Giving Atheist Money to a Charity That Works with Churches

The Foundation Beyond Belief — a charity organization aimed at non-theistic donors — recently released their latest list of beneficiaries. (Full disclosure: I’m on their board.)

While all the groups do really excellent work, the charity that stood out to me the most this quarter was Soulforce.

This is a group whose mission is to “end the religious and political oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning people.”

Sounds great, right? And yet, some of you will undoubtedly be upset that we’re giving money to them for one key reason:

Though Soulforce is not itself a religious organization, it includes many progressive religious leaders on its staff and board.

Oh no! Religious progressives!

The last time FBB gave to a group like this — Quaker Peace and Social Witness — it didn’t go over very well with some of our members.

People wanted to know why FBB, a group that encourages atheists to donate money, was giving to a group that wasn’t secular or non-theistic in nature.

The response was (and still is) very simple: We don’t give to groups that waste money proselytizing. Neither the Quaker group nor Soulforce does that and we strongly support the excellent work they do. Supporting their cause does not mean we’re supporting their religion. That’s why we made them our beneficiaries.

One of the best features of FBB is that members get to choose where their donations dollars go. Every quarter, they’re always allowed to give more money to some charities while giving less to others. But I hope the fact that religious people work with Soulforce doesn’t give atheists a reason not to support them.

FBB members have given over $57,000 to charities this year alone. It’d be a sad statement if atheists stopped giving — or gave less to Soulforce — because they work with churches to change their perceptions about the LGBT community.

Just because many of us wish for a world where religion’s influence is diminished or non-existent, that doesn’t mean we can’t work with religious people toward common goals — especially when spreading religion isn’t part of their agenda.

On another note, this is one of the main reasons I’m so proud to work with Foundation Beyond Belief. We’re not afraid to give money to religious people if they’re doing the right things with it. It would be a huge mistake for any atheist-run charity to deny giving money to a particular group that does excellent (secular) work because they’re loosely “tainted” by religion.

  • Josh

    If you show me a christian that doesn’t proselytize, I may have to start believing in god because that’d be a miracle.

    Maybe I’m too cynical but I just don’t believe they don’t do it.

  • Josh

    Oh, for the record I don’t mean that we can’t work with the religious. Just that we should limit that partnership to certain areas.

  • http://supercheetah.livejournal.com supercheetah

    I think donating to Soulforce is actually a very good idea because by all appearances, pretty almost all the anti-LGBT sentiment comes from the religious, so why not use the liberal religious to try to change that?

  • http://www.atheistrev.com vjack

    Thanks for posting this. I am in complete disagreement about the appropriateness of donating to religious groups, but I certainly respect your position as well as your right to donate to whoever you want.

  • ewan

    Whether or not this sort of thing is a good idea depends on what you think the Foundation should be doing; either it’s an atheist organisation for getting good stuff done, or it’s an organisation for getting atheist stuff done. If it’s the former, then it doesn’t matter so much who actually does the good stuff, provided they do it well. If it’s the latter then it doesn’t seem sensible to fund religious groups at all.

    I’d previously got the general impression that the Foundation was trying to do two things – to do generally good stuff (rather than specifically advance the cause of atheism), but to demonstrate by doing it that charitable and other ‘good works’ aren’t the sole preserve of the religious. Passing ‘atheist money’ on to organisations like this seems to risk obscuring that message – are people that see the work being done going to see just another faith based charity doing stuff, or are they going to see the atheist funding behind it?

  • SecularLez

    I’m cool with giving money to Soulforce.
    I have seen the documentary “Equality U” and it was pretty powerful to me.

    I think a lot of realize that ending the bigotry directed towards gays and lesbians means changing churches, synagogues, mosques, etc.

    A lot of the people these days who have bigotry, hatred, or whatever towards LGBT use religion as their “justification.” I’m fine with donating to Soulforce to try to end that.

    Does anyone else have some better ideas? No need to complain if you don’t have any better suggestions.

  • http://www.youtube.com/aajoeyjo Joe Zamecki

    Here’s a suggestion: Screen out the groups with theists from the list of potential groups to help.

    Remember the Boy Scouts and their method? I wouldn’t want to join a group that doesn’t want me, so the theists in charity groups should understand.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    @Josh,

    If you show me a christian that doesn’t proselytize, I may have to start believing in god because that’d be a miracle.

    Don’t know where you got that from. I know many Christians that don’t proselytize. The overwhelming majority of the ones I know do not preach, in fact. Maybe they are not “real Christians”?
    @ewan,

    …either it’s an atheist organisation for getting good stuff done, or it’s an organisation for getting atheist stuff done.

    Well said.

  • Claudia

    Would I respect an organization that claimed to want to help but categorically refused to work with secular organizations? No. In fact, I can recall that this attitude doesn’t go over well at all.

    I personally have absolutely no problem giving to a nominally religious group that doesn’t proselytize and is doing worthwhile work, just as long as there doesn’t exist a fully secular group with as much need and doing equally good work. Other things being equal, I’d rather give to a fully secular group, but priority nº 1 is getting help to those in need. I can understand others not agreeing and adjusting their donations proportion so that the religious group doesn’t get their money. I don’t understand refusing to donate at all because the option exists to give some of that money to a nominally religious group.

  • muggle

    Here’s a radical thought. Instead of promoting Soulthought by empowering something with religious prosetyliation in its very Goddamned name, how about taking the funds and doing the work ourselves? Exactly why can’t the Foundation Beyond Belief use donated money to do the very same work that Soulforce or the Quaker group does? That’s what I’d really like to see. An Atheist foundation that takes my money and does the actual charitable work. This is what’s really cool about the groups giving directly to the homeless. Let them join us if they want to look all helping, like the group giving to the homeless in Denver did. If the ministers wants to gladhand, let them have to do it under the Atheist name.

    As you already know, it really pisses me off that something that fronts itself as an atheist charity is taking that donated money and using it to further religious charity which purpose is to further religion when all’s said and done, as if only the religious can truly deliver. You are helping us be shut out as volunteers, you are helping prevent Atheists from being organized enough to be the actual helping hands. Frankly, just by advertising themselves as a religious group — and this includes the Quakers — they are prostelyzing and they bloody well know it. Too bad the Foundation Beyond Belief can’t see the forest for the trees. Your short-sightedness is, indeed, beyond belief.

    Plenty of secular charities around that work on all these things. No need to give my money to you.

    And this:

    either it’s an atheist organisation for getting good stuff done, or it’s an organisation for getting atheist stuff done.

    is frankly horseshit. You are implying that atheists can’t get things done without turning to religion to actually accomplish that. Horse–fucking–shit!!! Hemant’s featured several groups that have on this very blog. The Christians that wanted to look good had to join their cause under their name!!! And, unlike many Christian groups, they looked good by welcoming their help.

  • muggle

    I don’t understand refusing to donate at all because the option exists to give some of that money to a nominally religious group.

    Claudia, because I then have to spend time screening out the charities they use to make sure my money doesn’t go to a religious organization. The reason this pisses me off so much is because I thought this would be an organization (unlike United Way, for instance) that could be trusted not to divert any of it’s pooled money to religion. Apparently not.

    Hence, since I can’t trust them, I’m not going to send them one red cent. If I have to go to the trouble of screening the charities anyway, I might as well just do that on my own and give directly to the charities that pass my muster.

    Frankly, I have gotten to the point where I don’t trust go-between charities. Besides it really doesn’t make much sense when you think about it. You’re paying extra operating costs for a charity to find other chartities for you. They’re always going to have to keep a portion of the money for their operation costs. Better to give 100% to the charities that do the actual work that you approve of.

  • flatlander100

    Well, guys, this sort of thing is one of those places where the much maligned notion of “situation ethics” comes into play, I think. Where I live, the local food bank is run by Catholic Community Services. I’ve volunteered to work one morning a week at their food distribution location and no qualms about it. The point… no, let me rephrase that, the point… is to get food to hungry families. If CCS is running the local food bank doing that, I have exactly zero problem volunteering to help out.

    They also run the local refugee assistance program here, providing in particular language training to refugee families relocated here. I’ve volunteered time for that too.

    Seems churlish when a family is hungry or a refugee family desperately needs to learn English to earn enough to stay fed and warm in a Rocky Mountain winter to start quibbling about who’s running the aid program here that no one else is.

  • http://www.youtube.com/aajoeyjo Joe Zamecki

    muggle said: “Frankly, I have gotten to the point where I don’t trust go-between charities. Besides it really doesn’t make much sense when you think about it. You’re paying extra operating costs for a charity to find other chartities for you. They’re always going to have to keep a portion of the money for their operation costs. Better to give 100% to the charities that do the actual work that you approve of.”

