Do atheists care less?

Those who attend religious services are more charitable and more eager to volunteer


Colin McConnell/Toronto Star

These are not the brightest days for organized religion. Pope Benedict XVI has come under sustained scrutiny for his role in the investigation of sex abuse scandals tarring the Catholic Church. The practices of fundamentalist Muslim women are being attacked by the Quebec government as uncivilized. And, more broadly, many traditional and long-standing congregations across the country must face the reality of their own worldly demise due to substantial declines in Sunday attendance.

Despite all this bad news, however, there remains much to celebrate about religion and its relationship with society at large. Not the least of which is that those who attend religious services are the most charitable in their donations and the most eager to volunteer. Without organized religion, the world would be a much poorer and less comfortable place for those less fortunate.

Last summer, Statistics Canada released a survey on Canadians and their charitable habits. While less than one in five attend church regularly, those who do are far more likely to give to charities, and are substantially more liberal in the size of their gifts to both religious and non-religious organizations. The average annual donation from a churchgoer is $1,038. For the rest of the population, $295.

With respect to volunteer effort, two-thirds of churchgoers give their time to non-profit causes while only 43 per cent of non-attendees do likewise. And churchgoers put in twice as many hours volunteering.

All this munificence is in stark contrast to complaints from anti-religion authors such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Philip Pullman, all of whom have found themselves getting substantially more ink in the wake of the Catholic Church’s sex scandals. “I’m an atheist,” Hitchens once said. “I’m not just neutral about religion, I’m hostile to it. I think it is a positively bad idea, not just a false one.” Pullman has claimed religion is “the most wonderful excuse for behaving extremely badly.” Their argument: the world would be a better place without churches.

But if religion is simply a licence for bad behaviour, how does one explain the mammoth gap between the charitable acts of those who believe and those who do not? Of more practical concern, if organized religion continues to fade from mainstream practice, how will society ever replace the massive contributions of time and money that believers currently provide?

While some famous donors have no religious inclinations—Warren Buffett lists himself as agnostic, as does Bill Gates—the evidence is overwhelming that adherence to a religious belief system contributes to charitable effort.

Spirituality and altruism share an obvious and welcome concern for humanity and its future. Do atheists?

Interestingly, this past January saw the launch of a new charity specifically designed to disprove the alleged parsimony of non-believers. The Foundation Beyond Belief aims to “encourage and demonstrate the generosity and compassion of atheists and humanists.” So far, its 447 members have raised $18,760. Or about as much as 18 churchgoers give in one year.


Do atheists care less?

  1. Gotta hand it to Macleans: this piece definitely runs contrary to the mainstream of today's journalism.

    Two thoughts:
    (1) In my opinion no amount of charitable participation can justify a religion if it is a lie. The important question is "is it true" not "what does it accomplish", although I grant that something can be learned about a religion from its fruits (and its nuts).

    (2) The Foundation Beyond Belief aims to “encourage and demonstrate the generosity and compassion of atheists and humanists.”
    Therein lies their problem: the goal is to demonstrate how good atheists are. This is no substitute for doing charitable work out of a sense of duty and love for others. Incidentally I have met atheists who do this, although in my opinion their charitable actions were inconsistent with their beliefs except in cases where they viewed it as being to their own benefit to help others in order to help make their own community more pleasant.

    • RE: #2: What's your point?

      • Twofold: (a) that orgs like the Foundation Beyond Belief are engaging on a fool's errand, and (b) that many atheists are very generous, but that this is despite of rather than because of their atheism in my view.

        • I agree with a). I'd be careful about generalizing athiests, though (in the same way that I try very hard not to generalize believers).

          Also, the study itself was contrasting church goers to non-church goers. Plenty of believers never darken a church doorway.

          • Yes, that wasn't a statement about atheists. It was a statement about atheism, the ideology itself. Atheists are a mixed bag as are people of every other ideological affiliation.

    • I noted that when I looked at Stats Canada right away too Sean. Take away donations to your religious organization, then make a comparison of who gives more. Although, many religious organizations help the poor, which is good, implicit in the help is often promoting the religion.

      • Donations to religious organizations are frequently used for programmes to help others. For instance, you can donate money to the Anglican Primates Fund for World Relief and Development Fund is used for a variety of programmes domestically and internationally. So I would suggest donations to religious organizations are used for more than just looking after buildings, etc.

    • Astute observation, Sean.
      Religion= hypocrisy = hatred = war.
      I'm currently watching Religulous by Bill Maher. Good show!

  2. This editorial is not an argument for religion; it is an argument for charitable donation. It highlights a statistical connection between faithfulness and charitable sense.

    However, the fact remains that nothing about religion, in itself, makes charitable donations easier for believers than for non-believers. Yes, believers are more charitable, but that is a testament to the virtue of the believers themselves, not to their beliefs.

    Religious claims are demonstrably false. Often, they run contrary to contemporary science, sense, and morality. No argument can be made that they should survive a moment longer.

    If this editorial means to imply that religious belief should stick around as long as it is correlated to charitable giving, it's got everything exactly backward. Throw out the bathwater, keep the baby. The secular world has yet to craft for itself a community-oriented institution that can preserve everything good about religious people while discarding religion itself. Once it does, the good works that the religious perform will continue to be performed, for their own sake, by the secular, and will be reinforced by this new dogma-free community. There are many things to be admired about believers, but their beliefs are not among them.

    • Eas Coas wrote:
      "However, the fact remains that nothing about religion, in itself, makes charitable donations easier for believers than for non-believers."

      There is the fact that any money given to any church, regardless of whether it goes to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, repair the church roof, house the preacher's family, buy him a private jet and a new Porsche, fund a bigoted political campaign, or pay for the silence of rape victims gets counted as "charity". Religious institutions get automatically counted as charitable without having to actually do real charity work. Many do, but even with those the amount actually spent on charity is not the full amount counted as "charity".

      A secular organization has to work to get a tax exemption for charitable purposes, and has to work to keep it. A church gets one automatically, even if they only use it to better fleece the flock for the profit of the prophets.

    • You say that believers are more charitable but that is not a testament to their beliefs but to their own virtues but what created their values? Your argument seems rather circular on this point.
      And as to whether religious claims are demonstrably false and contrary to contemporary science, etc, you may want to take a look at what John Polkinghorne, a physicist and Anglican priest has to say about the relationship between religion and science. If you can access the archives of CBC radio's Tapestry programme (August 30, 2009) to hear an interview done with him.

    • "Religious claims are demonstrably false. Often, they run contrary to contemporary science, sense, and morality"

      Examples? In actual fact, looking at history you will find that a great many scientists were Christian. The Jesuits made a huge contribution to science, as did many priests. 35 craters on the moon are named after Jesuits who discovered them.

      "By the 18th Century the Jesuits had contributed to the development of pendulum clocks, pantographs, barometers, reflecting telescopes and microscopes, to scientific fields as various as magnetism, optics and electricity. They observed, in some cases before anyone else, the colored bands on Jupiter's surface, the Andromeda nebula and Saturn's rings. They theorized about the circulation of the blood (independently of Harvey), the theoretical possibility of flight, the way the moon effected the tides, and the wave-like nature of light. Star maps of the southern hemisphere, symbolic logic, flood-control measures on the Po and Adige rivers, introducing plus and minus signs into Italian mathematics — all were typical Jesuit achievements, and scientists as influential as Fermat, Huygens, Leibniz and Newton were not alone in counting Jesuits among their most prized correspondents [Jonathan Wright, The Jesuits, 2004, p. 189]."

      "It is all very well to point out that important scientists, like Louis Pasteur, have been Catholic. More revealing is how many priests have distinguished themselves in the sciences. It turns out, for instance, that the first person to measure the rate of acceleration of a freely falling body was Fr. Giambattista Riccioli. The man who has been called the father of Egyptology was Fr. Athanasius Kircher (also called "master of a hundred arts" for the breadth of his knowledge). Fr. Roger Boscovich, who has been described as "the greatest genius that Yugoslavia ever produced," has often been called the father of modern atomic theory." [How the Catholic Church built Western Civilisation]

  3. PART 1:

    I have to disagree with this article. The majority of donations are to religious organizations. I do not subscribe to paying to go to heaven. if the churches of the world practiced what they preached we could cure world poverty overnight. The catholic church alone could do this. The Vatican alone could do this!!! Sure on the outside religion appears to be a nice, harmless thing. And to your once a week church goer they see no harm in organized religion. Those who do some research and look at the facts will realize the good of religion just does not out way the bad. Religion is not harmless. It sucks the life out of individuals. Live for today not tomorrow. There is absolutely no truth to the bible. Like rings on a tree stump, the age of the earth can be determined by carbon dating. The age of the earth is approximately 4.54 billion years old, not 6,500 as the bible says!!!

