A new study released by The Chronicle of Philanthropy seems to suggest that the most religious states (especially in the South) are also the most charitable:
Donors in Southern states, for instance, give roughly 5.2 percent of their discretionary income to charity — both to religious and to secular groups — compared with donors in the Northeast, who give 4.0 percent.
But take a look at that wording: “Both to religious and to secular groups”… In other words, church counts as charity? Money you give to fatten your megachurch pastor’s wallet and proselytize to people counts as charity? Doesn’t that skew the results?
Well, let’s see what happens when you exclude donations given to churches and religious groups. When you do that, the least religious states (in the Northeast) take the lead:
Of course, the media isn’t mentioning that bottom image. The headlines everywhere seem to go along these lines:
Study: Less religious states give less to charity
Religious States Donate More To Charity Than Secular States
All of that is misleading. “Religious states give more money to churches” would be more accurate… but then no one would care.
So don’t get fooled by graphs like this:
Can we take anything away from this study?
Fred Clark says this:
Set aside those “charitable” donations to local churches, and the study shows that the churchier regions are generally stingier toward “secular” charities. You know, like those secular categories of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned.
I would add something else: The study shows that when there’s an infrastructure in place to give money to charity — including church — people donate.
Atheists don’t really have that infrastructure. When we donate money to charity, we usually do it on our own. But I suspect we’d be more likely to do it if we could do it as a group, just as churches do now.
At least that’s one of the working hypotheses of the Foundation Beyond Belief, a group I’m involved with that has encouraged atheists to give to secular charities (which, in this case, refers to charities that serve everyone, not just atheists).
As I write this, we’ve raised over $338,400. And that doesn’t include crisis fundraisers like in the case of the Colorado wildfires.
It’s a small amount compared to how much churches can raise — but again, this is all about infrastructure. If there were “atheist churches” on every block that held weekly meetings, no doubt we’d be giving more money, too.
But we can still raise our game.
I remember being in college (and a few years after that) when I was either making no money or living paycheck to paycheck. I was in no position to give to charity at the time. Once I started working a steady teaching job, though, I made sure to set some money aside for non-profit groups that I supported. Yes, that includes a bunch of atheist groups, but it also includes groups like the ACLU of Illinois and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
There’s no God commanding us to give 10% of our salaries to a church. We give out of the goodness of our own hearts. And we’d be making the world a better place if we supported good organizations with our donations (if we have the ability to do so) or time. They don’t even have to be groups that promote atheism; just ones that do worthwhile work.
Don’t let anybody tell you religious people are more charitable than atheists. It’s just not true.