Last Friday, the co-president of Wisconsin's Freedom From Religion Foundation, Dan Barker, took to Twitter to brag. Given that atheism is by its very nature the height of self-worship, that wasn't necessarily a surprise. But it was what he was bragging about that provoked some curiosity in a thinking person:
"Incredible photos of atheists & humanists distributing food to victims of Hurricane Maria. FFRF's Nonbelief Relief contributed to the effort," he tweeted.
First things first – it is wonderful to see humans helping other humans in need. Compassion and benevolence are the highest of virtues, assuming we operate from a worldview that can objectively measure virtue (ironically something that the atheist worldview conspicuously lacks).
But why does Barker find these pictures particularly noteworthy? Assuming that he's not referring to the professionalism or quality of the photographs themselves, what makes this scene so "incredible?"
Is it because humanitarian aid is not something that atheists have been known for historically? While you rarely encounter a disaster scene without noticeable involvement of church relief teams and Christian charities, "Nonbelief Relief" is a fairly new organization, with FFRF even hailing its uniqueness. But does it make much sense to be bragging about how you've never helped other human beings before, but you are now?
So maybe Barker means it's incredible because acts of goodness and charity actually run counter to the underlying faith in determinism that the atheist mind necessarily resorts to. The law of nature is self-preservation, after all. And our instincts are tuned to self-interest. To the determinist, no one can be credited for acts of charity or goodwill, as they are mere products of unforeseen chemical and cosmological causes. All actions are ultimately decided outside human will, and therefore there is no moral responsibility or accountability for our behavior.
If there is no eternal reward or punishment for human conduct, then acting in any sense outside of one's own interests is, as Barker might put it, "incredible."
But here's my guess knowing Barker's mentality and character: this tweet was intended as some sort of impotent taunt towards the Christians that FFRF hates. It was a bizarre, "Anything you can do, we can do better" jab at believers. That's just weird.
To be honest, I've always found it amazing how a man like Barker who has distinguished himself in the atheist community as rather unremarkable except for his claim to be a former Christian minister, doesn't understand Christianity at all. It's really no wonder he left the faith as it doesn't appear as though he ever even understood it.
No believer would ever object to or feel threatened by atheists participating in charitable giving. To the contrary, we've been desperate for them to help for years. Though the Christian church remains the world's largest humanitarian relief organization by a staggering margin, if the atheists want to "challenge" the church as to who can be more generous, I (and every believer I know) is all for it. What a wonderful thing for us to compete with each other over – who can care for people more.
Why Barker apparently thought these images would bother Christians I can't be sure. The truth is that the pictures of "Nonbelief Relief" at work in the lives of innocent victims of natural disasters actually reveal something divine in all of us no matter what we claim to believe. And that's the greatest part about FFRF's initiative – it undermines the foundational principle of their entire organization.
In an effort to show how they can be "good without God," what the Freedom From Religion Foundation is actually touting is their inherited God-nature at work. God is goodness. Apart from Him, we would have no grounded, rational understanding of what good even is. Therefore, when His created beings act in good ways, we are reflecting the image of Him in us.
That's true for those of us who acknowledge it and seek to glorify Him through our work; and it's true of those who deny His existence yet unintentionally give visible evidence for it.
Peter Heck is a speaker, author and teacher. Follow him @peterheck, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.peterheck.com.