    • Not the majority…just a lot. You have a problem with facts.

    • "if the churches of the world practiced what they preached we could cure world poverty overnight"

      How? By giving away their money? And once it is spent, what then?

    • Wow. It's hard to know where to begin. I'll stick to three points.

      1) There is no basis in Scripture for the notion that paying money will get you or a relative or anyone into heaven. There is only One Way.

      2) Poverty will always be with us. Interestingly, the end of poverty would be sufficient to disprove Christianity insomuch as it would make Jesus Christ a liar.

      3) There is plenty of quantifiable truth in the Bible, particularly historical.

      • (1) Explain why indulgences were Christian practice for hundreds of years. Explain purgatory and the now defunct limbo.
        (2) Jesus is not a liar if poverty disappears. Egalitarianism was his goal, not the perpetuation of rich vs. poor.
        (3) Historical truth is the only "quantifiable" truth in the bible.

        • Indulgences were a part of Roman Catholic practice (with the Catholic Church being one of many Christian denominations, as you are no doubt aware) for one simple reason: greed. In the New Testament, Christ makes it plain that no amount of earthly riches can atone for sin. Obviously the clergy who orchestrated the practice of indulgence selling were distorting Scripture for their own selfish purposes. This corruption, combined with the growing awareness of the unorthodoxy of many Catholic doctrines, led to the reforms initiated by Catholic humanists like Erasmus, and Protestant reformers like Luther and Zwingli.

          The corruption of a belief system for personal gain is a lamentable practice, and, unfortunately, this sort of behaviour is not limited to Christians and Christian churches.

        • 1. Indulgences were exploitation of the poor in order to fund St.Peter's Basilica. They're based on apocryphal writings which aren't regarded as "Christian" writings by evangelicals.
          2. The "liar" comment is in reference to Jesus saying that their will always be poor amongst humanity when Mary Magdalene poured nard onto his feet and Judas objected. He said the nard could be sold and the money given to the poor but Judas just wanted to grab some of the cash. So Jesus' comment concerning the poor needs to be viewed in that context.
          Egalitarianism is never stated by Christ as a goal, He came to serve, to seek the lost and to glorify the Father.
          3. Historical truth isn't quantifiable in a pure sense of the word. Quantifiable infers a measurable quantity, what is measured in the study of history? So therefore your left with weighing the odds of the truthfulness of each story, which leads many readers to throw everything out on because of the inclusion of supernatural happenings, which seems a little odd given the massive amount of archaelogical dating supporting (but not purely quantifying) the historical text.

    • This is very simple. You can argue around the point all you want. People like you just throw rocks. Please tell me that you are not one of the $295 crowd. Ah I thought so. Who even thinks about paying your way to heaven? Are you serious! Where do you get this stuff from? You really have no idea. By religious organizations you must be talking about World Vision or Samartians Purse or The Salvation Army or one of the thousands of organizations world wide doing amazing great things. Have you even stepped into one of these organizations? Also get your head out of the dark ages and educate yourself with the contributions of hundreds of thousands of people of faith. Pray tell what research could you possibly be referring to? Thought so. Also the Bible does not contend that the earth is 6,500 years old. Have you even glanced at Genesis? I know of not one person that holds that view. Fact… the Bible is also the most accurate historical document ever written. Educate yourself. Deal with the facts and wise up.

      I'll tell you what please show us the way. Show us the charity, the caring for the poor and the less fortunate, the giving. Oh and I expect perfection all along the way. Ah thought so.

    • wow. it seems quite apparent that you know nothing of christianity or the bible that you attack.
      – the notion of "paying your way into heaven" is nowhere mentioned in scripture. in fact, the opposite. the bible clearly states that our best deeds are no better than dirty rags, and that we are saved only through faith.
      – the bible makes no mention of how old the earth is. most christians i know don't subscribe to the young-earth theory either, and those that do still go for around 20,000 years
      it also seems that you know nothing of carbon dating, but i can't hold it against you cause 99% of people don't know this either. in order to be accurate carbon dating assumes a closed environment (which doesn't exist) and it has no decent control/reference, meaning variables can't be eliminated and it can't even adhere to the scientific method.

      i am a christian. in 2009 i gave just over $5000 to charity (about half to religious causes such as samartian's purse or the church itself, about half to non-religious causes such as clean water or mosquito nets or sponsor children). i volunteered about 75 hours in 2009.
      if you want to disagree with this article then the best way to do so is tell everyone much time and money did YOU, as an athiest, give?

      • I am a lapsed Catholic, not a non-believer. I have deep philosophical issues with the Church which is for another discussion entirely. I doubt very much that I showed up as a giver in this survey because I never claim the monies I donate – never have. The dollar amounts are irrelevant because I believe we are each the overseer of our monies and each contributes what they can afford.

        As used in this article, solely basing the argument on dollar figures is very misleading. What if you are giving 2% of your income. If that amount is $500/year, your income is 25K. If that amount is $5,000 your income is 250K. Does that mean the person who donated $5,000 is a better person, even though both individuals donated 2%, regardless of religious belief system? Shouldn't a responsible commentator/journalist look at more than just the bald figures which rarely if ever tell the full story?

        In my humble experience, going to church or not isn't a predictor of being a "good" person. I've know some truly vile non-religious folks and some truly saintly non-religious folks. The same extremes apply to those persons of faith. I believe we should encourage all Canadians to give what they feel is appropriate for them and leave the judging of goodness to a higher power.

  4. "Without organized religion, the world would be a much poorer and less comfortable place for those less fortunate."

    This assertion deserves to be explored a bit more. There are many organizations that were formed by religious organizations. In my own city, the homeless shelter program is run by local churches, for example.

    Without for a second taking away my immense respect for the work being done, I don't follow that an absence of churches would mean we'd have no homeless shelters in K-W. It's just that since the churches were "first in", nobody's about to turn around set up a competing chain of shelters. Rather, lots of volunteers and donations are given in support of the existing program.

    I wonder how many other aid and service organizations maintain their religious affiliation through similar instances of history.

    And again, I am not diminishing the work done by many, many religious organizations. I'm just questioning the assertion that none of that work would happen in their absence.

    • I think that's partially true, but not wholly true. If religious orgs were to close their doors I'm sure other orgs would step up such that some of that work would happen in their absence, but I doubt they'd step up to the same degree. It's not a coincidence that religious orgs were the "first in" – it's a direct consequence of what religious people believe.

      • Well no, it's a direct result of the longevity of K-W churches compared to the relatively recent rise of mainstream atheism. Many of these organisations started up half a century ago or more – back then there wasn't much aside from religious organisations.

        It's also worth noting (and I'm really not sure whose point this supports), many of the current religious-based charitable organisations aren't all that religious in the way they go about things anymore. This is certainly true of the one I work for – while originally founded by local Christian churches and based on a Christian value system, religion has very little to do with how it goes about its charitable work. It's still supported and run by those local churches, but now has many additional sources of support and hires people of all backgrounds.

        In K-W at least, I think Sean's right on the money here – church-based groups were in first, have done an admirable job and since they put their work ahead of their religion, have garnered ample resources. Religion may be a part of this equation, but it doesn't seem like it's the deciding one – rather it's just a collection of caring, interested and helpful people putting their support through the most effective vehicle.

        • "since they put their work ahead of their religion"
          Correction: Their work is PART AND PARCEL of their religion. The Sisters of Charity (Mother Theresa's charity), Catholic Charities, and similar charities do the work they do BECAUSE of what Jesus taught us to do: to love others and to give until it hurts.

      • Non-Christians are not inherently inferior in their ability to carry out charity work. I'm not sure where your basis comes from on this; it must be bias. Second, since the First World War Canadian government has taken over much of the charitable programs the Church initiated. This is in part why, as the article rightly asserts, church attendance has dropped all over the West. They no longer perform a unique task. Third, we don't call government run charity "charity" — they are public services and they are plentiful, but they are in no way different from church-run charity. Fourth, non-profit organizations rarely employ anyone and everyone can volunteer regardless of religious stripe. I can't say the same for the church as there is a pervasive pressure for the uniniated to join the Christian ranks lest they be lost forever in hellfire.

      • No, when religious organizations close their doors, NO ONE steps up to the plate. In San Diego, the city council keeps shutting down Fr. Joe Caroll's shelters because they don't want the homeless in their city, even though those homeless people are already sleeping on the streets of their city. NO ONE picks up the slack because the city won't allow it, and no one will help fight the city on this.
        Furthermore, when the Catholic adoption agency in Massachusetts was forced to shut their doors, no one would pick up the slack from them except the adoption COMPANIES that charge people an arm and a leg to take in an orphan.

        Face it, without Christian charities, there would be more people trying to oust the less fortunate from society, as well as trying to take advantage of those who want to help the less fortunate. There would be more people on the streets, as the rich became richer and the poor became poorer.

