Could Atheism be the End of Charity? (Hint: No) February 22, 2014

Could Atheism be the End of Charity? (Hint: No)

While not the focus of a recent article in the Columbus Dispatch, the Columbus Coalition of Reason and quite a few of its member organizations are mentioned favorably because of their awesome tradition of doing community service. For example, the Humanist Community of Central Ohio has regular blood drives every eight weeks and Mid Ohio Atheists sponsors collections for the Harmony House shelter in Mansfield, Ohio. This is not necessarily news (but it is still great to hear).

However, despite all of the great work that non-religious groups can do, researchers are still concerned that charitable giving will decline along with the decline of church attendance. Some are concerned that soup kitchens and medical facilities (most often funded and run by religious organizations) will close because they won’t have the support they used to.

Recent research has found that nearly 20 percent of U.S. adults say they aren’t affiliated with a religious organization, which means fewer people in the pews and fewer donations to support religion-based services.

“We’re facing a great loss, and I don’t think we’ve come to terms with that,” said Linda Mercadante, a theology professor and researcher at Methodist Theological School in Ohio. “I think we should wake up and figure out how we are going to handle it.”

Founded for religious freedom, the United States has long benefited from the schools, hospitals, adoption agencies, orphanages and other welfare organizations that religious groups provide, she said.

It’s true that many schools, hospitals, adoption agencies, and the like have their roots in religious service. However, that doesn’t mean it will always be the case. The country would actually benefit from having more secular hospitals, considering that Catholic hospitals, for instance, can currently reject patients (or at least the procedures they want or need) based on religious beliefs.

But they have a point. What will religious organizations who run soup kitchens and free clinics do if people are leaving the pews? Oh, I have an idea! They could refrain from rejecting atheist volunteers and donations!

Rather on focusing on the fact that people *are* leaving the church, we need to focus on why. Churches may have been bastions of social change at one point, but now they are the face of stagnation. They block efforts for equality for the LGBT community, fight laws for health care reform and reproductive rights, and cover up sex abuse scandals. How exactly is that the face of charity?

People are not less charitable because they’re non-religious. We’ve seen that time and time again — just look at Foundation Beyond Belief. Since 2010, there’s been over $1,500,000 donated and over 30,000 volunteer hours worked. On this site through fundraising, y’all have gone past the mark for donation goals time and time again. There are even people abroad doing hands-on Humanist service work. Sure, religious charities and organizations’ funding may suffer, but that is because many of us are seeking out evidence-based organizations to make sure that our money goes as far as possible instead of allowing a portion of it to be earmarked for proselytization purposes.

I think the growth of communities like HCCO and Mid Ohio Atheists mean a lot as well. Our numbers are only growing, especially among the Millennial demographic, and while many young people are “not involved” (supposedly) now, they will be later. So we hope, anyway. We are only now building the one thing churches have a monopoly on: supportive communities.

There isn’t going to be a decline in charitable giving. There will be, if there has not already been, a shift in where the money is going, and I think that is for the best.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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