Atheists’ giving to charity is on the rise this year. A group of atheists from the site Reddit.com raised more than $207,000 for the organization Doctors Without Borders during the month of December.
While charitable giving is fairly normal during the holiday season, atheists haven’t always been known for their generosity.
Back in 2003, Arthur C. Brooks of The American Enterprise Institute released a study on giving by religious and secular people.
He wrote in Policy Review that “Religious people are 25 percentage points more likely than secularists to donate money (91 percent to 66 percent), and 23 points more likely to volunteer time (67 percent to 44 percent).”
Sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell found last year that there is a six-in-10 chance a person who never attends church will give money to a secular charity, while the figure for religious people is eight-in-10.
Many see this type of data as part of the reason why more atheists are becoming charitable. In the last five years secular nonprofit organizations like Foundation Beyond Belief have been created. FBB is expected to raise over $140,000 for charity this year.
Other organizations founded in the past five years include Skeptics and Humanists Aid and Relief Effort, operated by the Center for Inquiry, and Humanist Charities by the American Humanist Association. The Richard Dawkins Foundation also created the Non-Believers Giving Aid Disaster Relief Fund in 2010.
Atheist groups are celebrating and citing their giving as proof that they can be charitable without God.
But, Dr. Alex McFarland, a Christian author and religion and culture expert who has debated many atheists, told The Christian Post that he sees it another way.
He said their “proof” is due to this reality: “As the debate over atheism vs. theism has played out in recent years, atheists have had to face the fact that the bulk of philanthropic and benevolent giving (for the last 200 years) has been done by religious people.”
The majority of the hospitals, school systems (including America's ivy league schools – all originally founded by churches and Christians), and benevolent works around the world have been built or started by religious people, McFarland said.
For him, the debate is not over the fact that atheists can’t be good, but rather that there is no objective basis for their being good. “No matter how much non-theists and anti-theists engage in grammatical gymnastics – without God there is no objective, absolute, ultimate foundation for what is good or why to pursue it,” he said in an email.
For Christians, McFarland said, the “basic premise is that since people are made in God's image, all humans have inherent worth, value, and dignity. When you see humans as a mere product of evolution (as non-theists do), there is less incentive to invest in benevolent causes because human life is cheapened.”
He also made a clear distinction as to whom and what exactly atheists are giving to. “There is (currently) an upswing in giving by atheists, to non-profit causes. But this is not necessarily an upswing in giving to benevolent, philanthropic, or to human relief causes,” he said.
Atheist giving often centers on propaganda towards their anti-religion agenda or for “activist” causes, McFarland noted. He cited the American Atheists’ well-funded billboard campaign targeting Christmas that has been running the past few years. Many atheists give money toward this cause.
McFarland also stressed that “religious givers are still by far the largest givers to benevolent causes. At the root of this is belief in God – which influences how we view our fellow humans, and how we think in terms of our own stewardship and accountability.”