  5. Not to belabour the homeless shelter example, but activties like that (or soup kitchens) are often cheaper for churches to run because they have existing space to use, kitchens on site, etc…

  6. Seriously? No one noticed that the Church Goers meet more regularly then non-church goers and can then Hype any type of volunteer work and charity to each other?

    I also I don't think donating to a church for the church to by bibles and a new PA system or Building or Website is considered CHARITABLE!

  7. The mormon church rakes in BILLIONS of dollars every year….they alone could stop people starving on the streets of the US, but they are too worried about spending money to stop homosexuals from marrying each other.

  8. "“I'm an atheist,” Hitchens once said. “I'm not just neutral about religion, I'm hostile to it. I think it is a positively bad idea, not just a false one.”

    That's a bit rich coming from the gin-soaked Trot. Left wing atheist/socialists complaining about the church are inane – left wing governments are responsible for more death and destruction than churches/religion are. I would rather take my chances with a government run by a bunch of Catholics and Anglicans than I would atheists/communists/socialists.

    • What a moronic comment you just made. Check the facts. Or are the facts inconvenient to your claims? Herr Hitler was a Catholic and routinely stated that he was doing "God's" work in exterminating the Jews.
      The communists didn't like religion for one very good reason. They saw religion as basically a rival political entity. In essence, the communist party was a quasi-religion with dogma and certain beliefs.
      Atheism is simply not believing in supernatural myths. It is frustrating to read the ignorant comments made by people who don't check their facts before spouting off!

      • Why don't you "take your chances" with Iran or Saudi Arabia? Wouldn't a theocracy be even better than an atheist country like Sweden!

      • "Hitler was a Catholic and routinely stated he was doing "God's" work in exterminating the Jews."

        Actually, although Hitler may have been raised Catholic, he was really more into the occult, & even conspired to have Pope Pius XII abducted from the Vatican.

        • Acutally Pop Pius worked with Nazis in his own country because he thought Germany would come out on top at the end of the war. Religion is just a means for power

      • "Hitler was a Catholic"…really?
        Last I checked he was an atheist, dictator, megalomanic, murderer….
        There are many people who claim to be Catholic, Buddhists, Muslims and hardly follow their faiths traditions.
        Why our very own Premier McGuinty says he is Catholic yet he is pro-abortion, pro-Gardasil…..
        Just because one claims to belong to a certain faith group does not mean they, unfortunately, follow the teachings of it.

    • You poor sole. The most productive countries in the world have the most athiests. The nut jobs that are affiliate with the church are the crazy countries. The USA under Bush (Bush said God spoke to him and told him what to do), Iran, the entire middle east (all the last countries to abolish slavery). The atheist countries are the most productive in the world Swedan, Denmark, Japan, etc ( Socialism by definition is meant to look after the poor. The USSR under Stalin/Lenin did not practice true communism. The deaths aren't a result of communism but a poor leader. Religion has killed so many more people than socialism I'm afraid.

    • You're so angry. And judgy. And of course, superior.

      Is this what your religion has taught you?

    • You poor sole. The most productive countries in the world have the most athiests. The nut jobs that are affiliate with the church are the crazy countries. The USA under Bush (Bush said God spoke to him and told him what to do), Iran, the entire middle east (all the last countries to abolish slavery). The atheist countries are the most productive in the world Swedan, Denmark, Japan, etc ( Socialism by definition is meant to look after the poor. The USSR under Stalin/Lenin did not practice true communism. The deaths aren't a result of communism but a poor leader. Religion has killed so many more people than socialism I'm afraid.

      • You have got bo ajoking.Athesist have killed more than anyone ansd communism does not work and that `s all you guys do when you come to power,kill,kill,kill and kill anything and destroying.Look at the EU,USSR,Vietnam and North Korea,See what happens when you let Godless imbeciles in charge?You end up witha leadership that does not care about what it does.Don`t take credit for the Untied States,Christians did that,not you,Europe as it astsands was built by Christians.The Middle East where there are many,many western citizens who work there,Muslims did that,kabish?You don`t build anything,you destroy.Religious folks came up with the things that you use everyday and you give us nothing.Which is why there aren`t any atheist civilizations and never will be.Just a bunch of morons who take credit what they they had nothing to do with and you want to lecture us as if you have anything to teach or meaningful to say,LOL!

      • You have got to be joking.Atheists have killed more than anyone and communism does not work and that `s all you guys do when you come to power,kill,kill,kill and kill anything and destroying.Look at the EU,USSR,Vietnam and North Korea.See what happens when you let Godless imbeciles in charge?You end up with a leadership that does not care about what it does.Don`t take credit for the United States,Christians did that,not you,Europe as it stands was built by Christians.The Middle East where there are many,many western citizens who work there,Muslims did that,kabish?You don`t build anything,you destroy.Religious folks came up with the things that you use everyday and you give us nothing.Which is why there aren`t any atheist civilizations and never will be.Just a bunch of morons who take credit what they they had nothing to do with and you want to lecture us as if you have anything to teach or meaningful to say,LOL!

        • Your a dick head.

          • Such an intelligent reply. (dripping with sarcasm)

            You forgot Rwanda, Cambodia, Sudan, China – MILLIONS slaughtered.

      • If you are willing to admit that Lenin and Stalin distorted Communism to advance their own agendas, are you willing to entertain the notion that various kings, sultans, and other leaders have distorted religion to advance their own agendas?

        Also, I would note that there are many Lutheran Scandinavians who would object to your labelling of Sweden and Denmark as completely atheist. Even the link you provide has a pretty wide range of possibilities regarding the number of possible atheists and agnostics in Sweden and Denmark.

        • Most non-religious people don't identify themselves as athiests. Atheism implies you KNOW that there is no God. How can anyone know that there is or there is not? I think most people don't even trouble themselves with such an unproveable, unimportant question. You can't answer it full stop. You either choose to believe or you choose to carry on living your very short life.

          • Whether a supreme being or beings exist may not be completely provable by us mere mortals, but I wouldn't call the possibility that this world and/or universe was created by said supreme being(s) 'unimportant'. If the reasons behind the Earth's and the universe's existence and functioning were 'unimportant', then a lot of ministers, imams, philosophers, astronomers, and quantum physicists would be out of work. That fact that these professions do exist suggests that many people do 'trouble' themselves with this important question.

          • If it's such an important question — one we can agree is unanswerable — then what would change if we somehow could answer it? People will beleive what the choose and nothing's going to change that. Sorry, but in the real world the important questions are how can we cure HIV/AIDS? Cancer? Parkinson's? Alzheimer's? How can we feed the hungry? Can we prevent nuclear war? Etc.

            And you can't for a second truly believe (no pun intended) that imam's and astrophysicists share the same goal. Religious leaders aren't trying to prove God's existence; they are already sure of it.

          • Imams and astrophysicists both try to make sense of certain aspects of the universe's existence and/or functioning. Obviously they do not engage in the same profession, but both religious office holders and scientists usually enter their fields because two questions bothered them at some point in their lives: why is the universe (or a subset of it) this way, and what does it mean?

          • "why is the universe (or a subset of it) this way, and what does it mean?"

            That's not the question you argued was important.

          • When your initial post stated that the question of whether God exists (and I'm assuming you're meaning the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God who is said to have created the universe) was 'unimportant,' I countered that it is important because both scientists and religious officials alike would love to be able to prove this, as it would enhance their understanding of the universe and our existence.

            In fact, I would argue that you would have a hard time finding someone who didn't want to know the answer to this question at some point in their lives, whatever the motives behind their curiosity.

          • Scientists don't PROVE anything. Proving something implies that you know it exists and you need to gather evidence. Do you recall science in high school? I'm guessing you're not a scientist. Scientific theory: make an observation; make a hypothesis explaining said observation; create a testable model for defining hypothesis; if hypothesis is not borne out, start again; if it is, repeat test over and over and over until you are sure the model is correct. If the model always gives the same result, we then have these things called facts.

            Don't conflate relifion with science. They are polar opposites and there is nothing wrong with that.

          • Please forgive my idiomatic usage of the word 'prove'. I will rephrase my argument to state that if a scientist was presented with a realistic opportunity of obtaining incontrovertible proof of the existence of God, he or she would probably jump at the opportunity. Indeed, I know very few people who wouldn't do so.

            As to your query regarding my recollection of my high school science courses, I will only say that I obtained top marks in all of them, and I graduated with the highest grade point average for my year. As such, I am very familiar with the scientific method. Having said that, my university endeavours are geared towards European history as it is a subject near and dear to my heart.

          • You are one good thinker! I appreciate your comments and particularly: why is the universe the way it is and what does it mean. This is, in fact, the question that drives humans forward.

