Should It Be Considered ‘Charity’ If You Give Money to Your Own Church?

On last week’s Real Time with Bill Maher, Republican atheist S.E. Cupp — Oh my god, there are two of them now! — argued that Mitt Romney donated millions to charity (“poor people”) because he donated to the Mormon Church.

Maher quickly called her out on it:

His argument in a nutshell: It’s not “charity” because the Mormon church doesn’t need the money. (“Name one poor Mormon!”)

On his show Friday night, he elaborated on the distinction:

His argument is the same as before: Giving money to organizations that aren’t helping people who truly need it shouldn’t be considered charity, whether it’s the Mormon Church, large symphony orchestras, or colleges with already-huge endowments.

As far as I can tell, whenever there conclude polls that say Christians/Mormons/whomever give more money to charity, they don’t separate out giving to their own church. In 2010, 35% of charitable giving could be filed under “Religion”… compare that to the relatively paltry 8% given to “Public/Societal Benefit.” Meanwhile, check out this article about atheists giving to causes that don’t directly benefit themselves. That’s charity.

So what would the numbers look like if you removed Christian tithing (or at least whatever proportion of it directly benefitted their own church)? While we’re at it, go ahead and remove any money atheists give to atheist organizations. Then, who would be considered “more generous”? Not that it’s a contest, but I can’t find any studies that separate giving to one’s own group and giving to causes that help other people. I’d love to know if the percentages still hold up in that case.

(Thanks to @WCK604 for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • DG

    Chair hippo light car style thus mean top. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-A-Anderson/100000016895400 John A. Anderson

      I can’t argue with that, DG.

      • DG

        I know I wouldn’t, it’s pretty obvious.

        • Heide

          The mormon religion only helps people who regularly attend the mormon church – if you are needy and unwilling to go to their church each week for 3 hours and sign in then you are not getting any help from them. I would say the largest part of the money given to Mormon churches goes to church functions, sending missionaries to all regions of the world to try and convert people to mormonism and for building fancy temples. I don’t see how any of that should be considered charity. If I belonged to a country club and I gave them money that they used to recruit new members, build bigger fancy facilities and have functions for its members would that be a charity?

          • DG

            There are plenty of charities that tend to certain people under certain conditions.  That doesn’t make them less a charity.  Maher’s attempt to gerrymander the English language to fit his own bias is one of the glaring problems with modern atheists. Instead of being like the atheists of old and taking the accepted laws of logic and method and turning them against religion, many modern atheists appear to want to twist and turn the rules to attempt to exclude religion, as if dealing with it on its own terms is something someone like Maher is ill prepared to do.  And yes, based on the content of so many statements Maher makes, it’s clear to anyone with a modicum of knowledge of the subject that he is beyond ill prepared.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chriswarr78 Chris Warren

      Yay, Madlibs:

      Einstein believed that DG’s theory should, like all other laws of Hippo obey the principle of light. In other cars, DG’s light should be stylish even within any meaningful reference chair. 

      • DG

        Heh.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    That’s an interesting distinction, that I hadn’t really considered before. Of course, it’s true that there’s a difference between giving to a cause and giving actual charity. I’ll bet most of us look at any tax deductible giving as if it were charity. An easy mistake to make.

  • Conspirator

    I like the fact that he brought up supporting opera and ballet as comparisons.  He makes a valid point.  He should have gone on to point out that the Mormon wealth wasted on fantastic structures is similar to the Catholic Church.  Furthermore, if you tithe to the Catholic Church you are getting a tax deduction for the following:
    1.  Providing defense to child predators.
    2.  Paying off the victims of child molestation (not that those people don’t deserve the money, just seems odd to get a tax deduction for paying them).
    3.  Attacking organizations that support the victims of the child predators in the church. 

  • Onamission5

    I suppose it would depend upon what your church does that they call charity. Do they run a soup kitchen and hold monthly clothing drives? Can you donate to that directly? Then yes, that is a charitible contribution. Do they use the money to pay clergy salaries, fund guest speakers to promote their political agenda, and build themselves a new baptismal? Then no, that’s not a charity, that’s a for-profit organisation hiding behind religion.

  • GregFromCos

    Has there been a study that show’s that Atheists give any larger percentage of their money to true charitable organizations? What percentage of our money goes to SSA, FFRF, AA, or AHA, as a means of spreading our ideaology, as opposed to charities that help people.

    I just think this issue is much more nuanced than we often make it sound.

    Are Christians really better off giving more of their money to charity? Does this add to why many religious are so vehemently opposed to higher taxes because they can’t dispute how much they need to tithe? How often does giving away money cause them financial hardship that gets passed onto others? Are Freethinkers more or less likely to manage their finances responsibly?

    I’d just like a few more answers on this topic. In my experience Christians do give more of their money to charity. And I think many skeptics give just as much money to spread their ideology as Christians. But again, a study would go along ways to proving me wrong.

    All that to say, hopefully sociologists and economists will give us more light on this in the future as more and more free thinkers come out.

    • Charon

       “Christians do give more of their money to charity.”

      This is possible.

      “Many skeptics give just as much money to spread their ideology as Christians.”

      There is no way this is true. Do you know anyone who tithes 10% of their income to the FFRF? (An annual membership in the FFRF is ~0.1% of the median US income.)

