Why Aren’t Atheists Tithing?

Take a guess: What percent of all adults tithe? What percent of all adults give 10% or more of their income to a church or non-profit group?

It’s not a huge amount.

Just 5%, according to the latest research by the Barna Group.

Who gives more to churches and/or non-profits?

Among the most generous segments were evangelicals (24% of whom tithed); conservatives (12%); people who had prayed, read the Bible and attended a church service during the past week (12%); charismatic or Pentecostal Christians (11%); and registered Republicans (10%).

Several groups also stood out as highly unlikely to tithe: people under the age of 25, atheists and agnostics, single adults who have never been married, liberals, and downscale adults. One percent or less of the people in each of those segments tithed in 2007.

You can say whatever you want about the guilt factor or coercion used to take peoples’ money in church. Many church-goers give willingly, and many give beyond their means.

And while the Barna wording reads like an insult to those outside the religious world, the study makes a good point.

Atheists don’t give much money to ally organizations. I know this because I work with a couple of them. It’s always a battle to get people to give relatively small amounts of money (for them) that would make a world of difference for the respective groups.

Sure, the atheists may give to other non-profits (not necessarily “atheist” ones) — though the study still shows they don’t give 10% or more of their income.

I don’t tithe. I don’t feel like I’m able to give up that much income at this point in my life. But I at least send in membership dues to organizations I support (Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, and the American Civil Liberties Union) and more than that to groups that mean a lot to me (Secular Student Alliance).

Maybe you don’t give to those groups. But in that case, why not give money to groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State or the National Center for Science Education? Those groups, like FFRF, are in the courts fighting for religious freedom and real science education.

There are plenty of groups out there that are worth the $30/year (give or take) membership fees. It’s a few bucks a month for the year. Not much at all in the long run.

No one’s going to force you to “tithe” or give anything at all. It’s your own choice. But at least you know your donations would be going to a non-profit you support. I can’t tell you how proud it makes me to have an ACLU membership card in my wallet.

The reason religion has such a stranglehold in this country is because they have the money, and consequently, the influence.

We can help change that by supporting groups who cherish and fight for our values.

If you’re not giving already, I would be glad to tell you why supporting the secular student movement would be worth your while. But if you support any of the several pro-science and non-religious organizations out there, you’d be helping spread the values of Humanism and critical/rational thinking in a country that’s seriously deprived of both.

If any of you give money to these groups — or a different one entirely — feel free to share that information in the comments.

Which group(s) do you support?

How much do you give to them?

Why do you give?

For the younger people out there who are strapped for cash or in school, is it difficult for you to give?

If you don’t give, is there any reason (other than financial issues)?

(via Dallas Morning News)


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Who should I tithe to?

    I really don’t think giving money to your church counts as a charitable donation, especially since so many churches use the money to fill the pastor’s pocket book, buy jets, build giant edifices, and so forth. It’s a crock to say that these people are more generous than others. They are just paying dues to their fancy clubs.

    That said, I’m starting a crafting charity group over at Skepchick next year. I’ll be working on ideas for the rest of this year, so if you’re interested, you can check out my post ( http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=1271 ) and drop me a message in the comments or using the contact form if you want to be involved.

  • Karen

    I give a modest amount of money every year to my local Americans United group. In exchange I always get a nice phone call of thanks from the guy who heads up the chapter. That’s a lot more than I ever got from my pastor when I was one of the 24% who actually tithed!

  • http://jamesomalley.co.uk James O’Malley

    Is tithing a uniquely American thing? Living in Britain, I’ve never heard anyone say they give a fixed percentage of their income to charity/church/whatever.

    Presumably though atheists do it less because they don’t have a church to give money to… and I’m sure there’s an irony that republicans, who would tend to be free-market orientated would hand over their money, like a sort-of tax.

  • sabrina

    NARAL, Planned Parenthood and the ASPCA.

    I’d like to point out that Planned Parenthood doesn’t just do “abortions”, they provide contraceptives to low income women, STD tests free of charge, education, condoms to people who might not use them otherwise, they are active in providing EC and rape assistance in the Congo, along with a multitude of other services. They are non for profit, meaning it costs them more money than they take in to do these services. I know people tend to think PP is in the abortion for money business, but less than 3% of their services are abortion related.