            To say that religion and science are polar opposites, as stated by Viva, is to perpetuate the myths of The Fall and that of Progress that rival each other to the detriment of all.

            Religion was born out of a need to understand the world based on early observation of such things as the birth of a child, the behaviour of animals, weather patterns and the movement of the planets. It is particularly this last observation that gave rise to the concept of one god directing the cosmos. The explanation of god was the most appealing to early civilizations based on the information and tools available to them at the time.

            As our knowledge and use of tools (telescopes in this case) grew, our understanding of the cosmos changed. If it weren't for Copernicus and Galileo, we could very well still believe that the sun revolves around the earth. Yet even Galileo had to recant to avoid being burned at the stake.

      • Thus they are educated unlike the rest of the world.

  9. "So far, its 447 members have raised $18,760. Or about as much as 18 churchgoers give in one year."

    As one of those 447 members, I'd like to point out what should be obvious: Not all of my charitable contributions go to one place. In addition to the Foundation, I give regularly to five non-profits, so your comparison is silly and thoughtless.

    • "In addition to the Foundation, I give regularly to five non-profits, so your comparison is silly and thoughtless."

      Not really. Likewise, a great many religious believers who donate or volunteer, will do so for multiple charities too. That has not stopped their main religious charities from receiving substantial amounts of money for their causes.

      • The comparison given in the article is well off the mark, however. Churchgoers are listed as giving $1038 to ALL organisations, yet they've compared that figure to the amount given to a single non-religious organisation by its members.

        Rachel W is right, the article is, in that last line at least, comparing apples to oranges.

        • Thank you Craig. As I said, all giving by the religious for a year was compared to nonreligious giving to a single organization for four months.

  10. Correction: majority was the wrong word: religious organizations are the single largest recipient at 36%. My point stands, nevertheless.

    • As I understand it the disparity is so huge that even taking out donations to religious orgs doesn't really change the case.

      • It mutes it, considerably. And the page I linked was probably the same one the author used.

        • It's also worth noting that religious orgs are often viewed as a more efficient use of donations since they often use volunteers rather than paid staff. For example: helping a foster child in Africa is often best done through a religious org since they can educate a child using the services of nuns/priests for a fraction of the cost that other charities can.

          • Absolutely – see my post below on K-W homeless shelters – no doubt lots of non-church goer donations flow toward relgious organizations (though I'm not sure about the volunteer explanation being primary, so much as the fact that these structures often have a benign monopoly in certain arenas – but I still take your point).

            I'm not being snarky about churches, or saying the whole article wrong. But it wouldn't have required Herculean journalism to show a bit of nuance.

          • I understand your point – it's a good one and I didn't mistake it for snark.

            As to the volunteer explanation, I have no stats to hand. But one can see as a thought experiment why employing priests/nuns who (a) have no family to support (there are priests with wives and families, but they wouldn't be assigned to duties like this), and (b) have taken vows of poverty, would generally be a lot more economical and free up considerable funds to help those in need.

          • Someone still has to pay to get the volunteers there, house them, feed them etc. As I understand it, fundamentalist churches raise $ from their members to do this.

  11. There are two types of people who fall into the non-believer or agnostic categoryL first the fervent Richard Dawkins crowd, and then there's the spiritually lazy crowd. At least Dawkins etc have done a lot of thinking about the issue and puzzled things out. The second, which describes most non-churchgoers I know are the spiritually lazy – not the "I believe but have no time for church and they're all corrupt anyway" but those who are more of the "yeah, whatever" crowd and are too preoccupied with material things to think about philosophical issues.

    • I agree: the juxtaposition posed by the article (believer v. athiest) isn't supported by the data.

    • Oh, spare me the either/ors! Only "two types," huh? Let me introduce at least a third: 'old' atheists vs. 'new' atheists of Dawkins ilk. Some of us have come by our atheism in a reasoned, thoughtful way, as part of our human development and from many decades back. And there's nothing "lazy" about it.

      • Amen to that. Frankly it's harder to be an atheist than it is to be a Christian. It requires thought instead of blind faith. Blind faith is something I just can't seem to do.

        • While it's true there's many religious followers who do so without much intellectual/philosophical engagement, there's plenty who do engage with considerable thought, and who struggle with all the pardoxes and inconsistencies that are part of most belief systems. And to be fair, atheism doesn't require any investment of time or resources, it simply being the act of rejecting faith and belief in supernatural entities.

          I don't think we gain much from saying one is harder than the other. I'm an athiest with great respect for faith, and only have a problem when it intrudes upon our schools, government, etc…

          • The flip side of atheism requiring no time or resources, as you put it, is that you get nothing in return. I've seen a lot of churches around here that are set up to provide a lot of services to their congregation. And, I suspect there is a lot to be said for the community and the sense of belonging that you get from belief and from the church, which is entirely absent with atheism.

            Religious organizations are deliberately set up to engage people, to tell them and show them the benefits of their religion. What are the benefits of atheism? As an atheist, I can think of none.

          • One can certainly find meaningful communities that aren't churches, from one's neighbourhood or village to any number of voluntary associations.

            I should also add that while atheism requires no time or resources, it's an impoverished life for those who don't explore and contend with all the same questions, problems and philosophical matters typically associated with religious systems (not only atheists need to be reminded of that).

            But ya, atheism isn't really much to rally a group around.

          • Unless you're part of the athiest bus organization. Don't know how many members they have, but they've gained some momentum in the last couple years:)

          • It's a shame they can only afford space on short buses. :)

          • Couple ways one can take that.:)

          • I don't think you can reject deities and religion without thinking about philosophical problems. I find believers have it very easy — it's all written there on the scroll! I have more respect for scientists because nothing has been written on a tablet for them to find, and yet we revere people with an unshakeable faith in pre-civilization, 8th century doctrines that no longer make sense in the time. For me it is difficult to gloss over the heinousness contained in the Old Testament and Quran and just say "Oh well Jesus/the Prophet is what really matters here." I think it matters as a whole and part of why terrorism is growing in our time is because it is possible to reach into a holy book and find the fire and brimstone recommended to be unleashed upon an unclean humanity.

            In my opinion any self-serving charity pales in comparison to the thousands of human lives being exterminated due to "unshakeable faith."

          • Despite having those fire and brimstone passages, church-goers are apparently more charitable than the non-religious, and this would still be true even if you discount their donations to religious organizations. Obviously, some of these people have thought this all through and decided that the fire and brimstone option isn't the right one, you know?

            Besides, even if you were right about that, it would still be the wrong argument to make. Asserting the intellectual superiority of atheism just turns it into another self-serving "religion", not to mention that it'll invariably frustrate any reasonable person who happens to believe in one religion or another. Belief (or disbelief) should be a personal choice, I'm suspicious of evangelicals of any kind.

          • So you agree religion is "self-serving"? Your words.

            I didn't assert intellectual superiority. You can be an idiot or a genius regardless chosen faith or lack thereof. You are the person assigning "goodness" to religious people on the basis of this very poorly drafted editorial. Anyways, the reasons why church-goers donate and to whom has already been ferreted out in this thread, no thanks to the author I might add, and that makes more sense than an inherent sense of goodly entitlement.

          • I don't much like that almost every religion out there claims to be the only true way, to promise great rewards for being a follower and horrible punishment for not. I don't like how some religious organizations are set up suck money from their followers, and I don't like how others attempt to avoid the law and protect their own at all costs, just to give a few examples. Those things are entirely self-serving. I'm not about to make some generalization about all religions being self-serving all of the time, though. Good things can come from religious belief.

            I'd caution you about dismissing donations just because they went to religious organizations. A religious charity can do the same things others can, except that they're affiliated with one religious organization or another. Not all of those donations are going to be to the local parish or the local scout troop or whatever, many (and I would expect most) will go to worthwhile causes.

  12. PART 3:

    Over the history of the world there have been approx 5,000 Gods, the majority of wars in the name of religion. To think yours is the correct religion is also so narcissistic and narrow minded. The most famous minds of our generation were anti-religion. There is a reason scholars, scientists, free thinkers, researches do not subscribe to religion. William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, Aristotle, Napoleon just to name a few. Oh yeah, and this guy – Albert Einstein – "I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls." The bible describes God as an immature 12 year old boy. If you were God would you really be a jealous God. Stop believing this junk. Believe whatever you want, heaven, anything. Just do not subscribe to organized religion, there is no truth to it!

    • RE wars in the name of religion. The Encyclopedia of Wars says you are incorrect. Approximately 93% of recorded wars have no religious basis.

      RE "famous minds." Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Clive Staples Lewis.

      RE jealous God. Very true, only not in the way you think. He's jealous to know you and redeem your soul so you can live for eternity in heaven. I know, it's far out. Kinda like blindly believing religion is the sum of all evil.