    I totally agree. That’s one reason why Atheists Helping the Homeless made the up-front guarantee that 100% of donations received would go to the items we give to the homeless. Any fee between the donor and us subtracts from the items we can buy to give out.

    That’s Atheists Helping the Homeless:
    http://www.youtube.com/aajoeyjo

    Austin, Texas

  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke

    i’m as militant and hardcore an atheist as they come. Soulforce is good people. atheists who reject supporting them are cutting off their noses to spite their own faces in this case. here’s why: soulforce does what atheists cannot. they face down the religious on bigotry and hate, as fellow members in those religions. sometimes, only believers can talk other believers into doing the right thing. further, the hatred of homosexuality and atheism are conflated in the minds of the bigots. so atheists should understand that believing queers have more in common with them than they do straight believers who are bigots.

  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke

    josh, where do you live? there are plenty of Christians who don’t push their religion on others. i’m sorry you’ve never met one. up here, they are everywhere, for all one tends not to notice them because their hypocritical fellow religionists can’t shut up about belief.

  • MH

    I wouldn’t have an issue with them giving money to the Quakers, UCC, or Unitarians in the New England area. They are a different breed from Baptists, the RCC, or the Mormons.

  • http://onestdv.blogspot.com OneSTDV

    Why are there basically no American charities?

  • http://jimloomis.deviantart.com Jim

    It doesn’t make sense to not help, especially if you know where the money is going and how it’ll be used. I try to give when I’m able, and I even give to churches (usually only food items though).

  • Rieux

    Ewan:

    I’d previously got the general impression that the Foundation was trying to do two things – to do generally good stuff (rather than specifically advance the cause of atheism), but to demonstrate by doing it that charitable and other ‘good works’ aren’t the sole preserve of the religious. Passing ‘atheist money’ on to organisations like this seems to risk obscuring that message – are people that see the work being done going to see just another faith based charity doing stuff, or are they going to see the atheist funding behind it?

    Very well put.

    When Dale McGowan announced the creation of FBB, I was intrigued and excited: it was a direct rebuttal to the “how come atheists don’t ever do charity?” slime that we constantly get from the religious. Finally we’d have a charity that was explicitly irreligious and yet helped people. (Since then, I’ve learned that FBB isn’t alone in this respect.)

    Giving money to a Quaker organization, or a group called “Soulforce,” destroys the very reason I would have given money to FBB. I can give money to churches any time I want to. FBB was useful in that it was a conscientious organization that did good works explicitly without religion. So much for rebutting the “atheists don’t do charity” smear: instead, FBB has supported that smear by admitting through their actions that they can’t do good without supporting religion.

    The focus on proselytizing as an excuse for bankrolling Quakers and other religionist entities seems to me disingenuous and low. Non-proselytizing religion is still religion. It’s still not a good thing. It’s still something that I have no interest supporting with my money, and it’s something I would have hoped that an organization that purports to be “Beyond Belief” would have avoided. The name of your nonprofit is not “Foundation Beyond Proselytizing Religion.”

    I’m forced to look elsewhere for a deserving recipient of my charitable donations. A “non-religious” foundation that gives money to religious groups seems to me to have eliminated its reason to exist.

  • Christina

    What about giving money to Partners in Health? They’re fantastic because they also create jobs in the communities they work in and often raise the standard of living by doing so. And a lot of it is volunteer based, so most of the money goes toward buying medicine and building clinics and such. Their website is http://www.pih.org/. Definitely my go-to charity whenever I have extra money.

  • Samiimas

    So… can someone find me where, anywhere, on the soulforce website that they acknowledge this donation and thank the atheists? I searched ‘atheist’ on their site and the only result was some page with the classic “Well atheists probably do still believe and just don’t wanna admit it” crap.

    Sorry but this is looking like another self-hating religious gay group that devotes most of their time to whitewashing history so that the textbooks will claim it was just a ‘handful’ of ‘misinterpreting’ people who opposed gay rights when it was well over 90%. Once they’ve succeeded in spreading the lie that no true Christian ever opposed gay rights which group do you think will get the blame for it? On gay blogs I’ve already seen ‘christian’ gays try to claim *with completely made up statistics to back it up* that atheists overwhelmingly oppose gay rights and that it’s really just a small minority of Christians opposed to them.

    Even if we assume they’re actually fighting for my equal rights instead of just trying to cover up for the people that took those rights away, why donate to them? Theirs tons of gay rights groups that have no religious aspect and don’t waste time apologizing for the bigots.

  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke

    let me try again.

    speaking only of Soulforce: there’s another benefit to supporting it, besides the fact that they go into the Lion’s Den of believer-land and throw their own scriptures in their faces.

    there’s also the transition such an experience helps foster… in members of Soulforce themselves. trust me on this one, i’ve been reading and writing about religion and atheism and queer-ness for a long time, and i will tell you this happy news. participation in something like SoulForce (mostly made up of young believing queers in college and the like) is the first step towards atheism later in life.

    this is a narrative i’ve seen, indeed it’s well discussed in queer circles, over and over again. queer youth raised in the church/temple/whatever are bullied and ostracized for being queer. naturally, they turn to the more accepting and rational elements of their faith community for support. if and when they find it, they start using those perspectives to counter hatred and bigotry. eventually, for at least some of them, they realize, “i’ll never win here, will i? i mean, i can quote all the passages about love and charity, but these people will always hate me just because i’m the way i am. why am i defending this ‘holy text’ and trying to use it, when the haters will always be able to find countering passages justifying their hatred?”

    after that comes atheism. i have read and talked to a whole mess o queers for whom this was more or less what happened to them. there is no bigger subset of a general population who are atheists than those who are queer, imho. experiences like life on the Soulforce bus are a first step in that direction.

  • Chris M

    We’ve done several charity events this year with our group (Charlotte). There’s an organization that coordinates events throughout the city and we’ve volunteered our time cleaning up schools. We’ve done stuff for the Humane Society. Most recently we did a fund raiser for Pints For Prostates.

    My personal opinion is that if we put it to a vote, a large majority of our members would not want to work or fund anything associated with a church. Also, down here I would think there are that many churches that would want our help or our money.

    You would not believe the hoops I had to go through to GIVE money to a cancer charity. A bunch of emails, calls from the VP about what we’re doing and why, all that jazz. But that’s par for the course for us. We have a hell of a time getting folks to do business with us in general (we could tell you some stories about trying to get a banner made and of course you heard about our billboard adventures). There’s just a lot of bad blood out there so it’s hard for us.

    Having atheists show that they can do charitable work also sets a good example. My preference would be to support atheist groups and friendly (to atheists, anyway) secular groups first and foremost.

  • Josh

    @ Godless Monster and Chicago Dyke

    I got the idea from my life. Around here everybody has something to say about Jesus. (Always Jesus, oddly enough. God is mentioned relatively little.) I seriously get asked about Jesus, invited to a church, or at least handed a flier almost everytime I go out. And then there’s the more passive version (billboards and the signs outside churches, businesses, etc.),of course. Those are EVERYWHERE you look around here.
    Maybe I’m cynical and perhaps I was a bit unfair, but I’m just speaking to my experience. Thats how it is where I live. Of course, it could be worse. Most people around here feel some fear and/or a lot pity for an atheist (us being ignorant sinners), rather than full-blown hate and/or anger. At least they don’t (often) become violent over it. After all, I could have been born in Iran or someplace.

    Fun Fact: Localschooldirectory.com lists 2523 public and 603 private schools in my state (GA) and allchurches.com lists 9421 churches. I’m not 100% sure if the sites are accurrate, though. The church one especially is probably quite low since thats a subscrption service and it seems to require your church have a website.

  • BrettH

    I don’t think “secular” means what some of the people here think it means. The word isn’t a synonym for “atheist”. It means the work the group does isn’t religious. Growing up I went to a conservative Baptist church and in addition to the obnoxious stuff like going door to door trying to get people to come to church, we also did some things that were completely secular (food drives, mostly).

    I don’t know whether the groups that FBB is donating to qualify as “secular” or not, but the fact that religious people are involved shouldn’t be a problem as long as the money is only helping secular causes. It might be hard to believe here in America when it’s hard to watch the news without seeing a christian bragging about how ignorant and intolerant they are, but being religious doesn’t actually make you stupid or evil. They have delusional beliefs, but they’re capable of doing good work when they try, just like the rest of us. It seems like the first priority should be taking care of people, and showing off how atheists can be good people too should be secondary.

