Atheists Raise Massive Amounts of Money to Help Rebecca Vitsmun Rebuild Her Life

Rebecca Vitsmun struck a chord with people. Maybe it’s because she was so forthright, yet so harmless, when she told Wolf Blitzer she was an atheist. Maybe it’s because she was a breath of fresh air after seeing victim after victim of the Oklahoma tornado thanking God for anything and everything (except, of course, the tornado). Maybe it’s because we hope that we, too, can be as comfortable in our atheistic shoes as she was in the face of a famous newscaster asking her about her faith on national television.

Chris Trejbal found something else to admire in her interview:

Atheists are questioners who rely on reason. Her skepticism saved her life. Had she blindly accepted the Oklahoma dogma that you stay put, she and Anders would probably be dead. Instead, she analyzed the circumstances and made a rational decision. She is a woman with no need of gods, only her own quick thinking and courage.

All of that goodwill had to go somewhere and it’s truly amazing how people are coming together for her family.

The American Humanist Association quickly set up a fund to support Vitsmun:

The response from our membership to the CNN story was already overwhelming: many American Humanist Association members saw the CNN interview and wanted to support Rebecca directly. Humanist Charities’ recently made contact with Rebecca, and we’ve created a special fund for her and her family, money that will be used to rebuild her home and support her family during this difficult time.

Yesterday, they raised $10,000 in a matter of hours and immediately PayPal-ed that money to Rebecca. And they’re not done collecting yet.

Similarly, comedian Doug Stanhope began an Indiegogo campaign for Vitsmun with a lofty goal of $50,000, a goal that was blown out of the water in less than a day:

As of Friday 24th May we have cleared the initial $50,000 target. In truth, we had no idea how generous and giving our community would prove to be. We reached our goal within 17 hours of starting. An Indiegogo deadline cannot be changed once it has been set. So this campaign will continue until July 22 2013. At that point the financial cogs will turn and the moneys raised will be delivered to Rebecca Vitsmun. There is no reason for us to stop raising funds. The median cost of a home in Moore, OK is $125, 250, and that was back when they had homes. More importantly, the more money we raise the better the example we set.

(Be sure to check out the perks for contributing!)

What’s even more amazing about Stanhope’s campaign is that, as I write this, only one person has given $500 and no one has given more. The $50,000+ was raised in much smaller increments, courtesy of many, many people.

To be sure, I admit to feeling a little uncomfortable donating to someone only because she’s an atheist. In the wake of a crisis like this, I would much rather raise money with other atheists that could go to everyone who needs it, atheist or not — but that’s not to say you shouldn’t donate in this case. Like I said earlier, Vitsmun’s comment did much more than just make Wolf Blitzer feel awkward — she made us look good! — and it’s a very good sign when our community can come together to help one of our own.

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.

  • DougI

    I think Wolf Blitzer acts awkward whenever he has to go off script and interact with a human being. The man may be a cyborg.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    She is a FANTASTIC example of a common, everyday person who is comfortable publicly and matter-of-factly saying that she is an atheist.

    While it is great that we have Oxford academic authors, published physicists, etc., people can relate to a typical-appearing mom, who seems happy and sweet.

    Then to hear that she is an atheist and calmly open about it… this helps to remove that word from being a taboo.

  • LesterBallard

    I wish she would have been completely honest and said something like “thank god that he saved me and mine while there are folks, including children, who are dead? Why would I do that?”

  • onamission5

    While it is fantastic that so much funding has been raised in such a short period of time, I thought that Vitsmun had turned down offers of financial assistance, asking instead that any relief efforts in her family’s name be focused on the neighboring trailer park where there were folks who had lost everything and didn’t have the resources she and her family do. Has that changed?

  • Matt

    Its not necessary to come off as combative, especially in the wake of such a tragedy. Vitsmun’s response was picture perfect. “Do you thank God that you are ok?” “No, I am an atheist.” Simple, to the point, and non-pandering. Maybe in the future she can point out the logical fallacy in thanking god for protecting someone from something god created, but immediately after something like this is not the time, nor the place to do so.

