Are Atheists Being Stingy When It Comes to Charity?

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

And:

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.

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.

  • Santiago

    Also, dont forget that given the infracstructure you were talking about, non religious people may donate time, food, etc to churches (food pantries, clothing, etc) because there is no local secular alternative.

    • Joe Zamecki

      Perhaps not locally, but internationally there are ways to give to secular groups. Foundation Beyond Belief has a nice long list of good secular groups doing all kinds of work. Also Atheists Helping the Homeless puts “Atheists” right in the name of their group, as they help all kinds of folks in need. http://www.AtheistsHelpingtheHomeless.org 

      • Santiago

        True, but when I want to act locally and benefiting members of my community by volunteering and donating food, clothing etc, I normally have to use religious charities. Lots of other oportunities outside my area, like the one you mention. Thanks for the link!

    • http://www.wholereason.com Daniel G. Sinclair

      The ‘no infrastructure’ excuse doesn’t work entirely bc there are secular charities to work with.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    One thing that always irritates me about these kinds of studies is that they are so focused on money. I don’t donate a penny to any cause. But I give around 20 hours a week of my time to several. Nothing is deductible. Nothing shows up in these charts. But what I give goes a lot farther than any money I might contribute… and has zero overhead, as well.

    • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert

      In some cases, your travel expenses to and from volunteering might be deductible.

      The trick with deductions is that, for most of us wage-slaves, we either have to give an outrageous percentage of our income to charity – which will almost guarantee an audit – or we have to have some other major deductible expense (home mortgages are the most common), in order for charitable donations to count at all.

      That said – kudos to you for your work!

      • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        Well, I manage to maintain a deliberately minimal income, so deductions wouldn’t really help. I wasn’t complaining about a lack of deductions, only pointing out that my contributions are of a nature that don’t typically show up in analyses of charitable giving. I suspect that is often the case.

  • http://twitter.com/enuma enuma

    I think one of the reasons that the infrastructure of a church leads to more donations is that it involves giving a small amount on a regular schedule instead of giving a single lump sum, which is what most of my donations to date have been.  I’m glad that more and more of the charities that I support are adopting the subscription method of donating. 

  • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

    I don’t think that “religous charity” necessarily equals “churches,” though. Like, I give to the American Friends Service Committee because they are a good peace group, and that’s a religious organization. I was about to be really depressed at what a high percentage of donations in this country goes to churches, but I don’t think it’s that simple.

    • Coyotenose

       I don’t know that it’s possible to even get a decent estimate for how much of money donated to churches ends up as “real” charity. Obviously some does. I suppose that once you take out the pseudo-charity, the numbers are more in the middle – meaning about even for the religious versus the secular donors.

      • Randomfactor

         There’s a local “charity” in my city which is religion-based.  Because of that, they are exempt from some of the reporting requirements imposed on other, secular charities.  That’s the OTHER reason I don’t donate to them.  I DO donate to the local homeless shelter, which is also run by a “rescue mission,” but they’re transparent about their income and outgo.

  • William Dimaculangan

    We’re still the most generous block of givers in Kiva.org!

  • Rebecca

    Thank you so much for this article.

  • Anonymouse

    I donate anonymously how do they know what my ‘religious’ affiliation is?  

    • Randomfactor

       The study was aggregated by region.

      • Travshad

        The study only covers donations itemized on the tax returns of people earning over $50,000.  You can search on their website by zip code and city.

  • Jenlyn

    yeah,  it’s called tithing, which is required by a lot of religions (or if not actually required, severely frowned upon if not offered)….but it’s not really charity when it’s required, now is it?

    • Sware

      My thoughts exactly.  To further this point I’d like to share a little something from back when I was a church going believer. 
       
      I was a single mother on very meager pay and living with family members to get by for a number of years while I worked to get on my own feet.  One Sunday morning the Lutheran church I attended put on the entire sermon around tithing.  I remember leaving that day feeling like a grown woman that had just been scolded for an hour and a half about giving a full 10% of my income to the church.  It was presented in such a way that I’m sure was meant to incite guilt from the congregation at how the poor church was struggling to get by.  I don’t doubt for many people that this worked on them.  For me personally though it infuriated me.  I had a child to feed and owed so much to the family members that were helping me out and if the stupid $5 I already gave the church each week wasn’t enough, then well, they were just going to have to pray harder for money.  They were essentially telling me to pray to solve all of my problems.  Turn about was fair play to me.  If you are guilt tripped into giving, can it really be called charity?  I’d personally call it caving in.
       
