I’m with Ed Brayton. It’s time to email Time.

Ed Brayton has a post up about the fallout with Joe Klein’s Time article that dismissed the charitable efforts of atheists and Time’s double down on those comments.  Ed says that there is all the motivation in the world for Time to write about the problem of atheists being reviled, with the evidence of our charity more plentiful than ever.  He’s right.

I’m reposting his blog here because I can’t say it any better.  I’ll be writing to Time and I hope all of you do as well.

I’m sure you’ve heard by now about Joe Klein’s awful cover story in Time magazine last week, which took an entirely inaccurate and gratuitous cheap shot at the atheist and humanist community. His article focused on Team Rubicon, a wonderful organization of veterans that does crisis relief work after natural disasters. And he said this:

We deployed in the postapocalyptic shadow of the local Imax. The landscape was the sort of thing you’d normally see inside the theater — total, sometimes incomprehensible post-tornado devastation. There were cars literally wrapped around trees, 2-by-4s javelined into the sides of houses, a hospital crushed, strip-mall banality interrupted, obliterated by the storm, and then resumed a quarter-mile down the road.

But there was an occupying army of relief workers, led by local first responders, exhausted but still humping it a week after the storm, church groups from all over the country — funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals — and there in the middle of it all, with a purposeful military swagger, were the volunteers from Team Rubicon.

You may also have seen Klein’s sad and absurd response to criticism he received for it, which Hemant thoroughly dismantled, and the editors of the magazine, when faced with the opportunity to make up for it, instead making it even worse. And I hope you’ve seen Dale McGowan’s eloquent rebuttal in the Washington Post.

But as Dale suggests, this really isn’t about Joe Klein. Frankly, Klein has been a tired hack for most of my adult life, so I’m not at all surprised by either his initial absurdity or his equally inane response to criticism. It isn’t even really about Time magazine, though their response has been pretty appalling. It’s about how ignorant statements like the one Klein made are perfectly in sync with the larger culture, which tends to treat the entire secular community with indifference, at best, or outright hostility. And as long as the mainstream media continues to view us with either dismissal or derision, the situation is not going to change.

This is where you come in. On behalf of Foundation Beyond Belief, which has been so successful in channeling the compassion of the humanist community that it is about to go over the $1 million mark in funds raised and distributed in less than four years of operation, I’d like to ask you to email the editors of Time magazine at letters@time.com. Please be polite rather than angry when you do so. Don’t curse at them or call them names, just remind them of a few facts that should be acknowledged:

* Team Rubicon, the organization that Klein was quite rightly praising for their very important work, is itself a secular organization.

* Team Rubicon was funded by Foundation Beyond Belief for that work last year after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.

* There were, in fact, many secular groups lending their money, time and effort to help the victims of the tornado in Oklahoma, including Atheists Giving Aid, Oklahoma Atheists, the Atheist Community of Tulsa, the Lawton Area Secular Society, the Norman Naturalism Group, FreeOK, and the Oklahoma State Secular Organization. More than a quarter million dollars was raised in a matter of days.

* Foundation Beyond Belief’s Light the Night teams raised more than $400,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in 2012 and are working to beat that record in 2013.

* FBB’s Beyond Belief Network includes dozens of teams like FreeOK who have held hundreds of volunteer and fundraising events to improve conditions in communities all over the country.

*FBB provided 100,000 meals to the tornado victims through the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and raised more than $22,000 for Operation USA, which provided medical supplies and much more to those who were suffering after that terrible disaster.

Kai Tancredo of FreeOK and Red Dirt Report has been doing an amazing job of documenting the work done by the secular community in Oklahoma. There’s much more information there that you could include in your emails.

The truth is that the secular community has been quietly doing this work for years, not because we want attention, but because compassion and service are important humanist values. But the constant repetition of the myth that non-believers don’t help their fellow human beings is a slander of one of the fastest growing groups in the country. It’s time that the media got around to telling that story rather than deliberately trying to bury it. And it’s time that we stood up and said “enough.”