  • Jasper

    Who knows how much money it’ll take to compensate for the employment discrimination after coming out on national television.

  • C Peterson

    Why should anybody feel uncomfortable giving money to a disaster victim only because she is an atheist? Why is it better to give to everyone? It’s not like we all have infinite resources.

    Personally, I almost never donate money. But if I did, I’d give it to people and causes I identify with. That’s human nature, after all. I’m sorry a bunch of theists had their houses blown down, and I wish them the best of success in rebuilding. But I have no interest in funding that process. But an atheist? Somebody I can sympathize with? I can understand helping that person. By selectively helping people and causes I agree with, I make the world a better place in my own eyes.

    I do give a lot of my time to volunteering. And I only give it to organizations and people I am sympathetic to. It would seem odd to do otherwise. And there’s really no difference between time and money.

  • Guest

    I dont like this because it looks like help is only coming forward because of the generated publicity. What if she did thank the Lord?

  • Greg Scott

    I think poor Wolf Blitzer might be experiencing the Algernon-Gordon Effect.

  • A3Kr0n

    Vitsmun seems like a person who probably had her finances setup for just such a disaster. She also seems like a person who will probably be donating some of that money to others who aren’t in a good financial position.

  • Feminerd

    I believe that she will accept aid, but anything that she doesn’t need she will then donate to her neighbors/others who lost more than she did.

  • Croquet_Player

    This fundraiser for Rebecca is so great! She’s been through a horribly traumatic event, and while money can’t replace everything, it can sure help. I’m thrilled to be able to chip in a bit for her and her family.

  • Guest

    Would you feel the same about a church that only helped those who were professed believers?

  • amwm2wm3

    Why would anyone expect a church to help non-Christians? It’s nice enough if they do, I guess, but who would hold it against them if they didn’t? I’m an atheist and have no expectation of, say, the Catholic community coming to my aid were I to find myself needing assistance. Everyone has a finite amount of resources; you give them to those you like the best.

  • Guest

    Because its the moral thing to help people and not use their personal beliefs as a litmus test for whether or not they are deserving of help. This is what humanism is fighting for, duh.

  • amwm2wm3

    When you have a situation where so many need help, many start picking and choosing. It’s not even a case of what they belief, it happens with everything. I give to the Trevor Project. I don’t give to the Salvation Army. My commitment to the LGBT community causes me to make that decision. Again, finite resources.
    People make decisions like that. You can argue whether it’s right or wrong but I can’t see holding that against someone.

  • C Peterson

    I would… with caution. While I think it is normal and natural for people to give support to those they most identify with, a church is an organization, with a mission. If they take the common Christian view that they should love everybody, it might be hypocritical of them to give selectively. But as long as people’s giving is consistent with their belief systems, why should I have a problem with that?

  • Tanner B James

    Is it moral to admonish those who might not meet your standards of ethics and humanism? Are you not also using a litmus test of “humanistic mores” to make your point?

  • C Peterson

    That isn’t consistent with my humanist morals. My resources are limited. All things being equal (for instance, two people in equal need) I will selectively help the one I have most in common with, or who I see having greater value (and no, I don’t believe that all people have equal value).

  • Roger Peritone

    Yeesh. Look what Ken Ham had to say about the aftermath of this disaster:

    He quotes someone named Lacey Seely who says:
    We have seen some “secular” folks come in and help, but when it has come
    down to the nitty gritty, down and dirty clean up, feeding folks,
    housing them etc…these so called “peaceful atheists” are NO WHERE TO
    BE SEEN. That says a lot about the content of their character.

    “no where to be seen”? What about those “secularists” that she mentioned?

    Uh huh. But, when it comes to the fact that it’s their god who’s theoretically responsible for the problem in the first place?

    And we, Christians, the body of Christ are helping one another. We are
    taking care of each other. And even in the midst of this terrible
    tragedy, God is good. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh, but blessed
    be the name of the LORD!!!!

