Who Needs God to Do Good Work? January 19, 2011

Who Needs God to Do Good Work?

This past Monday, a group of college students in South Carolina helped out at a place that really needed it:

Volunteers in West Columbia spent their afternoon cleaning and sorting medical supplies at The Good Samaritan Clinic, a free facility that serves the Hispanic population.

“We’ve been moving filing cabinets, helping with magazine racks and cleaning up,” says Kelley Freeman, just one of the many volunteers.

Participants feel they are doing their part to improve the community.

“While what we’re doing here may not be on the same scale as Dr. King’s work,” Dustin Tucker reflects, “It’s still getting people out in the community, and it’s getting something done. That’s what we need to see more of in the world.”

There’s one sentence in the article, though, that stood out to me:

The students involved are no strangers to good deeds. The majority of them at the clinic are members of the Pastafarians, a non-secular [sic] service group.

In the words of [organizer Michelle] Trojanowsky,” The particular purpose of our group is to allow students to participate in their community and perform community service without needing to have a religious affiliation. We like to provide an avenue to get out in your community and do go simply for the sake of doing good.”

Atheists doing good without a god. It’s so easy to volunteer like this, yet we don’t do enough of it. Kudos to anyone who participates in service projects like this one for giving us examples to follow.

(via @SecularStudents)

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  • I think the author of the original article got a term wrong (which Hemant noticed by adding the [sic]).

    The majority of them at the clinic are members of the Pastafarians, a non-secular [sic] service group.

    The original authors probably meant to say

    The majority of them at the clinic are members of the Pastafarians, a secular service group.

    The Campus Crusade for Christ would be an example of a non-secular group where they want to mix religion with any social work.

  • CelticWhisper

    I’m guessing they meant non-sectarian but either way, it’s a WTF? moment.

  • Lion IRC

    It’s good to see humans helping each other.

    Loving their neighbor.

    If God wants us doing that (and I believe He does) it’s probably for our OWN good not His. There is no theological basis for the claim that God benefits from such actions

    So it doesnt make sense to claim that when Christians help the poor it’s just for God or that atheists going the same deeds somehow makes then “better”

    Lion (IRC)

  • eholst

    @ Lion – I don’t see anything in the article that claims (or even vaguely suggests) this group is in any way “better” for doing these deeds because they aren’t Christians. Merely that this particular group provides opportunities for people to help their communities without having any religious affiliations tagged to their deeds. I appreciate their good example.

  • Nordog

    Hey, I thought Pastafarianism WAS sectarian, and thus non-secular!


  • That’s some nice volunteering there. Ramen. :o)

  • freddy

    This kind of lookie-what-we-can-do me-tooism annoys the shit out of me. Non-believers ought not to have to justify themselves in the eyes of the religious in order to attain legitimacy. That’s just playing their game. If I don’t want to believe your tyrannical, authoritarian nonsense, tough. What I do in my spare time is my own damn business, whether it’s adopting a highway or doing blow off a hooker’s hipbone.

  • Ben

    An interesting thing I’ve been seeing in relation to the floods here in Brisbane, Australia: there have been tens of thousands of volunteers helping in the cleanup effort, but the religious groups are the only ones who seem to feel the need to have their affiliations printed on their safety-vests.

    It’s like they’re saying “this will show society how generous we are”, except when they’re lost in a flood (pun intended) of ordinary folk (Australia is typically non-religious) doing exactly the same thing because they want to help, not because their god or their church says they have to, the self-promotion seems a little … wanky.

  • Lion IRC

    Hi Ben,
    The most recent census in .au indicates very prevalent self-identified religious affiliation -70.1%

    11.2% Gave no response and 18.7% stated “no religion”.

    Also, I would be cautious about inferring that the “tens of thousands” of volunteers consists of;
    a) religious people wearing one type of vest

    b) all the other non-religous people wearing a different type of vest.

    I think it reasonable to assume that 70,1% of volunteers were religious no matter what type of vest they were provided with.

    I certainly cant argue that some religious charitable groups are a bit ostentatious when it comes to the PR department.

    But as freddy’s “me too-ism” post alluded, there’s a few atheist/secular charities that make a big deal about the fact that they are non-religious.

    Lion (IRC)

  • SecularLez

    I can see where you’re coming from freddy.
    I, however, am not opposed to trying to bring a positive face to atheism.
    Atheists are still a pretty despised minority in the U.S. and I’m all for good publicity.

    One of these days it won’t be a big deal but I don’t see that day coming for quite some time.
    I still get questions about how do I know right from wrong since I don’t follow the bible. ::sigh::

  • It’s a nice way to spend Martin Luther King Day no matter how the people are identified.

    The public community college down the road is celebrating by have a concert. The colleges choir will perform ‘songs of praise’, followed by a local gospel choir, then another group will ‘headline with songs from their gospel music catalog’. There might be time to mention something about Martin Luther King and why it’s a holiday.

    I know gospel music played a part in what was going on in the civil rights struggle for some people, but why must every public celebration of the holiday focus so much on it? I can appreciate a good gospel song in proper context, but it ruins MLK day for me when it’s wall to wall gospel.

