Faith Not Required to Live Generous Life

By Maria Runde, March 18, 2012

Freethinkers — also known as humanists, agnostics, atheists and secularists — are sometimes accused by the religious of lacking charity. It is implied that belief in God and following Biblical teachings are prerequisites for selflessness.

From personal experience, I know that freethinkers are volunteering their time and money in exactly the same fashion as believers, and have the same motivation for doing so. We want to make our world a better place to live for ourselves and for our children.

I am in an enviable position of being able to work for free. Since moving here in 2000, I have donated hundreds of hours to various organizations of our community. Through serving on our children’s PTOs, working on fundraising committees and on private boards of directors, I have found opportunities to give back to the community that embraces me. My point is not to flatter myself, but to show that freethinkers are not so different. We all share the common goal of improving the community in which we live.

I find it hurtful when I hear it said that, without belief in God, one cannot be good. That trivializes my efforts and the efforts of so many secular Americans who do good deeds simply because it’s right.

The Freethinkers with whom I have volunteered do not expect rewards for doing good, either here or in an afterlife. Our motivation is the same as the motivation of religious folks — the betterment of our community.

Here’s just a small sample of charitable donations of money and time from well-known secular citizens and groups:

Bill and Melinda Gates had donated more than $28 billion to charity as of 2007, and they plan to ultimately donate 95 percent of their net worth
Warren Buffett has given billions of dollars to the Gates Foundation.

George Soros has donated more than $8 billion to various charitable organizations.

Non Believers Giving Aid organizes volunteers to provide disaster relief to affected communities.

Foundation Beyond Belief has donated more than $250,000 in its short history to fight for human rights and education, and feed the hungry.

While Freethinkers have a long way to go to match the record of charity by religious organizations over centuries, it’s only quite recently that we have begun to organize and have even been able to express our views publicly without fear of physical harm or other untoward retribution.

There is still a very strong public bias against nonbelievers, which impairs their ability to get the necessary community support.

Although it may seem surprising, in some cases freethinkers have had their generous offer of charity rejected for no apparent reason. For example, the Foundation Beyond Belief and the Steifel Freethought Foundation last year offered a donation of $500,000 to the American Cancer Society if they could have a group representing freethinkers participate in the Relay for Life, a fundraising event for cancer research. The freethought groups were persistently denied participation in this event, despite the participation of a number of other nonprofit organizations.

After numerous exchanges with the the American Cancer Society, only an inconsistent and tangential explanation was given for the denial to participate, leading one to question whether it was simply because of bias.

It’s hard to explain a charitable group being unable to work out an agreement with that amount of money at stake. Whatever the ultimate explanation, it points out that there are significant obstacles facing freethought groups, and we could be much more effective in our charitable efforts with the help and support of our community.

The La Crosse Area Freethought Society has begun leaving a legacy of its own, despite its short four-year history, and the fact that we are a social organization, not a service group.

As an organization, we have contributed cash and food to WAFER Food Pantry, and we participate in the Adopt-a-Highway program, keeping clean a stretch of Hwy. 35 under our jurisdiction.

Some members also have established an active program for alcoholics and other addicts who do not believe in a higher power or in prayer.

In addition to several members having active positions of leadership in local charitable or social agencies, individual members also contribute their own money and time to causes they support.

It’s clear that people can be good without belief in God. Even though we may disagree on theology, all charitable volunteers are of like mind in striving to make the world better for everyone.

I thank those of you who have donated your time, money and efforts to better our community, whatever your motivation and beliefs. We are much more alike than we are different.

Volunteering benefits us all, and we should all do what we can to better our community.

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