      • GregFromCos

        I did not argue that any atheist gives 10% of their income to FFRF?

        I argued that once you break down the giving to how much is spent to help people as opposed to advancing their ideology, do Atheists truly give more to helping people. Not 100% of money given to a church can be considered as advancing their ideology (soup kitchens, shelters, etc…).  

        Again, it’s about the nuance of the question.

    • The Captain

      Lots of claims here… very little “evidence”.

      • GregFromCos

        When did 2 claims become “lots’? And of those 2 claims, the claim that Christians give more to charity is supported in the articles Hemant linked. And the other claim, I say I’d be willing to change my mind on, and wish there would be more studies on it… But as of yet, I’m unwilling to assume that we are better at this, when there is no evidence to support that claim…

  • http://www.facebook.com/AndrewFoxMusic Andrew Fox

    Without tax-deductible charitable contributions, most nonprofit arts organizations would collapse. The most successful companies tend to get less than half of operating revenue from ticket sales and events if they’re lucky.

    Then again, arts organizations have been demonstrated time and again to be fantastic for the local economy. A good opera company or theatre or museum tends to generate a lot of jobs for the company, plus tourism, local bars and restaurants, dry cleaners, foot traffic to local businesses, hotels, airfare/trainfare…it goes on. Plus educational outreach to schools, which is usually a very cheap service compared to having to fund a comparable program out of the district’s coffers. And then there are the rising real estate prices and property taxes associated with properties near arts districts, which again means windfalls when sales occur.

    Supporting the arts isn’t about supporting the arts, it’s about propping up a TON of local businesses, which in turn is good for tax revenue.

    • http://twitter.com/coreyferdinand corey mcpherson

      Agreed. You could also make the argument that giving to the arts helps further mankind in a much more efficiently philosophical way than giving to your religious institution, which, most likely, isn’t asking you to contemplate anything. 

    • The Captain

      The problem with “trickle down” arguments is who is the money “trickling down” too?  For instance what restaurants did these opera goers visit? The struggling one where the servers are barely scraping by? Or (way more likely) the 5 star high priced, booked most nights,  one where the staff is already raking in money? 
      Also “hotels” and “Airlines” are not people. Also Airline profits where estimated to be 6.9 billion last year so saying that giving to the opera helps airlines out well may be true certainly is not “charity”!Not all “trickle down” is the same, many times it’s a case of helping those that already are doing fine.

      • Gus Snarp

        Maher very intentionally mentions opera and the symphony, hoping that people will make the mistake you did and assume that everyone attending is rich and living large. Lots of people go to the opera and the symphony who are not particularly rich, and they eat in every restaurant in the vicinity of the venue, not just the fancy ones. Not to mention that every restaurant is employing people who are barely scraping by. At some higher end places the servers do quite well, and some moderate places they do well some nights (the ones when the opera is playing, probably), but struggle on others. But the dishwashers and busboys are all struggling.

        But again, Maher made a conscious choice. He didn’t mention theater, because people are more likely to realize that people like them go to see plays once in a while. Maher wants all arts organizations to lose tax deductible status, not just the high-falutin ones. And the economic impact of the arts has been well established, it’s much greater than the impact of football, for example.

        • The Captain

          “you did and assume that everyone attending is rich and living large” yes…. because I go to the opera and I’ve seen who attends. It wasn’t full of poor people! Middle class, sure some, but people who can afford $80 tickets are not whom I would generally consider “charity” cases. Those people where 15 blocks down the street waiting for food at the sometimes shelter. Just more justifying of helping those that can already help themselves.

          The other main problem with the “trickle down” argument your making is that your are saying that ANY financial transaction that occurs because of a donation can be used to justify what you call “charity” by your definition. Seriously according to this argument, fraternity dues are a form of “charity” because they have to pay a maid to clean up their vomit on mondays.

          • Gus Snarp

            Just to be clear here, when I say the arts have an economic impact I’m not saying it to justify them as a charity, all I’m saying is that your argument that opera goers are going to 5 star restaurants where everyone is raking it in is crap. Only a handful of opera goers are eating at 5 star restaurants, that money is going to all sorts of people at all income scales. But that’s nothing to do with it being a charity. It is a good argument for government support of the arts. Again, I’m not so much making the economic impact argument, it’s already been made, I’m just defending the piece of it where you claim that impact is only benefiting 5 star restaurants.

            Also, it’s not trickle down. Trickle down is a very different economic theory and I’ll thank you not to associate very real economic multiplier effects with failed Republican ideology.

          • Gus Snarp

            BTW, my local opera performs one block from the homeless shelter, and they have a neighborhood night on which they hand out tickets (not just a few, like most of the house), to people who live and work in the neighborhood of the opera house, which is the poorest neighborhood in town. Hundreds of very poor people get an opportunity to see a grand opera on a regular basis, for free, and they take advantage of it. They also offer rush tickets (as do most performing arts organizations) that can be had for ten dollars at half hour to curtain. The larger point of all that is that Maher is making this about snooty opera, when there are arts organizations at all levels, all ticket prices, and serving all sorts of people that get donations. That may or may not justify tax deductible status, but Maher is attempting to play on the general perception of opera and symphonies to create an emotional reaction to all arts organizations. That’s not a reasoned argument, it’s a fallacy, thought I don’t know which one formally off the top of my head.

