Tuesday, 3 April 2007

atheists should tithe

Actually I don’t mean that atheists should tithe at all, I mean that humanists should donate a reasonable proportion of their income to charities, but it wasn’t as catchy.

An atheist, is strictly speaking, a person who doesn’t have a belief in God. This statement implies that atheism says nothing about morality or how one should live one’s life. However, many atheists would also consider themselves humanists. Humanists basically believe that humans are on our own in the world and that we need to make the best of it. This means that humanists specifically rule out appeals to deities of any kind. This is why I really mean that humanists should be doing something.

Tithing is the practice of giving 10% of your income and/or wealth to the church - it is implicit that this is the church that you belong to. Its therefore unlikely that atheists or humanists are going to think that this is a good idea at all; because they’re not, as a group, big believers in churches (or other places of religion). However, the practice of tithing was partially used to support the good works of the church to the poor and 10% is a reasonably large quantity, one that should certainly make a difference. So that’s why I used the word tithe.

There is a general reason why everyone should give some of their wealth or income away, regardless of their position on God(s). That is that quite simply, it’s a nice thing to do.

For those people in the world who have consider themselves members of a religion with a scripture inspired by God (or Gods), there is a second reason. God said so. If you look in your scripture I’ll put money on you finding it there – although perhaps not in those exact words. The rest of this post isn’t aimed at you, - although you are more than welcome to read and comment on it - so if you don’t agree, please consider that first.

But what if you are an atheist (humanist), do you have any compelling reasons to give money away?

Well, if you are a humanist, this existence is all of the life and experience you are going to get. It also means that:

  • Nothing is going to improve the lives of the poor and suffering, if nobody, anywhere does anything about it.
  • Nobody is going to save the environment if some humans don’t do it.
  • People are going to die early from disease and accidents unless some people do something. And when they die, that’s it.

Christian Aid has the slogan “We believe in life before death”, humanists would add “and that’s all the life we get”. So it should be more important to humanists than to anyone else, to extend everyone’s life and quality of life.

There is a general rule in life that if nothing is going to get done unless somebody does something about it, you’d better start doing it yourself or nobody will. So, humanists should be donating serious amounts of money. Starting today (yesterday if you have a time machine). Just as the religious are exhorted to act on their beliefs, so should the humanists. And part of that means putting your money where your mouth is.

If you truly believe that there is no one but us to turn to, then act as if no one else can help us with our problems and start contributing to the solutions by giving money (and lots of it).


story said...

I've read many times that if everyone in the developed world gave 10% of his or her income to poverty-related charities, there would be no more poverty. When you think of the disparities, even 1% of the typical American income could change an entire African village's lives.

broknowrchlatr said...

story makes a good point. I donate a significant ammount, but it doesn't go just to my church. I would love to allocate a full 1% to african villiages. Problem is that I have not found a charity for which I belive that the 1% actually goes to the people in the african villiages.

My mother goes to mexico twice a year for a health mission trip. They take doctors and tons of medical supplies. That is one cause that I am 100% sure uses all their donations.

plonkee said...

I was watching the dvd of the live 8 concerts yesterday, and noticed that one of the slogans was "No one should die of starvation in the 21st century", and thought that I couldn't agree more.

I personally donate to Oxfam and I know that not all there money is spent on directly alleviating poverty, they spend some on campaigning and I'm happy with that.

Alex said...

Great post! Broknowrchlatr--The best resource I've found for giving is charitynavigator.org. This site uses tax info to break down for you where the money you donate goes. I'm a big fan of Direct Relief International (99.2% of their revenue goes to relief), but there are many other charities profiled by the site that are great, too, and many of them work in Africa. Good Luck!

Tim said...

How would one define "improve", "better", and "good"?

Do you believe in Darwinism?

Anonymous said...

I'm an athiest and I give to charity, but I tend to give as much to charities that care for other species and the environment because I don't believe humans are alone--they are simply one of millions of species on earth. So, what to call a non-humanist athiest? hmmm.

plonkee said...

Humanism is more the belief that humans can do well by themselves than that other species are not important. Personally I think that saving the environment etc is a good thing which I promote through my actions rather than my cash.

Along with most scientists, I accept that evolutionary theory is the best explanation for the existence of life, in the same way I accept that electromagnetic theory is the best explanation of how my lights work in my house.

You can define the terms good, improve and better any way you please. I like the Benthamite principle of the greatest happiness for the largest number of people, noting that the largest number of people live with an awful lot less than I do.

Anonymous said...

Atheists are likely to be realists and tend to think for themselves, rather than to blindly accept the party line. So they tend to give less, because they can see that dollars out are counter-productive to their own savings and frugality, and they don't expect some magical 7-fold or 10-fold return on what they give.

Anonymous said...

"So, humanists should be donating serious amounts of money. Starting today (yesterday if you have a time machine). Just as the religious are exhorted to act on their beliefs, so should the humanists. And part of that means putting your money where your mouth is."

Dunno about you, but this post sounds like some pretty weak rhetoric to me. This reads more like a debate rather than an opinion piece (which would be much more fitting). Atheists don't have any obligation to give to charity. You are making the assumption that many (although the post makes it sound like "most" or "all") Atheists are Humanists, and that all Humanists believe in helping others through *giving money*.

I have no proof, but I claim that most atheists are humanists, but they are also cynics. Most atheists that I know would rather not see the world get overcrowded than cure everyone of every disease and debilitation. I know this because they told me after I mentioned saving people through medical science.

My generation is paying for the previous generation's social security, which we will not have when we retire or grow old. That's my monetary contribution to an entire generation of Americans.

All that said, I *personally* think that people should give to those who truly need it... I do not believe that humanists are being hypocritical when they do not donate to charity.

Jason said...

I find it troubling that people feel a need to make a distinction between atheists and non-atheists in terms of charitable giving.

If someone is giving simply because their notion of a deity tells them to, then I would counter that while the benefit of giving it realized, it may not be the best "reason" to give. I would hope that people give of their time, energy and funds because they want to or feel it's the right thing to do ... not because they "have" to.

My wife and I are atheists, but admittedly we're not the "loud" kind. It's simply an inability and unwillingness to accept what we believe to be a fairy tale way of explaining the universe. But we don't judge those who choose to believe differently. Anyway, we give to lots of things. Among them the World Wildlife Fund, UNICEF, Kiva, OLPC, our universities and a tonne of charities that are always collecting at work.

We don't hold back because we think that people should be on their own, or that other species don't matter or any of the really narrow-minded notions expressed here in other comments as to what the "common atheist" feels.

Like it or not, we're in the same tribe, regardless of what you think is in the sky... a god(s) or more sky. I believe we have a obligation as members of the biosphere to do right by others that we share it with.

So, yes, atheists should work to make the world better... so should everyone. To single out atheists is the same as saying "redheads should give to charity". It's just not that big a distinction in the big picture.

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