I don’t know if I have a strong opinion on this one as to me “help is help” in a time of disaster, but since this site explores some of the more difficult issues with being a freethinker I think this story is worth your interest. The Christian Post has an article on how American Atheists (who does not represent all atheists by the way, a common misconception) is asking people to contribute to “Dawkins Non-Believers Giving Aid Disaster Relief Fund” (kind of an awkward charity title) instead of Christian charities like the Salvation Army and other similar faith-based groups. The reasoning is that part of your donations to faith organizations goes towards the evangelical efforts while the rest goes toward physical aid. Basically, in regards to atheists, why give money that will go towards printing hand-out Bibles, Christian literature or any evangelizing efforts no matter how minor? Why not give it to a nonChristian charity you believe in?
The ChristianPost recounts the efforts of the Salvation Army after the Tsunami hit and how they’ve been doing some great work to bring relief to the suffering victims in Japan. To quote the article, “The Salvation Army has 1,000 staff members in Japan helping the homeless and wounded. The Salvation Army also has two hospitals and 80 centers providing housing and rehabilitation for men, women and seniors in Japan. Moreover, since The Salvation Army has been in Japan since 1985…”
As a comparison example, the secular charities Doctors Without Borders and The Red Cross have more limited resources and manpower. They do not seem to have the kind of footing that the Salvation Army has in Japan, possibly due to being there since 1985.
I’m wondering if it really matters. Let Christians donate to their favorite faith-based charities and atheists and other unbelievers donate to their favorite secular charities. I’m not concerned about who has more of a stake in the country, I’m concerned about helping in the here-and-now. Any charity, no matter how small, who uses their donations and resources wisely is doing a good job in my book. I get the point being made by American Atheists. Charity is an old Christian battleground. Who are you more likely to join after being helped out of a jam–the atheists who don’t have the charitable resources to help you or the Christians with huge financial backing and a network of charitable resources? Some victims have joined churches after being given aid, even if they don’t believe in the religion itself. It is an act of gratitude. Others, suddenly realizing how valuable life is, may have a crisis of faith and are open to any version of God that is involved in their rescue. It is a very emotional time when disaster strikes and reason is usually put aside.
Atheists should certainly continue to work with secular charities and help develop them. I,personally, however, want to recognize the efforts of any religious charity that leaps into action. At the heart of most charities, secular or religious, are amazing individuals. Quite honestly, I view them all as humanists because they don’t wait on prayer to help people and get things done. Prayer seems to come after in order to bring calm to those affected or to come to grips with the tragedy in some manner. It is similar to an atheist sitting with a new found friend in a hospital, holding their hand and simply listening. There is a human connection that helps bring comfort in the worst of times.
What is really interesting about this article concerning secular relief agencies versus Christian ones–is everyone is competing to help people! Give to the charity you feel comfortable with. All I would stress is that you research who they are as unfortunately there is always fraud when there are huge periods of giving.
SIDENOTE: I noticed that The Christian Post article did not provide a link to Richard Dawkins’ Non-Believers Giving Aid page or a link to The Salvation Army. So donate as an atheist or as a Christian or as someone who doesn’t care what the charity believes. Either way, I believe the money will be put to good use.
SIDENOTE 2: Don’t mistake my lack of concern for where the money goes as being unsympathetic to Dawkins and other nonbelieving charitable efforts. I fully support the idea and hope it continues. My only point is when you’re in the midst of the disaster I want to be careful to not be petty. If the Salvation Army was all there was to give money to in order to help Japan, I would do it. I prefer, though, to give my money to an organization like The Red Cross. All charities are imperfect, but for the most part the money is used effectively.