It is said that this is the season of giving, and you don’t have to be religious to do good by giving. It was reported the other day that atheists have used crowdsourcing to raise $180,000 for Doctors Without Borders. I bring this up because there is this prevalent belief that atheists are amoral, hedonistic, and only concerned with their own self interests. I want to show that this belief is false.
I’m not going to try to pretend that atheists are more giving than their religious brethren, I just want people to realize that we, as a group in general, put a very high value on doing what is morally and ethically right. Our understanding that this in the only life we have leads us to cherish it and, since we don’t believe in any finally judgement where the bad will be punished and the good rewarded, we are greatly appalled at the suffering of others in the here and now. We see the huge injustice that millions are living lives of desperation, with no hope of relief, unless we, as fellow human beings do something about it, today. Nothing is more terrible than the thought that so many innocent people suffer and that a painful death is all that many of them have to look forward to. The waste of human life, of human potential is overwhelming. When you know that this time on earth is all that each of us has, this kind horrible waste and suffering is unconscionable.
The fact that this suffering of millions is often brushed aside because people delude themselves into believing that those who suffer will find peace some other future existence is what makes us so angry. We aren’t angry with god, or with believers in general. We are angry that human suffering is often minimized by reference to some insubstantial afterlife, or worse, justified by the whim of some invisible deity.
We give what we can to help those who suffer, not because we are told to by a holy book, or a church, but because we are moved by a shared sense of humanity to do what is right simply because it is the right thing to do.
There are plenty of charities that you can give to, if you are, like me, uncomfortable with the idea of giving to a religious charity, such as the Salvation Army, which espouses homophobic and bigoted beliefs, or a church where most of the money stays in the church rather than going to where it is really needed. My personal choice is Doctors Without Borders, which I believe is a great charity since they provide needed medical care anywhere in the world that it is needed, with no religious, ideological, or political agenda or strings attached.
Where ever you decide to give to, don’t do it because you expect some ineffable reward in a nebulous, unlikely afterlife, or to please your pastor. Do it because it is the right thing to do.