12/31/2009                                                                                       View Comments

A New Giving Hub for Nonbelievers

by Valerie Tarico

Are you an atheist, agnostic, humanist, freethinker or some such who cringes at the thought of people being given the Four Spiritual Laws along with disaster relief? Do you think that promoting “eternal salvation” to five year olds is exploitative? Do you hate it that poor parents send their kids to Muslim or Christian madrassas because that’s the only way they can get them pencils and paper? Does it irritate you when fancy creationist museums are better funded than real natural history museums?

A new website with a January 1 launch date, may be just your thing.

Religious people tend to put their money where their mouths are—more-so, it would appear, than the rest of us, and evangelical fundamentalists even more so than open inquiring people of faith. Yes, I understand the cult recruiting aspect of the whole thing, but the bottom line is that they get things done. In order to advance their tribal truth claims, Pentecostals, Evangelicals, and other fundamentalists ante up for food and doctors and schools and cool animatronic dinosaurs. They also sign up as docents and tutors and camp counselors—and they teach their kids to do the same. Having a community where you think and talk together about what matters--matters.

At least that is the hope of Dale McGowan, author of Parenting Beyond Belief, and as of the New Year, the Executive Director of a giving hub for freethinkers: Foundation Beyond Belief. In religious settings people take the time to focus on how they want to change the world. They may not use the words, “Be the Change,” but they encourage each other to do just that. Smart mega-churches offer up a whole menu of volunteer opportunities. Leaders tell followers what needs doing, but they let each member think about what role best fits his or her passion and abilities. They also make it known, front and center, that lots of good things can’t happen without money.

Do you think that promoting “eternal salvation” to five year olds is exploitative? McGowan hopes to do the same thing for people who don’t go to church every Sunday.

He has assembled a board of freethought leaders who are convinced that those of us who have moved beyond belief have something important to give to the world. The team includes ethicist Wayne Huey, Ethical Society leader Trish Cowen, Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist, and Kate Miller, founder of Charlie’s Playhouse. They think that without the promise of “pie in the sky when we die” it’s all the more important to do good for goodness sake—and add compassion and beauty to our monthly budget. As McGowan puts it, “There’s no better fit for philanthropy than a secular worldview. If there’s no god to make the world a better place, it’s up to us. That’s what the Foundation is all about. And we can do it without evangelism and church maintenance taking a bite out of every dollar."

You join the Foundation Beyond Belief by signing up for a monthly automatic donation, and then creating a profile saying how you would like your money divided among their ten focus areas: environment, education, health, human rights, peace, poverty, children, animals, “big bang” (small charity, big impact)—and the operations of the foundation itself. For those of us who are living pool-ball lives, bouncing from thing to thing, one of the great things about the Foundation Beyond Belief model is that their team does research for you, evaluating the impact and efficiency of the organizations that are featured each quarter.

Equally important, Foundation Beyond Belief provides confidence that your dollars aren’t pushing religious indoctrination along with social services. Before solstice, my friend Darcy asked in a tone of desperation, “Do you know anything about Mercy Corps? I want to give a gift sponsorship, but it’s so hard for me to figure out which of these charities are really trying to convert people.” Another non-religious friend sponsored a child through evangelistic aid organization World Vision, not knowing that their mission and hers didn’t align. On the surface well-run religious charities provide excellent services to desperately poor people in disaster zones or here at home. But buried in the honey of generosity may be a capsule full of exclusive truth claims that can bind aid recipients to ignorance, tribalism, and further desperation.

We see this in Muslim charities that provide food and medical assistance in Pakistan and Palestine, stepping in to do what government does not, while simultaneously building loyalty to radical Islam. We see it also in Africa, where Pentecostal missionary activities have revived local fears of witchcraft causing thousands of children to be abandoned, tortured, or even killed. But even under better conditions, the mix of harm and good can be quite complicated. Mother Teresa is a great example: in hindsight it seems likely that her lifetime of loving labor among Calcutta’s poor caused more suffering than it alleviated, simply because she promoted antiquated dogmas about birth control and about pain itself.

I myself am convinced that much of the harm done in this world is done by decent people seeking to do good. When we go to the movies, almost all of us identify with the good guys. But if you want to actually do good in the world and avoid harm, it isn’t enough to be well intentioned; you also have to be right about the real world contingencies that govern people’s lives. And your best shot at that is to call upon reason and evidence, do your research and—here is where religion often trips up--ask the questions that could show you wrong.

