Readers See Christian ‘Charity’ As Graft, Not Generosity

Readers See Christian ‘Charity’ As Graft, Not Generosity September 26, 2018

My September 22 post provoked some surprising feedback discrediting Christian organizations for raising money more to fund their own luxe existences than, say, to feed the poor and heal the sick.

charity graft
Salvation Army clothing bag. (Howard Lake, Flikr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Besides, many of them contend, such benevolence should in any event be supported on the public, not private, dime.

My post was an approving response to Patheos blogger and coordinator Dale McGowan’s earlier article in The Humanist magazine warning of a coming scarcity of collective, privately raised charitable revenue as citizens of the West, including America, continue moving away from religious faith and its institutional charitable giving. And the need for nonbelievers to consolidate now to prepare.

McGowan himself admitted that after becoming an atheist and discontinuing church attendance, he gave less to charity over the ensuing years than he had before. His solution was that humanists should organize and recommit to “the principle of mutual care and responsibility” to help ease the inevitably increased human suffering in the future.

However, respondents to my post were less interested in finding ways to replace charity lost than in denouncing Christian charities as self-dealing parasites.

‘Fake charity’

Mitch Healan wrote: “I would also like to point out the churches, Christian churches especially, traditionally mischaracterize their own extortion and fundraising efforts to support themselves as Charity. Before you can honestly and accurately claim that Believers are more charitable than atheists, you must first weed out all of the fake charity that just goes to line the pockets of priests.”

Fair enough.

Tipsy on charity

ColdFusion8 characterized Christian charities as akin to neighborhood pubs:

“Giving money to keep your Sunday clubhouse open is the equivalent of visiting your favorite watering hole to keep it in business. Is that really ‘charity’?”

Only if they don’t offer Ladies Night, Happy Hour and fights.

Public charity needed

A commenter named “Jenny” thinks all private benevolence is a non-starter for foreign aid, and that public systems are needed to support important global charitable causes. She wrote:

“[P]ublic policy needs to change to make charity redundant. Instead of throwing money at folk in poorer countries, (except in certain disaster situations), empower them… a small loan or gift so that a woman can buy a goat or chickens, for example, means she will have the dignity of an income. The UN says women always use it to feed and educate their families. Don’t send pretty little dresses to ‘Little Dresses for Africa’*** send a sewing machine, there’s plenty of fabric there, and believe it or not, men and women who are intelligent enough to sew. If you send water engineers to dig a well, make sure they teach locals how to maintain it (but don’t patronise and assume they don’t know already). ****Sorry, this is my hobby horse…my pet hate, some sewists spend their lives making dresses for poor little african girls…cos girls need to look ‘pretty’ to have self-esteem and get anywhere in life – and I strongly suspect the charity believes it’s a sin for girls to wear pants.”

Sex abuse charity

In the Reddit news aggregator site, a commenter with the sobriquet HumanNotaRobot, reasonably wrote:

“Religious people may donate more money, but are they really helping much? I’d say the evidence is not strong for that. Look at the trillion dollars that the Catholic Church has paid out in legal settlements for sexual abuse. Add to this a general lack of transparency that religious charities (and charities in general) have, and we can see a huge opportunity for rational people to make huge improvements in the world.”

HumanNotaRobot also recommended checking out the nonbeliever website, which he said is “basically a mix of compassion and rationality, using money and energy to best improve the world.”

High overhead

Also in Reddit, Samantha Cruz responded to my post with suspicion about religious charity. She wrote:

“How much of the “Charitable contributions” made to churches actually goes to charitable causes? This article suggests that 39-52% of their budget goes to paying the salary and benefits of church staff. and according to the evangelical christian credit union study, [about] 83% of church budgets go to ‘Administrative expenses’ and only 5% goes to ‘charitable programs.’ Also many churches organize their charitable activities as essentially recruiting/proselytizing tools where attending a church service or sales pitch is an obligatory part of receiving benefits. The money people ‘give to the church’ should not be considered ‘charity.’”

Constitutional charity

The Reddit commenter Sbicknel was straightforward:

“I think there may be a general difference in perspective between the religious and non-believers. Many religious people think charity is a personal responsibility rather than a societal responsibility. Many non-believers think that society has a responsibility to care for the needy. This is enshrined in a clause of the US Constitution: ‘promote the general welfare.’”

Whether publicly or privately financed, though, support for charitable endeavors in the not-so-distant future likely will increasingly need to come from sources other than religious institutions, as the developed world grows less and less focused on the divine and raises fewer and fewer dollars in church for social-aid programs.

The money needs to come from somewhere — probably somewhere secular.


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saudi arabia memoir
Cover image of “3,001 Arabian Days.”


FYI, my newly published memoir — 3,001 Arabian Days — is now available in paperback on Amazon, here (and soon in digital format). It’s the story of growing up in an American oil camp in the Saudi Arabian desert from 1953-1962. Hope you enjoy my memories of a fascinating and foundational experience.


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