  • Rieux

    Chicago Dyke:

    participation in something like SoulForce (mostly made up of young believing queers in college and the like) is the first step towards atheism later in life.

    That’s a nice thought. I’d suggest that we look for Step 2 and consider contributing money to that instead.

    The problem I have with your logic is that by it, FBB should give be giving all kinds of bucks to the Episcopalian church, or the UCC, or the Metropolitan Community Church. Those organizations (all of which are vastly larger, and serve many more people, than Soulforce) are very clearly halfway houses for huge numbers of people making the trek from religion to atheism, too. That doesn’t mean that they are organizations that those of us who want to lessen religion’s influence in society can or should support.

    It’s good that Soulforce improves the lives of some GLBT believers. I don’t think, though, that their tactics—most centrally, arguing that the Bible doesn’t support homophobic hatred—are honest. I think the evidence is overwhelming that right-wing Christians are simply correct on the doctrinal point: the Bible and historic Christian doctrine are just not the loving, tolerant, liberal things Soulforce and similar liberal Christian entities pretend they are. Fundies argue that the god of the Bible hates homosexuality and demands that it be punished harshly. They’re right. The problem is with the Bible itself, not the fundies’ interpretation of it.

    Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

    – Jesus, in Matthew 5:17-18

  • Samiimas

    the Bible and historic Christian doctrine are just not the loving, tolerant, liberal things Soulforce and similar liberal Christian entities pretend they are.

    This is why I put ‘christian’ in quotes in my post. You aren’t ever allowed to even imply this on a gay blog but the apologetics for why the overwhelming majority of Christianity has hated gay people for a solid 2000 years are usually pretty pathetic. They almost always boil down to ‘I can’t stop being gay and Jesus loves me so Jesus must love gay people.’ and claiming those that keep pointing to the blatantly anti-gay passages in the bible aren’t ‘true christians’.

    Go to a gay blog and find an article about some religious leader bashing gay people. *pretty easy search* I guarantee the comments will be full of people claiming they aren’t a ‘real’ Christian and how the only true Christians are the ones following their interpretation which fully accepts gay people and which probably didn’t exist until a few decades ago at the most.

  • Rieux

    I don’t think “secular” means what some of the people here think it means.

    Really? Can you show me someone in this thread who is using it incorrectly?

    The word isn’t a synonym for “atheist”. It means the work the group does isn’t religious.

    Of course. And of the recipient groups Hemant lists, almost all of them—such as the Animal Welfare Institute and and Camfed USA—are secular. Quaker groups aren’t, and (in light of its mission and practices, not to mention its name) it certainly doesn’t appear Soulforce is.

    I don’t know whether the groups that FBB is donating to qualify as “secular” or not, but the fact that religious people are involved shouldn’t be a problem as long as the money is only helping secular causes.

    Who has argued that “the fact that religious people are involved” creates a problem?

    How ignorant do you think the atheists who disagree with FBB on this point are? Do you think that we’re under the impression that there are no religious people “involved” in the Foundation for African Medicine and Education, or in a soup kitchen in Trenton? Do you think we’ve grown up in a society that isn’t dominated by religion and religious people—one in which every public effort we’ve ever participated in hasn’t been overwhelmingly staffed by believers? You’re lecturing us that “being religious doesn’t actually make you stupid or evil”? Come on.

    Complaining that those who disagree with FBB’s decisions are opposed to funding any organization in which “religious people are involved” is just nonsense. Please stop.

    Then, whether “the money is only helping secular causes” is precisely what’s at issue. It certainly seems to me that FBB’s support of the Quaker group and Soulfource, to the extent it’s helping anything, is helping some very non-secular causes. I can’t give money to FBB because I can’t in good conscience support causes like those.

    It seems like the first priority should be taking care of people, and showing off how atheists can be good people too should be secondary.

    If that’s the case, why does FBB need to exist at all? Why don’t you just give money to Catholic Charities and Christian Disaster Relief and Christians Against Poverty and Operation Blessing and all of the thousands of other overtly faith-based charitable organizations in the world? You can even spare a dime or two for FAME and similarly secular organizations as well. Atheists have done all of the above for decades, if not centuries.

    If “taking care of people” is the one and only thing you care about, why do you need a Foundation Beyond Belief at all?

  • Rieux

    Samiimas, I agree with you. Liberal believers, including gay ones, routinely engage in serious hypocrisy and wishful thinking regarding the texts and doctrines of Christianity. It’s very hard to find a strain of that religion that doesn’t abuse the No True Scotsman fallacy when dealing with contrasting strains. (Happens in Islam, too.)

    [M]any religious moderates imagine, as you [Andrew Sullivan] do, that there is some clear line of separation between extremist and moderate religion. But there isn’t. Scripture itself remains a perpetual engine of extremism: because, while He may be many things, the God of the Bible and the Qur’an is not a moderate. Read scripture more closely and you do not find reasons for religious moderation; you find reasons to live like a proper religious maniac—to fear the fires of hell, to despise nonbelievers, to persecute homosexuals, etc. Of course, one can cherry-pick scripture and find reasons to love one’s neighbor and turn the other cheek, but the truth is, the pickings are pretty slim, and the more fully one grants credence to these books, the more fully one will be committed to the view that infidels, heretics, and apostates are destined to be ground up in God’s loving machinery of justice.

    How does one “integrate doubt” into one’s faith? By acknowledging just how dubious many of the claims of scripture are, and thereafter reading it selectively, bowdlerizing it if need be, and allowing its assertions about reality to be continually trumped by fresh insights—scientific (“You mean the world isn’t 6000 years old? Yikes”), mathematical (“pi doesn’t actually equal 3? All right, so what?”), and moral (“You mean, I shouldn’t beat my slaves? I can’t even keep slaves? Hmm”). Religious moderation is the result of not taking scripture all that seriously. So why not take these books less seriously still? Why not admit that they are just books, written by fallible human beings like ourselves?

    [....]

    Religious moderates—by refusing to question the legitimacy of raising children to believe that they are Christians, Muslims, and Jews—tacitly support the religious divisions in our world. They also perpetuate the myth that a person must believe things on insufficient evidence in order to have an ethical and spiritual life. While religious moderates don’t fly planes into buildings, or organize their lives around apocalyptic prophecy, they refuse to deeply question the preposterous ideas of those who do. Moderates neither submit to the real demands of scripture nor draw fully honest inferences from the growing testimony of science. In attempting to find a middle ground between religious dogmatism and intellectual honesty, it seems to me that religious moderates betray faith and reason equally.

    – Sam Harris, debate with Andrew Sullivan

    I think Harris is correct, and I cannot in good conscience support with my money the things that, as Harris points out, liberal religion does.

  • Epistaxis

    Animal protection?!?! But if there’s no god, that means animals definitely don’t have souls, so of course it’s perfectly well and good to torture them for their entire lives before brutally slaughtering and homogenizing them in order to have a burger.

  • MH

    I think Sam Harris is attacking a straw-man as the Reformed Jews, Quakers, UCC, and Unitarians I’ve met would certainly say scriptures are written by fallible human beings.

    The step that they are unwilling to take is the position of atheism.

  • Rieux

    I think Sam Harris is attacking a straw-man as the Reformed Jews, Quakers, UCC, and Unitarians I’ve met would certainly say scriptures are written by fallible human beings.

    So because not all religious moderates share one position Harris describes, that means no religious moderates do? (Please note he said “written by,” not “transcribed by.” His point is that human beings created the Bible, instead of being inspired by God, its true creator, to put it on paper. That notion is not compatible with mainstream Christianity or Judaism.)

    Accusing Harris of a straw man means declaring that you think he’s describing no one. Surely you don’t actually believe that.

    Then, you have oddly passed over numerous other statements Harris makes about religious moderates:

    …refusing to question the legitimacy of raising children to believe that they are Christians, Muslims, and Jews…

    …perpetuate the myth that a person must believe things on insufficient evidence in order to have an ethical and spiritual life….

    …refuse to deeply question the preposterous ideas of those who fly planes into buildings, or organize their lives around apocalyptic prophecy….

    …neither submit to the real demands of scripture nor draw fully honest inferences from the growing testimony of science.

    I know plenty of Reform Jews, Quakers, UCCers, and Unitarian Universalists as well. One or more of the above descriptions apply to many, though not all, of them. (So does doubting that the Bible is “just [a] book, written by fallible human beings.”)

    The step that they are unwilling to take is the position of atheism.

    As Harris explains in that passage, that’s only one of many steps religious moderates are unwilling to take.

  • MH

    Rieux, most of the liberal to moderates I’ve met fall into the belief in belief camp. They’ll readily admit that the bible is entirely a human invention.

