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Charity, Religious and Nonreligious

Gallup Chart Charity

“Nearly all the money the religious givers—which in the United States comprises mostly Christians—give to their congregations appears to end up getting spent directly or indirectly on themselves.” [from Part 2, below]

“To completely replace public [governmental] aid with private charity would require an enormous increase in charity. For example, if all the annual religious contributions in the U.S. were used to offset public expenditure for the poor, the amount would fund less than 15 percent of current aid to poor people.”
—An Evangelical Christian economist at Wheaton College

But, a bit of history first…

It was during the Victorian era when non-sectarian charities, universalistic charities, and government charity assistance programs arose. It was a time when people realized that the churches could not be societyʼs safety net. More had to be done, much more, charity wise and politics wise (to raise pay, lower work hours, and improve work safety conditions). It was at this time that universalist Christianity also grew. Florence Nightingale made nursing a legitimate modern profession, and revolutionized hospital care. She was a universalist Christian who taught that hospitals must serve sick people no matter what their religion or sect, and allow people to see whatever clergy they wished. Hospitals up to her day had been sectarian in nature, built mainly to aid those of the same religious sect, and/or evangelize those in their care. Florence put care above evangelization, and taught that hospitals must allow people to see whomever they wished when it came to their soulʼs needs. The founder of the Red Cross, Andre Dunant, was gay it turns out. His family burned his love letters after he died. And Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross was another universalist Christian. Since then, charity for its own sake has been increasingly recognized. Ever heard of Jane Addams and “Hull House” in Chicago? Some claim that the work of the Hull House marked the beginning of what we know today as “Social Welfare.” Interestingly, Nightingale, Dunant, and Addams, all appear to have helped revolutionize charity, and all three held an open view of religion, were not into the Jonathan Edwardsʼ hell-fire stuff at all, but into universalistic acceptance of others. And Dunant, being gay, with Addams living with a woman and mentioning how much she loved her is certainly suspected of being gay, and Nightingale also mentioned her love of another woman in some strongly worded prose, and is at least suspected of having homosexual urges. Today people of all religions or none work in hospitals, and work for the betterment of mankind via agricultural science and medical science.

Today the majority of charities are non-denominational and/or secular in the sense that doing good and not preaching is what they are about. Doctors Without Borders is not a religious group. It was created on the belief that all people have the right to medical care regardless of gender, race, religion, creed, or political affiliation, and that the needs of these people outweigh respect for national boundaries. Also, a major cross-sectional survey of U.S. physicians found that doctors who are more religious are slightly less likely to work with the underserved than physicians with no religious affiliation. Researchers from the University of Chicago and Yale New Haven Foundation published a report (Annals of Family Medicine, July/August) showing that 31% of more religious doctors practiced among the underserved, compared to 35% of physicians described as atheist, agnostic or none. Source: University of Chicago News Office, July 30, 2007

Some of the hardest work that has been done (which has saved the most lives) has often been done by people who either arenʼt very religious or who choose not to mention religion, nor connect their work with it. Take Maurice Hilleman and Norman Bourlag, two who never seem to have taken time to be widely recognized for their work except by fellow specialists in their fields. Have you heard either of their names?

In an April 2005 obituary, the New York Times described Maurice Ralph Hilleman (who died at age 85) as the man who “probably saved more lives than any other scientist in the 20th century.” His vaccines probably saved more lives than any scientist in the past century, and his research helps the medical establishment predict and prepare for upcoming flu seasons. As a young man in a small Midwestern town Maurice felt that life must have more to offer than selling goods to cowboys and their girlfriends. He built his own radio which could just pick up talk and music programs from distant Chicago. He also loved to visit the local public library where he found a copy of Darwinʼs “On the Origin of Species” that had avoided the censorship of the townʼs fundamentalist church. In eighth grade he was caught reading ‘The Origin of the Species’ in church. His curiosity led him to pursue education at a local branch of the state university and then to the University of Chicago, where he studied microbiology. In 1988 President Reagan presented him with the National Medal of Science, Americaʼs highest scientific honor. His peers said that he had done more for preventive medicine than anyone since Louis Pasteur. Dr. Hilleman developed 8 of the 14 vaccines routinely recommended: measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, chickenpox, meningitis, pneumonia and Haemophilus influenzae bacteria (which brings on a variety of symptoms, including inflammation of the lining of the brain and deafness). He also developed the first generation of a vaccine against rubella or German measles. The vaccines have virtually vanquished many of the once common childhood diseases in developed countries.

