Are Stingy Atheists Ruining America?
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  • Timothy Nunan

    Regarding the ‘health of American democracy’, it is worth noting that several of the Bible Belt states – Arkansas, Texas, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee – constitutionally ban atheists from holding public office. A tradition of donation and charity is an important part of American democratic traditions, and one in which religious belief plays an important part, as this post highlights. However, it is important to realize that the very religiosity of some of the most generous states is often tied with a very nasty skepticism and fear of non-religious Americans — a mood that this post indirectly stokes.

  • Christopher

    This is an awfully biased take on this survey. Excluding religious donations the less religious states gave more to charity .9% to 1.4%.
    I have to say I personally do not believe religious giving should count as charity. Most definitely should not count for a tax deduction. While their are many fine churches doing great charitable work. Unfortunately a large percentage of tithing goes to create an ever larger organization, including larger buildings.

  • “It’s also another reason to fear for the health of American democracy without the thriving of American religion.”

    My goodness you don’t half write some nonsense amongst the good stuff.

  • Jim.

    If you actually separate out the data using political affiliation, the gap between what people on the Left voluntarily give and what people on the Right voluntarily give becomes a factor of two to four.

    It would be interesting to see what happens when you separate out the data by state, political affiliation, and religious affiliation.

    The fact is that the urge to pass the buck to Government is an indication of an ungenerous spirit.

  • Corlyss

    Arthur Brooks, pres of AEI, settled this question once and for all in his book Who Cares?

    American people of faith give humongous amounts and far, far more than atheists and agnostics. He cited the latters’ belief that charity was the government’s job, safety net, etc. and as a result they gave little to charities of any kind. In that they are consonant with Europeans’ attitudes. I think the impetus for the book was the uproar over US (government) giving to the Indonesian tsunami victims. For some unknown reason, that became a symbol of government/social virtue and righteousness and an excuse to malign Americans in a way that vexes me to this day. The media piled on Bush, aping their Eurotrash models, for not doing more and sooner. Months later it came out that the US government gave a lot of money to the Indonesians, but less than the European governments did. HOWEVER, the amount of money embodied in the massive food donnations ferried by the US Navy, combined with the the latter’s hospital ships, American private citizen donations (which far outstripped the Europeans’ private donations), and church relief programs, all beggared the amounts sent by the Europeans in toto.

    Brooks’ book showed who gives and why. The non-religious are often not civic minded either. IMO it’s all of a piece. The non-religious often think someone else, ANYone else, should do whatever needs to be done but not them.

  • Andrew Allison

    As an agnostic who gives significantly more than the Mormon tithe each year, might I respectfully suggest that inculcating a sense of responsibility (or, to quote today’s quick take on the man largely responsible for the enormous decline in Anglican observance, liberalism in the Biblical sense) into the young doesn’t require religion.

  • Jim.

    @Andrew Allison-

    These surveys demonstrate that your suggestion doesn’t work.

  • Richard Treitel

    With a quick look at the parable of the widow’s mite and a previous whine on this very blog about how the “elites” are more atheistic than hoi polloi, it’d also be worth seeing the data segmented by income level.

    FWIW I’m a hard-core atheist and I give as much to charities (mostly educational ones) as my wife gives to her church, or more in some years. Why? I’m also a humanist and believe in helping other human beings. Doesn’t take a church to teach me that. Oh, and I neither know nor care what religions, if any, are believed by the humans whom these donations ultimately help.

  • Gregory

    “Of course, secular taxpayers might say they are contributing to charity in a sense by paying taxes and supporting high-tax, high service governance”
    Secular taxpayers are contributing to charity even when they do not otherwise contribute to it, by picking the slack made by the charitable donation tax deduction. It is not particularly charitable to take that deduction and to force the others to participate in one’s charitable activities, using the governmental force [taxation] for the purpose. In the works of charity even your right hand ought not to know what your left hand is doing. Even less the government.

  • As an American who has spent half of his life in Australia one of the most noticeable differences in this area is Australians see it as the government’s job to provde a safety net. But it goes deepr than religion or the lack of it. When I worked for a struggling Aboriginal college entirely funded by government which was reluctant to maintain support, my American reaction was to seek private funding to create an endowment. When everyone looked at me like I was nuts I realized that I was up against a very different understanding of the roles of the public and private sectors. It isn’t just religious differences. It is all those foundations created by robber barons: Carniege, Rockafella, Gates etc. that create an entirely different atmosphere. Another difference would be that lotteries typically operate more like American foundations by providing grants to worthy causes rather than just function as voluntary tax programs, although I realize some states in the US earmark lottery profits to specific areas like education.Perhaps it is because I was born and educated in the US I like the flexibility that well
    developed private sector charity provides.. Kickstarter funding is a good example – imagine trying to get a government grant to build a better game controller!

  • Corlyss

    @ Andrew

    Perhaps but there’s no vector on earth superior to religion for transmitting moral codes to children, esp. boys. Agnositics with a refined moral sense usually have a religious parent or principal influence somewhere in their backgrounds.

  • Brian

    #6 Andrew:
    “As an agnostic who gives significantly more than the Mormon tithe each year, might I respectfully suggest that inculcating a sense of responsibility (or, to quote today’s quick take on the man largely responsible for the enormous decline in Anglican observance, liberalism in the Biblical sense) into the young doesn’t require religion.”

    Let us be entirely fair – neither the via Meadia article nor any other person to my knowledge has ever said that inculcating a sense of responsibility “requires” religion. All are well aware of secular people who are extremely generous.

    This has no bearing on the fact that organised religion is a powerful force in promoting care and concern for the less well off among the population. All religions of which I am aware encourage giving to the less fortunate, and many require it. Preaching about taking care of the poor and hurt is common – one can hear it in most churches, mosques, temples, and synagogues on most days.

    You can do this without religion. But it is harder, and is not at all surprising that there is an easily observable statistical difference among the religious and secular populations.

  • Sam L.

    It is not charity when the money comes from my taxes.

  • Eurydice

    I though Groundhog Day was in February. This type of survey has been done over and over for years and years. And every time the results are published pundits tut-tut about the decline of Western civilization and internet posters line up in camps to take potshots at one another. Nothing is ever accomplished, but at least blogs can report more traffic.

  • Stephen D. Owen

    Am I the only reader of these blogs who suspects that Mr Mead and @Corlyss are one and the same?

  • Terry Robbins

    1.1% difference is not really earth-shaking. And how efficient are the charities donated to? Most religious charities will probably much less efficient than, say, Doctors without borders.
    Best to check here and choose an evaluated, efficient charity:

    They do great work.

  • At least one commenter clearly hasn’t given charity in tax-deductable worthy amounts, otherwise they would know that charitable giving adjusts income, not the tax assessment. In my tax bracket, I only “get” one dollar back for every five I give away. Of course, my “getting support” from the Government for my charity only amounts to them taking less from me than they would like to dispense as THEY please, to THEIR constituents, to buy THEIR votes. It’s votes for cheese, and it is moral posturing for politicians to claim generosity and goodness when the money is someone else’s.

    Many non-religious charities do not actually directly help people, but merely are lobbyists for more government aid to certain subgroups of the populace.

    The key difference between religious and atheistic charity lies in the pre-suppositions of the givers that is the sorting criterion between them: Atheistic giving is strictly materialistic, while religious giving counts on the existence of an additional spiritual component that is absent when the money is forcibly taken and present when “given cheerfully”. This results in true charity having a bigger “bang for the buck” than welfare and other “government freebies”.

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