For nontheists who want to make the world better, asking those questions is getting a little easier. In April I wrote: “Maybe, now that freethinkers are coming out of the closet it is time for us to begin thinking about how to create our own communities and structures that empower personal generosity. Since we don't have a sales mandate or a promise of treasure laid up in Heaven, we -- unlike many Christians -- are free to give without expecting something back except maybe a bit of good will.” Somebody must have heard me.

P.S. There is a third piece to the equation about good intentions and being right. It isn’t enough to be well intentioned and right if you don’t do anything about it. I plan to sign up tomorrow to be in that first wave of $20/month members –a wave that hopefully will be big enough to send a powerful message to those madrassas and missionaries: We don’t need religion to bring about a better world to come. We’ve got what we need in each other.

35 comments:

webmdave said...

Thanks for posting this. I give through the atheist group on KIVA, and they are beating the pants off all the christians in donations. So, I don't think that it is that christians give more per capita than atheists, it's just that (just like your friends) our donations are going to organizations with a christian agenda or are just not being counted as from atheists. I will be there tomorrow.

webmdave said...

I understand laura76.

I often feel "different" to others here, as I rejected the xtian myth at a young age, long ago. Sometimes it feels like everyone knows more than I do, or expresses themselves better. But when looking at similarities, I know this is where I belong. I find comfort, insights and identification in the topics and words of others.

I find the people here understanding and tolerant, many may have been in a similar situation to your's before. I'm certain that as long as you honestly seek the truth, you will find the group in which you fit.

webmdave said...

Thanks godfree,

That's a great suggestion. I would really like a group like that, I'm not looking to categorize or label myself, just looking to be accepted for who I really am inside and meet open minded people to talk to.

webmdave said...

I like the people on here, but I think it's hard for people to get to know me over the net.

Thanks again...

Laura

webmdave said...

Laura, you should check around & get with a group of like-minded people--call it a 'support group. Here in Pennsylvania we have groups such as PAN (PANon-believers) It's a social thing, meetings, picnics & parties. Noone cares if you're an Agnostic, pantheist, secular humanist, deist, Unitarian or flat out Atheist. We have a monthly publication that everyone is welcome to send entries-- book reviews, brief articles, whatever. Also, there's a monthly Atheist call in TV show. People can call in with questions or comments. Look around, you may be pleasantly surprized.

webmdave said...

If I was asked what church I go to , I would reply : If you will withdraw that question, I won't tell everyone you asked it.

webmdave said...

I'm sorry. It is difficult to be "limbo"- not knowing where you fit in with others. I wish I knew what to suggest to you, but I really don't. Gnosticism maybe?

webmdave said...

Thanks bruno,

It's hard to be on here sometimes because I guess I'm not just like everyone else on this site, but I like to sometimes feel like I belong. I don't belong around other christians, that's for sure. In fact alot of my "friends" have decided I'm not walking with christ since I rarely darken the door of the church and such things, but I also don't seem to belong among atheists either, so life is pretty lonely.

Thanks for the author reference. I love to read although I have not seen many books worth reading. But the guy you mention seems interesting. I'll look him up.

Laura

webmdave said...

It doesn't matter, because the reason why people can say "I am right on this spiritual matter and you are wrong" is *because* everyone puts so much stock into being right. That is why being right doesn't matter when it comes to spiritual issues. And anyway, it is not so much about being right, it's the feeling that people are addicted to about being right (in other words pride) that they love. I honestly don't care that anyone knows where I'm coming from concerning my spiritual beliefs as long as I am doing what I know in my heart is helpful and kind. Aside from following Christ's teachings of loving God and loving others, I simply don't care about anything else.

webmdave said...

I've always wondered what's so difficult or scary about a charity or government agency coming up with a totally transparent (fail safe) method of accounting for every penny that comes in and goes out. I' me sure that there must be a simple way to publish every donation or contribution in such a way that a person could click on a web address and find their contribution, and in the opposite column all expenditures including salaries of the administrators including the cost of all perks.

webmdave said...

Glad Ray Comfort is good for something.

webmdave said...