Norman Borlaug is credited with saving a billion lives or more from starvation. Though Borlaug held to his familyʼs traditional Lutheran beliefs he did not use his notoriety to try and lead others to Christ as so many Christian congressmen, actors and athletes have attempted to do. He did not trumpet the importance of his personal religious beliefs, he barely tooted them in so far as his lifeʼs work was concerned. Though he did use his notoriety as a scientist to promote further scientific research first and foremost and to speak about the importance of education, the necessity of population control, and the importance of producing food for all.

As for saving the most lives, the grand prize probably goes to the plumbers of the world, and water and waste engineers. Without the development of plumbing the spread of diseases from unsafe water supplies and the mosquitoes and flies that carry disease back and forth from them, would have been epidemic. Iʼve read other essays that agree, voting for the plumbers and the engineers who developed plumbing, makes the most sense.

Billionaire Bill Gates founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation by donating tens of billions of his own wealth along with tens of billions of additional dollars added by agnostic billionaire, Warren Buffet. Gates and Buffet were ranked as the top two wealthiest men on earth (at least that was their ranking before the recent stock market meltdown). Andrew Carnegie of a previous generation was another noted atheist philanthropist.

Charity & the nonreligious Part 2

BOOK: Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Donʼt Give Away More Money by eminent sociologists of religion Michael Emerson, Christian Smith and Patricia Snell, published by Oxford University Press 2008

Chapter Two, “Failed Generosity” lists in bold print the most crucial Facts derived findings from the data. And adds on pg. 53, “Thus, nearly all the money the religious givers—which in the United States comprises mostly Christians—give to their congregations appears to end up getting spent directly or indirectly on themselves.”

  • Fact #1 At least one out of five American Christians—20 percent of all U.S. Christians—gives literally nothing to church, para-church, or nonreligious charities.

  • Fact #2 The vast majority of American Christians give very little to church, para-church, or nonreligious charities.

  • Fact #3 American Christians do not give their dollars evenly among themselves, but, rather, a small minority of generous givers among them contributes most of the total Christian dollars given.

  • Fact #4 Higher income earning American Christians—like Americans generally—give little to no money as a percentage of household income than lower income earning Christians.

  • Fact #5 Despite a massive growth of real per capita income over the twentieth century, the average percentage of income given by American Christians not only did not grow in proportion but actually declined slightly during this time period.

  • Fact #6 The vast majority of the money that American Christians do give to religion is spent in and for their own local communities of faith—little is spent on missions, development, and poverty relief outside of local congregations, particularly outside the United States, in way that benefit people other than the givers themselves.

Reviews of the above work:

A Lot of Lattés: Stingy Christians in an Age of Opulence by Ron Sider posted 10/30/2008 Christianity Today, click here.

American Christian groups typically give away only 1.5% to 2% percent of their income. Considering that this figure is based on self-reporting, the reality is probably even less. Catholics are the worst, with many Protestant groups in the middle and Mormons (whom this study regards as “non-Christian religious believers”) at the top. Click here.

Mormons, who appear to give seven times more as a percentage of their income than Catholics, are the exception. Smith said the book does not include them in its overall calculations of giving because “they are so sociologically distinctive in terms of giving” that they deserve a separate mention. “Mormons have a much higher expectation. They teach tithing much more conscientiously. Every year you meet with a local bishop who asks you if you tithed, and if you havenʼt there are consequences,” Smith said here.

Charity and the nonreligious Part 3

Further Considerations

  1. Is there nothing to be learned from the way less religious modern industrialized countries have lower crime rates than the U.S., higher general education levels than the U.S., lower teen pregnancy rates than the U.S., lower child mortality rates than the U.S., higher life expectancies than the U.S., and devote a higher percentage of their taxes to foreign aid than the U.S.?

  2. When attempting to measure the “charitableness of Christianity” one must subtract the costliness of churches in general, including preacher(entertainerʼs) incomes. I certainly donʼt begrudge people spending money on whatever religion they wish, but calling all the money they spend on their pastorʼs and churches “charity,” is about as close to the truth as me calling the money I spent last year attending various events that either entertained or were social functions of one sort another, “charity.”