      I’ve since given on my own to some organizations I see fit to give to but they also have never asked me what my religious affiliation is…so how would they have an accurate picture of whether or not religion is a driving force in charitable contribution?

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    Perhaps the less rabidly religious states are better able to construct public policies that reduce the need for charitable giving.  Birth control, good schools, and fair lending laws prevent a lot of bankruptcies.

    • Coyotenose

       Excellent point. We all know (well, all of us except the usual trolls) that birth control dispensed by government agencies is literally worth more than its weight in gold to our economy.

  • Rwlawoffice

    Maybe I missed it , but does the study say that “religious charity” only means churches? Alot of Christians will give to religious charities outside of their church. Also, giving to the church does not mean that you are not helping the poor, feeding the hungry or what maybe considered secular goals.  A lot of churches have ministries set up for this purpose and a portion of the donations go to support them.  For example, our church has a portion of our donations going to a family homeless shelter, an orphanage, a transition home for older orphans, and food banks.     

    • Guest

      I think this was the point some of us were trying to make. I “portion” of your donation goes to these things, while the majority goes to pay your pastor’s mortgage.  You could always just go straight to the source and volunteer at the homeless shelter or donate coats, food, blankets or whatever, instead of being lazy and hoping somehow your money will find it’s way to the right people.  When the tornado in Joplin hit, I could have easily gotten my check book out and sent money to an organization who probably would have used 90% of it for their own cause, but instead I got in my car, used my own money for gas, drove there, put on some boots and gloves and started helping clean up.   One woman told us (as we stood infront of a pile of rubble that was once her home for 50 years) that all she wanted was to find some of her sunday jewelry. So we carefully started digging through the pile of house, hoping to find something for her. My point is, people usually need a simple act of compassion much more than they need you to text a code to a number to donate money that they will probably never actually see.

      • Rwlawoffice

        I do not disagree with you that a direct act of compassion is a wonderful thing and I applaud your efforts helping the victims of Joplin. I do that as well. But i also give to my church and other religious charities. When I give I look to see if the organization is elca approved if it is not one I am familiar with. I give to my church because I believe in what they are doing. I believe in preaching the gospel. I believe in worship services. I believe in the counseling the church does. I believe in the value of the youth groups. These are not secular works, but they are charitable works I believe are important and which I am glad to support. In addition portions go to what some would call secular charitable causes which by the way are consistent with the teaching of my faith.

        • Nox

           If you want to support preaching, and want to spend your money to support preaching, you are entirely free to do that. But it is not charity in any meaningful sense.

          If you buy a ticket to a movie you want to see, is that an act of charity? If you buy a burger and help McDonald’s pay their employees or building expenses, is that a charitable donation? Or is it just buying a product?

          • http://www.wholereason.com Daniel G. Sinclair

            I think it’s apples/oranges. To say that preaching is not valuable is naive.

            • 3lemenope

              He’s not saying that preaching isn’t valuable. He’s saying that giving money to preachers isn’t charity, much like giving money to the fast food clerk for a hamburger isn’t charity. You’re getting something for your money; a sermon, some counsel, whatever.

              • Nox

                 Thank you LM.

                That is exactly what I was trying to say.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    The church I once attended pushed hard for the 10% tithe.  The church was proud of the fact that it managed to use up to 10% of the money it took in for charitable purposes where the other 90% went to such things as pastoral salaries, staff salaries, utilities, building upkeep, insurance, and evangelism.   I think this probably was a fairly typical church and this means that if you tithe at 10%, you are really just giving 1% of your salary to charity.  The other 9% of your salary went to church overhead.

  • have to dig deeper

    It seems to me like there would also be many economical and sociological considerations to be taken into account as well. Maybe the more urban northeast donates time instead of precious money. Maybe the southeast has a higher proportion of wealthier families that are able to spare money for donations. I know that’s speculation, but it just renforces the more general point that such statistics are not so black and white. 

  • Pete084

    Religious charities give to the needy too! Like the wind up bibles that were flown out to the Haitians just after the earthquake; oh yes,  just what you need when you’re homeless and starving, a fucking talking bible!

    In churches they have the collection basket shaken under their noses to prompt them into giving, whilst we heathens have to choose a charity and go out of our way to give to those charities.