  • http://groundedinreality.blogspot.com Bruce

    Also, remember that giving money is not the only way to “tithe”. I volunteer at my local cat shelter and at my local library. I give about 15 hours/week to these two organizations. Trust me, that’s worth a lot more than the amount of money I could afford to give them.

  • QrazyQat

    How much is it worth to give money to an effort to convince people in Africa not to use condoms? I’d say that’s negative giving; anyone who doesn’t give any money at all is doing far more than people who do that, and that’s the kind of thing that’s all too common in religious giving. It’s nice when they do good things, but how much of it is?

  • julie marie

    I am in the process of starting up a donor advised fund, in my mothers name. The focus of the fund will be to help single parents. My mom raised 3 girls alone, put us all through college so her girls would never have to stay in a bad situation b/c we couldn’t take care of ourselves, and died at age 52.

    very few children of single moms from my era had such an effective advocate; we were lucky. Beyond helping primarily single women give their children a leg up, I plan to use it as a tool to teach my son generosity. One of my big fears is falling into the upper middle class trap of treating junior like a little prince just because I can. I don’t want him to grow up with a sense of outrageous entitlement and ridiculous self importance. I see alot of that where I live.

    And my goal is to contribute 10% a year. Old habits die hard — but that habit is one I’m not trying to shed.

  • http://www.wordsfromtheway.com/between-the-trees Jake

    I’ve heard both sides of the argument – Conservatives claiming that they’re the ones who really care about the poor and Liberals saying that they don’t give more money because the problem isn’t a lack of resources but is more systemic in nature. Personally, I think there’s probably some weight to both sides. Like in my hometown of Lincoln, NE, most the groups doing philanthropic work (that I’m aware of at least) are religious. Honestly, I don’t know of a single explicitly-secular group focused on philanthropic work. There are groups that tend to be composed of secularists, like the UNL chapter of Amnesty International, that are doing some awesome things but I don’t know of any atheist organizations doing those things.

    At the same time, I do think a lot of conservative giving goes toward feeding a machine that is responsible for creating poverty. Put simply, would we be in a position to provide so much aid to places like Africa if we didn’t practice policies that promote injustice in the first place?

  • http://musingmanya.com manya

    They were very careful not tell you exactly what they asked people on the phone. Did they mean any non-profit? Do political organizations count? (which is what most pro-secularism groups would be) Did they use the word, “tithe”, or did they just ask what is your income, and how much do you donate to non-profits each year.

    They also did not list all the options for religious affiliation. I’d like to see the exact data.

    Nevertheless, I agree, giving money to your church, much of which provides you with a lot of resources for free doesn’t totally count. Bringing the karaoke machine to a friend’s party isn’t a charitable act- you’ll be using it, too.

    I also agree we need to give more money to pro-secularism groups. I make some regular ones now, but I’ll have to think about stepping that up. When you are battling deep pockets like the Walton family, and the Mormons, it’s necessary for everyone to dig a little.

  • Susan

    As a grad student, don’t have much money to donate, unfortunately. I give small amounts to Mercy Corps because of their excellent work. I donate my time by tutoring at an adult learners center and serving as a volunteer at the Nashville Zoo. Whenever possible, I donate paper and cleaning goods, food an the like to a local wildlife rehab center.

  • http://www.rekounas.org rekounas

    I am part of Foster Parents Plan. Apparently, they don’t preach any religion to third world nations.

  • Rest

    I mostly give to my local animal shelter because I prefer the company of my canine friends more and more these days. I do a lot of volunteer work there too. I’ll sometimes give to some other worthwhile charity but financial reasons limit what I can give.

  • http://www.matsonwaggs.wordpress.com Kelly

    ACLU, Girl Scouts, Democratic Party, AHA…I subscribe to Skeptic magazine, so I suppose I’m supporting them. I’ve given before to other organizations, but not on a regular basis. I’m a Girl Scout leader, and volunteer at my daughters school. I also occasionally visit a UU church, and I always put a little in the collection plate. There are some churches (if I were a Christian) that I would have a hard time feeling like they needed the cash, but a lot of smaller churches really do need everyone to pitch in.

  • Mike Smith

    I think that many of the evangelicals give out of guilt – at least that was my perspective.

    As an independent and sometimes hungry college student, I used to give 10% that I could ill afford. I even kept track of what I ‘owed’ god when I just had to have that money to pay rent instead of tithing. My money went to Christ for the Nations, a higher education institute for unabashed proselytizers.