  3. One could even subtract the way that “religious affinity fraud” robs devout churchgoers of billions each year, who are dragged into money losing operations VIA conservative religious faith, either of the Prosperity Gospel kind, or, of wild eyed claims of “blessed” money-making investments that are heralded as the Gospels truth by pastors or by fellow devout church going friends that you canʼt help but trust, i.e., schemes that spread like wildfire among conservative congregants.

  4. Lastly what about the cost and function served by most “mission trips?” Seems like another cost one could subtract. Click here.

On Missionary Trips

Itʼs that time of year again! Pack your bags, round up your dusty ole passport, dig up that Hawaiian shirt you love so much (you know, the one that makes you look like Rick Warren), and get your flippy-floppies out—itʼs mission trip time again! Time to go tell some third-world peasants about Jesus, hammer a few nails in a decrepit schoolhouse, and catch some rays! Click here.

Dirty Secrets of Christian Evangelism—Saturday June 27, 2009
Both Catholics and Protestants spend a lot of money on missionary programs in the “Unreached Bloc,” a largely non-Christian region stretching from Africa to East Asia, with India being a primary target. The tactics can be very unethical and the results very poor. So why do people go through with it? For Christ, they say. I suppose anything can be justified in the name of Jesus, no matter how unethical and harmful.

S. R. Welch writes for the Secular Web:

Missionaries exploit the sick:

Catholic priests had been instructed to learn something of medicine in order to gain access to the bedsides of sick Hindu (and Muslim) children. There, on the pretext of administering medicine, the priests secretly baptized the children before they died. What is troubling are the reports that this practice continues today, with formulas of baptism whispered and holy water sprinkled surreptitiously over non-Christian patients even in the hospices of such well-known orders as the Missionaries of Charity.

Both Westerners and Indians are exploited via fake “orphans”:

Exploiting customs that make female children economic burdens on their families, missionaries reportedly induce tribal mothers to relinquish baby girls shortly after birth. Often the mothers are promised that rich Westerners will adopt their daughters and they will live a “much better life.” The mother is typically paid about $70 for her child, which is then adopted by Western parents for a “donation” of $2,500.

There is an irony to the notion of tribal “orphans,” according to Arvind Neelakandan, a volunteer with the Vivekananda Kendra (VK), a Hindu nonprofit that works among the tribals. In most tribal communities, Neelakandan explains, “Orphans as we know them are nonexistent”; parentless children are typically cared for by their extended family. But, he explains, missionaries will “fleece money from their foreign donors by projecting these very same children as ‘orphans’” in fundraising campaigns.

Is it immoral to solicit “conversions” by offering food or medicine? Missionaries donʼt think so:

Whatever one calls the offer of material allurements in exchange for religious conversion, it does not deserve the appellation of “charity.” But this is lost on missionaries like Paul, who offers no apologies when confronted with Hindu objections. “If Hindus believe that certain tactics like offering money, food or clothes to their naked children in return for embracing Christ is immoral, then what can I say?” he protests. “All congregations and missionaries have been advised to follow these techniques, as others will only fail. Sounds immoral but that is the only way.”

And just how successful is this, anyway? Not very:

According to the World Evangelization Research Center (WERC), there are more than four thousand mission agencies. Collectively they operate a huge apparatus, manned by some 434,000 foreign missionaries wielding an annual global income of eighteen billion dollars. And yet, for all the money that is spent—an astonishing average of $359,000 for every person baptized—the benefits of evangelism are meager. … Meanwhile, the quality of life for Indiaʼs Christian population remains dismal. Despite “crocodile-tears for the oppressed,” says Edamaruku, and contrary to apologistsʼ frequent boast that Christianization brings justice and equality to the “untouchables,” dalits who convert find that as Christians, they remain “as ‘untouchable’ as they had been as Hindus.” While more than 75 percent of the Catholics in India are dalits, dalits make up less than 5 percent of Indian priests. Most priests come from upper castes.

This is supposed to be the “charitable” face of Christianity. As Welch explains, the helps to breed ethnic and religious strife as new converts are often induced to adopt fanatical attitudes towards their former faith. Missionaries feed and clothe people, but at what price? They are paying a serious ethical price themselves and extracting a large price from local society through increased tensions — not to mention the funds and time that could be better spent on more productive programs.

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