    For example I’ve pressed some of my wife’s relatives about their beliefs and their general position is that there’s more to being a good Jew than believing in God.

  • Kamaka

    Sorry, but as long as the religionists indulge in the malicious slander against atheists and all of humanity that “you can’t be good without god” I will not finance the “good works” they do. Let them dismantle their churches and sell the bricks and the gold.

    Dammit, I had hope for FBB. But nothing is simple. Particularly when decided by committee.

  • BrettH

    Rieux – That was a stronger response than I expected, and I don’t want to answer most of it without a chance to think about it a bit (no point in having these discussions if you’re not willing to consider changing your mind). I do think you missed where I was going with one of my points though. Religious institutions can run charities whose work is secular, even though they use the church or religion’s name. When my former church (which was NOT an excepting, liberal one) sent volunteers to a place that served meals to the homeless I didn’t see any preaching at all. It was somewhere with a very christian name staffed by church volunteers, but all they did was serve food. I’d still be willing to give time or money to that specific group if I couldn’t find an non-church based one I liked better, even if I wouldn’t dream of letting one penny of my money go into that churches general fund. I was only saying that while the words “Quaker”, “Catholic”, and “soul” in the name of a charity should be warning signs, I don’t think they should be a deal breaker.

    (I’m also pretty sure I agree that finding worthy Cristian charities to give to defeats the purpose of a group like FBB, that was a good point)

  • Aj

    The argument has been presented here again, and it has not been addressed again. By giving money to religious charities, there is a negation of one of the perceived goals of Foundation Beyond Belief, people are not associating a secular brand with charity, and they are associating a religious brand with charity.

    Though Soulforce is not itself a religious organization, it includes many progressive religious leaders on its staff and board.

    I think this is incredibly misleading if their website is representative. According to their website, Soulforce was founded by Christians, has a doctrine/creed that is clearly religious in nature, they argue for and against things from faith. How can this be described as a secular organisation? From what I can gather from the website, all of the staff and board are actively religious, many of them having worked or are working for a church. Writing that “many of them are religious progressives” when all of them are is misleading, making it out to be an organisation with some religious people. Their website claims you cannot be free until you believe a creator loves you, you have a purpose from that creator, and there is an actual “Soulforce at the center of the universe”. They also believe in “redemptive suffering” as a core value for the charity, an ugly concept that has been used as an excuse for cruelty. A large part of their website is about proselytizing their version of Christianity to other Christians. Here’s examples of what they list as their activities:

    On April 28, 2007, Soulforce conducted a vigil during which participants silently prayed for Dr. Dobson’s wholeness…

    Thursday, May 11, when the delegates voted to maintain their anti-homosexual policies twenty-seven United Methodist leaders were arrested the second time after staging a Pray-In on the stage of the Convention Center.

    MH,

    I think Sam Harris is attacking a straw-man as the Reformed Jews, Quakers, UCC, and Unitarians I’ve met would certainly say scriptures are written by fallible human beings.

    How are those “moderates”? The only straw-man here is the one you’ve constructed. When you present a list where Reformed Jews are probably the most populous you’re not being representative. If these are the “moderates”, who are the “liberal” or “progressive” religious groups? People bring up the most fringe groups and people to defend religion.

    chicago dyke,

    I don’t understand the appeal of the idea that believers can persuade believers. I’ve read so-called “progressive” Christians write about other Christians, and it’s extremely weak, their organisations are fringe. Their arguments using scripture are either ours, or they’re based on faith. I don’t accept that a Christian who believes homosexuality is a sin is going to listen to arguments about contradictions in the Bible from a lesbian Christian over a lesbian atheist. They can argue based on faith, but that’s only really saying “my faith is right, and yours is wrong”, that’s not persuasion, and I seriously doubt their ability to convert.

    They’re not really part of the same group, people who believe the Bible says homosexuality is wrong don’t even consider these people Christians, but they’re already in a world where there are many Christian sects who believe different things and do not have influence over each other. I’m pretty sure Soulforce got the same amount of change out of the Vatican and Focus on the Family as any atheist would.

  • Neon Genesis

    If we’re only giving our money to atheist groups, aren’t we turning into the atheist version of the Boy Scouts and isn’t it hypocritical for us to complain about Boy Scouts discriminating against non-theists while we turn around and do the same to theists? Doesn’t Camp Quest welcome theists to their camp?

  • Aj

    Neon Genesis,

    Discrimination isn’t bad in itself, it’s acceptable to discriminate between a ground floor entrance, and the second floor window, when attempting to exit a building. Supporting the long tradition of conflation between faith and charity is wrong, supporting the propagation of religion is wrong, not doing so for the right reasons is a good application of discrimination. Do I have to explain the Boy Scouts of America’s motivation and the consequences of their policy?

  • Neon Genesis

    My new policy is to ignore you, AJ since you’re just a troll.

  • Rieux

    Aj has covered much of this (well said, Aj), but I’d still like to pitch in my two cents.

    MH:

    Rieux, most of the liberal to moderates I’ve met fall into the belief in belief camp.

    But you accused Harris of a “straw man” argument. The fact that “most”—just most—of the believers you are carefully selecting differ from his description implies that some others match it, and that indicates that your “straw man” accusation is therefore false. Harris’ description in fact applies to real people, which means you had no business calling it a “straw man.”

    Let’s remember, as well, that you cherry-picked that one line about the authorship of the Bible out of the Harris passage I quoted, ignoring at least four other critiques of moderate religion that are if anything even more broadly true than the one you focused on.

    And Aj is correct, as well: responding to a criticism of moderate religion by citing “Reformed [sic] Jews, Quakers, UCC, and Unitarians” simply makes no sense. None of those denominations are “moderate”; they’re all very liberal.

    Then, BrettH:

    That was a stronger response than I expected….

    Um… okay. You opened your comment by alleging that people who disagreed with you didn’t understand what the word “secular” means. That’s not exactly a cheery invitation to gentle and deferential conversation. Then you decided to lecture us to the effect that “being religious doesn’t actually make you stupid or evil” and “they’re capable of doing good work when they try, just like the rest of us,” which comes off very negatively: it implies that you think the people you’re writing to are incredibly ignorant and stupid. You got a “strong” response from me because I didn’t think your comment was very nice.

    Religious institutions can run charities whose work is secular, even though they use the church or religion’s name.

    For the purposes of deciding whether to fund them from an explicitly irreligious charity, I would certainly not consider those charities secular at all. As recent struggles with anti-discrimination laws (e.g., Catholic Charities in Massachusetts refusing to place children with gay couples) demonstrate, all too often those charities are in fact sectarian religious outfits disguised as secular ones for simple legal reasons.

    I agree with you that religious entities can mount efforts that are technically secular. But given that a huge part of the reason those entities exist is to promote the religion itself (ever wonder why Catholic Charities isn’t called “Happy Human Charities”?), I don’t see why any skeptic who is concerned with the power religions wield would support them. You’re just bankrolling religious PR.

    It was somewhere with a very christian name staffed by church volunteers, but all they did was serve food.

    And you don’t think the church, or indeed Christianity, reaped any reputational benefits from people recognizing their “good works”? Please.

    I’d still be willing to give time or money to that specific group if I couldn’t find an non-church based one I liked better….

    That is of course your choice. I just don’t think you should tell yourself that you’re not helping that church’s public relations campaign. There are in fact ways to help people without strengthening religion’s grip on American society as an ugly side effect. And that strengthening is anything but “secular.”

    (I’m also pretty sure I agree that finding worthy Cristian charities to give to defeats the purpose of a group like FBB, that was a good point)

    Well, thank you. I think it’s a somewhat broader point than you seem to recognize.

    Finally, Neon Genesis:

    If we’re only giving our money to atheist groups, aren’t we turning into the atheist version of the Boy Scouts and isn’t it hypocritical for us to complain about Boy Scouts discriminating against non-theists while we turn around and do the same to theists?

    No.

  • Rieux

    NG:

    My new policy is to ignore you, AJ since you’re just a troll.

    What offensive nonsense. Aj responded reasonably and directly to your questions. The fact that you don’t like his answers does not make him a troll.

    For shame.

  • Neon Genesis

    “What offensive nonsense. Aj responded reasonably and directly to your questions. The fact that you don’t like his answers does not make him a troll.

    For shame.”

