as “Father in the sky” and experience him in more mature form. God as Love. God as Good(ness). God is not *a* being — God *is* being.

    By my faith, God made atheists too and the impulse to love is written on their hearts just like anyone else’s. Why would we be surprised that a sample of atheists would be more charitable than a sample of Christians? (I bet the sampling was not controlled for spiritual maturity.)

    I know Atheists that are Good. I know Atheists who Love. I know Atheists who are masters of being who they were created to be. So yeah, they don’t say “Lord, Lord” all the time, but by their fruits I can know them. Some of the best Christians I know don’t go to church.

  • Stephan

    It’s a pretty narrow study, and as such really doesn’t mean much. You might as well ask, “If a hungry person asks for food, and you had some, would you give it to them?” Most people would regardless of religious beliefs.

    A more thorough study might show what percentage of time doctors volunteer outside of their office. This would show who is going out looking for people to help, rather than simply helping those who come in asking for it.

    I’m not predicting what the outcome of such a study would be, but I think that would be more telling data than is presented in this story.

  • http://www.myspace.com/leecookebarbo Lee

    “We can say a lot of doctors are doing a lot of good, whether religious or not,” said Dr. Farr Curlin, one of the authors of the study, published in the Annals of Family Medicine.

    Curlin, who attends a nondenominational church, said the findings disappointed him.

    “Caring for the poor is an expression of faithfulness and commitment,” he said. “But many religious physicians don’t make the connection.”

    Kudos to Dr. Curlin for his honesty. Rather than trying to negate what the limited study indicates, he does a good turn by acknowleging the results for what they are.

  • HappyNat

    At some point, though, we’re supposed to get beyond the convenient personification of God as “Father in the sky” and experience him in more mature form. God as Love. God as Good(ness). God is not *a* being — God *is* being.

    It is more mature to say God is love or goodness, instead of being a father in the sky? I’m not sure how making into a vague God a concept is more mature.

    (I bet the sampling was not controlled for spiritual maturity.)

    As a researcher myself, I’d love to know how you would control for spiritual maturity or how you would measure that in the first place. Thoughts?

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