            • Clarissa

              I HATE the stereotype that all people who enjoy classical music are “snooty” and rich by default. And I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this program! Classical music is and should always be for everyone. But I digress. 

    • Revyloution

      Andrew,  I donate to my local arts orgs,  not because I need the tax deduction, but because I like arts.  

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    And all churches are not equal.  Some of the Christians who argue here seem to set the bar pretty high for actually helping people who need help.  As opposed to, you know, paying for big media campaigns to make sure people can’t get married.

  • TheAnalogKid

    S.E.  Cupp . . .  If I can’t say anything nice . . .

  • http://www.facebook.com/chriswarr78 Chris Warren

    Want to utilize egregious tax loops and feel pious doing it? Please won’t you give some money to the invisible man fund? It’s tax deductible, and will curry favor with both the invisible man, and his handlers. As an additional bonus, your generous donation will be used to suppress the rights and opinions of those that don’t believe in the invisible man. Have fun supporting your transpicuous belief system, and have a good day in TIM. (The Invisible Man).

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Little/565071363 Paul Little

    I don`t consider tithing to be charity. More like extortion.

    • Ndonnan

      It all depends on the attitude in which you give Paul, i love to tithe because to me all good things come from God,and im well off.Not necessaraly financially but with health,family ect so i love to give,i get a buzz out of helping people.My life philosophy is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,Matt 7.12″What goes around comes around,what you put in is what  you get out,.I dont give to phone callers or wealthy churches,only to volenteers on the street and mostly to encourage them as people more than the actual charity itself,i tithe to my church to support the running costs but i always feel im giving back to God a bit of what Hes given me,never out off guilt or compultion

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Little/565071363 Paul Little

         How does one roll one’s eyes on the Internet?

        • Ndonnan

          No thats not it Paul,you just look crosseyed

      • Revyloution

        Here you are Ndonnan
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeSSwKffj9o Why does God need money?  Seriously,  he’s all powerful.  Shouldn’t he be able to help people without a bankroll?

        • Ndonnan

          He doesnt but we do,and yes He constantly helps people without spending a cent.He heals,feeds,guides and protects in a million differant ways

          • Glasofruix

            Do you have, maybe, proof? Evidence? Does he heal amputees?

            No? I thought so.

            • Ndonnan

              Yes,yes and yes

              • http://profile.yahoo.com/XVOR56LHNIAD6Q6JCE4RAZWDYI DC

                lmao, “look mama Jesus made ma arm grow back!”

              • Glasofruix

                 Then show us the proof and the evidence you have. And don’t forget the amputees.

                • Ndonnan

                  Google 700club

                • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson
                • Ndonnan

                  There are a number of examples in the bible and on the internet or even the skeptoid has a story called”the mirical of Calanda” but it really is all”pearls before swine”

                • Glasofruix

                   Since when the bible is considered as reliable evidence? Still waiting for the proof though…

                • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_of_Calanda
                  That’s pretty impressive.  I wonder why God didn’t just restore the leg.  I mean, if you’re going to perform a miracle, why only go 95%?  I know, I know, don’t question God.

                   the leg, after it had only just been restored, was cold and hard with contracted toes and blue in colour. Hence, Pellicer was not yet able to put his weight on it and still had to move around on crutches. After a few days the leg regained in strength and the toes were stretched out again. Also, the leg was initially a few centimetres shorter due to the loss of bone tissue that was caused by the fracture, but within about three months it regained its original length.

                  I guess he can’t give us any recent examples because that would violate our free will?

                • Glasofruix

                   Really? It’s kind of insulting to human itellect.

          • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

            What makes it a “he”? Something to do with its junk?

            And with healing and protection like it provides, who needs the Plague!

          • Thackerie

            So, when is “He” going to get around to healing, feeding, guiding and protecting the 20,000+ children who die of starvation and malnutrition every single day on Earth?

            • Ndonnan

              Well Thack theres pleanty of food to go around,all with adults to protect them,so why is there a problem? Blame God for our un willingness to do what it takes. Oh and what about the 120000+ children who are killed each day by the same selfish mentality by aborting them.Dont tell me you care for the starving when its almost a prereqisite to be pro abortion if your an atheist

              • Glasofruix

                So, he protects but people have to take care of the protection business by themselves? What’s the point then? Oh and please, the “abortion = murder” does not work with people around here, you see we have a bit of knowledge about human biology and reproduction.

                • Ndonnan

                  So your sceince based knowledge leaves you with no excuse,you know your not cutting up fairies.Your ,”reason,fact,sceince” based belief system is in serious denial,now crawl back in your denial hole.

                • Glasofruix

                   I know that a lump of cells is not a human child. I don’t have a belief system, i merely accept the evidence the science provides, i base my decisions on facts, not on beliefs.

              • Thackerie

                 Well, dang! You caught me out. It’s true; I DO care more about actual living, breathing people than cell clusters.

                • Ndonnan

                  What makes one “cell cluster” more valuable than another,why not “abort” old people,the handicaped,gypsys and jews???

                • Glasofruix

                  Because a few hundreds cells are not fully grown and reasoning human beings. Your “arguments” get more idiotic each time you make a post….