    This is based on my previous interactions with AJ. Whenever I discussed anything at all with AJ in the past, he would always insult me or accuse me of purposely quoting people out of context for a malicious purpose. He is a troll.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 muggle

    Neon Genesis, I don’t give a flying fig about the Boy Scouts discriminating. I’m just glad they’ve been outed as such because it was never obvious and that’s somewhat trickery and the public schools have no business advertising them. Likewise, they have no business advertising Camp Quest. Same reason. How the hell is AJ being a troll? He just disagreed with you.

    I don’t think “secular” means what some of the people here think it means. The word isn’t a synonym for “atheist”. It means the work the group does isn’t religious.

    Well, duh! No kidding? Um, I think we’re saying just that. Hence my dollars going to secular organizations. However, if they have a religion’s name or some religious concept such as soul, spirit, etc., it’s promoting the idea of that nonsense and I’m not going to support it. Point blank. The one exception I make is the Red Cross and that because not only are they secular and the red cross only based on the Swiss flag because they were founded by a Swede, they have been willing to bend in a highly un-Christian areas using a symbol of the majority faith in Muslim countries and Israel.

    I cannot stress this enough: if there’s a religion or religious concept in their name, they are automatically prostelyzing even if they don’t preach! Supporting them is also supporting that religious concept.

    Christina, Joe, thanks for the links! I have bookmarked them into my charities folder. Samiimas, do you have any for the charities you reference? I just halved my income by retiring but I like to keep these things on hand for when I do have a few extra dollars. I’m applying for Social Security too and if I get that, well, I’ll be okay and hopefully will again have a few dollars each month to give. Rieux, well said all around.

    I really think we need to get more Atheist charities that actually do!

  • MH

    Aj and Rieux, I live in New England where nearly a quarter of the people have no religion. The liberal denominations are the religious moderates, and evangelicals are scarce. Most of the people who claim a religion don’t attend church, and the few that do are usually the liberal Christian denominations.

    Even those in the conservative denominations don’t seem to buy into the dogma of their religion. I was using my wife’s family as one example. But most of the Catholic families around here have two kids and will plainly state that they don’t believe their churches dogma on birth control or homosexuality. I mean we have a married lesbian couple in my neighborhood raising their daughter Catholic!

    So I remain skeptical that anyone really buys any of this.

  • Rieux

    So, MH, no response to my demonstration that you accused Harris of a “straw man” that was in fact not a straw man?

    I live in New England where nearly a quarter of the people have no religion. The liberal denominations are the religious moderates, and evangelicals are scarce.

    And the relevance of this is what? When did Sam Harris say anything about New England particularly? He talked about religous moderates, not the people who are relatively moderate in (your version of) New England.

    There are more than six billion of us who live in places besides New England. When Harris says something about your neighborhood particularly, maybe your parochial personal experience in that atypical place will be relevant. Until then, Unitarian Universalism, UCC and Quakers are not “moderate,” they’re flamingly liberal—and, more to the point, the conditions on your street do not disprove what Harris said.

    This exchange started because you decided to take shots at Harris’ argument. Retreating to “well, that’s not how things are around here” amounts to admitting that he’s right.

  • Neon Genesis

    Why do all these people who find the idea of working together with any religion in any way so repulsive bother coming to a site called The Friendly Atheist?

  • Anonymous Atheist

    Neon Genesis wrote: “Why do all these people who find the idea of working together with any religion in any way so repulsive bother coming to a site called The Friendly Atheist?”

    You are misunderstanding the motivation for people’s objections.

    Many atheists have volunteered/donated to religious-based charities because they had no other options available but still wanted to help. And almost any secular charity still has many religious people volunteering/donating to it, despite the charity having nothing to do with the individuals’ religions and not promoting religions in any way.

    Rieux’s October 9th, 2010 2:46 pm post explains why we specifically dislike the Foundation Beyond Belief including religious-based charities: it misses the point of bothering to have a Foundation Beyond Belief.
    http://friendlyatheist.com/2010/10/09/giving-atheist-money-to-a-charity-that-works-with-churches/#comment-561032


    How ignorant do you think the atheists who disagree with FBB on this point are? Do you think that we’re under the impression that there are no religious people “involved” in the Foundation for African Medicine and Education, or in a soup kitchen in Trenton? Do you think we’ve grown up in a society that isn’t dominated by religion and religious people—one in which every public effort we’ve ever participated in hasn’t been overwhelmingly staffed by believers?

    If that’s the case, why does FBB need to exist at all? Why don’t you just give money to Catholic Charities and Christian Disaster Relief and Christians Against Poverty and Operation Blessing and all of the thousands of other overtly faith-based charitable organizations in the world? You can even spare a dime or two for FAME and similarly secular organizations as well. Atheists have done all of the above for decades, if not centuries.

    If “taking care of people” is the one and only thing you care about, why do you need a Foundation Beyond Belief at all?

  • MH

    Rieux, dragging six billion people in this when Sam Harris has largely been talking about the US (e.g. Letter to a Christian Nation) seems like you are changing the terms of the debate.

    There was just a discussion about the Pew survey which showed most religious Americans failed a test in religious literacy, and most Catholics don’t understand the concept of the real presence!

    So claiming they are ignorant of their religious texts and then claiming they believe them to be literally true seems incompatible.

  • gsw

    Re: Quakers,

    Lots of them are atheists. You don’t have to worship a god to be a Quaker, you just have to follow the golden rule.

    Lots of quakers believe that it is sufficient to take Jesus as an example (e.g. Matthew 7:12).
    Lots of conscientious objectors, driving Ambulances through the battle fields in WWII were Quakers.

    They have done good work through the years and are just better organised than non-affiliated atheists.

    I have never yet met one who proselytizes.

    Josh, that does not mean that god exists, just the Shakespeare was right.

  • Aj

    MH,

    Aj and Rieux, I live in New England where nearly a quarter of the people have no religion. The liberal denominations are the religious moderates, and evangelicals are scarce. Most of the people who claim a religion don’t attend church, and the few that do are usually the liberal Christian denominations.

    Sam Harris was not writing about your personal experience. New England occupies 5 out of the 6 states for lowest church attendance according to Gallup. I wouldn’t be surprised if they also had the highest proportions of non-religion. The Christian denominations you cite make up less than 5% of the US population. Also, I have recently become aware that a proportion of Quakers in the US are fundamentalist Christians.

    In a study in 2005 that ranked countries on their acceptance of evolution the US was ranked second from bottom ahead of Turkey. It was claimed that around 40% of Americans are creationists, it’s possible that a majority of Christians in America are creationist.

    So claiming they are ignorant of their religious texts and then claiming they believe them to be literally true seems incompatible.

    That wasn’t the claim made by Harris, the point was that religious moderates don’t take scripture seriously. I doubt many of them have read the whole Bible, and they probably have it interpreted and dictated to them by someone else. Many religions do this, some have not allowed lay people to read scripture, some were not allowed to be translated, and in other times and places literacy wasn’t high.

  • Rieux

    MH, I’m afraid you’re confused about what is and is not at issue. And I do wish you’d remember your initial potshot that started this exchange: you claimed Harris’ argument was a “straw man.” I explained why it isn’t. You seem to be pretending that that never happened. Are you tacitly conceding that you were mistaken?

    Rieux, dragging six billion people in this when Sam Harris has largely been talking about the US (e.g. Letter to a Christian Nation) seems like you are changing the terms of the debate.

    What are you talking about? What in the world makes you think that Sam Harris’ work, or the comments from him that I quoted, only apply to the United States?

    Have you read The End of Faith? It absolutely does not “largely talk about the US.” And Harris’ concern with religious moderates is certainly not restricted to the U.S.; you seem to have forgotten that the passage I quoted was from Harris’ online debate with Andrew Sullivan, and Sullivan is English (though he lives in the U.S.).

    So, let’s recap. Harris voices several critiques of religious moderates, and I quote some (~5) of those critiques. You accuse him of a “straw man,” because you think one of the critiques does not apply to “most” of the religious people you personally happen to know. Reminded that Harris was not just talking about residents of the notably atypical region you live in, you complain that at least he “has largely been talking about the US,” which (1) is in fact false with regard to the critiques I quoted, (2) is also false regarding a wide variety of other critiques—including the most infamous ones—that Harris has published, and most importantly (3) does nothing whatsoever to rehabilitate your complaints about Harris.

    In that debate with a famous Englishman, Harris in fact does not limit his critique to American religion (though he does point out the well-studied religious insanity present within the American populace as evidence that such insanity is no small problem for the world). The “moderate” religion Harris attacks is certainly present in numerous other places on the globe, though its numbers pale in comparison to the numbers of theologically conservative True Believers.