      • Far more people have been killed in wars by Communists, Dictators, and mad men (think Hitler) than any and all faith based wars and crusades combined. Many, many, multiple times over.

  13. PART 2:

    There are so many things in the bible that simply prove it is not true. Living for ever in heaven sure is a nice thought, but I ask religious people to just entertain the idea that maybe there isn't a heaven, since we have no proof that there is. Imagine the difference between a person who thinks that you have 80-100 years here on earth and that is it, vs people who think that they spend an eternity in heaven. I certainly feel I get way more out of life being an atheist. So I think the church sucks life (and money) out of people on an individual level, and if you look at it as society/world as a whole, religion has slowed the progress of man on an unimaginable level. Do the research. The Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, Child Molestations, the killing of philosophers, scientists, free thinkers.

    • RE proof of heaven. Depends on your rules. If you presume materialism and depend on the scientific method alone then you're quite right, heaven cannot be proven to exist. Of course, if these are your rules then you cannot prove Hannibal won a battle at Cannae either, as an example.

      RE cognizance of life span. The evidence suggests those with an eternal perspective are more likely to be generous here rather than horde all they can for the relatively short ride. Something to do with storing up treasure in heaven, of all places, where it doesn't rot in a bank account somewhere and thieves can't steal it from under the mattress.

      RE progress of man. Christianity has enabled the progress of man. Have you studied any history at all?

      Speaking of research and history, Michael, have you heard about Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot? Have you looked into the historical record of war, which demonstrates approximately 93% of recorded wars have not been caused by religion? What about that Spanish Inquisition, where the approximate number of people killed per year is on par with bicycle deaths in California per annum?

    • Actually, the New Testament seems to suggest that those who are judged worthy will live forever on a revitalised Earth, not Heaven, but that's another discussion. Regarding your suggestion that religious people should consider that maybe there isn't some sort of reward in the next life, I would answer that most reasonable religious people have considered this possibility, and have often agonised over it. In fact, I have yet to meet any religious people who have never had doubts about their belief system.

      Having said this, many of us 'religious people' realise the good and the bad that can come out of all forms of dogmatism, whether religious or not. I know many people like myself who subscribe to a certain religion because we see that the 'overall message' of the religion is one of love and forgiveness, and that this message can be used as a model for how to lead a 'good' life. Of course, nearly every belief system, from Christianity to Environmentalism, has its 'details' which seem contradictory or confusing, and its these same details which are often hijacked by individuals to support actions which cause hurt or harm.

  14. As the website of Foundation Beyond Belief makes clear, it is not "designed to disprove the alleged parsimony of non-believers." The primary purpose is to encourage non-believers to a higher level of giving. Many of its members have reported that they are on their way to giving 2-3 times what they have given in the past as a result of this organisation. And as they typically give to several causes outside of the Foundation itself, your final sentence is without meaning.

    Sneering at a decent and honest attempt to do better than one has done in the past is an unworthy and uncharitable response.

    • Very interesting, thanks for the info.

  15. Any fair comparison should strip out any funds and volunteer time donated to a religious organization. Just because they have managed to attain charitable status does not mean that these organizations are truly charitable.

    I also have to ask whether this study adjusts for demographic factors. For one, young people tend to be less religious, and less wealthy, and so less likely to donate money than their wealthier, more religious parents.

    • I wondered about that too. I'm pretty sure church congregations tend to skew older, so the real story might be that as Canadians age, they attend church more, and donate more hours and money to various causes at the same time.

      • I forgot that older people tend to be retired, are more religious and probably volunteer more due to ample leisure time. I see all kinds of problems with this study.

    • As I understand it the lion's share of charitable donations actually come from the less wealthy. At least I think I've seen stats to that effect for the US.

  16. Not to belabour the homeless shelter example, but activties like that (or soup kitchens) are often cheaper for churches to run because they have existing space to use, kitchens on site, etc…

    • So how do you count the money used to buy and maintain that existing space? Also, would you consider a donation to a group like the Scouts a legitimate donation? Why or why not?

      • I'm not sure what you're getting at.

        • I'm trying to make one point and ask one question:

          Point: Even though much, or even most of the money donated to religous organizations goes to pay for overhead-type expenses, that overhead is also used to support the charitable work of the organization. The existing space you mention was only made possible by donations to that organization.

          Question: Your post seems to indicate that donations to religous organizations don't really count as charitable giving. Why? What qualifies a donation as charitable? I'm assuming that you consider the primarily self-benefiting nature of a tithe or similar donation the disqualifier. Is that correct? The Scouts are basically a club for kids, aiming to teach them valuable life skills. Religious organizations arguably have the same aim. Is it non-charitable to donate to one's own child's Scout troop?

          • Donating to a specific scouts troop when your kid is in the troop — is this charity? Or a little more self-serving than true charity. What do you think? I don't think it's wrong, but I also don't think it's charity, even if you get a receipt for charity.

            You argue that religious organizations aim to teach valuable life skills. I would argue that religious organizations aim to recruit more members (and thus donors) to their religious organization.

          • What do you base that argument on?

          • Does it make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside knowing that little Jesse Jr will get to go camping in the Gatineaus? That's your good deed for the world?

          • You've misunderstood me. I've said nothing at all about whether or not churches ought to qualify as bona fide charities. I've been questioning the conclusions this article draws from the data, and criticizing the author for not looking into the numbers a bit.

            The particular comment above was underscoring Gaunilon's idea that in some cases, churches can do things cheaper (though we're not in full agreement).

            So I'm afraid your assumptions don't apply to me.

          • The article is incredibly bare bones. Any discerning reader can see the holes behind the stats. For example, is a person's economic status taken into account? Aren't Christians as a group part of the well-to-do elite of our society? Why does the author immediately assume the 4/5 of respondents are athiests just because they don't attend church? Where do the church dollars go to — back to the church as you pointed our, which are self-serving interests, or to non-Christian groups? I also balk at the knowledge that participation in any of these church sponsored programs also invites wooing of the volunteer to "cross over."

  17. If nothing else, this article shows up the fact that we don't give enough. Period. The average donation is $295 year. An unbelievable tribute to our belief that 'I am entitled…'

    As Canadians, we live as some of the wealthiest people on Planet Earth, but we obsess about our material goods and our personal comfort. Yes – I have traveled off the beaten path, a move that has probably informed my thinking more than any sermon, because you can't look at the world's impoverished and not be changed. (For a great example of this, check out and see what happened when one person decided to make a difference.)

    • Good grief. This is the only reasonable comment on this entire thread.
      Carol has restored my faith in God and/or humanity.

      I vote that she gets a bunch of those greenish points.

  18. Personal opinion. As formed throughout my life.

    Do YOU think donating to your kid's scout troop is charity?

  19. I received a link to this editorial from, the website of a social lending (not a charity) site. Folks might want to check it out.

    Among other things, the leading lending team on Kiva, is, believe it or not, the Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious, or AASFSHNR, as we are familiarly known. On our chat thread we have had a discussion about this issue, and have settled on some reasons why the assertion of the editorial might seem to be correct.

    Chief among them is the social nature of many religious organization, which allows peer (not to mention priestly) pressure to mount against a givers wishes. Another is the special tax-free incentive of ANY contribution to a so-called religious organization. A third reason might be roughly called bribery, or good works will account in the afterlife.

    In any event, it may come as a surprise to you to learn that our lending team is both the largest in number, and the most active (in terms of loans) of any of the other teams – the Kiva christians are in a distant second place, after we passed them last year in a heated lending competition. Perhaps rationalists believe that charity is not really good, but that helping others is. If you don't believe me go to Peace.

  20. Margolis has an interesting argument about the evolution of societies. Any society requires that there be some mix of altruistic individuals, and individualistic individuals. If there are too many of the first group, you tend to impede progress and free thought. If you have too many of the latter, you tend to get an anarchistic crap-hole. There are a number of reasons religion may act to increase the number of altruistic people in a society, some of them not reproducible to secular humanism.

    Churches do a good job of creating a broader community and putting together a forum that facilitates community organization. Secular humanists can potentially recreate this, although the existing networks churches have are extensive and impressive. Where churches prevail, however, is in terms of sanctions for bad deeds. Belief in an all-seeing God and a final reckoning is a pretty darn strong incentive to behave oneself and help others.

    Secular humanists, in contrast, can only get rewards of two types (churches can also capitalize on these effects): if they really are decent people, then they will feel good about themselves, and secondly, they may gain the respect of their peers. The first motive – a pure one – is all fine and well only if a society has enough purely selfless altruistic people. I posit that this is generally not the case. Moreover as religion has declined it is fairly plain to see that people care less about others than they used to (declining religion is not the only cause, but its a damn big one). The second motive is potentially destructive because it pushes people towards social causes that are trendy, rather than those that are needed.