    Now, I don’t give 10% of my income, but I do generally give above the membership fees, to ACLU, FFRF, Secular Coalition for America, and various charities throughout the year, usually related to cancer or autism.

  • http://www.stoptheqtip.ca/ Aditya

    I subscribe to Skeptic magazine, which I believe also makes you a member of the Skeptics’ Society, which is entirely member-funded, so I support them (it’s only like $40/year, and it’s a GREAT magazine – far better than, for instance, Discover, to which I also have a subscription). I will probably also sign up for a student membership with the James Randi Educational Foundation sometime in the near future.

    While I am still a student and so don’t really have much money to give, I find a deeper issue present as well. I find myself rather pessimistic over what atheist/agnostic/freethought/secularist/etc. groups can accomplish, especially with our societies being the way that they are. Hence I don’t think I feel like any extra funds I have should go to them. I think I also feel myself aligning ideologically more with e.g. the Skeptics’ Society than with an atheist group, as much of an atheist as I am.

    As a quick aside, Vivekananda gave a “rule” (more of a suggestion, really) that 25% of one’s income should go to family, 25% to self, 25% to charity and 25% for savings. I rather like that setup, so I’ve often considered where my charity quarter would go. I think I feel it more worth it to support scientific research or groups that further science in some way.

  • http://blackskeptic.wordpress.com blackskeptic

    UNICEF (I used to give to them monthly)
    PBS
    OXFAM
    NPR

    … and FFRF once I become a member.

  • Anticontrame

    Well I sent Hermant an email about this, but I never got the carbon copy, so I don’t think it went through.

    One thing everyone can do is use their computer to simulate folding proteins for the Folding@Home project. It won’t slow down your computer or cost you any money (minus the electric bill, of course), but you’ll be helping to cure diseases.

    You can also help out a few fellow atheists at the same time by joining our Folding@Home team. Right now, the largest Christian group, Nerds for Jesus, is about to pass the largest non-theist group, The Godless Ones. If you’re interested in joining our team, see here.

  • M

    I give six dollars a month to Doctors Without Borders. I am a student, but handwave it by thinking of it as an hour of work for someone else. I give because I believe in what they’re doing and because the Yarn Harlot ( aknit blogger) has a prize drawing at the end of the year for donators.

  • bradm

    “I really don’t think giving money to your church counts as a charitable donation, especially since so many churches use the money to fill the pastor’s pocket book, buy jets, build giant edifices, and so forth.”

    You don’t honestly think that a lot of pastors are sitting on golden toilets and flying around in church-owned jets, do you? There definitely are plenty of rich churches but in my experience the majority of churches do quite a bit of good charitable work.

  • ross

    I’ll tell you why christians give lots of money to churches (or other religious “charities”) but atheists don’t. It’s the same as the phychology around why people give to lobbyist groups: People tend to give money to groups which they can personally see direct and immediate benefits from. Take the NRA, or the AARP. Their members gain a lot from their membership, and they have millions of members. Most americans are anti-gun, or at least to a lesser extent than the NRA, but the anti-gun lobby is orders of magnitude smaller.

    Take religious institutions: People “see” the benefit of giving to them, which is avoiding the smite and wrath of God. They get the warm fuzzies from the thought that because they give, they are saved, and they are better people for it. And God told them to do it, so they do.

    With atheist institutions, it’s more of a “common good” thing. Everyone would benefit, but theres very little short-term gratification. It is therefore more difficult for someone to go out of their way to justify giving money to these causes.

    I don’t know/care where you stand on the NRA/AARP/FFRF/etc, this logic, consiously or subconsciously, affects your decision of wether or not, and how much, to give.

  • http://stereoroid.com/ brian t

    It’s very simple, folks: in Old Testament days, the religious authorities were the closest thing that the tribes had to a government, and the Tithe was what we now call Tax. Now that we pay Tax to an established government, there’s no need for Tithing. If they’re going follow Biblical teachings, how about dropping the Tax rate to 10%?

  • http://amiable-atheist.blogspot.com amiable atheist

    I’m young, don’t have a job yet, and so have never donated to a cause. But thank you for your post. I think it’s an important message and I would like to start researching some of these organizations to see where I would like to help!