    All of which is to say that you’re simply evading the questions at issue, over and over again, with red herring after red herring. The peculiar cultural milieu of New England (where I spent several years myself) is not relevant. Your limited personal experience with a tiny proportion of the world’s religious people, burdened as that experience is with selection bias, is not relevant. Your (as it happens incorrect) notions about Harris’s major focus on the United States are not relevant.

    What is relevant is what Harris has written, and what you have criticized him for. Please stop throwing chaff into the air.

    …Well, too late—here’s more:

    There was just a discussion about the Pew survey which showed most religious Americans failed a test in religious literacy, and most Catholics don’t understand the concept of the real presence!

    Uh, indeed. I think we should remember, though, that even we atheists had an embarrassingly low average score on that (pitifully easy) quiz; our score was just a little less embarrassing than anyone else’s. The real finding of that survey is that there is widespread ignorance among Americans regarding basic facts about religion.

    But what in the world does this have to do with Harris’s point?

    So claiming they are ignorant of their religious texts and then claiming they believe them to be literally true seems incompatible.

    What kind of nonsensical notion is that?

    The fact that a given group of religious people scored poorly on a test of religious literacy does absolutely nothing to demonstrate that they don’t believe absurd things. (Surely you’re aware that there is a strong correlation between low levels of education and high levels of religiosity.) At most, it might show that many of them don’t believe the very specific absurd things that the leaders of their religions, many of whom have been dead for centuries, have defined.

    As you must be aware, the Pew survey (which did not even seek to study beliefs, of course, just literacy) is not the only research that has been performed. And guess who’s done a good job of compiling eye-opening results in the area you’ve just mentioned?

    According to Gallup, 35 percent of Americans believe that the Bible is the literal and inerrant word of the Creator of the universe. Another 48 percent believe that it is the “inspired” word of the same—still inerrant, though certain of its passages must be interpreted symbolically before their truth can be brought to light. Only 17 percent of us remain to doubt that a personal God, in his infinite wisdom, is likely to have authored this text—or, for that matter, to have created the earth with its 250,000 species of beetles. Some 46 percent of Americans take a literalist view of creation (40 percent believe that God has guided creation over the course of millions of years). This means that 120 million of us place the big bang 2,500 years after the Babylonians and Sumerians learned to brew beer. If our polls are to be trusted, nearly 230 million Americans believe that a book showing neither unity of style nor internal consistency was authored by an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent deity. A survey of Hindus, Muslims, and Jews around the world would surely yield similar results, revealing that we, as a species, have grown almost perfectly intoxicated by our myths. How is it that, in this one area of our lives, we have convinced ourselves that our beliefs about the world can float entirely free of reason and evidence?

    – Sam Harris, The End of Faith

    So please stop flailing. New England is not relevant. Your personal impressions regarding the beliefs of a handful of your very liberally religious neighbors are not relevant. The Pew literacy survey is not relevant. What is relevant is the claims from Harris that I quoted, and your criticisms of those claims. If you want to defend those criticisms, please do so, and stop the diversions.

  • Rieux

    NG:

    Why do all these people who find the idea of working together with any religion in any way so repulsive bother coming to a site called The Friendly Atheist?

    Nonsense. You are cramming words in people’s mouths.

    Who here has stated that (s)he “finds the idea of working together with any religion in any way so repulsive”? To the contrary, at least one atheist on this thread—moi—wrote the exact opposite:

    Do you [BrettH] think that we’re under the impression that there are no religious people “involved” in the Foundation for African Medicine and Education, or in a soup kitchen in Trenton? Do you think we’ve grown up in a society that isn’t dominated by religion and religious people—one in which every public effort we’ve ever participated in hasn’t been overwhelmingly staffed by believers?

    Several of us here have pointed out that we cannot in good conscience give money to religious organizations. You misrepresent this by calling it “find[ing] the idea of working together with any religion in any way so repulsive.” And it’s simply nonsense that a refusal to bankroll religious organizations amounts to a refusal to be “friendly.”

    Hemant himself, as he points out in his post this morning, is not always “friendly” toward religious ideas and institutions. He is—and many, many more of us are as well—friendly toward religious people.

    You are playing a disingenuous shell game to try to slight people who disagree with you. Please stop.

  • http://www.foundationbeyondbelief.org Dale McGowan

    Muggle said:

    I don’t trust go-between charities. Besides it really doesn’t make much sense when you think about it. You’re paying extra operating costs for a charity to find other chartities for you. They’re always going to have to keep a portion of the money for their operation costs.

    Well, no. 100% of donations to Foundation Beyond Belief go to the featured charities. We keep nothing. Our operations are funded by separate donations and grants.

    Many of the other arguments in the thread are perfectly valid for guiding personal choices. We designed our system so members can distribute their donations as they wish, expressing their humanistic worldview as they wish, not as we wish.

    Many of our members find this particular kind of outreach to progressive religious groups a meaningful expression of their humanism. You are welcome to find that self-contradictory, but is anyone really suggesting they shouldn’t even have the option?

  • http://www.foundationbeyondbelief.org Dale McGowan

    Also: The name “Soulforce” is a translation of the Sanskrit word satyagraha, coined by Gandhi to describe the principle of nonviolent resistance. It has no relation at all to the religious concept of “soul.”

  • Aj

    Dale McGowan,

    Also: The name “Soulforce” is a translation of the Sanskrit word satyagraha, coined by Gandhi to describe the principle of nonviolent resistance. It has no relation at all to the religious concept of “soul.”

    I am a child of a loving Creator, a daughter or a son of the Soulforce at the center of the universe.*

    4 Step Journey: Step 1 (soulforce.org)

  • http://www.foundationbeyondbelief.org Dale McGowan

    Aj, you included the asterisk without the note it leads to, which says:

    *Neither Gandhi nor King required sectarian allegiance to any one statement of faith or religious practice. Soulforce welcomes you to do justice with us.

    These folks are working hard to keep their organization free of a single sectarian focus. Let’s not omit the evidence of that effort.

  • Rieux

    Many of our members find this particular kind of outreach to progressive religious groups a meaningful expression of their humanism. You are welcome to find that self-contradictory….

    I may or may not be speaking for anyone else, but the reason I’m somewhat unenthused about the label “humanist” is that it is far too easy to co-opt (and in fact has been co-opted, in notable instances) into full-blown religion. There are unquestionably folks on the planet who find unquestioning obedience to the Pope to be “a meaningful expression of their humanism.” The meaning of that word is ambiguous enough that I guess I’m not interested in pounding tables and fighting about which conceptions are “self-contradictory” and which aren’t; it’s just that a humanism that finds value in bankrolling religion is a humanism I’m not interested in.

    I’m just talking about what kinds of institutions I can support in good conscience and which I can’t. In light of the various ways it’s used in the real world, the fact that someone who disagrees with me carries the label “humanism” on their nametag is neither here nor there.

    [I]s anyone really suggesting they shouldn’t even have the option?

    Of course not. Atheists have, and have always had, the “option” of giving money to religious institutions. Nothing prevents atheists who admire, say, Quaker peace efforts from giving money to Quaker organizations.

    I don’t see what terrible harm would befall us all if FBB decided to make funding decisions that were simply as secular as its name is. The notion that bankrolling religious organizations is necessary to present certain donors with “the option” of expressing their humanism that way seems to me rather silly: said humanists are, as they always have been, capable of contributing money to religious institutions on their own. They don’t need a Foundation Beyond Belief for that.

    The reason FBB was attractive to me is that I trusted it would find deserving charities to support that are, of necessity, secular. Given that that’s not something I can count on, I don’t see what good FBB does me—or any atheist who cannot in good conscience give money to religion. (Muggle, in his/her October 9th 10:15 am comment above, made much this same point.)

    Repairing the tattered remnants of the American separation of church and state is a life’s work for many of us, and it is extraordinarily difficult. It’s just a little distressing that the separation of church and atheist charitable organizations appears to be nearly as porous. Et tu, Brute?

    As I said, I don’t see what the point of a Foundation Beyond Belief is if it awards funds to organizations that are overtly and proudly religious. Charitable agencies that send money to religious and secular institutions alike are a dime a dozen; if remaining staunchly on the secular side of the line isn’t your fundamental selling point, what is? What does FBB provide that, say, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (one of many religious charities that has numerous atheist donors) doesn’t?

    The name “Soulforce” is a translation of the Sanskrit word satyagraha, coined by Gandhi to describe the principle of nonviolent resistance. It has no relation at all to the religious concept of “soul.”

    That seems to me disingenuous. The concern many of us have is with the message a name like “Soulforce” conveys to the very real members of our society who hear and read it. Extremely few people are ever going to hear about any Sanskrit background to the name, and fewer still will care.