    So let’s just get this straight…god sends the tornado and it’s all right and good. You don’t see any “atheists” helping to clean up (what are you looking for: People with a large “A” on their shirts?) and yet that is evidence of their lack of character.

    Do I have that right?

  • Guest

    Sounds a lot like national socialism

  • C Peterson

    Sounds like a lot like national socialism

    Without further explanation, I have no idea what that even means. What is “national socialism”? Why is giving to those whose beliefs you share a form of socialism? If anything, it would seem contrary to the common socialist principle (which is really a misrepresentation) of distributing wealth equally.

  • Tanner B James

    You have invoked Goodwin’s Law or reductio ad hitlerum,

    It states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” In other words, Godwin said that, given enough time, in any online discussion—regardless of topic or scope—someone inevitably makes a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis.

    Or in your case “National Socialism”
    National Socialism is the ideology of the Nazi Party in Germany and related movements elsewhere

    Any point that you have is now null and void.

  • thesauros

    And that’s why Jesus said, “Even sinners love those in the same group. What good is that? It is not to be that way with you. You are to love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you.”

  • thesauros

    Sure hope it’s not to a Christian family. Atheist donors will want their money back.

  • C Peterson

    Fortunately, I am not burdened by the absurd stricture to love my enemies, or even to love strangers. I assign value to people- highest generally to family, next to friends, next to those in my community. And within those, I assign value based on beliefs and on actions. Love is reserved for a few; beyond that, I opt for respect- but even respect is not given without reservation.

  • Tanner B James

    Jesus can say anything he wants, but the fact of the matter is that a) not everyone agrees with him and b) many christians are grossly selective at applying those sayings. Altruism doesn’t favor the whole or the many, it favors a few select individuals.

  • Tanner B James

    What makes you think that?

  • Guest

    The only thing stupider than a comparison with Nazi thinking is deflecting an argument with a stupid internet meme.

    “I will selectively help the one I have most in common with, or who I see having greater value (and no, I don’t believe that all people have equal value).”

    Hitler would agree, no?

  • Luther

    I would contribute to a fund for Wolf to go to an intense program to rid of him of his biases. But i fear it would be as useless and sending someone to Mr. Michele Bachman to change their sexuality.

  • Guest

    Basing help on those who are similar to you…not something I hope a modern society would ascribe to.

  • C Peterson

    As a society, I would consider basing help on belief to be unethical. I would expect our governmental disaster relief operations to treat everybody exactly the same, based solely on their degree of need. But we’re talking about private giving here, and that’s a very different thing. As individuals, I can see nothing wrong with having personal criteria for what and how we give… indeed, I’d consider it rather unusual for anybody to not have such criteria.

  • Guest

    Of course you have criteria, and you can base it on their beliefs if you want. But Id hope atheists would be better than the religious.

  • Guest

    Youre taking about causes. Im talking about one particular cause- the people in the Oklahoma disaster. Of course you pick your causes due to finite resources. Once you pick your cause — say you pick the LGBT cause — you don’t selectively help LGBT atheists over LGBT religious, would you?

  • Guest

    No. If that were the case you could never criticize Islam, Jerry Falwell, the Catholic Church. Read a book.

  • C Peterson

    Why would atheists be “better” than the religious when it comes to giving? Secular humanists might be, but many religious people are actually humanists, anyway. And you still haven’t made a case for why giving without criteria is “better” than giving with criteria.

  • C Peterson

    Hitler would agree, no?

    Maybe he would, maybe he wouldn’t. Ghandi might agree, as well.

    What difference does it make whether Hitler would agree? You seem to be guilty of a sort of backwards appeal to authority fallacy: if Hitler would agree with an idea, it must be bad. Well, that’s nonsense.

  • Guest

    The criteria to give to a certain cause might be motivated by your agreeing with the cause. If you believe in the cause of helping the people in OK, then help those people. Prioritizing helping atheists because they agree with you is childish.