  • Octoberfurst

     Thanks Hemant. I’ve wondered about that data for awhile now. I always figured they counted donating to the church as “charity.”  But is it really charity since much of the donation goes to making the church nicer—better carpeting, better furniture, etc. Yeah they’re donating but it is to make THEIR church a more comfortable, pleasant place for them to worship in. So I really don’t look at that as charity.  I had a religious friend who bragged that he gave 10% of his income to “charity” but then I realized that his church demanded a 10% tithe so I didn’t think he was really being that generous.  ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/Cleon Cleon

    The main problem I have with this article is the assumption that “religious group” means “church.” It’s simply not the case – there are plenty of religious groups that aren’t churches, and function similarly to secular charities. Habitat for Humanity, for example.

    • Pseudonym

      Exactly. The real take-home message is “Religious people tend to give more to religious charities, atheists tend to give more to secular charities”. But it’s still true that religious people give more overall, and I’m inclined to agree that the social infrastructure is the main reason for it.

      • http://www.wholereason.com Daniel G. Sinclair

        I think the claim is that Xian’s also give more to secular charities. That was in Who Really Cares (the 2008 book)

        • Pseudonym

          There are many claims. Which claim you make largely depends on which barrow you’re pushing.

    • Nox

       It is not that “religious” means “church”. It is that “religious” includes “church”, which skews the data.

      • Dgsinclair

        But if the second map assumes that 100% of charitable giving is to churches and can be discounted, that is as skewed and blunt as the first map.

  • Verimius

    I give money to secular charities like Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty International. You can’t tell it came from an atheist because it isn’t labeled that way.

  • Realist

    It’s not misleading. We’re not allowed to say: “We’re the most generous at giving to causes we care about!” That’s total self-aggrandizing BS. Lots of religious charities to work I’d be proud to support as a non-religious person, if only there weren’t the spiritual angle.

    And whether or not churches provide something _we think_ is worthwhile, they provide a lot of something that _people want_. It’s the height of arrogance for us to claim that we’re more generous as long as you don’t count generosity we don’t agree with.

    • http://www.wholereason.com Daniel G. Sinclair

      I think it is valid to factor out, at least for clarity, resources spent on infrastructure and provision of religious services. Comparing money and time spent on non religious service would be interesting, and perhaps xians would still come out on top.

      But what does that prove? Only that their worldview produces such results. It also produces other positive, and sometimes negative ones.

  • Bzalisko

    Great article. I couldn’t have put it any better.

  • Tom Flynn

    Actually, the message I take away from this is that atheists *don’t* need to do anything more to “get their game up.” Despite a paucity of supportive infrastructure, atheists seem to give so generously as individuals that the relatively more-godless Northeast and West outgive the rest of the country when giving to churches is excluded. A further benefit: individual as opposed to communal giving is in important ways more secular, as it is free from the kind of peer pressure that groups such as church congregations commonly exert to warp giving profiles. Based on this data, we’re giving quite enough — and in the best possible way — right now!

    Tom Flynn
    Editor, FREE INQUIRY

  • Patrik W
    • Guest

       I don’t buy that the property owned by churches is only $500 Billion. There are 7 Mormon churches and a Temple within 10 miles of my house. You cannot convince me that the churches cost less than $2 million a piece and the temple anything south of $200 million and I don’t live in the city! If those facilities paid their share, my property taxes would be cut in half! They are taking money out of my pocket to promote a religion that I think is a lot of hooey.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ADCYA3VOJZ336QD2SGHBC6UV3E Blazers77

    I disagree with you on the semantics of removing religious organizations to more accurately depict a true giving comparison between Atheists and Christians.  But that’s probably because I’m not an Atheist.  Since I’m pretty sure my comments will automatically be categorized as having a religious bias, I’ll try to keep this as short as possible.  

    If you are going to remove religious organizations from the roster of charitable contributions, you better have a clear understanding of where those funds are truly going.  You might be surprised to find that most churches themselves have an operating cost that is less than 30% of their received tithes.  This might not be an acceptable answer to most atheists, however if you were to gather your friends together , rent a facility to host, print materials, and etc. you may find this figureto be a bit more respectable.  Many of the Christ -centered charities that I donate to (beyond what I tithe, and beyond what I give) see as much as 95% of those funds going to the cause.  Cross International (www.crossinternational.org) is on of those as 97.3% of their donations reach those in need.
    I do, however agree with you about motivating more people to donate.  Regardless of our religious affiliation we need to look after each other.  Don’t donate because you are an Atheist or a Christian, donate because you know it is the right thing to do.