  • False Prophet

    writerdd has a point: in Canada, any church can claim charitable organization status, even if the money they take in only goes to support their own operations. I find this contentious: the Catholic-run food bank that feeds the homeless? Absolutely should be considered a charitable organization. Your typical Catholic parish? Why is it “charity” to help them pay their utility bills and expenses? Churches should not gain any special benefits over other non-profits unless they are actually engaging in bona fide charity work, and no, “saving souls” doesn’t cut it.

    Additionally, note that according to this older Barna study, far more people claim to tithe than actually do.

    Also, evangelicals are “notoriously lousy tippers”, something I’ve had several people working in hospitality corroborate. Shouldn’t charity start at home?

    FWIW, I am a regular contributor to several non-profits, and both as an individual and as a member of a non-profit social club that does occasion charitable works, have supported charities that help the poor and cancer research. (And the EFF, but I don’t consider that a charitable contribution so much as a political/lobbying contribution.)

  • http://daybydayhsing.blogspot.com Dawn

    I think the point isn’t what churches do with what’s given them or what really ‘counts’ as charity. The point is that the religious folk are more likely to back their beliefs up with financial support. The challenge is for atheists to start doing the same.

  • http://eccentric-toast.com Xhristy

    I don’t give to any groups purely because I don’t have the income to fully support myself let alone give to others.

    Although when I do finally get self sufficient I do plan on giving to certain chosen organisations. I suppose it’s the Irish upbringing, but I feel it’s necessary to help othe people out when they help you

  • http://arkonbey.blogspot.com Arkonbey

    me:

    $120/yr to Vermont Public Radio (three years running for this amount)

    $100 this year to Heifer International
    $75 (so far; dues and two fundraising events) to the Fellowship of the Wheel a local not-for profit mountain bike trail building org. (two years membership)

    wife:

    $120/year VPR

    $50 to Chittenden County food bank
    $50 to Essex Rescue (local ambulance/volunteer)

    While we’re doing good ourselves, there’s no reason not to give. we may be on the receiving end some day…

  • Claire

    Dawn said

    I think the point isn’t what churches do with what’s given them or what really ‘counts’ as charity. The point is that the religious folk are more likely to back their beliefs up with financial support.

    I don’t think it’s backing their beliefs when they are hounded into giving, or when they are told there’s a minimun and it’s expected, or when there’s an implication (or outright promise) that there will be special favors (ie god will love them more). That’s giving into coercion or hoping for advantage, not ‘backing your beliefs’. And yes, it is very much to the point what the church does with the money.

    Tithing is a uniquely religious thing – giving to charities is not, and conflating them serves no purpose but to make christians look good in their own eyes, in surveys such as these. I don’t know that uncoerced giving is done more by the religious than by atheists, since most surveys that ask about the religion of the giver does count giving to churches as charity, which biases the results.

    That said, it is unfortunate that without that hounding, many people simply don’t give. Also, it’s more common for people to donate money or time when they do it as part of a group endeavor. It wouldn’t be unexpected for people who don’t belong to groups to be less likely to give, and I suspect a lot of atheists are just not joiners, so who knows? Perhaps they do give less.

    When I was employed, I gave to local animal shelters, NPR, and Planting Peace. Since I’m now counting every penny, that’s pretty much stopped, but when I have a job again, I’ll be donating.

  • Spurs Fan

    I’d like to point out that Planned Parenthood doesn’t just do “abortions”, they provide contraceptives to low income women, STD tests free of charge, education, condoms to people who might not use them otherwise, they are active in providing EC and rape assistance in the Congo, along with a multitude of other services. They are non for profit, meaning it costs them more money than they take in to do these services. I know people tend to think PP is in the abortion for money business, but less than 3% of their services are abortion related.

    Good point Sabrina — my wife worked for a PP office that did NOT perform abortions (most don’t) and she used to point out to people how much PP was actually reducing the need for abortions due to its strong emphasis on birth control.

    It’s very simple, folks: in Old Testament days, the religious authorities were the closest thing that the tribes had to a government, and the Tithe was what we now call Tax. Now that we pay Tax to an established government, there’s no need for Tithing. If they’re going follow Biblical teachings, how about dropping the Tax rate to 10%?

    If you’re using the “Jesus freed us from the law” argument and you read the parable of the poor widow (rich man gives a lot of his money and is proud, poor widow gives her only two coins), perhaps the standard is “giving with a pure heart and correct motives” and not a rigid, legalistic 10% (after all, if James Dobson gives 10% and my wife gives 10%, I know who is hurting more — a regressive tithe!). Maybe the standard is 100%?

