What Makes the New Atheists So Charitable?

Oct 27, 2015

by Joey Savoie, Co-founder of Charity Science

Before getting to know your local atheist, it’s very much worth rehashing the ABCs of non-belief that run the risk of remaining little known, especially now that the skeptic community has become more interested and active in charitable causes. Public intellectuals frequenting bestseller lists on our behalf are swift to go on the offensive, but there’s something to be said for shoring up the defense as well. A real uneasiness toward atheists and their intentions seems to flow from a very common and endlessly parroted assumption–that without belief in god, anything would be allowed. Divine reprimand and reward are ultimately credited with keeping us on the straight and narrow, and often said to have provided the moral foundation for our society. A charitable movement populated with skeptics and atheists would seem counterintuitive or even completely bananas then, but nonetheless, a number of causes under the umbrella of Effective Altruism (EA) are blossoming. How do we account for this? Should we credit our learned behavior to a society built on these heavenly mandates, or is it something else?

Spoiler alert: the answer is something else.

Whether it comes from the prosaic lips of Ivan Fyodorovitch of The Brothers Karamazov, in the more contemporary form of Dinesh D’Souza, or confronted you recently one way or another, the common argument sees morality as having originated from the outside. Without a punishing set of external pressures imposed from up high, so it goes, mankind will naturally veer off into a wilderness of undesirable behavior. If we care to reexamine the ABCs of atheism, we could start with what Elizabeth Anderson aptly describes as the atheist commitment to “the expansion and growth of the human mind.” Of course, this might seem obnoxiously smug. Who would march against personal growth?

Nobody

What Anderson is getting at is less about condescending to theists and more about illustrating where morality originates for atheists. Jean-Paul Sartre pre-empted her decades before by contending that morality comes from within and grows outwardly. Without wading too far into the philosophical thicket, we’ll leave you with Sartre illustrating how even personal decisions can radiate outwards, “In fashioning myself I fashion man.” Within each of us, overlapping and intertwining motivations help us fashion ourselves and our morals, and much of the time we would like to see the rest of the world follow suit. Have we met nudists that only want for the whole of humanity to shed these rags we affix to ourselves on the regular? Absolutely. Transplant this model onto an aversion to human suffering and now we’re talking.


Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

 

34 comments on “What Makes the New Atheists So Charitable?

  • 1
    voiceofarabi says:

    My two cents…..

    Once upon a time, I belonged to one of the Abrahamic religions, and I though my morals came from religion. I still did whatever I fancied doing, and whatever conflicted with religion, I put down to me being weak, and had to deal with the conflict of the guilt, but I still did those “bad” things anyway. With one exception, I have always tried to increase the numbers of the faith(unknowingly), by telling anyone who listens about the greatness of this faith, even though I was not following it to the letter.

    Then I grew up……

    Today, my moral code is still the same, and I still do what I fancy, and some of it can be considered “bad” (ask my ex), but I don’t have guilty feelings, unless it hurts others, and then I put it to lessons of life. The only major difference is, today, I am not helping to sell a mad religion.

    So, why am I not “selling” atheism, I ask myself…. the answer comes back…. How can you “sell” stop dreaming… How can you sell, stop getting high on god, and other BS… “Hey, I know weed is good, but try being sober”… (that hardly ever works)….

    Still life goes on.. I am however surprised that majority of ex theists seem to be spending their new found time fighting theists trying to covert them to atheist…. I think that’s the wrong strategy..

    I think atheist should group around a good cause and focus on being a force for good, and achieve something that will impact humanity in a positive way… Maybe start with shining a light on all the injustices done by the major powers around the world, and show people how religion is aiding those major powers to kill humanity…

    But then again I ask myself…. are the super power engaged in a cull to preserve humanity???



    Report abuse

  • I enjoyed your comment until the inevitable:

    are the super power engaged in a cull to preserve humanity???

    Can you post a comment without reference to colonial oppression? Is it possible?



    Report abuse

  • We would echo this request, voiceofarabi. We have no objection to such comments when they are relevant to the thread, but when they are brought into every topic they come under the heading of ‘drum banging’ – i.e. having one particular topic which a user brings up again and again and again, whether it is relevant to do so or not – which is against our Terms of Use. This is especially unwelcome when it occurs early in a thread, as here.

    The mods



    Report abuse

  • Religion thrives on the poor and ill educated. After all Christianity grew up as the religion of the slaves of the Roman Empire. It gave the slaves some sort of hope of a better life elsewhere after this one. And Christianity was open to all comers, regardless of wealth, unlike the Roman religions where the more you doled out the holier you were.

    Well I would like to see a world without any poor or ill educated people, and indeed a world where there is no need of any kind of charity. To me charity is that most mean minded expression of the idea that the poor will always be with us. An idea I vehemently disagree with. How does that expression go: “As cold as charity” ?



    Report abuse

  • I you are a Christian, you believe nothing you do matters. God will override anything he does not like or fill in for your lapses. Christians often think misfortune is god’s punishment, so do not want to interfere. Christians tend to hand over all their donations to the church where they do little good for the unfortunate. They are mainly concerned with racking up cosmic brownie points.