    The name “Soulforce” transmits a message, and Sanskrit etymology is very much a tree falling in a forest with no one around to hear it. So to the contrary, “Soulforce” has every relation to the religious concept of “soul”—because that’s how effectively everyone who encounters that organization does, and will continue to, understand its name.

  • Rieux
    Neither Gandhi nor King required sectarian allegiance to any one statement of faith or religious practice. Soulforce welcomes you to do justice with us.

    These folks are working hard to keep their organization free of a single sectarian focus.

    But surely you’re aware, Dale, that many of us aren’t convinced they’re working nearly hard enough to include atheists in the picture. The phrase “any one statement” is much weaker than “a statement” would have been (and in fact the latter would have been much more accurate, given the prominent role atheists played in the Civil Rights movement). With “any one,” the message of that disclaimer is “Any religion is okay, as long as you have one.” So, “single sectarian” or not, Soulforce’s focus is very obviously religious in nature, and the rest of us are simply cut out.

    The disclaimer you quote appears to me to be an attempt to avoid picky doctrinal debates about the specific characteristics of the “loving Creator”/”Soulforce at the center of the universe.” I don’t see any hint of welcome toward (or even recognition of the very humanity of) those of us who think that “Creator”/”Soulforce” concepts are false, irrelevant, and/or pernicious. The disclaimer doesn’t provide one.

    As I wrote to Chicago Dyke above, it appears to me that Soulforce does some good things. Quite possibly the religious world is better off with Soulforce than without it. But, as far as I can tell, they’re not an organization that pays any attention to atheists as allies. If their online materials are to be believed, they are anything but “Beyond Belief”; I don’t understand why atheists should be expected to be pleased with including a group that directly excludes us from its message.

  • MH

    Rieux, I’m not sure I agree that ruling out all the religious denomination you think are liberal is fair as I’m letting you define the term moderate.

    But my first criticism is this text:

    “48% percent that believe that it is the “inspired” word of the same—still inerrant, though certain of its passages must be interpreted symbolically before their truth can be brought to light.”

    What does this even mean? Usually this means humans wrote it somehow inspired by God, but once that enters the equation how could it also be inerrant? It seems to be saying that 48% is saying they believe humans wrote it. Given a population of 300 million, that means 150 million believe humans wrote it.

    But then he says “230 million Americans believe that a book showing neither unity of style nor internal consistency was authored by an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent deity.”

    Here he is conflating biblical literalism with people who believe in human authorship some how inspired (what ever that means). This is where I think he’s running off the rails.

  • http://www.foundationbeyondbelief.org Dale McGowan

    Rieux said:

    But surely you’re aware, Dale, that many of us aren’t convinced they’re working nearly hard enough to include atheists in the picture.

    Entirely possible. How might we improve that?

    As far as I can tell, they’re not an organization that pays any attention to atheists as allies.

    If so, don’t you think our generous outreach might open up that awareness? Many of our members do. When advised of our choice, their executive director said they were “delighted and grateful!” for the support. IF they weren’t aware of us before, they’re aware now, which strikes me as a positive development.

    We will continue to build that connection during the quarter as we did with QPSW, who included an article about our sponsorship on their website and engaged in a member Q&A. Raising awareness is a slow process. Give the quarter, and the Foundation, some time.

    If their online materials are to be believed, they are anything but “Beyond Belief”

    I’m sorry this continues to be unclear. It is our members who are “beyond belief.” The givers. That is the point of the Foundation — giving nontheists a flexible way to express the compassionate side of their worldview however they wish. If we were trying to pretend that Soulforce and QPSW were “beyond belief,” this discussion wouldn’t be necessary, would it?

    So again, I ask — is anyone really suggesting that our members shouldn’t even have the option of supporting these groups if they see it as a relevant expression of their worldview?

  • Rieux
    But surely you’re aware, Dale, that many of us aren’t convinced they’re working nearly hard enough to include atheists in the picture.

    Entirely possible. How might we improve that?

    I see no indication that that outcome is within the bounds of our capabilities. “That” might improve in the long term—the arc of the moral universe doesn’t necessarily, but sometimes does in practice, bend toward justice—but I don’t find it plausible that a check toward Soulforce could possibly so drastically change their mission.

    I think Soulforce is likely to “improve” in the respect in question when homosexuality and/or dissent from religion become so normalized in our society that no one sees the point of having a Soulforce any more.

    If so, don’t you think our generous outreach might open up that awareness?

    No, I don’t. Theism—both the simple belief in gods and the emotional reliance on such concepts—is just not that weak. Soulforce, like so many other religious institutions, is built on the Luke 6:48 “rock” of God. Our alternative—tolerant, even-handed, secular “sand”—is never going to compete in religious minds with the overwhelmingly vital “loving Creator” and “Soulforce at the center of the universe,” no matter how much money our sandy values are accompanied by.

    I just don’t think it’s plausible that we can secularize a deeply and constitutionally religious institution with a little money. Chicago dyke may be correct that many of the people Soulforce serves may be future atheists—and that’s very nice, if true—but I just don’t think it’s at all realistic to expect the institution itself to be any less blinkered by religion tomorrow than it is today.

    When advised of our choice, their executive director said they were “delighted and grateful!” for the support.

    Um.

    I don’t think anyone here doubts that you can buy a smile and a handshake with a meaningful-sized check. Numerous churches would be plenty happy for us to tithe, too; that doesn’t mean they have any interest in paying attention to atheists’ values or interests.

    I’m sorry this continues to be unclear. It is our members who are “beyond belief.” The givers.

    I don’t think that is a point of unclarity, really. It’s precisely what you’ve shown, both in words and in actions. It’s just hard to understand why a “Foundation Beyond Belief” would give funds to institutions that aren’t.

    That is the point of the Foundation — giving nontheists a flexible way to express the compassionate side of their worldview however they wish.

    All right. As several of us have explained, here, we think that’s something nontheists have always had, and would continue to have regardless of whether FBB existed. We’ve always been capable of writing checks to the Quakers, the MCC, the UUA, and so on. (Total freedom of choice with regard to choosing the recipients of my charitable donations seems more “flexible” than any charitable entity could possibly promise to be.)

    If FBB were secular at both ends—both in the donors it gets money from and the recipients it chooses—then I could see why an atheist seeking secular efforts that deserve her charity would have a terrific reason to donate. (I would be one such donor.) But as it is, I just don’t see what value you provide that the UUSC or United Way or a thousand other charities that are untroubled by religiosity don’t already.

    I wish there were an atheist charity that did the kind of winnowing work FBB does but that wasn’t willing to give atheists’ money to institutions that, by their very nature, work to keep religion relevant and atheists marginal. I’m sad that there doesn’t seem to be one.

  • Aj

    Dale McGowan,

    That’s not relevant to the point I was making, I included the link for anyone who wanted more information. I’m sure they’d gladly welcome atheists to their pray-ins, help them tell others how much Jesus loves them, and to argue with Christians about what God actually meant to say in the Bible.

    The point I’m making is, that if their website if accurate, then you are severely misrepresenting these people. You say that people should have a personal choice, and then give them the entirely wrong impression. They are a religious organisation, all their staff and board are religious, they do proselytize (on their website, books, and videos, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they also did that at events), their “core values” that dictate their policy includes religious doctrine (a stupid and harmful one at that), and I’m pretty sure they’re not trying to tell people that “the principle of nonviolent resistance” is at the centre of the universe.

  • Rieux

    Ouch: I’ve just read the entirety of the Soulforce Credo that muggle quoted in part. It’s really very bad. It plainly provides that atheists only have value as human beings to the extent that we are horrifically wrong about the existence of God. And then it says that nonbelievers “can never really be free.” What a facepalm moment:

    Let these six Soulforce truths help set you free

    Six Soulforce Beliefs About Myself

    1. I am a child of a loving Creator, a daughter or a son of the Soulforce at the center of the universe.*

    2. I am loved by my Creator exactly as I am. My sexual orientation is not a sickness to be healed nor a sin to be forgiven. My sexual orientation is a gift from my Creator to be accepted, celebrated, and lived with integrity.

    3. I am not an accident. I have a purpose. I was shaped by my Creator to love God and to assist in God’s eternal struggle to win justice for all Her children who suffer injustice.

    4. I will not discover my purpose nor realize my power (my own soulforce) until I join my Creator in doing justice (making things fair for all.)

    5. When I join my Creator in doing justice, my own life will be renewed, empowered, and made more meaningful.

    6. In serving others, it is as much my moral obligation to refuse to cooperate with evil as it is to cooperate with good.