    The flipside is, however, that I think most people – including atheists – are subconsciously spiritual. Marxism, environmentalism, and hyper-rational atheism, etc. are but religions of the modern age.

    • I'd argue your assertion that people care less about others than they used to. That's just truthiness — how people always see the past as better than it actually was (and there's stats to back that up too.).

      If you actually look back at what people did, I expect you'll find we cared a lot less about people in general (although perhaps more about our specific community, which we tended to have more involvement in.) Evidence for this abounds — apartheid, slavery, the oft-cited origin of "rule-of-thumb", the number of charitable organizations in existence today compared with before, etc. etc.

      It might actually be interesting to do a longitudinal study on giving and actually see how charitable rates have changed over time.

      • I'll agree with this, and I'll add that I doubt the whole concept of God and final reckoning being an incentive to do good. As is, capital punishment isn't much of a deterrent (if it is at all) and I doubt that in the US its atheists getting the death penalty. You'd think if an all-seeing deity were a deterrent you'd see some kind of a correlation between the two.

    • I'd think your assertion that the religious are good to one another and abstain from lying, stealing, killing and raping only because they are fearful of eternal hellfire would be pretty offensive to religious people–you're saying they have no internal morality. It's also not borne out by atheists and agnostics, who have no such fear, yet manage not to do these horrible things by and large.

      • As human religious systems changed in conjunction with social/adaptive patterns (as more and more humans began farming, living in large-scale societies, etc.) the general shift was from people influencing spirits (often via shamans) to spirits directing people (via priests, in the non-denominational sense of the term).

        Definitely, there's more to it than just fear of hell for many. But I don't think HtH's assertion is all that out of line (though I don't necessarily agree with everything he's said).

        It wasn't all that long ago that swearing on a Bible was mandatory in our courts for witnesses. And they are still used for swearing in American presidents, I believe.

        • It still is mandatory to swear on the Bible. You may raise your right hand and affirm or swear on the Bible. Most people don't understand the difference, but the pressure is still there to swear on the Bible or not be taken seriously.

          • I think cross-examination is generally where witnesses establish their credibility, or lack thereof.

          • Witnesses don't establish credibility; lawyers do. And it depends; the Crown calls the case first so defence is subject to cross-examination. When a defence is called, the Crown cross-examines. Both try to dismantle the witness's evidence.

            Anyway, I'm not sure how that changes the fact that swearing on the Bible is commonplace in Canada.

  21. While I've heard these type of statistics before, and and inclined to believe them on face, there are some troubling inconsistencies between the information given and the conclusions derived from them.

    As many have noted, many of those donations from churchgoers go to religious organisations. That in itself isn't a bad thing – many religious organisations do wonderful things for their communities and the world in general. But if the money goes for the maintenance and promotion of the religious itself, then I wouldn't consider that a truly charitable donation, or at least not one that should be held against those with no religion in a comparison.

    Secondly, the statistics compare churchgoers to non-churchgoers, but the article compares those with faith to those without. Many people are religious, but not regular churchgoers. Churchgoers are people who both have the time to do so, and the conviction to improve themselves as moral beings – it should be no surprise that they donate and volunteer more than the general population. But this does not necessarily mean religious people donate more than non-religious people, though that may still be the case.

    • Re the MacLean's article, I have a couple of comments. Firstly, I wonder how much of the charitable giving by church goers is the result of peer pressure. Secondly, how much is done for selfish reasons, i.e. to help ensure that the giver goes to Heaven. And thirdly, if there were no religious organizations, I suspect that many of the same people would still be making charitable donations out of a sense of responsibility to the less fortunate.

      Personally, I became an Atheist in the same manner as many others, starting life as a Believer and losing my Faith through the application of reason. Despite my non-belief, and because I am able to, I donate approximately 10% of my gross income to some 50 charities, including even a few deserving religious ones.

  22. I’ve heard this line of argument before. But some people can’t seem to get it through their heads that correlation is not causation. Perhaps there are other factors at work. If you try a similar study in, say, Europe, and arrive at similar results, then I might be more receptive to the contention that atheists are more more miserly than believers.

  23. Not everyone that has a religion goes to church. What about those who don't go to church for their religion but go to temples, are they considered to be non-believers?

    • Church is used in generic sense in these sorts of studies. 'Place of worship' would be a more neutral term, I agree.

  24. Please stop searching for a categorical reason that we should not be atheist. It makes you sound uneducated and simple. I have heard that atheists are less moral. Now, they are less giving. What is the point of this article? Is it ammunition for the believers to point their finger at us and ‘tut tut' at us? Is it final proof that atheists are 'crazy'? Case closed?

    By the way, figure this out: I am an atheist, yet I give to local, regional and international groups. I have given money to girl scouts, boys volleyball, cancer research, the heart and lung association, epilepsy, the Liberal and NDP parties (just to name a few). I love my wife and my two children. And here's the real weird thing: I don't believe in God, but I don't drink or smoke either! I don't steal, commit adultery or murder. But, I like The Simpsons and CBC News. Where did I get this sense of charity and sense of personal ethic? Your answer would be that God is working miracles within me (Although, why did He make me atheist)? No, the real answer is that I live in the here and now and that I use my mind to think critically and I can arrive at 'the good' without the god(s).

    • Good for you (I'm am being genuine).

  25. This article ("Do atheists care less?") is so unfair. First of all, atheists do not congregate. We have no building that serves as common, local ground. Secondly, the specific figure you use ($1,038 in donations from believers) is very curious – is this sum associated with upkeep of the church? The article didn't differentiate between real charity and church administrative costs. In this lack of detail, the article moves into the arena of propaganda (you cannot 'misuse statistics' or engage in 'selective omission' in good journalism).

  26. As far as I'm concerned, atheism is a religion too.

    • For atheism to be a religion, there would have to be a corresponding set of rituals and beliefs. What are they?

      • Why do they need rituals?

        As for beliefs, atheists believe there is no God.

        It is a religion, even if one that does not have the same constructs (buildings, rituals, congregating, etc.) as the religions that do believe in God. Ultimately, you are still required to put your faith somewhere… even if it is in nothing.

        • This is a ridiculous argument. Religion is basically a standardization of faith. Faith requires belief in something without evidence of it's material existence.
          Atheists can't possibly say with 100% certainty that there's no God – they simply decline to believe in a God since there's no evidence in support one. I will also refrain from believing in galactic unicorns for the same reason.

          I tend toward the acceptance of things on the basis of their material evidence. This is the opposite of faith.

          • I have talked to atheists before,talk to them for thirty seconds and yopu will fins that he doesn`t actually know what he `s trying to say to begin with.They don`t even know what it is they want.You would think that that they would be comforttable being among heir own,like religious people are,but it isn`t the case.It`s not until he sees his comrades that he realises how empty,boring and meaningless his life is.He doesn`t have anything else to do with himself,which is why you find them flocking to religious websites,uninvited and start talking nonsense and insulting people because they are ignoring him and don`t want anything to do with them.Pathetic and unbelievably stupid,what a life.

          • Now that is irony.

      • A very simple one: Like other religion, atheism is always looking for converts. I have yet to meet an atheist that didn't have the need to convince others of their own belief. Like other religious followers, it's not enough to just believe that God doesn't exist, they also need others to believe the same. Another very similar trait is the need to declare their atheism to others.

        To me, that makes them religious.

        • Now you've met one.

          Let's be careful with the generalizations.

          • Sean, it's not a system but it might as well be. Atheists have countless associations, one who recently hired the services of a PR firm. Remember the promos on city buses?

            I have no issues with atheits feeling the need to "organize" but I find it a bit ironic that their behaviour sort of mimics those of the people/institutions they seek to reject.

            And I'm not generalizing. In fact, I don't believe you. Your very presence on this board speaks to what I've observed.

          • "You couldn't resist."

            Well, since you seem to know all my motivations better than I do, there's not much point discussing this much further.

            Even if every last atheist in the world joined a singular association (which would be a stronger bit of evidence than a few hundred people here and there – as it stands, the city bus movement is fairly insignificant as an indicator), there would still fundamental differences between that association and religious ones.

            But I get the sense you've decided your position is unarguably true. Funny, I've had many conversations in my life where people told me what my atheism really is and really means. Always leaves me shaking my head, a bit.

          • Make that two.

        • You can't just assume it's a religion because of a few similarities shared between the two. Insurance salesmen, trying to convince you that their policy is the best, aren't going to be considered part of some religion, are they? There are fundamental differences between the two that out-weight their similarities.

    • This is always the religious person's argument — "Well, you do it too, so nah nah nah nah nah!" It is neither a refutation of religion nor a support. Utterly useless.

      • Sounds like you have me confused with this government.

        • No confusion at all. I see you crystal clear.

    • What's that saying? "Atheism is a religion, just like not collecting stamps is a hobby." Atheism is the furthest thing from a religion.