    • http://www.shadesthatmatter.blogspot.com asmallcontempt

      The church I attended when I was still a believer prided itself on giving a significant percentage of it’s tithe-dollars to mission work (it’s been a decade now, but I think the figure was somewhere around 60%). 

      Now, SOME mission work is focused on real-world problems (food, water, yanno, charity stuff) the main thrust was certainly spreading the gospel. So, yeah, while that figure you gave may be admirable, I don’t know that it’s necessarily representative of most churches, nor do I think that most churches would put tithes toward things that atheists/secular humanists would appreciate.

      If churches would straight-up give that money to charity without the religious baggage and proselytization, I’d be singin’ a different tune. But I think it’s purposefully disingenuous to suggest that Christian ministry-charities do their good while pretending there’s no other component to it.

  • Guest

    And if this was the only study in the history of studies that said religious people give more, there might be a point in there.  As it is, you have the typical modern atheist notion that if 2+2=4 doesn’t help, just say 2+2=98234, and that will do it, while accusing anyone who points out the obvious that they must be one of them religious dumb types.  Notice it doesn’t say ‘gives to church.’  It says groups, religious and secular (and guess what, I’ve seen many churches help out ‘secular’ charities over the years’).  You know, charities that might actually be religious.  Of course this is the old Bill Maher (chuckle) notion that if it’s religious it can’t count as charity therefore religious people probably don’t give more (see changing the math above).  It’s a sad commentary on a movement founded on hatred, rage, ignorance, and self-congratulatory same think that at the same time thinks it’s just so damn smart.  I mean, really?  This is what our brilliant and enlightened age has brought us?  Just rearrange the data, state things that are ludicrously false, and count on similar thinking dunderheads to rally around and cheer?  Right.  How superior we are.  But I guess if my goal is to hate a group of people, I can switch things around all day until the data finally agrees.  Some of history’s best bigotry was accomplished that way.

    The funny thing is?  When I saw this story, I said I’ve got to go to the Friendly Atheist and see if they follow the Maher (chuckle) path, or if they buck up and admit that you can be an atheist in a world with good religious people.  But again, it never, ever disappoints. I suppose bigotry seldom does.

    • Isilzha

      How is giving to a church in any sense giving to charity??  It’s not bigotry to recognize that the money given to churches and other religious organization is mostly wasted in proselytizing and NOT helping anyone (except the church leaders who get to line their pockets).  Even the money spent doing “good” works often comes with heaps of strings attached to it (like listening to sermons or, worse, making those in need grovel and repent before receiving aid).

      So, the point is, when you remove the money given to churches and the many religious organizations it turns out that the religious aren’t really all that charitable.  Yes, they’re giving money away, but not with the intent of really helping other people.

      • SJH

         You can make that same argument for anyone. Example, if someone gives to Planned Parenthood, in my opinion, that would be the opposite of charity because I believe that organization does more harm then good. The study should not focus on what charities are good charities. This is for each individual to decide. The study should focus on to what degree people are moved to give/sacrifice to something they feel is a worthy cause.  It seems that if you look at it this way then it religious institutions still have the upper hand.

        • Isilzha

          Yes, PP harms people by providing reproductive health care to women!  YIKES…the horror of that!  AND they manage to do that without shaming them or feeding them lies like those stupid religiously based pregnancy centers do.

          I wonder if these comparisons take into account all the money wasted on televangelist con-men and the like.

          • Guest

            I love how you so missed the point that was being made. 

            • Isilzha

              I thought the point was too silly to address since I covered the HARM that’s actually done with the money given to religious “charity”.  Someone trying to counter with the idea that PP does harm is laughable!

            • Xuuths

              No, I think you missed out that the “point” was in error.  You seem confused about what “charity” means.

          • http://www.wholereason.com Daniel G. Sinclair

            They kill children for money and hand out condoms to help teens have sex. How noble.

            • Nox

               The “kill children” part is just straight bullsh*t.

               They do hand out condoms. To help people who are going to have sex anyway prevent unwanted pregnancies and the spread of STDs.

