Hermant Mehta of Friendly Atheist has ended his atheist fundraiser to help two churches that were defaced by Flying Spaghetti Monster graffiti. Both churches were able to do cleanup with their usual maintenance staffs, so Mehta donated the money raised, as promised, to the Foundation Beyond Belief. I donated to his fund, and posted his fundraising widget on the blog, to allow other atheists to donate, but I was a little uncomfortable making a donation to a religious group; I never contribute to the collection while at Mass with my boyfriend.
I tried to balance my contribution with a matching donation to the ACLU and made sure to keep up the phone calls to my NYS Senator for the imminent gay marriage vote. But Darksmiles did some research and found that one of the churches took a pray-away-the-gay stance on homosexuality and argued that even a donation earmarked only for repair made atheists complicit in the church’s abusive practices. Darksmiles wrote:
It sounds like the point is moot in this case, but if it ever comes up again, I don’t think you should feel comfortable making the same choice again, Leah. I think most people have become so used to bible-based discrimination that they can’t recognize how awful it is anymore – after all it is hard to live day in and day out with the knowledge that many of your friends and neighbors have some truly evil thoughts in their hearts.
Take “pray-away-the-gay” programs and conflation of innocent sexual practices with “sin” on most Sundays and replace it with “cleanse-your-blood-of-Jewishness” and anti-Jewish sermons most Sundays and set it against a backdrop of widespread anti-Jewish social stigma and legal discrimination. It is horrifying, is it not? Fixing what doesn’t need to be fixed and trampling on human rights in the process is not an organization that deserves respect even when lying on the ground. At most don’t kick them, but don’t help them back up either.
I’m for the rule of law as well, but there are limits to which organizations anyone of conscience should help (although everyone already subsidizes churches in the U.S.). One simply does not help neo-nazis repaint after someone paints a rainbow on their building.
I’m honestly not sure what the correct course of action is. My action in donation and promoting the drive was not pure altruism. I saw an opportunity for atheists to go for the moral high ground by helping Christians who were attacked despite the ‘you were asking for it’ reaction we get every time one of our billboards are defaced.
When we atheists are already despised and distrusted in large swathes of the country, we have to be visible saints just to make any headway. It’s just another analogous case of Fannie Hurst’s maxim that, because of prevailing prejudices, “A woman has to be twice as good as a man to go half as far.” Even though the churches turned out not to need the help, the drive generated positive coverage of atheists and may have made a personal impression on members of the affected parishes
That’s a tolerable ends-oriented argument for organizing and promoting the collection. By these criteria, I could decide if I ought participate in the fund by trying to estimate the positive long-term boost for atheists and comparing it to the cost of failing to hinder a churches dangerous anti-gay beliefs. I might be able to boost the net benefit if I balanced the donation with a larger gift to LGBT activist group. But I feel the strongest tie to virtue ethics, so there’s a whole other dimension to the problem.
Am I using this as an opportunity to better form my character? Almost certainly not.
I take more pleasure in giving to charity when I can use the money not only to do good but as a cudgel against my enemies, as in this killing them with kindness PR coup. As was the case in the ethical case study of my Senior Gift contribution, I looked for an opportunity to feed my pride by ostentatiously following duty in giving to a group I disliked in a manner meant to expose their lack of charity in comparison. Hardly a sacrifice, if it affords me an opportunity to feel superior.
Although the net external effect of the fundraising might be positive, my personal contribution was probably poorly chosen, since pride and contempt (particularly masked by outward virtue) are stumbling blocks for me.
Any advice on how to handle this kind of choice in the future? Does any one have tips on how to avoid in indulging my Kantian pride?