                • Ndonnan

                  Ha for people prideing themselves on sceince and reason you dont seem to have a basic concept of the value of a person.

                • Glasofruix

                  I fail to see the point behind your “ha”. You’re going into your circular argument mode again, no arguments, just some ignorant statements as usual…

                • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

                  How do you rate a few human cells vs. a fully grown Chimpanzee?  What about 1000 Chimpanzees, and a Dolphin?  Throw in a Koala?

                • Ndonnan

                  Its strange,when i google abortion,the few human cells i see has a face,hands and feet,so do they in the garbage bin full to the top of babies[sorry human cells,fetus, whatever] Whats the differance between a few human cells and an old man????? Time…You might consider a chimp your relative, to me they are a quaint creature. How do people who pride themselves on sceince,facts and reason come to a conclusion diametricly opposed to their own basic beliefs.We all look very differant than what we did 20 years ago,and a child looked very differant 2 years ago,a fetus looked very differant 2 months ago, the only differance is time

                • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

                  What’s different is that I don’t equate a 1 day old clump of cells with a fully functioning independent human.  Time?  Sure.  Let me put it this way, my wife and I mourned the child we lost shortly after we even knew it existed inside her.  That was our child, and losing him/her (we had no way of knowing which) hurt a lot.

                  But if my son were to die, it would be unimaginably more painful, as I’m sure you can sympathize.  What’s the difference?

                  The difference is that we recognize that not all stages of human development are equal.  If forced to choose between a 12 week old human-in-the-works and a mother of other children, ya, I’d pick the mother.  The RC church would say to let them both die, since it’s God’s will.  (citation available upon request)

                  Just because I’m pro choice doesn’t mean I’m pro abortion.  As I’ve told you before, I’d like to see fewer abortions.  I wouldn’t merely shrug my shoulders at a 9 month old viable fetus being killed.  But every strategy of the pro life movement ends up creating more pregnancies, and later abortions.

          • TiltedHorizon

            A million different ways you say? Agent Hunt, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to show just one way ‘he’, feeds,guides, or protects that cannot be explained rationally AND cannot be equally attributed to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

            This thread will self destruct in five seconds. 

      • Glasofruix

         What was the bible saying about trying to buy a ticket for heaven again?

        • Ndonnan

          No ticket required,entry is free for the asking

          • Glasofruix

             And yet you’re trying to pay your way up.

            • Ndonnan

              How???

              • Glasofruix

                 Do I really need to draw a picture for you?

                • Ndonnan

                  yes

                • Ndonnan

                  still waiting for your evidence?

  • Charon

    The Up with Chris Hayes show on atheism in March (pointed out on this blog, though not by Hemant) had a comment on this. Susan Jacoby, I believe, is the one who pointed out that non-religious people give less than religious people even correcting for donations to churches. She’s written some books, hopefully this is in one of them with some citations…

    Correcting for any donations to people you don’t think are in need is strange, subjective, and should be avoided. If you’re a Republican in Congress, for example, you’d probably include recipients of unemployment insurance and Medicaid to “not be in need”. If you’re a social Darwinist you’d consider Doctors Without Borders to not be a charity. Some people would consider organizations fighting climate change to be the most important charities of all, while others wouldn’t even consider them charities.

  • http://twitter.com/coreyferdinand corey mcpherson

    The point Bill makes is valid, for sure. If you donate a great deal of money to an organization who spends a thousand times more than what you gave on a political campaign to prevent gay marriage, you’re not really donating to charity. It doesn’t matter if they fed some hungry people or housed a few homeless for a few nights. Ultimately a line has to be drawn in the sand when it comes to what percentage of funds go to actually helping people versus furthering your own personal ideology. Sort of like the whole argument against Susan G. Komen. So much of their funding goes to overhead and promotion that many people have long deemed them not worthy of hard earned money.

    It gets messy fast though. Who gets to decide what is charitable and what isn’t? I would say donating to an art gallery, museum, or the arts in general is a charitable act. Why? Because I believe that art helps further humanity in a serious way. What if other people disagree with me, can I no longer write off those donations?

    *Maybe someone with more knowledge can fill me in on the way it works but, why is the government allowing write offs for charitable, monetary, donations anyhow? Is there not a bit of irony in this whole situation? A neo-republican, who thinks the government needs to shrink and keeps it’s grubby hands out of almost everything, is donating money to his religious institution, and then expecting a tax break for it? So, in an indirect way, isn’t the U.S. Government helping fund his charity of choice?

  • Jack-O

    It depends.

    Part of it is helping the poor and the needy (charity), another part of it is simply supporting the ministry of the church (not charity). At a Lutheran church some of my friends attend, they often have separate announcements for charities and community outreach stuff. I believe the tithing money often goes toward simply keeping the church open. The church is able to pay salaries, fund missionaries, support para
    church orgs, and pay the bills with the help of the offering.
    Historically, it’s also the source for communion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    I gotta be with Bill on this one. What should and shouldn’t be charity is debatable, but organizations that have castles and massive expensive venues certainly shouldn’t be included as a charity. It’s clear those places are spending a significant amount of their donations to things that aren’t helping the unfortunate.

  • I_Claudia

    Republican atheist S.E. Cupp — Oh my god, there are two of them now!