    In fact, now that I think about it, Jesus told another rich man to “sell all he had and give everything to the poor” to be saved. When asked about this, many Evangelicals briefly give up their belief in biblical literalism and start to explain it away (you have to give up your worldy attachments in order to have Christ in you heart, etc.). In other words, they don’t want to give everything they have to the poor even though Jesus specifically orders it, so they explain it away. How unbiblical!

  • slut

    Which group(s) do you support?
    Charities: Unicef, Planned Parenthood, Empty Bowls, Meds & Food for Kids, Room to Read, CARE, United Way and American Cancer Society.

    Atheist organizations I belong to: FFRF, Atheist Alliance, American Humanist Assoc., maybe one more I forget now.

    Also sponsored a camper for Camp Quest West (and do their website), make a recurring donation to SSA, and support my local humanist group.

    How much do you give to them? Probably $200/mo overall between them. No, I don’t tithe and I think it’s a great marketing device dreamed up by the priesthood. I don’t imagine anything approaching 10% of each congregant’s income is required to support the organization. Look at how obscenely wealthy the Catholic church was and is, though.

    Why do you give? Secular charities: because I’m a humanist. I think people have to take care of each other; more so since there is no supernatural agency that’s going to intervene.

    Atheist/Humanist organizations: We need to build a strong atheist and humanist community to provide people with an alternative to religion.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    When people give to charity, is it possible that it’s ultimately self-serving? When we give to those who are in need, is it because we have strong compassion for them, or is it so that we can feel good about ourselves for doing our part? Or worse yet, to be recognized for our generosity?

    Whether a person is religious or not, if the motivation is not genuine, I don’t see how it could be considered truly giving…

    The other day, I saw some dollar bills fly out of a window of a pick-up truck as it sped by a homeless beggar on the street corner. It made me sick to my stomach watching the man who was forced to fall to the ground frantically retrieving the scattered bills.

    Tithing (and charity) comes from the heart, not from the wallet.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Oh, and to me, the only thing that the survey proves is that religious leaders are better skilled at controlling the behaviors of their followers by using fear tactics, etc.

    It is not an accurate indicator of whether religious people are more giving than the non-religious.

  • TXatheist

    Help. I’ve lost the name of the study done by two guys that showed 87% of the money tithed goes right into their own church functions when it comes to tithing. If anyone has that study or a link to it I’d REALLY appreciate it.

  • Pingback: Friendly Atheist » How To Spend Your Tax Refunds

  • http://gaytheistagenda.lavenderliberal.com/ Buffy

    I normally give to America’s Second Harvest, Co-Op America, the ACLU, Lambda Legal, Doctors Without Borders, and Union of Concerned Scientists. I’ll also give the occasional donation to other groups here and there.

  • Mechelle

    First you have to look at where the idea of “tithing” came from. Tithing is not an atheist concept. It’s a religious one. It sets religious “standards” in which religious zealots believe all people are held accountable for. It’s not. You also have to wonder how many of those who do “tithe” do so only because they’re instructed to, or can get a tax break from it? Atheists don’t “tithe”. We contribute to different organizations, both in monetary means and sweat equity, as we see the need for it. As far as giving to be self serving or to appear as generous in front of people, someone once told me “Christians are more compassionate. You don’t hear about Buddhists or atheist charity organizations”………..I responded, “And you won’t, for the most part. We don’t help others in need for the recognition.”

  • Mechelle

    “Atheists don’t give much money to ally organizations. I know this because I work with a couple of them.”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    That’s interesting. You generalize the contributions of atheists based on working, as you said…..”with a few of them”.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    That’s interesting. You generalize the contributions of atheists based on working, as you said…..”with a few of them”.

    I work with a couple of them, yes, but I talk to the group leaders of several more. And this problem is commonplace for all of us. I think it’s a fair generalization to make.

  • Mechelle

    The point is that the religious folk are more likely to back their beliefs up with financial support.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Your beliefs require financial funding?

  • Mechelle

    I work with a couple of them, yes, but I talk to the group leaders of several more.

    ~~~~~~~~~~

    Well you go on believing that. It doesn’t really matter what other people think, because like I said, we don’t give for the recognition of it.


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