Seidensticker Folly #1: Atheist vs. Christian Generosity

Seidensticker Folly #1: Atheist vs. Christian Generosity August 12, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17: “In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox: “If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).


In his post, “25 Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid (Part 5)” (7-6-18; update of a post originally from 10-13-14), Bob flatly stated: “Christians are not more generous.” He linked to a separate detailed post: “Top Religion Story of 2012” (12-31-12). In that piece, he notes a study described in The Chronicle of Philanthropy (10-3-17). This indicated that Christians gave more to charity, but Bob spun that finding as follows:

Drop religious donations, and the Bible belt drops from the most generous part of the country to the least. . . . But why discard donations to religious organizations? Because, though they’re nonprofits, religious organizations’ charity work (feeding or housing the needy, for example) is negligible.

Okay, that’s an interesting take (I observed several other atheists using it, while researching this post, so it appears to be “playbook”); he contends that charity given to a church is less so because churches have relatively more overhead than groups like the Red Cross. That may very well be (I grant this claim for the sake of argument), but I would submit that that’s irrelevant to determining how generous the giver is. For the giver, the amount they give is what it is, and indicates their heart, regardless of how efficiently their donation is used. Apples and oranges. Thus Bob’s dismissal of the poll findings here appears rather desperate.

By his reasoning if Person A gives $100 to an organization that uses 70% of it for overhead to maintain itself, and Person B gives $50 to an organization that uses 20% of it for overhead, Person B is more generous, even though he or she has given half the amount, because $40 of the $50 goes to the actual work of charity, whereas only $30 of the $100 does. But again, that is no reflection on the generosity of the giver! It may reflect badly on how wise or informed his or her choice of charity was, but not on the generosity exhibited.

Another study in the same magazine (11-25-13), reported:

The more important religion is to a person, the more likely that person is to give to a charity of any kind, according to new research released today.

Among Americans who claim a religious affiliation, the study said, 65 percent give to charity. Among those who do not identify a religious creed, 56 percent make charitable gifts.

About 75 percent of people who frequently attend religious services gave to congregations, and 60 percent gave to religious charities or nonreligious ones. By comparison, fewer than half of people who said they didn’t attend faith services regularly supported any charity, even a even secular one.

Everyone knows that political conservatives as a group are more religious than political liberals. Studies also show that conservatives are significantly more generous than liberals. And again, religion (specifically factored in one portion of the survey) was key. Nicholas Kristof, in an op-ed in The New York Times: “Bleeding Heart Tightwads” (12-20-08) observed:

Arthur Brooks, the author of a book on donors to charity, Who Really Cares, cites data that households headed by conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than households headed by liberals. A study by Google found an even greater disproportion: average annual contributions reported by conservatives were almost double those of liberals.

Other research has reached similar conclusions. The “generosity index” from the Catalogue for Philanthropy typically finds that red states are the most likely to give to nonprofits, while Northeastern states are least likely to do so. . . .

It’s true that religion is the essential reason conservatives give more, and religious liberals are as generous as religious conservatives. Among the stingiest of the stingy are secular conservatives. . . .

[I]f measuring by the percentage of income given, conservatives are more generous than liberals even to secular causes. . . .

Conservatives also appear to be more generous than liberals in nonfinancial ways. People in red states are considerably more likely to volunteer for good causes, and conservatives give blood more often. [book title italicized; in the original it was in quotation marks]

A Barna Research study (6-3-13) shows the same:

A person’s religious identification has a lot to do with whether or not they donate to causes they believe in. Evangelicals were far and away the group most likely to donate money, items or time as a volunteer. More than three-quarters of evangelicals (79%) have donated money in the last year, and 65% and 60% of them have donated items or volunteer time, respectively. Additionally, only 1% of evangelicals say they made no charitable donation in the last 12 months. Comparatively, 27% of those with a faith other than Christianity say they made no charitable donation in the last year—a number more than double the national rate (13%). One-fifth of people who claimed no faith said they made no donation over the last year, still noticeably higher than the number for all Americans.

So does research from the BBC (reported in The Telegraph on 6-9-14):

Research commissioned by the BBC found that people who profess a religious belief are significantly more likely to give to charity than non-believers. . . .

Overall as many as seven in 10 people in England said they had given money to a charity in the past month. But while just over two thirds of those who professed no religious faith claimed to have done so, among believers the figure rose to almost eight out of 10.

John Stossel and Kristina Kendall reported for ABC News (11-28-06):

[T]he single biggest predictor of whether someone will be charitable is their religious participation.

Religious people are more likely to give to charity, and when they give, they give more money: four times as much. And Arthur Brooks told me that giving goes beyond their own religious organization:

“Actually, the truth is that they’re giving to more than their churches,” he says. “The religious Americans are more likely to give to every kind of cause and charity, including explicitly non-religious charities.”

And almost all of the people who gave to our bell ringers in San Francisco and Sioux Falls said they were religious or spiritual.

The Philanthropy Panel Study concurs as well (article of 10-30-17):

David King, director of the Institute on Faith & Giving at the school, said the “Giving USA Special Report on Giving to Religion,” released on Oct. 26 by The Giving Institute, reaffirms what many researchers in the field have long known: that there is a “substantial connection between religion and giving.”

“Religious affiliation really matters,” Mr. King said. “Someone with a religious affiliation was more than two times more generous than someone without a religious affiliation. And among those with a religious affiliation, religious intensity really matters. Those who attend services were much more likely to give, whether it’s monthly or weekly. We really see the connection grow with continued involvement in a religious community.” . . .

[R]eligious people also contribute to other types of charity at similar or higher rates than their secular counterparts.


Photo credit: angiechaoticcrooks0 (3-2-15) [PixabayCC0 Creative Commons  license]



Browse Our Archives