    Atheists do not have this crazy thinking.



    Report abuse

  • 6
    old-toy-boy says:

    My 2 pence worth (I am a Brit)
    Rational thinking leads to atheism, (weight of evidence)
    Knowledge/understanding makes prejudices redundant (I know what makes skin different colours)
    Empathy leads to morality. (we are a social species)
    Rational thinking + morality = better for all of us.
    (what did you expect for two pence? humour?)



    Report abuse

  • Empathy = morality is a cultural thing. Ancient greeks did not consider compassion as a virtue. Their virtues were wisdom, prudence and courage.



    Report abuse

  • 8
    Alexander says:

    Seems like some atheists want to out-christian the christians. Good luck with that.
    And a lot of you don’t see that your morality comes right from your christian culture (yes it is christian), not from within, as you might believe.
    Just in case, I don’t believe in god.



    Report abuse

  • And a lot of you don’t see that your morality comes right from your christian culture…

    Actually, it’s the other way round. There are commonsense rules for tribal living. Stone age hunter gatherers had rules for social behaviour, just like troops of baboons or chimps. If you covert Ug’s ox and take it, Ug and his brothers are coming for you. Same for all the stealing, wives, and other Thou Shalt Not’s in the bible. All that Judaism did was to write done what everyone had been doing for thousands of years of communal living.

    So far from the morality coming from christianity, it was the product of our evolutionary past. Rules for tribal living. The wonderful irony is that every time a fundamentalist christian wants to cite the 10 commandments as an argument for anything, they are in fact, relying on evidence that supports evolution. I like that.



    Report abuse

  • 11
    Alexander says:

    The article is about charity. My comment should be understood in the context of the article.
    Regarding your comment, you over-simplificate. Morality is not just about Thou Shalt Not’s, it’s much more subtle in a way that we often see only common sense in our evaluations. Of course, rules of community are good for community but we should separate them from our discussion of morality. Morality brings values, praise and blame, guilt and righteousness. And this is what I mean when I say christian morality, our values are christian values.
    You can’t deny that we are products of our environment plus some tweaks that we could manage to make on ourselves.



    Report abuse

  • Read Frans de Waals Age of Empathy to discover our mammalian heritage of oxytocin fueled group niceness. Empathy is wired in from very long ago.

    How convenient you forgot about that most astonishing of ancient Greek “Loves” (They had different words for each type….They thought a lot about love.)

    Agape

    agape or selfless love. This was a love that you extended to all people, whether family members or distant strangers. Agape was later translated into Latin as caritas, which is the origin of our word “charity.” C.S. Lewis referred to it as “gift love,” the highest form of Christian love.

    Lewis was too much of a classical scholar to not acknowledge a prior source.



    Report abuse

  • Like christmas? Take all the pagan rituals and all the morality that came before, bundle them up and call them christian morals. Plagiarism at best.



    Report abuse

  • 15
    Alexander says:

    So? Should I acknowledge every thing that Christianity took from other religions and cultures? I am aware that every religion and cuture owes something to other cultures. Nothing new…



    Report abuse

  • Morality brings values, praise and blame, guilt and righteousness.

    No. They are human constructs. Things we’ve invented by us. When it is all boiled down, we’re just another animal who’s survival advantage was a brain.

    And this is what I mean when I say christian morality, our values are christian values.

    It’s the chicken and the egg. Christians decided that some behaviours were moral, and some were not. They assigned values and praise and blame and guilt and righteousness. They gave them the force of “Law” by telling everyone that god sets down the rules. Our evolved brain at work. All Taurus Excreta of course. But all of those labels were things humans made up and assigned to preexisting tribal behaviours. The decisions they made were based on things they didn’t even understand, and that is, the commonsense requirements for communal tribal living. We now know from anthropological studies of tribal peoples all over the world adopt those same values, all worked out for themselves. No christianity in the middle of the Amazon 1000 years ago. 6 out of the 10 commandments are just universal commonsense with no reference to any god, or christianity, or any other religion.

    And why did do you choose just christian morality. What about Islamic morality, or Hindu or Sikh, or Janist or the Quakers or 1 million more religions that have existed. Religion has no claim to copyright on any morals, especially when all of them (Except the Janes and the Quakers) have never lived by their very own rules. Hypocritical to credit morality to any religious notion.



    Report abuse

  • My heritage is from the Enlightenment a period of great schism and dissent in the Christian World where the rediscovered values of the ancients suddenly seemed new fangled and deeply relevant. This intellectual heritage went back through the Golden Age of Islam to (in our instance) the Greek poets, philosophers and playwrights. The brighter Christians rediscovered their intellectual mojo and set aside swathes of old teaching to access this new way of thinking.

    My values flow from my Greek intellectual antecedants, and most that I treasure about my home is its consequent from them.



    Report abuse

  • 19
    Alexander says:

    No. They are human constructs. Things we’ve invented by us. When it is
    all boiled down, we’re just another animal who’s survival advantage
    was a brain.