      • That's cute! I can't remember the exact wording or who said it, but there's a line to the extent that athiests simply believe in one fewer god than most of their neigbours, and that perhaps the monotheists ought to explain why they don't believe in all the other gods too (far pithier in the original, as I recall).

  27. its* :)

  28. This is a poorly written article. Firstly, it conflates Muslims with Christians in the opener as being part of the same charitable fabric — the words "church" and "churchgoer" obviously indicate Christian charity. Charity is one of the tenets of Christianity; I do not know it to be one of the tenets of Judaism and definitely not Islam. I am not Christian, but the tendency to paint all religions with the same brush always sticks in my craw.

    Second, people who did not identify themselves as churchgoers are not automatically atheists. Most people simply do not have time to or care about whether or not there is or is not a god. I am also disappointed economic status did not play a role in the analysis.

    • Charity.. the giving of alms… is one of the fundamental tenets of Islam

  29. Jesus reminds us not to make a big show of our giving; he commended the poor widow for privately giving money, and chastized the pharisees for their public displays of religiosity. Instead, he commands us to pro-actively love God and our neighbours (i.e. Do unto others…). The early church tried to live out this creed, and James reminds us that the only true "religion" is taking care of the widows or orphans.

    A believer who attends church and reads the Bible regularly will no doubt be reminded to help the poor and marginalized more often, which may or may not make not make them more charitable in the polls. But our charity should be the result of our genuine love towards others, and not our motive to compete or to be more "religious". Skeptics and believers alike have the ability to do good or evil and to make the world a better place, so we should continue to encourage each other to give and help others regardless of our religious affiliation. In fact, institutional religion can at times impede us from loving others (see the Good Samaritan parable for a good example).

    I see many believers give of their time and money, and it is heartening to see atheist organizations doing the same (as seen in the Kiva example above). So as a christian, I would say that both skeptics/believers share a concern for humanity. But I would also suggest that this concern is shown by all of us because we are all a reflection (image) of our maker, the original source of goodness. Our desire to do good begs for an explanation that cannot be accounted for by materialism/genetics. How do we explain our thirst for justice when all we have seen is injustice?

    Regardless of our religious affiliation, let's continue to encourage each other to help those around us who are in need.

  30. Exactly what does a church have to do to count as "charitable" for purposes of this article? Did every penny of those oh-so-charitable donations from the oh-so-virtuous believers go to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick and the like? Or does all the money for fixing the church roof, buying stained glass, paying the pastor's salary, funding his habit of frequenting meth-dealing male prostitutes, buying him the new private jet, paying off the families of the kids he raped, and putting up ads promoting his bigoted political agenda ALSO get counted as "charity"? Secular charities have to do actual work to get counted as charitable organizations. Churches just have to SAY they're doing charity, and everyone believes them without bothering to verify it or even look into how much is spent on overhead.

    Did anyone actually bother to check if the money counted as religious charitable donations actually went to charity work? Or would looking into that make it too difficult to point fingers at the mean, nasty heretics who you like to fantasize about torturing forever?

  31. For this measure to be true one would have to subtract the "club fees" or donations to the religious institution that coincides with being a member. Otherwise golf players membership should be counted

    Not to mention your lumping in atheists with the rest of society as if the 95% of people who don't go to church are atheists.

  32. Some points come to mind as I read this article:

    Titheing and religious charities have largely been replaced by government funded social programs underwritten by taxes. The services provided by religious charities are selective and biased towards their dogma. If the charitable status of religious organizations were removed, the tax benefits realized would more than compensate for all the social services needed by disenfranchised segments of society.

    Religious people will donate generously TO THEIR CHURCHES OR AFFILIATED CHARITIES but not to competing religions or secular charities. Religious folk will donate anonymously as their rewards in the after-life are doubled 'if the right hand knows not what the left hand is doing'.

    The difference in donation amounts between non-believers and believers reflect a belief that a supernatural being is watching and recording the generosity of the pious to ensure appropriate post mortem rewards.

    Most volunteer efforts are aimed at impressing potential converts or are actually involved in proselytizing.

    While the relatively young Foundation Beyond Belief may have only 447 members who have raised $18,760 specifically for secular causes, the KIVA Atheist team has led all other teams, including the second place KIVA Christians consistently by almost DOUBLE and is predicted to cross $2 million in loans around the world in the next few days.


  33. There is a general falsehood prevalent in this article that assumes that those who are believers in a religious faith are more likely to do good compared to those who have not. But history is filled of conflicts, persecution, injustice and mass murders by followers who believed that they were doing good in the name of their faith. Religion provides a moral compass to assist us along on the road of life but offers no guarantee that the journey will be successful.

  34. I don't know what your atheism means. Not interested in finding out either. I do think, however, that you, like most atheists and/or religious people, get an almost uncontrollable urge to engage whenever matters of faith are discussed.

    Religion has no meaning if it doesn't seek to convert. The same with atheism. I understand your need to affect a certain nonchalance about it all but you are here debating the issue and you just had to let me know that you were an atheist.

    Feel free to argue the opposite. That's what these boards are for. The problem is that you've already made my point so….

    • I've engaged in many discussions involving religion on these boards, and this is probably the first time I've noted my own atheism. Given the article was explicitly making statements about atheism, I hardly feel like I was shoehorning it in or anything. I dont' try to hide it, but I generally find it leads to conversations that go nowhere, so as a practice I tend toward the opposite of what you describe.

      "Religion has no meaning if it doesn't seek to convert." This tells me know equally little about religion.

      • "I've engaged in many discussions involving religion on these boards, and this is probably the first time I've noted my own atheism."

        Aside from the fact that you yet again make my point about the urges of atheists, I seriously doubt that you've never self-declared your views in those discussions but I'll take your word for it.

        As for me knowing little about religion, please cite the religion(s) that you know of that does not work to recruit new believers.

        I'm all ears.

        • Missionary aims have largely developed in conjunction with the actions of nation states, throughout history. While such projects are certainly a part of many modern montheisitc religions (and more fundamental to certain groups, such as Jehovah's Witnesses), it's hardly core to their self-definition, and the absence of that would not strip a particular religion of its meaning, as you assert.

          Most indigenous religions are relatively indifferent to converting others, as one example. Also, I've conducted research that had me spending time a few Christian churches, and the topic of conversion was not raised during the months I observed.

          Now that I've shared, do you care to provide any evidence suggesting that without converting others, religions have no meaning?

          • "Now that I've shared, do you care to provide any evidence suggesting that without converting others, religions have no meaning? "

            I just did. You couldn't name any religion that doesn't try to recruit followers. The indigenous religions you speak of? What are they? Which indigenous group are you talking about?

            As for suggesting that christian churches don't recruit is completely ludicrous and makes me wonder about your research. Christians are followers of Jesus, yes? Jesus' very last command to his disciple was to "go ye forth and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father, the son, and the holy ghost."

            If you don't get that spirituality in any form requires you to share the "message" with others, you are the one who doesn't understand religion.

          • Sigh, I've probably read sixty to one hundred ethnographies on indigenous peoples, most of which include material on religion and spirituality. From the Yanomami, to the !Kung, to numerous North American native groups, you just don't find any concern or discussion of converting others.

            So, your research involves taking a line from the Bible? That's all well and good, but you'll note I didn't deny that most Christian organizations have some missionary element. But in talking to the everyday members of congregations, interviewing ministers, and sitting in on Sunday schools, I've got to say that the topic of converting others just didn't come up. Lots of talk about morality, community, sins, the afterlife, etc., which seems to form the core of engagment for many followers.

            I've studied comparative religion in some depth, and for you to suggest that spirituality always requires sharing the message tells me that you really haven't read much beyond the low hanging fruit the Bible provides you to bolster your pre-established positions.

            Substantial evidence, please.

          • Wow, where's Mr.Junkie now? Reflectining upon the junkiness of all his posts so far?

        • "As for me knowing little about religion, please cite the religion(s) that you know of that does not work to recruit new believers."


  35. The Catholic Church's legal bills aren't payin' themselves. Keep the donations rolling in.

  36. Whether by intelligent design or intelligent by nature, I think we could agree that there is an inherent intelligence at work on this planet and human beings are capable of exercising their intelligence in a conscious manner. We figured out how to put a man on the moon and that IS rocket science.

    To the editors I would like to say two things: 1. Good for you for initiating a dialogue on such an important issue- Charity. Without it the "less-fortunates" would be even more so. 2. Shame on you for such an inane argument. Your premise and use of logic clearly demonstrate that human intelligence is vulnerable to sloppy thinking.

    I will not attempt to argue with the statistics. That would be a futile gesture.

