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Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer

Posted: January 19, 2010 09:00 PM

Atheists For Haiti

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On Friday, January 15, I received in email from Richard Dawkins explaining that his Executive Director Elizabeth Cornwell has organized a campaign to raise money on behalf of the victims of the Haitian earthquake-induced tragedy, and he wanted to know if the Skeptics Society would like to participate, which of course I unhesitatingly agreed.

The campaign is called Non-Believers Giving Aid (http://givingaid.richarddawkins.net/) and is set up through PayPal. Richard Dawkins has generously offered to cover all the PayPal fees (up to $10,000) and the Skeptics Society got things started off with a bang with a $1000 donation. Within minutes of it's launch on Saturday morning, tens of thousands of dollars started pouring in as members of the other participating groups (Sam Harris' The Reason Project, The James Randi Educational Foundation, Atheist United, Atheist Alliance International, and many others) jumped in without hesitation. (All monies go to Doctors without Borders and the International Red Cross--you choose.)

In less than half a day we passed the $50,000 mark, $100,000 in less than 24 hours, $175,000 by Sunday morning, and over a quarter of a million dollars by sunup Monday morning, and just surpassing $300,000 as I post this commentary. We'll easily pass the million dollars mark within days. Not a bad showing! But beyond the aid needed by the Haitians, why does this matter? Why do I need to brag about our generosity? Because people tend to believe that religious people are more generous than nonreligious people, and so it is important that we show our true colors now. As I noted for the press release issued by Dawkins' foundation: "It's all well and good to say that we nonbelievers are just as moral as believers (we are, but that's a philosophical point)--actions count more than words and real donations are where the theoretical rubber meets the practical road. This is our time to pony up and show the world our true character." And pony up nonbelievers did, in spades.

Where do people get this idea that nonbelievers are not as generous? In 2006 the Syracuse University professor and conservative commentator Arthur C. Brooks published Who Really Cares, in which he claimed that when it comes to charitable giving and volunteering, numerous quantitative measures debunk the myth of "bleeding heart liberals" and "heartless conservatives." Conservatives donate 30 percent more money than liberals (even when controlled for income), give more blood and log more volunteer hours. He also presented data showing that religious people are four times more generous than secularists to all charities, 10 percent more munificent to non-religious charities, and 57 percent more likely than a secularist to help a homeless person. Those raised in intact and religious families are more charitable than those who are not.

Why such a striking difference? One answer may be found in the theory of "social capital," defined by Robert Putnam in his 2000 book Bowling Alone as "connections among individuals--social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them." In their analysis of data from the World Values Survey, for example, Harvard University professor Pippa Norris and University of Michigan professor Ronald Inglehart (in their 2004 book Sacred and Secular), found a positive correlation between "religious participation" and membership in "non-religious community associations," including women's, youth, peace, social welfare, human rights, and environmental conservation groups (and, apparently, bowling leagues). "By providing community meeting places, linking neighbors together, and fostering altruism, in many (but not all) faiths, religious institutions seem to bolster the ties of belonging to civic life."

In other words, we all have the capacity to be generous and giving, especially when we belong to social groups who encourage the better angels of our natures. Bowling for atheists! Show the better angel of your nature and give to the aid program today: http://givingaid.richarddawkins.net/

 
 
 

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