    I would wager a fair amount of money that there are actually lots of atheist Republicans in the elite (pundits, journalists, strategists and even the elected officials themselves). Many of these people are very intelligent and highly educated, and are often most interested in economic issues. However they are all keenly aware that a very important part of the Republican electorate is very religious and religiously bigoted, so they  have to present a facade of piety. I don’t doubt that at least some of the various pundits and other political creatures  implying Obama wasn’t a “real Christian” are not Christians of any sort but rather atheists happy to exploit religious bigotry to their own ends. Closeted gays are sometimes the worst homophobes, and I’m betting a closeted atheist can make a hell of a religious bigot too.

  • http://arkanabar.blogspot.com/ Arkanabar

    This notion that providing beauty to the poor is no real kindness strikes me as off-base.  One of the advantages of a beautiful Catholic church (or the Vatican museum, which is open to the public for free on the last Sunday of every month, FWIW) is that they’re accessible to everybody.  Whatever else you might say about it, modern culture (especially Le Corbu’s “warm, friendly reinforced concrete”) tends to be plain old ugly.

    Then there’s the notion that spreading the message of God’s infinite love is no real kindness.  Again I have to disagree.  Y’all may do just fine as the towering indomitable captains of your own fates, but for many, such a message is a real source of motivation and willpower.

    Another assumption I’ve yet to see challenged is that homosexual marriage is either a human right, a kindness, or morally neutral.  That is true, unless the teleological purpose of sex is to make babies, and the purpose of marriage is to ensure that the babies so made are reared in the environment most likely to contribute to their well-being.  If the latter premises are true, then homosexual marriage really is corrosive to society.

    • Bradthomas

      I guess your comment about Same sex marriage would be logical – if marriage was all about “making babies,” and if the only reason we had sex was to make those babies, and we only entered into marriage in order to have sex that we somehow couldn’t have outside of a marriage.

      Talk about “assumptions.”

    • The Captain

      If the latter premise where true those against homosexual marriage should also be against infertile (or people who just don’t want kids) couples to also get married.

    • Coyotenose

      Nonsense. Babies were being reared just fine before marriage was conceived, so to speak. Your being here is testimony to such. They’re also being reared just fine without marriage all over the place. Point of fact, MARRIAGE is often corrosive to childrens’ well-being, when there are issues between the parents.

      Until very recently, marriage has always been about gaining economic, social and political advantage, not about keeping society stable.

      Studies have shown that children raised by homosexual partners are at least as well-adjusted as those in traditional families, and that they are no more likely to be homosexuals themselves than anyone else, thanks. The only downside to having gay parents is the bullying and slander you catch from bigots.

      If homosexual marriage threatens anyone’s hetero marriage, the problem is in the minds of those heterosexuals, not anywhere else. And if hetero couples can’t handle gay people getting married, to the point that THEY damage society over being upset about it… again, that’s not homosexual marriage hurting society, that’s heterosexual bigotry.

      We have as examples entire nations that allow gay marriage and that aren’t suffering any downsides whatsoever as a result.

      —————–

      You mean you don’t see any *legitimate* challenges to homosexual marriage being a right or morally neutral. That’s because they don’t exist. All of us here have actually been over this a thousand times. No one can present a counterargument that isn’t based on God, ignorance, or, y’know, dishonest semantics games. Can’t imagine anyone using those…

      1. If any consenting adult has the right to marry, they all do. THAT IS HOW CIVIL RIGHTS WORK.
      2. Everything is morally neutral unless shown to harm someone else or hurt someone else. Homosexual marriage doesn’t cause any damage to anything except the sensibilities of people who can’t stand gays getting married, and the unsupported feelings of strangers are not evidence of immorality. Ta da! Morally neutral.

      Spreading unsubstantiated superstition that is constantly used to excuse marginalizing, discriminating against, and even directly harming minorites over trivial differences, as well as promoting ignorance of science isn’t “no real kindness”, you’re right. It’s evil. Superstition is evil. Religions are expanded, popularized superstitions.

      ——————

      Spreading the “message of God’s love” requires also spreading the message that those who don’t believe you are outsiders and will be punished. That is evil. It is a message of intolerance, arrogance and xenophobic tribalism in a pretty package, a box of maggots wrapped up like a birthday present.

      • monyNH

         *standing up, applauding, at my desk*

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      I was raised by two lesbian mothers. No matter how “corrosive” you feel it is, denying legal marriage to same-sex couples does not prevent them from having or raising children. Children will be born and adopted to gay and lesbian couples regardless.

      This type of prejudice saddens and sickens me. It’s all about punishment for people they consider to be “sinners.” Anti-gay people don’t care about the children of same-sex parents. They just want to punish those who dare to create and raise children outside the norm.

  • Miko

    The fact that he acknowledges that it’s analogous to donating to cultural and educational organizations should highlight how silly the argument is.  The main reason that people state for charitable donation is sense of duty–in other words, the civic desire to support one’s community.  Of course most charitable giving is going to go to organizations that the giver thinks are worth supporting.  Just because someone else doesn’t support those organizations for some reason (whatever that reason may be) doesn’t change the fact that helping ensure that those organizations have a continuing place in the community is charitable.  Saying “I don’t believe in this but I’m giving money to it anyway” doesn’t make you more charitable; it just illustrates that you have a bizarre psychological problem.

