Wednesday, October 27, 2010
A Thought on Charity
On the Reasonable Doubts podcast they have an episode called 'Profiles of the Godless' and it's pretty good, uses statistics an such. It was some sort of survey down by one of three guys, Dr. Prof. Luke Galen and then an extended survey done with CFI groups across the world, to a degree. CFI = center for inquiry, a decently atheist hang-out party group ;) Point is: one of the stats is that charity and service work is mainly done through churches an such, and religious people are more likely to do such work and sacrifice, but the non-religious groups do not statistically significantly do less. This means that if you were sample the two groups over and over you would sometimes find non-religious samples that do more than religious samples and vice versa, repeated indefinitely.
So with that said I need to stumble along through my waterfall of thoughts.
A lot of charity and service work is obviously done through churches. And a lot of the people involved are obviously religious. And third, obviously people who become disillusioned to religion may still wish to do good but avoid those religions they so dislike. This, however, should not have to reflect the non-religious as a whole. Taking the atheists for example, Guy Harrison does a LOT of work, Bill Gates donates a lot of money to charity. Being an atheist does not mean you'll be doing less.
I served a mission and though it was proselyting I did get to do service every day, basically. However, it is a little more difficult for me to do something like that now. Especially in America. Where even the government supports church run/funded charities and service opportunities. Separation of church and state is little vague.
But, again, as long as it's getting done, right? There are plenty of secular organizations, though they probably have different issues with taxes an such when compared to something like, say, a church. More loopholes I'm guessing, but they do exist. Hitchens, on a podcast maybe, was talking about how some religious service groups like to talk about how they aren't there to proselyte or be boastful, but just to do their job. Where they don't need to talk about their religion to help people, they simply just help, beliefs put on the side. ... I think their attempts to appear and come off as more 'secular' and 'non-religious' speaks volumes.
Most people will admit that doing something for the right reason of just doing it, and not because of some eternal benefits, is a far nobler thing. Demosthenes and I agreed on a similar point, "so long as they are doing good, I don't much care why." And I think a lot of people would agree. The atheist may enjoy the 'warmth' that comes from helping others, making their actions non-altruistic, but I can't see how ANY religious person can perform a truly altruistic action. They know they will benefit from it, even if it's just a smile from God. I actually inserted this thought into a paper I wrote last year about how Christ wasn't altruistic in his Atonement (according to Mormondom) because he knew he would ascend and be placed on the right hand of God. That and according to the doctrine he was the only who could do it, so ....
But I digress. I use the Hitchen's statement to point out how religious groups sometimes try to come off as non-religious in their service. Mormons of course where bright yellow shirts so they don't quite count. Atheists probably do the same thing, as more of a 'hey, I'm an atheist but I still like to do good in the world and help my fellow human beings!' Again, it's better to just do good for goodness sakes, but I like 'good' atheists better and I always have. In high school I was always more impressed by my friends who were non-religious but still stuck up what was right.
Now, I recognize the good that comes from religion. I still have a couple posts to do on the '9-page reply' email from Demosthenes, but he mentioned, in not so many words, that he picked out my off-hand remarks when I had plenty of positive ones too. Charity is obviously one thing that religion has a monopoly on. So if we get rid of religion what do we do about charity?
First, I don't think religion is going away. Deism will definitely be around forever, the more concrete gods of religions are on the run but they aren't gone yet, and religions will continue to moderate themselves and evolve and adjust. Just to make it clear - I do not think religion is going away. That said, if it did how would we replace it? ... That's the big question. I've seen The Atheist Tapes, and during the Daniel Dennet interview he basically says the same thing only more eloquently and much more philosophically. Dennet is like a Socrates Santa hybrid. I kind of have an answer though, but not one that I like. Commence more rambling.
Religion has a way of taking over people, jump-starting their deeper emotions, lighting fires, commandeering the driver's seat. It's a combination of dogmatism, ideology, and having something to follow. People love to have something to follow, to fight for, to lead them. I venture that this is one of those 'human nature' things. If it's not religion then it's the country (patriotism) or government. These type of unifying and energizing systems give people a boost to go a step beyond what they would normally do. On one side we have people who kill abortion clinic surgeons, fly planes into buildings, and Westboro Baptists. On the other we have Mother Teresa, the Mormon bishop who truly cares, and people who donate thousands a year in money, and days worth of hours in time to charity and service.
How do you replace something like that? With something equally dogmatic and ideological? This post is a slight answer to a slight question that was actually posed to me. Religious people are doing more, but not by much, and most organizations are religious in nature, but especially in America that's just how it's gonna be for now. If religion went away tomorrow I think we would find a world where there would be a lot less service and charity done. Socialism comes to mind, not the Stalin type of course, a more 'open' and not as 'extreme' form of it, a more conducive society to 'free-thinking' would be nice.
The double-sided whatever to atheism is this: when you view this life as all you have then you'll want to make it the best it can be, and being selfish comes with that. But if you care about people and society and the world, then you could end up like Guy Harrison and go doing trips every year.
My atheism inspired me to do more, actually, with this life. I mentioned this when I began my blog, months ago now. I felt so liberated, and I felt like I need to contribute to this world more. Being free of Christianity means that the world does not have to get worst, it can get better. I can make a difference. So as it is now, this is one reason why I remain an atheist, I feel like I am more in control of where I can go in life. I have more responsibility since there is no God or Devil out there. I have more reason to do the right thing, this is my one chance. I have to make things count. I have to like people and try harder to be pleasant cause if something happens, gods forbid, then I won't get another chance with them to set things right.
For me, and I don't think I'm unique, atheism inspires me to do more. And I think that's why atheists are not statistically different from religious people in how much they contribute to the world. I have many friends who think like I do, and yet they think other atheists don't think the same as them, or aren't as interested in doing service for others. News flash, if we're all talking about it and concerned about it, then I'm betting other atheists are too.