    * Neither Gandhi nor King required sectarian allegiance to any one statement of faith or religious practice. Soulforce welcomes you to do justice with us.

    Can you affirm this Soulforce Credo About Myself?
    Take your time. Think about it.
    Read Gandhi and King.
    Read the primary sources that inspired Gandhi and King, for example Jesus and the other great pioneers in faith.

    You can go on to Step 2 without believing the Soulforce Credo About Myself, but both Gandhi and King remind us that we can never really be free until we see ourselves in this whole new way.

    Muggle quoted point 1, but #3 is just as bad, and #4 is actually worse. And I’m sorry, Dale, but that asterisked disclaimer is mealy-mouthed, inapplicable (“any one” means the irreligious are not protected by it) and totally buried under the avalanche of dependence on “Creator” and “God.” Take away those words and the Credo simply crumbles.

    And “both Gandhi and King remind us that we can never really be free until we see ourselves in this whole new way”? That’s awful; it’s a brutal shot at anyone who doubts a “Creator”! (I severely doubt King and Gandhi would agree that they’re being represented accurately, either. If King had declared stuff like that, he would have lost several of his top lieutenants.)

    And muggle is absolutely right: how can anyone read the above and then claim with a straight face that Soulforce doesn’t “proselytize”? The above is rhetorically aggressive, in-your-face evangelism. Goodness—the Protestant church I grew up in wasn’t as ugly as the above.

    Wow. I can accept that, when we’re talking about Quaker peace efforts in Africa, FBB funding poses interesting intellectual issues because of the prevalence of nontheism within Quakerism. Is Quakerism religious? Well, yes, but it’s at least an interesting question.

    Not so here. Soulforce’s core philosophy is flat-out, hardline, without-God-we-are-nothing supremacist theism. You’re funding that? Ouch.

  • Rieux

    Aj:

    The point I’m making is, that if their website if accurate, then you are severely misrepresenting these people.

    I’m forced to agree. Dale, I like your work on atheist parenting very much, but I’m having trouble understanding how you can look at Soulforce’s materials and then describe them the way you have. It’s an uncomfortable contrast.

    Um, that goes for you, too, Hemant. [Cringe.]

    They are a religious organisation, all their staff and board are religious, they do proselytize (on their website, books, and videos, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they also did that at events), their “core values” that dictate their policy includes religious doctrine (a stupid and harmful one at that), and I’m pretty sure they’re not trying to tell people that “the principle of nonviolent resistance” is at the centre of the universe.

    All true. And all difficult to square with the significant respect I have for Dale McGowan and Hemant Mehta.

  • http://www.foundationbeyondbelief.org Dale McGowan

    Aj and Rieux: Yes, ouch. It’s impossible to dismiss those concerns. All I can do is offer another way of looking at it.

    That credo gagged and appalled me the first time I read it. It seemed to be aimed precisely at my head, and I resented it like hell. It just seemed to fly in the face of their other statements.

    Then I realized they weren’t talking to or about me. It isn’t me they’re telling to “tape the credo to my mirror”; it’s LGBT people who are already in the church and drowning in self-loathing as a result. The organization’s purpose is to get these people out of the abyss religion has thrown them into, and they accomplish it by meeting their audience where they are — to rescue them from self-destruction by separating the god they already believe in from religion.

    They clearly point out that “the organized Christian religion has become the enemy of God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children,” then offer a way for LGBT believers to dump organized religion and stay alive. That’s urgent work.

    Like you, I wish they’d simply do away with god entirely. For some LGBT people, that works. Others are too tightly entwined in it and must be helped out through god-centered statements. I’ve never seen an organization do it more effectively. But I fully understand and respect your position on it.

  • Rieux

    Then I realized they weren’t talking to or about me.

    But they are. Soulforce is talking about every human being on the planet. Their assertion is that “both Gandhi and King remind us that we”—we human beings—”can never really be free until we see ourselves in this whole new way.” And the “whole new way,” as we’ve seen, is the Murderer’s Row of #1′s in-your-face theism, #3′s crypto-Creationism, and #4′s declaration that atheist life is hopeless.

    How exactly is it acceptable that Soulforce “helps” gay kids by dehumanizing you, me, and (more to the point) your donors?

    ….then offer a way for LGBT believers to dump organized religion and stay alive.

    Sure—to dump organized religion in favor of a brutally atheophobic disorganized one. That’s progress?

    That’s urgent work.

    My God, what level of religious supremacism could you not talk yourself into supporting under that rationalization? If Campus Crusade for Christ did a good job at fighting anorexia (hell, I bet they do), would you ship atheists’ money to them, too?

    Is there any level of religious debasement of atheists that is too much for FBB? Is there any limit to the nastiness a religious group can launch at us and get money from you anyway?

    Okay, I guess I’ve sufficiently expressed my outrage at your notion that it’s acceptable for you to give other atheists’ valuable charitable donations to organizations that dehumanize us. But there’s still another angle remaining—that of misrepresentation. Here’s Hemant, your board member, in the original post:

    People wanted to know why FBB, a group that encourages atheists to donate money, was giving to a group that wasn’t secular or non-theistic in nature.

    The response was (and still is) very simple: We don’t give to groups that waste money proselytizing.

    But, as the evidence uncovered on this thread (and not disclosed by FBB or in Hemant’s post—a concern in itself) makes clear, Hemant’s statement above is flatly false. Soulforce’s central mission is “proselytizing” their religion. That is what they’re doing with FBB’s money.

    Hemant also describes Soulforce as an entity that merely “work[s] with churches to change their perceptions about the LGBT community.” But that’s absurdly disingenuous: Soulforce’s “work” consists predominantly in pushing their theology on people who don’t share it.

    You’ve gotten 500+ nontheists to buy in to your organization, Dale, with all of the inertia and psychological resistance to divestment that that act carries with it. Those folks trust you to find worthy recipients for their contributions, and you have picked an organization that pushes a supremacist brand of theism that brutally debases nonbelievers. But you don’t even mention that to your donors; thanks to your omissions, they are deprived of the information they need to make an informed decision—both about Soulforce and about FBB. (You claim to “fully understand and respect []our position on” Soulforce’s bigotry; do you bother to mention to your donors that the grounds for that “position” exist?) Meanwhile, Hemant is seriously misrepresenting the nature of the group right here.

    What you’re doing verges uncomfortably close to fraud. I am severely discouraged.

  • p.s.

    I have to say I’m with rieux and the rest on this. I was origanlly going to post something about how having religious board members doesn’t imply purposeful exclusion of atheists/non christians, but after visiting their website… there is just alot of pseudo religion there.
    Don’t get me wrong, I think they are doing great work. LGBT people of faith should feel comfortable. But I think that for a group whose goal is to donate to charities *beyond beliefe*, the following choices may have been more appropriate:
    http://www.glaad.org/
    http://www.hrc.org/
    http://www.lambda.org/

  • http://www.foundationbeyondbelief.org Dale McGowan

    Rieux (et al): Your point is hitting home, very hard. I’m beginning to think we did not do our job at all well in fully spelling out the approach Soulforce takes.

    Even if we were comfortable with their approach and language, others may not have been, and we had an obligation to much greater clarity. Their direct assault on religion as the source of the problem made it difficult for me to see other serious concerns. That is my fault entirely.

    Please understand that we are trying to do something entirely new here, and there’s no path. Thanks for not holding back so we can get (much) better at this.

  • Rieux

    That was extremely gracious, Dale. I don’t think I would have responded nearly as constructively as that, had I been in your shoes.

  • http://www.foundationbeyondbelief.org Dale McGowan

    Rieux, I am extremely serious about getting this thing right and justifying the trust of our members. It’s the center of my professional focus right now, and it’s been incredibly difficult to keep all of the balls in the air. That’s why we need this kind of input, even if it hurts. The willingness of people in this thread to do their homework and make their case is going to result in a better FBB.

  • Rieux

    Dale, I still can’t support FBB, but the kinds of sentiments you express in your past few comments are strong reasons to support Dale McGowan. Many thanks for your principled commitment.

  • Pingback: FBB doesn’t get it | No Forbidden Questions

  • http://www.examiner.com/history-in-madison/leonard-cizewski Leonard H Cizewski

    I’ve skimmed the comments and one that I’ve not seen is why do religious based organizations such as Soulforce or a Quaker peace group need money from an atheist charity?

    Religious communities are sufficiently prosperous that if they perceive the need for such groups they enormous resources to take care of it themselves.

    Plenty of secular, non-ideological groups are in desperate need of funds and don’t have the same level of access to the wealth of the religious community as does Soulforce or the Quakers.


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