Time has an opportunity here to tell an important story. As more and more Americans identify as non-religious, the story of how we live our lives and contribute to society needs to be told. Time can be the first major publication to do a serious and comprehensive look at the enormous growth in secular service organizations and the important work that they do. And if Time starts, others may well follow and the pervasive myth of the selfish atheist will begin to crumble. Let’s urge them — again, politely — to do just that.


About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach

    There is a ton of volunteer work happening in Calgary right now. Mostly its just ordinary people, after work or on their spare time, showing up alone or with friends, pitching in wherever they can. Its not about faith or secularism, its about helping people who’ve lost everything. Maybe the guy who carried the other end of that wrecked couch out of the basement with me was a christian, maybe he’s a muslim, doesn’t really matter as long as he’s helping me carry.

    To the few groups church groups I’ve seen posing in their their matching t-shirts for news photos: Charity – you’re doing it wrong!

    BTW: Damn you Disqus! Why do I have to hit sign in 20 times before you’ll let me post?

    • Zugswang

      What browser are you using, and is it set to accept third-party cookies? That was my problem when I initially had trouble signing in.

  • Zugswang

    Already sent my letter:
    I was very disappointed to see Joe Klein’s
    article that unfairly and inaccurately criticized secular humanist
    individuals and organizations. I was even more disappointed to see both Mr. Klein and
    the editors of TIME continue the erroneous assertion that secular groups
    somehow contributed to disaster relief in a diminished fashion, when a
    cursory internet search would reveal that many secular
    humanist/atheist/etc groups, among many other functions, donated money,
    assisted in cleanup, and provided meals to survivors and relief workers

    A particularly prominent group is the Foundation
    Beyond Belief (http://foundationbeyondbelief.org), which has raised and
    distributed nearly $1 million in only 4 years of existence. One
    organization that Mr. Klein mentioned in his article, Team Rubicon, is a
    secular organization that was funded by the FBB in the aftermath of
    Hurricane Sandy.

    Other secular groups were also involved in
    Oklahoma disaster relief, including Atheists Giving Aid, Oklahoma
    Atheists, the Atheist Community of Tulsa,
    the Lawton Area Secular Society, the Norman Naturalism Group, FreeOK,
    and the Oklahoma State Secular Organization. All in all, these groups
    raised well over $250,000 in a matter of days to help those citizens who
    were affected by the tornadoes.

    And the charity hasn’t
    been limited to Sandy or Oklahoma; we’ve been very busy with our involvement in many disaster recovery efforts. I was personally involved in the
    recovery efforts in 2010 after the Nashville floods. During the weeks
    following, I worked with groups such as Hands On Nashville alongside my
    fellow humanists. I had met these stellar individuals through a local
    secular organization, Nashville Atheists, and HON had done such an amazing job of coordinating the recovery that we were eager to join up to help. I still vividly remember one
    day we spent helping an elderly couple moving furniture and appliances
    out of the house so it could be repaired for flood damage, but what the
    couple was most grateful for was the effort we took to preserve
    thousands of family photos, diaries, and letters that they kept dating
    back to the Civil War. They never knew that we were atheists; we were
    all united by a shared responsibility to our community and to each
    other. It is a virtue held by everyone who provided aid, irrespective
    of faith or lack thereof.

    Given an opportunity to admit a
    mistake and make a genuine apology, Mr. Klein and TIME chose to pretend
    the statement in the article was a mollified version of what was an
    incredibly callous, petty remark that only served to perpetuate the
    false stereotype that secular individuals are selfish and uncaring, and
    the continued lack of contrition displayed by this magazine’s staff
    makes it even worse.

    I hope that TIME will make an effort to amend the record to properly reflect the truth about humanist charities. We may not advertise our goodwill as prominently as other organizations, but we certainly don’t deserve Joe Klein’s
    uncharitable obloquies.

    (My name)

    I don’t subscribe to TIME, so I don’t have anything to unsubscribe from, but I sure as hell won’t be picking up an issue anytime soon.