              A bit more noble than, for example, the pope going to Africa in the middle of an AIDS epidemic to tell african catholics that condoms cause HIV.

      • Guest

        For an anti-religious bigot with Nazi-like hatred of anything to do with religion, it probably would never count.  For most rational people without such a personality disorder, it counts since most people with brains and awareness of the facts know that churches give tremendous amounts of money and time to charities through their ministries.  Only if someone gets their reality from someone like Maher (chuckle), could that be hard to grasp.

    • Nox

       The more interesting question (and one it would probably be impossible to study):

      How many religious people who otherwise would give money to real charities, do not because they feel they are already helping the world by giving money to their church?

      • http://www.wholereason.com Daniel G. Sinclair

        I’m a Christian, and I support public radio. Is that a charity ?

        • Nox

           Completely missed the question again.

          But yes. I would call that a charity. “Public radio” isn’t enough information for me to tell you whether it is 501 (c)(3) or not. But in the sense that I’ve been using the word here it is a donation to charity.

          The reason NPR is an orange (even if you personally listen to it and enjoy listening) and your offering plate is an apple is because it is an example where you are spending your own money to make something available to others (or to society at large). Unless you’re just doing it to get that sweet NPR tote bag. In which case it would still be a selfish act (like tithing)

          To go back to my (admittedly kind of lame) fast food analogy above. If you get to the front of the line and tell the cashier you’d like to purchase a meal for the stranger behind you, that would count as charity. Regardless of whether that person needs your help, regardless of if they asked, this would be an example where you are spending your own money with the intent to benefit someone besides yourself (unlike tithing).

          Things which I think are not contributing anything positive to the world could still count as a charity. Things which you think are not contributing anything positive to the world could still count as charity. Paying the upkeep on your clubhouse, or paying to spread your religion, do not legitimately count as charity. You are buying a product. An invisible product sure, but buying it for yourself.

  • Reason_Being

    Thank you for writing this post.  I was going to write something similar on my blog.  I had noticed the whole “church” aspect of this study.  Which I heard about 3 times while driving on XM’s POTUS radio.  I had the question of donating to churches in my head.  This was an important piece to write. 

    Giving money to one’s local Church should be in a separate category when the study is looking at the religiosity of donors. It is a gross oversight by the people conducting the study. It is also a gross oversight when Romney talks about how much he gives (tithes) to the charity (the Mormon Church). It is bad and false PR like this that continues to hurt our movement.

    Thanks again for writing this post.

    • http://www.wholereason.com Daniel G. Sinclair

      Not all religious giving can be discounted as coerced, for salaries and buildings, etc. You’re going to have to be smart if you want to do a valid comparison. And I would guess that xians give more time volunteering, for some of the same reasons that giving money is better there.

      But what really will keep xians ahead of secularists is a strong built in emphasis on selflessness, service, and love as part of the ethos. I’m not sure a secular or atheist manifesto really puts those ideas as central, so you won’t have that ongoing bent, even if secularists are just as well meaning.

  • Guest

    Hemant, I agree with you about how easy it is for churchgoers to donate. I know that I am less likely to donate to a cause as an individual because I am afraid that my one time donation will put me on a ‘sucker’ list. It would be better if we had a organization like the United Way except without the graft and corruption.

    • http://www.wholereason.com Daniel G. Sinclair

      We all need charitynavigator.com, even for religious charities. However, xians also have voluntary membership in he ecla, which certifies proper financial controls and transparency.

  • SJH

    You show the second image which takes out church and religious groups. What are these religious groups? For example, is the local catholic charities soup kitchen a “religious group”. By religious group do they mean that the group is affiliated with a religion?

    I would be interested in seeing the statistics for how much money is given to charities that may be associated with religions but are secular in nature. Also would be curious to see what percentage of dollars from churches are spent on nonreligious related activities.

    • Margaret Whitestone

       “I would be interested in seeing the statistics for how much money is
      given to charities that may be associated with religions but are secular
      in nature.”

      Oh, but we keep hearing that charities that are associated with religions are in effect extensions of the church/faith, which is why they can’t be forced to follow laws that conflict with their “deeply held religious beliefs” (like serving dirty gay people, or letting women use their health insurance to get contraception).  You can’t have it both ways.   If religiously affiliated charities are secular for the purposes of padding the donations given by religious folks they’re secular when it comes to following the laws other charities have to follow.   If they can get out of following laws because they’re just extensions of the church then they don’t count when it comes to charitable donations. 