    • Coyotenose

       I don’t believe in the Libertarian Party of North Carolina, but I donate to them because state law is deliberately set up to sabotage independents and third parties. The LP is the group best able to highlight that all such entities, even ones I don’t like, shouldn’t have to spend six months jumping through hoops before they can even campaign. And I have no such bizarre psychological problem, thanks.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    I was in the live studio audience during the April 27 show, so I’m one of the people groaning when Cupp made her absurd statement, and cheering when Bill called her out on it.

    When I give money to my astronomy club, that is not an act of charity. When I and my astronomy club go to the poor neighborhoods of the inner city to show kids the night sky through a telescope for the first time in their lives for free, that is an act of charity.

    • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

       I was groaning and cheering along with you at home while I watched.  Even my husband (the most laid-back, doesn’t like to talk politics or religion type) literally facepalmed when he heard her say that.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      You saw Maher and didn’t invite me?! I’ll hold this against you forever.

    • Gus Snarp

      But if your donation to the astronomy club enables it to do that outreach in poor neighborhoods, then is it charity?

      • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

        For me, the differentiation is about specificity.
        The primary purpose of the club is to help its members enjoy the hobby of astronomy. Outreach activities is secondary. The money I pay to the club is to perpetuate the club, of which I’m a member. So the money is for my own benefit, and is therefore not charity. The club doing a charitable act is incidental to the existence of the club, and so my giving money to help the club exist is not charity.  If the club needs money for a specific act of charity, and I give money specifically to support that act, then giving money specifically for that act is charity.

        Tithing is primarily for perpetuating the “club,” the church. The fact that a church does charity is incidental to the existence of the church. If a church sets up a specific fund for a specific act of charity, then that money given for that purpose, unattached to the existence of the church, is charity.

  • http://arkanabar.blogspot.com/ Arkanabar

    @Coyotenose:  The evidence really does demonstrate that negative social outcomes are, one and all, more strongly correllated with separated biological parents than anything else, and that good social outcomes are, one and all, more strongly correllated with growing up in a family headed by one’s married parents. (example, example, example, pdf example — those are just the ones without apparent confirmation bias by the authors.)

    If engaging fathers in the rearing of their children is not the purpose of marriage, then there is NOT ONE social institution with said purpose.  (If I am mistaken, by all means point me at your data.)  Do you regard the rearing of children as something not sufficiently important to warrant its own, special culturual institutions?  If child-rearing is important enough to have its own cultural institutions, which do not include marriage, what should those be?

    “We have as examples entire nations that allow gay marriage and that aren’t suffering any downsides whatsoever as a result.”  Would you consider negative population growth a downside, or not?  If you wish to claim that negative population growth is the fault of contraception, abortion, or no-fault divorce, go ahead.  From my POV, all those evils are of a piece and share a mindset with gay marriage; different tentacles of the same monster, if you will.

    @Anna:  Nowhere have I claimed, nor does anyone claim, that children of single parents, gay couples, or cohabiting couples cannot be well reared, and escape negative social outcomes.  But the evidence strongly suggests it’s harder. 

    Nor am I here to punish anyone’s sins.  That is for God.  My job here on earth is to love everyone (ie, to seek for each and all what is to their authentic good, insofar as I am able).  Sometimes that will include bringing up an uncomfortable truth that the hearer wishes was a lie.

    Anyone who wants to claim that sex is not for making babies is deliberately ignoring Darwin and biology in general.  That is what genitals and gametes do.  To claim otherwise is the most absurd denial of reality.  The transcendant pleasure of sex is a testament to its importance in reproduction.  As sex and babies are clearly bound together by biology, anatomy, and physiology, and contraception fails, and babies are important and deserve the best of all possible support, I think it makes sense to limit sex to those who are ready to devote their lives to their natural offspring.

    • Stev84

      You’re an idiot. It’s as simple as that. Why are you try to pull that ridiculously, predictable and done-to-death anti-gay ploy? Those studies compare single parents to two-parent households. None of them compare straight to gay households.

      From my POV, all those evils are of a piece and share a mindset with gay marriage; different tentacles of the same monster, if you will.

      In your head, yes, which really doesn’t mean anything.

      Yes, marriage has advantages for children. Which is precisely why many gay couples want to get married. It also has advantages for childless couples. Which is why having children never has been, is not and will never be conditional upon having children. The whole “think of the children” crap is just a red herring, trying to appeal to emotions.

      You’re just a typical Christian idiot who thinks he can impress people with their sick and twisted notion of what they think is “love”. You’d be capable of hurting and killing people and somehow rationalize your actions away as “loving”.

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      @Anna:  Nowhere have I claimed, nor does anyone claim, that children of single parents, gay couples, or cohabiting couples cannot be well reared, and escape negative social outcomes.  But the evidence strongly suggests it’s harder.

      No, the evidence does not suggest that. There has been over 40 years of research of children of gay and lesbian parents. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that we are disadvantaged by our upbringings. To say otherwise is a blatant lie. I would suggest you actually look at some of the research:

      http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/parenting.aspx

      As for punishing “sinners,” this is the conclusion I have come to based on the evidence. Anti-gay detractors do not care that their push for laws banning rights for same-sex families hurts these couples and their children. They do not care because they (if they have put a modicum of thought into it) realize that they can never stop our families from existing. Since they can’t stop us, they want to stigmatize and discourage us. They don’t care about our rights, or about us as individuals. It’s all about meting out punishment for those who dare to break their religious rules.