    That doesnt mean you have to treat the Red Cross on par with the Boy Scouts. Different causes.

  • Guest

    Youre right, Hilter doesnt matter.

    Judging peoples worth based on their race, religion, creed, sexual orientation … thats f-ed up no matter who agrees with it.

  • Rich Wilson

    Early on she said she’d be giving to the Red Cross, and was deflecting people to help others who need it more. Her neighbor’s child was one of the kids killed in the school.

    The way I see it, she’s ‘the face’ inciting the donations, just like a ‘foster child’. But I’m comfortable the actual money will help the entire community.

  • Rich Wilson

    What about funds raised by FBB?

    Do you have an updated total on that Hemant? That’s where I put my donation.

  • C Peterson

    I don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with judging people’s worth based on their beliefs, such as religion or politics. I agree that judging them for what they have no control over- race, sexual orientation, etc, is unethical.

  • C Peterson

    We’ll just have to disagree about that. I see nothing childish at all with prioritizing my giving based on something like atheism. It seems to be both moral and rational.

  • Guest

    Thinking a person’s beliefs are wrong or silly doesnt mean you should treat them any less human. We are talking about people who have lost everything, not characters on Fox News.

  • Trickster Goddess

    C Peterson, that is a very non-humanist attitude. I don’t care what someone believes, if a fellow human being needs help then I will help in any way I can. Deciding to not help certain individuals because of their particular superstitions is so petty.

    I know their god isn’t going to help them rebuild their lives so it is up to us humans to help out.

  • C Peterson

    Exactly. You will help in any way you can. And that doesn’t contradict what I said, which was that given limited resources, and equal need, I will selectively help the person in whom I see more value. It’s an extreme form of humanism to consider every human equally deserving of assistance- not a form that I think most humanists would agree with, especially when it comes down to practical situations.

    I can’t save the whole world. All I can do is try to make things a little better.

  • C Peterson

    Thinking a person’s beliefs are wrong or silly doesnt mean you should treat them any less human.

    To suggest that prioritizing one’s charitable giving based on personal philosophy is equivalent to treating some people as less than human is quite a stretch.

    All I said is that nobody should feel guilty, or be made to feel guilty, for the decision making process behind who they choose to give charity to.

  • Guest

    You said alot more than that. ” I don’t believe that all people have equal value” based on what?? When George Bush said atheist should not be considered citizens, I guess he is entitled to his opinion, but he still sucks.

  • Guest

    Why not just give the money to a general pool that helps everyone?

  • Trickster Goddess

    It’s an extreme form of humanism to consider every human equally deserving of assistance

    No, that is the very definition of humanism.

  • C Peterson

    I don’t believe that anybody truly believes all humans have equal value. People who say that are either lying, or lying to themselves.

    I don’t think there is anything ethically wrong with believing that atheists have more value than Christians (which I do believe) or that Christians have more value than atheists. I don’t think there is anything ethically wrong with recognizing the reality that some people contribute more than others, and that gives them more value, in a very real sense. That isn’t the same as saying those who contribute less have no value, of course.

    I have no problem with Bush believing that atheists are immoral, or unethical. To suggest that they shouldn’t be considered citizens, however, is a very different thing. You do not take away people’s rights because of their beliefs. Most especially, the government doesn’t determine people’s rights based on their beliefs.

  • C Peterson

    That doesn’t follow any definition of humanism I’ve ever encountered. Humanism is about finding value in every person, about respecting and supporting equal rights for every person, about basing society on rational analysis.

    Humanism doesn’t require that we treat every person as having equal value, and indeed, it is quite impossible to do that. Are you seriously telling me that if you were forced into choosing whether your child lived, or a serial killer lived (one of those train switch dilemmas, perhaps) you wouldn’t choose your child? You can claim any sort of high road you want, but it doesn’t reflect reality. And scientific research solidly supports the reality that we have less than 100 people that we value highly, and the further removed people are from our social circle, the less we care about them.

