Richard Dawkins and Aid for Haiti

I recently received the following email from The Reason Project:

Help for Haiti

It is widely imagined that, in times of crisis, religious people render aid in disproportion to their numbers. Richard Dawkins has now created an opportunity for non-believers to put the lie to this myth.

One hundred percent of the funds raised will go to Doctors Without Borders and/or The Red Cross (you decide). But giving in this way will send an additional message: one need not believe in God to care about one’s fellow human beings.

Non-Believers Giving Aid

First, I’d like to say that contributing to the relief efforts in Haiti is important no matter the motivation. If you haven’t had the opportunity to contribute yet, or you have more you can give, please use the link above as an opportunity to donate.

Second, that those who self-identify as religious donate more, on average, to charitable causes is supported by every study I’ve ever seen conducted. It’s hardly a myth. That the religious donate more, on average, even to non-religious charities is also supported by the data, undermining the assumption that contributions by religious people are mostly made as part of tithing or other donation requirements (see the data to the contrary here). The link provided in the email also contains the following statements:

Preachers and televangelists, mullahs and imams, often seem almost to gloat over natural disasters – presenting them as payback for human transgressions, or for ‘making a pact with the devil’.

This doesn’t happen “often.” It happens, which is shameful, but not often, and it does not come from a representative portion of religious communities.

Earthquakes and tsunamis are caused not by ‘sin’ but by tectonic plate movements, and tectonic plates, like everything else in the physical world, are supremely indifferent to human affairs and sadly indifferent to human suffering. Those of us who understand this reality are sometimes accused of being indifferent to that suffering ourselves.Of course the very opposite is the truth: we do not hide behind the notion that earthly suffering will be rewarded in a heavenly paradise, nor do we expect a heavenly reward for our generosity: the understanding that this is the only life any of us have makes the need to alleviate suffering even more urgent.

The implication, of course, being that religious folks who donate to charities do so out of a desire for a reward in the eternities, and not out of actual concern and altruism (it also seems to be that religious folks don’t know that plate tectonics are responsible for earthquakes).

The myth that it is only the religious who truly care is sustained largely by the fact that they tend to donate not as individuals, but through their churches.

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the “myth” of more charitable contributions on the part of religious people cast as “it is only the religious who truly care.” People on both sides of this discussion contribute for good reasons and for bad reasons, and the studies that have been done on this generally contact individuals, not churches.

Non-believers, by contrast, give as individuals: we have no church through which to give collectively, no church to rack up statistics of competitive generosity.

Again, giving on behalf of religious people is characterized as anything but altruistic. The irony, however, is that this website is explicitly trying to “rack up statistics of competitive generosity.”

Non-Believers Giving Aid is not a church (that’s putting it mildly) but it does provide an easy conduit for the non-religious to help those in desperate need, whilst simultaneously giving the lie to the canard that you need God to be good.

This organization may not be a church, but it is still an attempt to organize and give collectively. Dawkins’ group seems to be insisting it’s manipulative when a church does it, but it’s ok for a secular organization, even if half of the motivation is explicitly competitive. I think it’s obvious that it’s ok no matter who does it.

I hope this movement is successful if for no other reason than it will create better opportunities for those suffering in Haiti to find help. My own church is sending a  team of doctors and millions of dollars worth of supplies, in addition to the money being donated by members. Dawkins is contributing several thousands of dollars of his own money to cover the PayPal fees so that 100% of the money donated through his organization can go toward Haiti. I am interested to see how his challenge plays out.

As a post script, there is a free way for everyone to contribute to movements aimed at fighting hunger, breast cancer, and illiteracy, and contributing to supporting the rainforest, child health, and animal rescue. Make your homepage and click on the link every day. The ads that pop up pay for contributions with each daily click, and there are several different pages you can click on each time. The site is perfectly legit and has been operating for over a decade.


5 responses to “Richard Dawkins and Aid for Haiti

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