      • Thackerie

        I knew from her first post that Arkanabar is an anti-gay bigot and typical liar for christ. Thanks for posting some real research to counter her hatefulness.

        • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

          No problem, although it’s unfortunate that this type of evidence is considered necessary. “Prove you raise good children!” is an unfair burden that isn’t pushed on any other minority group. If the Supreme Court had demanded 40 years worth of research on biracial children before striking down laws against interracial marriage, that would have been ridiculously unfair. 

          Incidentally, there are groups that have poorer records of raising successful children than others, usually because of socio-economic reasons, but those groups aren’t banned from marriage because of it. Even if it were true that children of same-sex couples had poorer outcomes, the children would still exist. What possible reason could there be for making such children’s lives emotionally and financially harder? If anti-gay people were truly concerned with optimizing outcomes for children, stigmatizing their families and denying them the same rights as other children hardly seems the way to go.

    • monyNH

       The “greatest negative social outcomes” are much, much more highly correlated with poverty than with single-parent or same-sex couple households. So why aren’t religious organizations putting some of those bucket-loads of cash they currently use to deny gay couples the same rights as hetero couples, and instead fighting for a livable minimum wage and healthcare for all? Can it be that they find bigotry a more tasty treat than justice?

      And by the bye, anyone who can look at the trajectory of the earth’s population and NOT conclude that negative population growth is a good thing is either hopelessly myopic, or doesn’t understand how supply and demand works.

    • Glasofruix

       Gay marriage exists in Belgium, and yet there’s no negative consequences. You sir are just an idiot.

    • Thackerie

       I’m past child-bearing age. Should my husband and I divorce? Or, will it satisfy you if we stay married but practice abstinence?

  • http://twitter.com/Buffy2q Buffy

    I don’t consider money given to a church a “charitable donation”.  Most of, if not all of the money goes to maintaining the church, proselytizing efforts and other things that have nothing to do with helping others.  

  • Tekeydieb

    going back to a mormon mindset, even then i don think it should be tax deductible, everthing is gods, your just giving a little back to him to support His work. (at least thats what i was always told in sunday school)

    • Glasofruix

      What the skydaddy would need moeny for if he’s all powerfull?

  • Kevin

    If I receive a service and pay for that service, I am not giving to charity, even if that payment is not obligatory.   Case in point, when you tip a waiter/waitress for their service, you are paying for their salary for the service that you have received.  When you tithe, you are paying for the preacher’s salary, upkeep and rent of the church, etc. so that they may provide the service to you.  If the waiter or the church then uses some of that money for humanitarian reasons, it does not then count in your favor.  I don’t think it is common to call tips acts of charity so I think it is inconsistent to call tithes acts of charity.

    • Guest

      Sorry tips to waitstaff who make $2.13 an hour is not charity. Tithes are.

      Also, if tithes are not acts of charity, then why do most people who tithe write it off on their income tax returns? If it isn’t charity, you should support Congress making it a law that you cannot write off your tithes.

      • http://keljopy.myopenid.com/ Keljopy

        Without tithes their would be no money for salaries for pastors and other church staff either.  Charity is something that advances someone else’s (like poor people, people with an illness, animals, etc.) interests and/or the public good.  Tithing that goes back into the church (as opposed to funding soup kitchens or something of that nature) helps your own interests (advancing your religion).
        There are plenty of non-profit causes that people give to that are not charity in the traditional sense (like funding the arts or colleges with large endowments as per his examples) that you can nonetheless write off on your taxes as they are charities in the legal sense.  I would love a law that forces all religious organizations that want any tax write-offs be as transparent as any other non-profit organization.  I would also be thrilled if any money that went back into the church instead of actually helping people was not able to be written off, but that would never pass.

      • Kevin

         You haven’t rebutted my point, you simply asserted the opposite.  How is tipping any different from tithing?  I have no obligation to financially help the waiter/waitress, yet I choose to help them financially.  People have no obligation to tithe, yet they choose to help the church financially.  In both cases, the person both receives a service and then indirectly pays for said service.

        What is the significant difference?  Do you think that the significant difference is the ability to write it off on your tax returns?  If so, then you would dismiss any time volunteering as not acts of charity since time is not deductible.  Also, if you were to help a stranger in need (you can only deduct donations to qualified organizations, not individuals), you will not be able to deduct it as a charitable donation.  These two examples are correctly labeled as acts of charity, yet you are not able to deduct them, which demonstrates that your criteria is incorrect.  The legal definition is at odds with common parlance and the point
        originally made was with the meaning of how charity is commonly used,
        not the legal definition, which makes your point moot.  So what is the significant difference? 

        As for the legal side, what counts as a charity has more to do with whether they should be tax exempt rather than their charitable works.  For example, some athletic organizations qualify, yet this doesn’t mean that they are charities in the normal sense of the word.  Its similar to when the Supreme Court classified atheism as a religion.  It doesn’t mean that atheism is a religion, it simply means that atheism is granted the same protections under religious clauses.  You can include the advancement of religion as a criteria for a charity because it is deserving of tax exempt status, while completely ignoring whether or not it is a charitable organization.  As you can see, this is a completely different topic which would be for another time and place, but I personally don’t see a compelling reason for why it is worthy of tax exempt status.