  • C Peterson

    You assume that the actual value that comes from a pool like that is equal to the value of the same amount delivered to one individual. That isn’t obvious to me. You assume that I place the same value on a stranger whose views I disagree with than with one I am sympathetic towards. I don’t. And personally, one reason I don’t give to any organizations is because I am skeptical that my full donation is actually ending up where I want it, and not getting whittled away by overhead.

  • Guest

    “I don’t think there is anything ethically wrong with believing that atheists have more value than Christians (which I do believe) or that Christians have more value than atheists.”

    Isnt this way of thinking the cause of religious wars? The point is to be better than Christians and not play these games.

    “I don’t think there is anything ethically wrong with recognizing the reality that some people contribute more than others, and that gives them more value”

    That’s a pretty deranged principle to develop an ethical system.

  • LesterBallard

    Like they’ll listen any other time.

  • C Peterson

    Religious wars (and other wars stemming from philosophical disagreement) occur when people don’t respect the right of other people to have different views.

    I may not respect other people’s views, or respect them for holding those views, but I don’t advocate restricting their rights or in any way giving them different legal status.

    I’m quite sure that you actually practice the same viewpoint that you describe as “deranged”. I think it is quite impossible for a sane human being to do otherwise.

  • Guest

    Why are women and children given priority in evacuations. They arnt necessarily the most productive members of society. You are philosophically bankrupt.

  • C Peterson

    I think the custom stems from the view that children can’t rescue themselves, and tradition favors that they need their mother to care for them. Tradition also argues that women are weak and insufficiently clever to save themselves, and therefore must be evacuated first. I never claimed that customs always have a rational basis. In addition, different people quite properly have their own definitions of what makes somebody more or less valuable than somebody else.

  • Houndentenor

    i hate this thing some people do. It’s not enough someone did something good. They have to have done it for the “right” reasons too. As if we know the real reasons why people do what they do. Sometimes we don’t even know why we do things so what makes us think we know what other people are thinking or what their “real” motives are? Sometimes we see something that inspires us or touches us and that’s always a personal story and not some dry statistic.

  • thesauros

    C Peterson – I get that from your many, many comments. But Jesus isn’t talking to you. He’s talking about you. He’s saying, C Peterson is how the world is. For you who call yourselves My followers I want your relationships to be radically different.

    As for your correct observation Tanner, that “many Christians are grossly selective at applying those sayings,” I’d just ask, “Yes, and?”

    Don’t reject Jesus because of who I am. People like Hitchens claim that religion poisons everything. In reality, it’s humans who poison everything, including religion, including the most counter cultural world-view possible; that put forward by Jesus the Christ. If you’re going to reject Jesus, do it based upon what he taught, like Peterson does, but don’t use my inability to live up to Jesus’ standards as your excuse.

    Good luck on your journey.

  • C Peterson

    Well, since I don’t think that Jesus was even an historical character, everything attributed to him is pure myth in my view, and very little strikes me as worth taking seriously.

    I don’t “reject” your Christ, any more than I “reject” Zeus or unicorns. They simply are absent from my world view.

  • C Peterson

    Exactly. And aside from the details of mine or anybody else’s system of placing value on people (which truly is an aside), that was my point. Hemant stated he was uncomfortable with giving somebody charity only because they were an atheist (of course, those who gave did so for other reasons, as well). That’s nothing to feel guilty about. We give for whatever reasons we give. It’s the giving that matters, not the why. As I noted elsewhere, none of us can save the world. We have to pick and choose our causes, and at a small scale, that can mean picking and choosing the specific people we choose to help. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and I question the moral code of anybody who suggests otherwise.

  • natsera

    It seems to me that churches help non-Christians in the hope that they will see how NICE Christians are, and therefore convert. I think there is almost always an ulterior motive in Christian charity — I saw it myself when I lived in Japan, which is overwhelmingly non-Christian. If they helped anonymously, without that huge cross being omnipresent, I’d be a little more believing about their motive for charity.