      • http://www.wholereason.com Daniel G. Sinclair

        Wrong

        • Margaret Whitestone

           What a profound and moving argument. 

  • Margaret Whitestone

    Just as I’ve always suspected:

    “When religious giving isn’t counted, the geography of giving is very different”

    Giving to maintain and promote your religion isn’t charity.    

  • dangeroustalk

    I have interesting story about this. When I was in grad school and working a full time job, I was living pay check to pay check (still am, but that’s another story). I had a friend who was a computer guy and a cancer survivor. He made a ton of money and drove around in a fancy sports car. He was also religious. Well, one day we were hanging out with some friends and it came out that I was donating to a cancer charity and encouraging others to do the same. My friend was surprised because 1. I had no money and 2. because no one in my family had cancer and yet I was donating to this charity. He felt really bad because he has so much extra money and wasn’t donating a dime to any charity (aside from his church). He told me the following week that I had inspired him to get more involved in charity work and I have been told that he met his wife at a cancer charity (we don’t talk any more because he was also a drunken asshole who smashed up his car while driving drunk… but I digress). 

  • Steve Croker

    Just for fun, I’ve done a really rough reanalysis of the blue state vs red state data to try to see what it would look like with religious donations excluded:

    http://cognitiverevolution.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/are-religiousconservative-states-more-charitable/

  • Gus Snarp

    I don’t doubt that religious people tend to give a bit more, on average. I’m certain some of that would be offset if general donations to their church were removed from the equation, especially in the heavily Mormon state of Utah where it appears that the general rate of giving, while much higher than other states, sits right about at the Mormon tithe of 10%, suggesting that the vast majority of that is given directly to the Mormon Church, which has a lot of expenses before anything goes out to actual charitable  causes. Nevertheless, I expect that on average you’d still see more giving from the religious, for a number of reasons, some mentioned in the article.

    But the charts and maps displayed here are an abuse of statistics and geography. It makes no sense to look at this on the scale of four generalized reasons and think that one can conclude anything about the behavior of religious versus non-religious people from that. Particularly given that non-religious people are fairly rare even in the least religious of those regions. In both the case of the map and the state by state chart based on voting, one *huge* confounding variable appears to be ignored, namely poverty. Poverty tends to be much higher in the south than the rest of the nation, and much lower in the northeast. Is the greater need in the community not likely to drive more people to give to help their neighbors? We also find that those same areas tend to receive more aid from the Federal government relative to what they contribute in taxes. This is again related to poverty and need. And finally, those more liberal states tend to have better social safety nets and government support, making private charity a bit less necessary.

    Individual level data may show more giving by the religious, and even by the politically conservative on average. This study shows that someone needs to hire a geographer. Or fire the one they’ve got and get one who won’t lie with maps.

  • Rcreative1

    Exactly. The average pass through from tithe to actual charitable work for most denominations is in the 5-10% range. That is, 90-95 cents out of every dollar donated goes to overhead. When Mitt Romney so proudly declared the other day that he and Ann give “a lot to charity” every year and then explained he was talking about his 10% tithe to his church, my response was, “Then you just lied.”

  • http://twitter.com/laibacute laibacute

    this is a world wide problem i guess when it calls for charity the money get stingy… 

  • Worthywinner

    One thing that bother me when I read this article is how they forget that even church pays taxes for the build that’s why 10% goes to the church; they need to pay bills as well and they forget the catholic church cannot keep the money for themselves it goes to those in need but with taxes on the rise it is getting harder to for the church to donate since they pay the bills like everyone. Atheism; on the other hand, are stingy when a successful charity comes from Catholic and need to cut it out. If you to help, ok, help out but don’t put signs that offends other people belief including your own. Be a grow up on that part.

    • http://twitter.com/SorryBadBeat SorryBadBeat

      The church gets over seventy billion dollars in tax breaks a year. If you want more tax breaks go ask God.

  • Kurt Horst

    Hmmm, If a Christian gives money to NPR, as many of my friends do, and as a few local churches because they feel it supports their Christian values of peace and justice, (and two local Christian College help sponsor the station to indirectly to promote their fine arts concert series) where, on your charts would those donated dollars be counted.