One very charming pattern that seems to pop up in our posts on this site (from those who seem to be authentic exXians or on the path to attain that sane state) is that there is a bountiful and blessed amount of care, compassion and understanding. Not the sappy, smiley, pre-recorded message niceness (don't you f**king tell me what kind of a day to have, smileyfaced a**h*le) but a very sound connection from fellow wanderers who have had a similar ViaCrucis and are experiencing improved, enhanced and clear-headed lives without the burdens faith/religion had imposed.
No one is perfect, that's clear: and we each have current challenges. Tragedy and misery are still around, but we understand that its all in a human context without the intervention of spooks, spirits and goblins.
If we spend any time in silence, it is not in any attempt to connect with non-existent beings nor to attempt to change the course of our lives through mumbled, repeated formulae.

So, I am very glad that in 2009 I stumbled on this site. It has been a pleasure, a joy and a re-affirmation of my intelligence. I don't see myself as superior in any way, but I will no longer let any believer patronize or belittle me. The ability to think clearly once in a while is so refreshing and liberating, especially when I can write down some thoughts and get into an adult conversation with other independent thinkers on this site.

Thank you all. Muchas, muchas gracias.
May 2010 bring good things to each of you.

webmdave said...

It seems one main reason why Xtianity has thrived, while many superstitions have become jokes or just an excuse for a party, and atheists in general don't seem to have much effect on the rationally challenged Jz set, is the superior organization of Xtianity. Organizations like this are a great way to counteract the craziness of Xtians and help people at the same time.

BTW, if anyone asks me what church i attend, i'll say the Church of the Sacred Banana (thanks to Ray Comfort for the inspiration).

webmdave said...

Hi laura76!

It is good to see you are still sharing your experience and insights. I hope you are doing well and 2010 brings you the best life offers.

Robert Green Ingersoll was a famous freethinker who is well worth reading. One of my favorite quotes of his, mirrors the sentiments of your last sentence:

“Hands that help are far better than lips that pray.”

webmdave said...

Actually, yes it does matter. Episcopalians, esp the liberal ones, do not believe what Evangelical Fundamentalists believe. Baptists don't believe what Episcopalians believe. Etc etc etc I have yet to find any of the Xian sects to be the same and everyone of them, save the Episcopalians, point fingers and say the other is not Xian. Of course, here lately there have been conservative Episcopalians point the fingers at others, but be that as it may, very few, if any, of the various sects of Xianity are the same. Therefore, it does matter, because we have no idea where you are coming from concerning your beliefs unless you say. The same goes with your god concept and your Jesus concept.

webmdave said...

And i hope your new year is all you could hope for.

webmdave said...

It's ironic that we who maybe don't want to congregate in this way will do it just to show that heathens are good, compassionate human beings. Ironic because I don't think we are necessarily virtuous, and yet it is so easy to point to mean, cruel a**h*les who are church-going, bible-thumping believers.
It is not as easy to be a hypocrite when you don't set yourself up with the irrational and crazy standards that religionists profess. Demonizing sexuality is a case in point. The possibilities of even greater contradictions are present in the current marriage between fundies and republicans.
So, it is to our advantage to have public demonstrations of good, just so that people of reason who are just mildly blinded by their faith can start to question the 'privileged, inherent and superior goodness' of their churches, beliefs etc.
And if it falls flat, well f**k 'em if they can't take a joke.

webmdave said...

The more I look at their info, the more convince I am to stay away from such a group. looking at their policies it wont be long they will become a front group for religious group.

Q&A link

Q: I'm a religious person. Can I be a member?

Well sure! Secular humanists volunteer for and donate to religious organizations all the time.

Meaning They are and will support religious group.

If you are a atheist, and desire a world without religion, you should stay away from such organization.

Do your own homework and only support group who are free of religion.

webmdave said...

As others have mentioned, I've been asked what religion I am too or what church I go to. I honestly don't think that matters in the slightest. They should know better than to ask that, after all it is the substance (fruit) that matters. They preach it, but never seem to believe it and do it. They always have a hidden agenda for themselves, whether rewards in heaven from God, spiritual satisfaction because they "know" God is pleased with them or so that they may receive accolades from others. It's quite nauseating really. I have seen much more true substance from atheists, because they do it simply for the sake of humanity and to help make this world a better place through action, instead of expecting God to do it all through prayer and fasting and such when they could be spending more time doing the things they're praying for.

webmdave said...