  • Alan Bell

    I doubt it. I should imagine that many atheist donors would trust her judgement on how best to redistribute the money locally.

  • thesauros

    The comments on this post for one. Also, if atheists didn’t care who their money went to they wouldn’t have purposely given their money to an atheist while not giving it to anyone else.

  • Buck

    Well, I donated equal amounts to a local OKC charity and to Rebecca. So, I don’t feel “conflicted” at all. You’re fortunate you don’t seem to know anything about the discrimination she’ll face in the Bible belt after saying she’s an atheist on national television. I, being born in the South, know it intimately. I even know a fellow atheist who was denied employment and housing on that basis in South Carolina. So, I feel much better supporting her than people who will pay lip service to a fictional “god” to go along and get along.

    She’s a brave woman. I didn’t “come out” as atheist until I left the South precisely for those reasons.

  • MiltonDValler

    I sent $20.

    I hope there’ll be more opps to help colleague atheists.

  • SkepticalBright

    A malevolent god indeed that would rain such destruction on “his” people. Why would we want to “thank” something that spared us but did not spare our neighbors? Bizarre.

  • Amy

    Thank you for pointing out people are donating to multiple fundraisers. It is ridiculous to assume that the people who donated to Rebecca refused to donate to other relief groups as well. I donated to her, to the Red Cross, to the Foundation Beyond Belief, and I gave money to a personal friend who lost her home (She’s a Christian; it can’t be said I only want my money to go to atheists).

  • Mairianna

    I can’t save the whole world. All I can do is try to make things a little better.

    Exactly! And since you aren’t infinitely wealthy, you have to set some kind of criteria. People do it all the time. I work at a new hospital that is named after a couple who gave 4.5 million to help build it. I can think of 1000 different/better ways to help humankind with that sum of money, but it wasn’t MY money. People leave their fortunes to their churches and synagogs, etc. Isn’t THAT exclusionary, too? It’s what they know and what they believe in. Leaving a fortune to a religious organization doesn’t help an atheist in any way.

    I donated $15 to FBB. Should I have spread it out over all the people in the US who suffered from every disaster so far this year? They’d each get about 1/100 of a cent, if they were lucky. But what about those affected by disasters in other countries? Aren’t I being a little exclusionary by just giving to US humans??? Or maybe I should just give all the money I have in the world to charity and go live in a box under a bridge…then I’ll need to depend on you all to help me.

    I’m sure we’d all love to be theoretical humanists and practice limitless altruism, but, unfortunately reality steps in and we have to be rational humans, who make the best choices we can.

  • bob

    Number one Rebecca doesn’t work so she won’t be facing any employment discrimination. Number two, she’s said on her page, clearly, that she has insurance, so why exactly does she need $100,000 from the atheist community, when there are people who have nothing? She’s getting a new house and will have everything replaced. Are we really wanting to make this woman independently wealthy just because she’s an atheist? I’m a little disgusted with my community right now.

  • Kris Thompson

    Was very happy to see her on my TV. Proud of her. After our experiences here in Virginia, I’m not sure whether or not I’d be so forthcoming. When our boy’s best friend started slamming someone for being atheist, my husband and I both calmly said, “Actually, we’re atheists.” The next week, another friend asked our boy’s religion, and he said, “I’m an atheist.” And then another friend asked.

    My son now has no friends. Seriously, every kid in the neighborhood ditched him. Instantly. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that, immediately after “coming out,” his best friends stopped answering the phone and started hiding while their parents lied and said they weren’t home, but probably not.

    Wish we could have a fundraiser to get us out of this neighborhood and into one that’s not so scary-sad for our son. It’s the first time I’ve regretted being open. On the one hand, who wants their child to hang out with the kinds of kids who would completely reject someone based upon faith/lack thereof, but on the other hand, who wants their child utterly alone?

  • Rich Wilson

    That’s a fear that crosses my time every single time I out myself (and hence my family).

    I wonder how many Christians worry about revealing their religious beliefs.