    As a person who has worked with church giving for many years I would suggest that, if possible, your research needs at least three catagories. Churches, non-church religious groups and “the rest.” As some of the posts indicate there is giving to religious groups that is certainly not “self-serving charity” as you suggest all religious giving is. And, it must be admited that much charitable giving is “self-serving charity” even when it is to “secular” causes since it is to promote a cause the giver cares about.

    In addition donors need to pay attention to the amount of “overhead” that is within any charitable organization. It could be argued that money for church staff is no differnt than the administrative portion of any charitable organization. The research I’ve seen generally puts that “overhead” for churches (if we use the money spent on staff and facility as “overhead”) at between 50% and 85%. So, if we take the percent of giving that is to church and religious groups in your outline, then assume the 15% to 50% goes outside the local congregation, the churches in the south give .64% to 2.15% to charity beyond their local church (an average of about 1.4% compared to the .9% to non-religious charities). The northeast churches would give between .39% and 1.3% of income beyond but through their church (an average of about .85% compared to 1.4% to non-religious charities).

    In the congregation I currently serve the giving to the congregation is about 6% of income, based on the median family income for the area (quite high by most standards). However, I know that many also give directly to various charities including religious and non-religious. Significant amounts go to education, although most of it might be considered religious since it supports private colleges with religious affiliations.

    It is also true that a significant part of the “non-overhead” giving that is part of church budgets is for “proselytizing” activities beyond the church. However, if the funds given to the local symphany are used to gain more support for the symphany that is also “proselytizing” and if it pays the musicians how is that different from paying the church staff. It’s normal to call it proselytizing when it is used for a cause we are against while failing to see it for what it is when we are in favor of the cause being promoted by the money we give.

  • legality

    Ok… The writer of this piece speaks of his ‘charity’ to the ACLU?? REALLY? LOL. While I’m sure someone out there appreciates the help– the poor can’t eat a lawyer! Neither will that keep their heat on for one more month.

  • http://twitter.com/baxleyjames jamesbaxley

    Outside of “Mega Churches” which I think are a scam, most churches don’t JUST accept “10% of our salaries to a church.” They accept from those who do not have a lot of money (such as myself) to do things such as help with the upkeep of the church, go to the sick’s house and clean up, or teach TESOL to those from other countries in the church struggling with language skills (such as what I do.)

  • Sean

    Christian churches are based around charity, that is, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, providing the needs of those in need. And most mega churches actually are MORE involved in charity than smaller churches. Christians will share their beliefs as they give just as Atheists will do. Christians believe there is one truth and everyone needs to know that truth. So do atheists. I see no difference.

  • tmarc

    My church supports local shelters, helps the people that need help in the church it self, gives to medical missionaries that fix major medical problems, missionaries that help with the needy in countries like Mexico and Africa, and several children’s charities and programs for kids that do not have many alternatives. My Pastor who has a masters degree makes $30,000 a year so we can be as effective. The head of the Red Cross gets over a million in compensation. Why are donations to church less relevant? I know there is corruption is some churches, but not all and you can turn that mirror on secular charities if you were being intellectually honest. There are some very big salaries for these secular charities. I have no problem with secular charities just not sure why you have a problem with religious ones. If you have an open mind then it is still people helping people why do you care if it is in the name of a wombat, nothing, or in their case God.

    • http://twitter.com/SorryBadBeat SorryBadBeat

      To answer your question. The church gets seventy billion dollars in tax breaks a year. If account for all of the money they don’t have to pay – the amount charity work they do is miniscule. Nike does lots of charitable work and doesn’t get very much credit for it. Imagine how much less they would get if they were getting the kind of tax breaks the church has been getting. With the amount of money the church has been getting, world hunger should have been ended long ago. But no. That money is better spent paying for lobbying expenses in Africa against the use of condoms, protecting pedophiles, and making sure the Pope has a Gold plated hat.

  • http://twitter.com/SorryBadBeat SorryBadBeat

    The church gets over seventy billion dollars in tax breaks each year. With that money we could end world hunger. It’s amazing really…Seventy billion dollars a year donated to a fictional being. Any wonder why America has fallen behind the rest of the world in innovation? America went from being a technological innovator in the fifties to having to outsource their labour because most of the country believes the laws of the universe are governed by a supernatural being who just happens to care if gays get married or if you wank one off to Paris Hiltons sex tape. Sad state of affairs for what is quickly becoming a former superpower.


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