        • Glasofruix

          nwm, wrong place.

  • http://fontofliberty.blogspot.com/ Rarian Rakista

    There are plenty of poor Mormons btw.  Northern Arizona and Southern Utah are full of them.

  • Denis Robert

    In the case of the Mormon church, since tithing is far from optional, it should be considered taxation, not charity.

  • Gus Snarp

    I wrote a long diatribe about his singling out of arts organizations, but decided not to post it. But most arts organizations that accept tax deductible donations have significant community outreach programs that include education programs that either bring in kids of all economic levels to see performances or go out to schools of all income levels, or both. I admit that it’s not the same as feeding, clothing, or housing people, but how narrow a view of charity do we need? Is expanding young minds not a charitable thing? But yes, donations still fund all productions. The broader questions of what is valuable to the community, and just how much of the receipts should go to serving the poor. You can ask that about any organization, but I think it’s awfully hard to draw a hard and fast line. I think an ivy league school that serves mostly those with tuition money through an exclusive admission process is hardly a charity just because it offers a handful of scholarships. After all, a nice donation can still buy you admission, and if you’re getting something for you money, that’s not charity. I’d love to see church tax status become something that has to be applied for based on service to the community, rather than automatic regardless of what they do with the money, but I think there’s a reasonable debate about how organizations qualify for tax deductible status, and I don’t think it ends with the soup kitchen, homeless shelter, and free clinic. There are other needs to be fulfilled, and cultural enrichment and education should be included. Maher reveals his libertarian tendencies here by trying to draw a hard line based on, of all things, having a nice building (most performing arts organizations don’t, they rent from the government or someone else). Certainly the line shouldn’t be the quality of your building or the size of your endowment, it should be the service you provide, and that’s open for debate.

    • Gus Snarp

      yeah, this was the SHORT diatribe. Yeesh.

    • Kevin

      “I’d love to see church tax status become something that has to be
      applied for based on service to the community, rather than automatic
      regardless of what they do with the money”

      Considering that one of the valid functions for a qualified charitable organization, along with helping the needy, furthering public education, etc., is the advancement of religion, I don’t think this approach will have the intended effect.  While it would be nice if their tax exempt status was limited to soup kitchens, we would have to re-write the code to explicitly exclude religious services from tax exempt status if we want to tax their religious services.  Good luck with that, no politician in this current climate would even think of proposing that.  Just a note: religion in this context would also include atheist organizations as per the first amendment. 

      • Gus Snarp

        Well, of course that would be the ultimate goal. I agree, it’s unlikely any time soon, but I absolutely don’t think we the government should subsidize the advancement of religion through tax deductions.

  • Gus Snarp

    Two more thoughts before I quit hammering on this: 

    1. The whole thing starts out from the statement that Romney has giving millions to poor people. My complaints aside, Maher is right on all counts from that point of view, gifts to large arts organizations, gifts to private schools, and gifts to churches are not gifts to poor people. Especially gifts to the LDS church. Maher made a mistake when he said “to Mormons” and “name one poor Mormon” (worst argument ever), he should have said “to the Mormon church”.

    2. Speaking of private schools, note that in the chart you linked to showing 35% of donations go to religious institutions, 14% go to education. That could be truly charitable, but at least some portion of that is going to private schools attended by the children of the donor, that’s not charity, you’re getting personal gain from it. I wonder where donations to parochial schools falls on that chart. So if we take out donations to parochial schools AND churches, how much giving by religious folks is left?

  • Clarissa

    I do take issue with one tiny bit of your post: I really don’t see how supporting your local symphony isn’t an act of charity. The arts may not feed or clothe anyone, but I have yet to find anything on this Earth that more thoroughly and universally enriches a person’s life than music. Especially considering that this wonderful art form is in such serious danger of becoming obsolete, it’s more important than ever to support your symphony orchestra of choice. Maybe it’s not as urgent as housing the homeless or feeding the hungry, but it’s charity nonetheless.

    (Disclaimer: I am a classical musician and thus thoroughly biased.)

  • Lisa

    Forgive me if this has already been said, but as a former Mormon I can tell you that tithing monies go toward building ward and stake buildings, temples, etc. Only monies specifically–and separately–designated by the giver to actual, charitable categories such as the Humanitarian Aid or Fast Offering (which is to go toward those who need help with food and otherwise, in exchange for work) goes toward anything of actual charitable value. Other categories include the missionary fund (and few missionaries I know are asked to spend the majority of their time in service not related to proselytizing).  

    Tithing to a good Mormon is nothing but a tax, really. It’s not charity. I’d be really interested to know just how much money, then, Mitt Romney gave to tithing as opposed to the other funds that went to help people in real ways.

  • Alex

    There are three. George Will calls himself an agnostic.

  • Dennis Richardson

    If you do not like that I will not let you decide for me what is a charity then too bad for you. If I meet some one that needs charity I will decide by asking them will you leave atheism. If they refuse to, how will you know it. You will create in your mind what that reality is. Atheism is theft by definition. I expect that churches will be infiltrated by you and yours to confiscate money given to churches.


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