Thanks OB for taking the time to do that.

That was a nice reply you got.

webmdave said...

I'm sure a lot of us already give of our time and money, but just do not get credit for the atheist team. Everywhere I have ever helped out I have been asked what church I am with.

webmdave said...

Oh, and Happy New Year everyone!!!!!
Hope 2010 is better than 2009.

webmdave said...

Hi

I log in and it seems the only way to sent it is by Post as a guest. where is the link to sent it as a member?

webmdave said...

Thanks for the post.

I think this is a good thing. "Doing Good" should not be the sole domain of the theists. We non-believers have much to contribute in order to help fix societal problems.

Plus, we should be putting our money where our mouths are as well. Let us not simply live by what we deny but rather by what we affirm. This is how we can start to make a humane difference in the world.

webmdave said...

Sorry if this reply appears more than once. I have a hard time figuring it out.

I was looking forward to it, but reality sink in when I read on the very first page of their web site concerning their selection for this new year Human Right group. They state:

"BCSC is a model community-based alternative to detention. It is a coalition of religious and humanist communities, human rights organizations, and other groups and individuals in the Greater New York City area who provide support and services for asylum seekers who are released from detention."

Religious affliation, No thanks

webmdave said...

On there very first page, talking about their first selection in the Human Right group, we read

"BCSC is a model community-based alternative to detention. It is a coalition of religious and humanist communities, human rights organizations, and other groups and individuals in the Greater New York City area who provide support and services for asylum seekers who are released from detention."

religious affliation, No thanks

webmdave said...

I was looking forward to it, but got my hope shattered on the very first page of the site. Talking about their first selection of the year, they mention the one thing that discourage me from putting any money into their program.

"BCSC is a model community-based alternative to detention. It is a coalition of religious and humanist communities, human rights organizations, and other groups and individuals in the Greater New York City area who provide support and services for asylum seekers who are released from detention."

That is right, they are getting involve with religious group.

No Thanks.

webmdave said...

When I was in my surburban baptist church, we couldn't get people to do anything. I was looking for a way to volunteer in the community that was meaningful, but there were no leaders in the church doing that, so I ended up doing church volunteerism. That's unusual that there are bornagain churches that actually do something. I saw liberal denominations getting involved, but not us. It was fustrating.

webmdave said...

I posted your questions to the foundation's website. Here's the response I got:

Hi Scott,



Thanks for your questions. Our initial budget projections and recommended accounting practices have been prepared with the oversight of The Foundation Group, the 501c3 consultancy that handled our incorporation and tax-exemption processes. We are currently in the process of selecting the firm that will handle our bookkeeping going forward. We will issue financial statements according to best practices recommended by that firm.



Salary projections are on hold until a baseline membership has been established and will be within the norm for 501c3 organizations of similar size and income. Once established, these and all other aspects of our finances will be reported on the website, on GuideStar, and to the IRS.





Kind regards,



Dale McGowan

Executive Director

webmdave said...

I never thought about spreading the word about this site in a blog post. Thanks for writing about it, Valerie.

webmdave said...

In Ireland, you'd be asked are you a Catholic Atheist or a Protestant Atheist ?

webmdave said...

Yes,

I led a youth service club for 20 years and was always asked, "What church are you from?" When I replied that we were not a church, just a group of kids trying to make a positive difference in the community, they would repeat, "Yeah, but from what church?"

webmdave said...

David,

Your skepticism is not negative, just realistic! You raise perfectly legitimate concerns.

webmdave said...

MSF (Doctors without Borders) is not religion based, neither is Women for Women International... but I get the publicity angle of showing our charitable selves together, as one, making a difference in people's lives without the myths.
I'm always getting mistaken for a Christian because of my volunteerism and charitable giving, and it does make me a little crazy. :) Thanks for the post.

webmdave said...

It's a great idea, but as a sceptic I have to ask who the accountants will be, how often a financial statement will be issued and what level of salary has been set for the foundation's officers.

I am sorry to strike so negative a note at the outset, but there have been so many foundations, admittedly with different philosophies behind them, whose founders are now on the run from the law and the taxman that I would rather pre-empt the potential problems than suffer from them later.

Peace,

David