I got an email from reader Keith that’s worth sharing:
I live in Austin, Texas. We are currently within 30 miles of several major wildfires fueled by months of severe drought and a day or two of high winds (mercifully subsided). The last estimate I saw predicted 500 homes destroyed in Bastrop County alone.
I went to the Internet, where I found a couple of good pages suggesting ways to help. The Red Cross can always use cash, of course, but, being nearby, I could see an opportunity to put clothes and other necessities in the hands of people right now. The places listed to accept donations included the Austin Area Food Bank (a good, local, secular charity which I support). But for donations of clothes, disposable plates and cups, towels, and other need-it-now items, I chose to go to a local Catholic center. Not without reservations, mind you. I considered leaving a note saying, “Please do not proselytize to the people who receive these items.”
In the end, I trusted my neighbors to get these needed items to people who, in some cases, had minutes to prepare for evacuation, and didn’t worry about how they might choose to deliver them. Criticize churches all day ( I know I do), but they had the organization in place, they were close to me, and they were available for a dropoff at an hour convenient to a working man. I have a reasonable amount of faith that the items will reach people who really need them and who probably won’t complain much even if they don’t like whatever message may be attached.
I don’t blame him for what he did. Churches have the infrastructure in place to do a lot of amazing things for people in need — unfortunately, that help is often conditional on the recipients accepting (or pretending to accept) superstition in their lives.
This is something Humanists must change if we want to live out our values. We don’t have the amount of money so many religious groups do, but we have the goodwill and manpower needed to make something like this happen.
This is one of the goals of Foundation Beyond Belief (a group I work with). We just launched a program called Volunteers Beyond Belief which mobilizes atheists locally, both in and out of times of crisis, but I hope we can eventually expand the program to the point where we can provide secular alternatives for the things normally offered by the Church. We have a long way to go before that happens, but if we can get enough volunteers in one city, and enough funding to move forward, we can be the place people go to when they want to help others without guilt-tripping them into believing exactly as we do.