  • Steve

    So it doesnt make sense to claim that when Christians help the poor it’s just for God or that atheists going the same deeds somehow makes then “better”

    Depends on the exact motivations of the Christians.

    If they do it because their faith inspired them to do good, that’s certainly ok. But if they do it simply because it is demanded of them and because they consider it strictly or mostly as a way to to be rewarded with going to heaven, then that makes atheists indeed better.

  • Michelle T

    First, Thank you SecularLez for the back up.

    Second, freddy, I think you misinterpreted our intentions in performing the service work based on the way that the article portrayed it. Often, the news emphasized the wrong aspects of the stories on which it reports. For example, emphasizing the fact that a group is secular as if that should be considered novel. I organized the event just as I do all the events for my organization, the Pastafarians at USC. I do this not for the resume or the attention, but because I very much value having that group support and contributing to it in my own way, especially since I’ve moved to SC, aka the Bible Belt. When I discovered this group, it was like a safe-haven where I didn’t have to feel like an outcast. The group needed a service director, so I stepped in because I respected the president/founder and wanted to see the club grow and be successful. Having a service component that gives no reward for performing that service is what I love about this club. We don’t give “points” or require it of due-paying members. This idea of performing service for the sake of helping fellow humans is exactly what I hope to inspire in the members, my friends. I don’t do publicity stunts.
    With that said, I, like SecularLez, believe that in order to improve our comfort in our respective communities, it is unfortunately necessary to try to give a “friendly face” to atheism. Therefore, when the news reporter from Fox came in, I saw an opportunity to do just that in a small way. Every little bit helps. My own dad is scared to tell his friends what group I work with because they may scorn us. He discourages my putting my involvement in the club on my med school apps because he doesn’t want me to have a disadvantage just in case the reviewers are prejudiced. He’s my dad, he’s atheist, but he too fears unfair prejudice from the majority of society. That upsets me. And if getting my group’s face out there a little in a positive light might help, then, yes, I’m willing to “play the game” a little, if just for a while. How do you think any minority facing discrimination starts the battle to societal acceptance? The first African-Americans to enter higher education had something to prove. The women in some of the PhD programs I’ve been interviewing with will even look down on me for wearing make-up, jewelry, or, even, *gasp* a skirt. They STILL feel like they have something to prove. You see this everywhere.
    I know you’re bitter. We’re all a little bitter on the inside, I think. But I don’t want to have to think twice about who I’m with before revealing that I’m atheist because some people may be scared because they don’t understand. I don’t want to have to worry that maybe I was unfairly disadvantaged in my med school applications because one of the administrators saw “the Pastafarians” on my application. I don’t think I SHOULD have to prove anything, because I am confident in my beliefs and who I am. “Should” and “have”, however, are not always interchangeable and it is only by facing this reality that we can see what we need to do in order to create the kind of society in which we want to live.

  • bkraider

    Its very good that they are doing good things. Charity and government should be secular and respect diversity.

  • Not a big deal

    We actually do quite a few of these events every year thanks to Michelle’s planning.
    Thank you for posting this on your on your website.

  • Good Samaritan Clinic, eh? Sounds great, but is this really a secular volunteering opportunity? Hmmm. For some reason, the name of that clinic sounds familiar.

    It matters not. We’re so glad to have our Pastafarian brothers and sisters helping fulfill that clinic’s mission, which is…ummm…let me quote from their website, “…to show God’s love by providing free health care to those who need it.”

    Good is good, even if you have to stand alongside Jesus people to do it. We are, after all, really into doing stuff like that. Y’all are always welcome to join us!

  • Michelle T

    Once again, I find myself speaking in self-defense somehow, but, okay, if you insist.

    I personally chose the clinic in which we volunteered to be our work site for the MLK Day of Service based on past experience volunteering at the clinic in patient intake. I have been working at the clinic for over a year and have seen first hand the inner workings and organization of the clinic. The name of the clinic, as Beloved Spear so slyly alluded, does in fact come from the church that supports it. The neighboring church enabled the clinic to open a few years ago by donating the building in which the clinic first began its operations. The new building to which the clinic has expanded was also donated by a church. However, the clinic itself operates in a purely secular fashion. The person who wrote the description on the website was no doubt Christian, as Beloved Spear also graciously pointed out, and perhaps the director is as well. Honestly, though, I could care less. I have seen the way in which the clinic is run, and the people who come to this clinic seeking help are never asked for their religious beliefs or affiliations, are never made to listen to or read any religious materials, and are in no way exposed to religious practices and beliefs while at the clinic. Therefore, I feel confident that the work we performed was performed in what I consider the true spirit of community service: people helping other people with no expectation of receiving anything in return and with no ulterior motives.
    Encouraging service of this kind is, and will continue to be, my goal as the director of humanist outreach activities for the Pastafarians at USC. I am proud of the work that my group accomplished that day and believe that we have stayed true to ourselves and our goals in doing so.

    In the future, if you wish to challenge somebody’s judgement, Beloved Spear, make sure you’ve done your homework, and I mean more than just reading a website.

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