    I don’t deny it.

    What about Islamic morality, or Hindu or Sikh, or Janist or the
    Quakers or 1 million more religions that have existed.

    I live in christian country, but the same logic applies (arabs have islamic morality and so on).



    Report abuse

  • My values flow from my Greek intellectual antecedants, and most that I treasure about my home is its consequent from them….

    Phil. Your writing style is like a quill and inkwell compared to my jack hammer on a bitumen road.

    I don’t understand how Alexander can assign “Morality” (Huge word) to just one of many religions.



    Report abuse

  • Your writing style is like a quill and inkwell

    🙂

    Yeah, but its also the kind of style that can earn you a deserved thumping.

    Someone cruel (or kindly) put some of my stuff through the dating algorithm on a certain website. I appear to be 125 years old.

    Still I’m sure it takes you and me both for maximum coverage.



    Report abuse

  • Alexander
    Oct 29, 2015 at 4:06 am

    Seems like some atheists want to out-christian the christians. Good luck with that.
    And a lot of you don’t see that your morality comes right from your christian culture (yes it is christian), not from within, as you might believe.

    Is there such a thing as “morality from A Christian culture”?

    There are almost as many Xtian dogmas and taboos as there are Xtians! They vary greatly geographically and throughout time!
    Xtians cherry-pick what they like from the numerous contradictions of the Bible, and then add their own wish-thinking!



    Report abuse

  • Xtians cherry-pick what they like from the numerous contradictions of the Bible, and then add their own wish-thinking!

    And a lot of you don’t see that your morality comes right from your christian culture (yes it is christian), not from within, as you might believe.

    The thing is, that atheists, without faith-blinkers, see the perverted self interests and those of the religious hierarchy, which pass for “morality” and “charity”, in various Christian cultures!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-34876448

    Six senior officials of Singapore’s City Harvest megachurch have been jailed over a $50m Singapore dollar ($35m; £23m) fraud case.

    The evangelical church’s pastor and founder, Kong Hee, was jailed for eight years – others received between 21 months and six years.

    The court ruled last month the group had misused church finances to fund the music career of Kong’s wife, Sun Ho.

    All denied the charges – the church had supported them during the trial.

    State prosecutors said before sentencing it was “the largest amount of charity funds ever misappropriated in Singapore’s legal history”.



    Report abuse

  • 30
    Stephen says:

    I think Atheists have the capacity to lead some sort or renewal, turning a page on the time when we were encouraged to leave “charity” to people – religious, or just the likes of Bob Geldof – who demanded that we treat them like saints and never question their competence. I welcome what Atheists are doing here. (Although, of course, there are a whole bunch of charities – Guide dogs for the blind, Cancer Research UK, British Heart Foundation – who have never adopted a pious “do-gooder” stance”.)

    As a matter or fact, these atheist groups have Buddhists on their side. I was about to say, “it is a shame Matthieu Ricard’s big book on altruism hasn’t been translated into English” (it covers some of the same ground as Pinker’s “better Angels”, but is more scholarly and rigorous, with 100 pages of references. Ricard has a background studying cellular genetics, so he knows how to be thorough, and his easy-to read book is far better than Pinker’s less reliable offering. Perhaps both books have their place, but sometimes Pinker is a very poor scholar.) – But now I see a translation appeared in June 2015. Check it out. – Like the Dalai Lama, Ricard emphasises that you do not need a religious or “spiritual” motive to be altruistic. And in saying this, both are simply relaying the facts, they are not trying to be innofensive to non-Buddhists or something!

    To say it again: I’m quite happy for Atheists to lead this movement, as long as they only want to keep it secular and don’t want to shut out or antagonize people who don’t have atheist beliefs.



    Report abuse

  • 32
    Stephen says:

    Dawkins himself goes some way to equating any religious belief with moral backwardness, when clearly a person can be religious, humanist, and secular at the same time. So by “atheist beliefs” I meant an “agressive” anti-religious position.



    Report abuse

  • Stephen
    Nov 20, 2015 at 11:37 am
    .
    Dawkins himself goes some way to equating any religious belief with moral backwardness,

    Theistic “faith-thinking” processes (belief with out evidence or proof), lead to moral backwardness, (judgement on the basis of dogma, rather than on outcome), but they may happen to lead to moral/ethical decisions by chance, while many theists do not exclusively use this form of thinking on all issues.

    when clearly a person can be religious, humanist, and secular at the same time.

    In which case many atheists will agree with them on those issues.

    So by “atheist beliefs” I meant these anti-religious views.

    But there are no standard “religious views”. There are as many “religious views” as there are theists and religions.

    Atheists are not “anti religious views”, simply because the views are religious.
    Atheists have a diversity of views according to how they see the merits of the issues involved, so as with the diversity of religious views, there is no such thing as a (standard) atheist belief.
    Atheists lack beliefs in gods and usually regard supernaturalism as a poor basis for decision making.
    An absence of flawed thinking processes, is not “a belief”! Nor is it, in its self, an ideology or philosophy.



    Report abuse

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.