Tell Time to Stop Dismissing Secular Generosity

Tell Time to Stop Dismissing Secular Generosity June 27, 2013

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 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 Tancredi 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.

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