    Rather, I concede that theists (god-worshippers) do give more money and time to charitable organizations than atheists do. Then again, god-worshippers have had two thousand years to build up their tradition of giving. It is irrelevant to this discussion what may be their motivation. Atheists have very little history to build up a similar tradition. After all, it's only been a few centuries since they were burned at the stake if they spoke their thoughts out loud.

    It would be interesting to see if theists and atheists could bring together their different areas of expertise to form a symbiotic relationship in regards to charity. If this could be accomplished, the world would indeed be a better place for all of us.

  37. As for the supernatural I understand the rejection of it but I fear it is generally done on the basis of faulty logic; i.e. "I've never observed water turned to wine therefore it can't happen". In so doing the reasoner portrays themselves as a deity able to know everything that has happened, or they simply conclude that unlikely = impossible but that reasoning has no quantifiable basis does it?
    My point is that those who believe that science has disproven God fail to acknowledge that many things are not quantifiable through science. God is not a matter of science or not and when you determine that science disproves God then you only replace the omniscient God of religion with your omniscient God of science.
    "you believe in God, I believe (stating faith) in science (thus instituting science as God)" from the movie Nacho Libre. Sorry Vivian, I realize that it seems I've somewhat gone off on you when some of my points aren't directly related to yours.

  38. the real problem is that most seculars don't give because most organizations are religious in nature.

  39. Its important to remember that this isn't really a comparrison between religous and atheists. Its a comparison between church going and non-church going. Its a lie to say that atheists are donating 295$ on average because that group is largely religous, albeit the lazy kind.

    Atheism is typically about 8-10% of the population, and non-church goers are about 80% of the population. I think its a bit of a scam to lump in atheists with the 70% or so non-attending believers, and then say "look at how little atheists donate!"

    An atheist isn't just a lazy believer.

  40. Well, although I give over one half of my income in charitable activities, I don't meticulously document each and every dime I give. I suspect that the tax credit for "charity" inspires a huge amount of the Xians exactness in how much they gave. This would be, of course, be unauditable.

    Just a tax ripoff. Want to change the numbers,? Cut off the deduction for charitable giving. Hell the population of children in the United States dropped over 5 miilion children when Social Security numbers were required to claim the dependent deduction.

    How much of the "charitable donations" stay in the church and how much are actually used for relief of the poor? This is crap study with a lot of false numbers.

    I will walk down an inner city area with anyone that is a religious bigot pretending to be a charitable person and I will always pass out more than the religious bigot. I have no overhead and I know exactly where it goes. "he/she will just spend it on booze, drugs, etc" is not a valid reason not to give. $5 is not cutting off the end of my dick. If I give to a scamster, big deal. If I give to a needy person, great. Plus, I don't make them listen to them to any pious crap about the great sky demon that will make it better in the next life.

    Summation, this article is a crook of crap.

    • You make some valid points, however, i think you oversimplify in a similar fashion to that of the article.

      Lord knows though, its important for our dicks to be unmolested. ;)

      -Your friendly neighborhood religious "bigot"

  41. Good analysis!

    • I donate from my pay, the money is taken off my pay biweekly and is donated to the united way. At tax time I don't write off my donation. I don't want any portion of that donated money back. Stats Can would not identify me as a giver or as a believer (I'm not a believer in god). Once again statistics don't really reveal unquestionable truth in this matter.

  42. It would have been better to parse out the difference between charitable contributions in general and those not going to the churches.

  43. Note that atheists, being a moderate proportion of the USA population (about 8-16%) are disproportionately less in the prison populations (0.21%). I rest my case

  44. Wow. What a misleading article. I'm an atheist and love to donate where I can and help out. The only difference between me and 'church' people, is that I don't do it for the recognition. It just makes me feel good to know I am helping others.

  45. If nothing else, this article got a terrific discussion started. Strong and well-informed comments from people of all stripes. Great reading; great food for thought!

  46. While i freely admit this article makes a rather facile correlation between giving and religion, allow me to share my thoughts about why believers give.

    Growing up in a working-class family of 7, my example was one of two parents who gave consistently to others (no record of this portion of their giving, like many christians whose tithe and volunteerism is a mere fraction of their generosity). If the need was pressing (and it often was) my parents gave, even though quite often we didnt know where next weeks groceries would come from. my parents gave, gave, and gave some more, not because they were "buying their salvation", nor out of some "guilt trip" as some purport, but because it was the right thing to do, and coincidentally, because the Holy Scriptures tells us to. The fact that these two reasons are grouped together made perfect sense to them, as it makes sense to me now. Their example was convincing, as i now give too, even though money is scarce. Sadly, I cannot tell you the sheer JOY of "painful" giving. You, my friends, have to learn that one for yourself.

  47. Can god microwave a burrito to such a temperature that not even he could eat it?

  48. et tu MacLeans?!?!? Yet another effort to throw the Christian Right into the spotlight and make it more acceptable. I am the only person who is scared witless about how close evangelicals are coming to dictating policy in this country? Our federal ministry of SCIENCE refuses to answer questions on his beliefs for religious reasons! Our own PM and members of his cabinet attend evangelical churches that believe dinosaurs walked the Earth with man!
    We are so dangerously close to letting the belief of a small majority dictate policy for us all, and we comfort ourselves it will never happen here, but look south for confirmation…where there is distinct legislation separating Church and state. And it happens anyway

  49. I wonder what the average income of the donors was? $1038 is not that much money. Christian teaching is that 10% of what you earn should be donated. I do not have extra expenses like cell phones, although I do have cable TV. I could have paid down my mortgage by half over the past 8 years with the amount I donated during that time. Yes, I give to religious organisations, but World Vision and Christian Blind Mission do substantial service for non-Christians. My local church supports the Saskatoon Native Circle Ministry in the inner city. So, the fact is, religion does contribute to more generous giving – that is an undisputed fact.

  50. It depends on WHICH religious charities you're talking about. Sometimes the money goes to help the Church itself, yes, providing for their priests, nuns, and the upkeep of the churches. However, MOST of the money goes to help the less fortunate. They go to provide shelters, food for the pantry, items for the less fortunate, money to help those who can't pay their bills for that month because of some tragedy or other, etc.

    Most charities ARE, in fact, religious charities. Look at a list of charities in any area, and you will find that most of the charities on the list are, in fact, religious charities. Do you know who the biggest charity is? THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH!!! We give more money to the less fortunate than you would EVER think. Our money does NOT go to the Vatican, contrary to popular belief. Most of what the Vatican has was either gifted to them by rulers of other countries, or comes from the schools they run. What goes into the collection each week at Mass is meted out to different funds, the largest of which are those that give back to the community.
    Do you know who runs most of the charities in the world? Again, the Roman Catholic Church. Most charities were begun by members of the Church, and are Catholic in name and deed. These include Catholic Charities, the Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of Mercy, Catholic Relief Services, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, Missionaries of Charity, Brothers of Charity, Brothers of St. Hippolytus, Bethlehemites, Piarists, Institute of the Blessed Virgin, Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Little Sisters of the Poor, Knights of Columbus, Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Ancient Order of Hibernians, Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity HealthCare Ministry, Jesuit Refugee Service, and MANY, MANY, more!

    To write off churches as not being charities is SEVERELY WRONG! You have absolutely NO idea what you're saying when you say that most of our charitable contributions don't count because they're donations that are in the form of checks to the church. The money given to the church goes back out to society, not in the pockets of the priests.

  51. Hey… they don't supply a bibliography. They could be pulling numbers out of the air and we'd have no way of knowing.

  52. Part 1

    There are many different types of atheists. Not all have the same views, apart from the fact that an atheist does not believe in the existence of a god. I for one am atheist. I volunteer on an oyster project which leads to helping my environment and community. I donate, I recycle although there is no recycling in my neighborhood(I'm from Europe but have moved to the U.S.), I have to take the long way. I pick up trash that I find lying in the sand when I go to the beach, I don't just walk past it and hope someone else will do it. I try never to waste any food(my dog eats the leftovers + his dog food) because the thought that there are people out there starving comes to my head. I don't eat myself fat, I stay in shape. I am not rude towards others and have respected every religion I have come across. One of my best friends is very religious and we are like sisters.

  53. Part 2

    I do not need religion to keep myself in line, to be nice to others, to donate or to volunteer, and most of all, to care. I use my sense of logic for those things, I have never needed the belief of a higher power to do so.
    And I know that not all atheists are like that, just like I know not all those that believe in a religion are good and follow the guidelines of their religion.
    I see those that say they love their god, but then don't care about their environment which seems to me like they do not care about what their god has given to them, they swear( I don't because I think it is ugly) and are disrespectful to their elders, and waste food.

    We are all human, god or no god, this planet is our home, our environment, and I don't see us moving to the Moon or to Mars any time soon.


    P.S.: Charity…Ask the richest men in the world what they are doing with their money. They have trillions.