A Catholic, a Baptist, and a Secular Humanist Walk Into a Soup Kitchen …

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In his Time Magazine cover story last week on veterans and public service, journalist Joe Klein stepped outside the line of his narrative to take a swipe at secular humanists. Describing his personal experience in the aftermath of the Oklahoma tornado working alongside an "army of relief workers" including "church groups from all over the country," he remarked, "funny how you don't see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals…"


It turns out that Klein was wrong on the facts. There were plenty of humanist groups involved in relief efforts – clearing wreckage, raising aid for local relief organizations, donating money to survivors, and supporting food banks. As Dale McGowan pointed out in The Washington Post on June 27, perhaps the greatest irony is that in the very same sentence that Klein took a potshot at humanists, he extolled Team Rubicon, a veterans organization that happened to be the primary beneficiary of a post-superstorm Sandy fund drive organized by the secular charity, Foundation Beyond Belief.

It's also worth pointing out the obvious: many secular humanists, atheists, and freethinkers contributed to disaster-relief efforts even if they did not do so while wearing hats and T-shirts that advertised their belief system. Had Klein made the same point about any other group–such as, "funny how you don't see any organized groups of Hindus, Korean-Americans, or gay activists giving out hot meals"–his aside would have been so obviously offensive that it would never have made it past his editor.

Klein's waffling response when called out by peeved secularists didn't help too much. He took the criticism of his reporting as an opportunity to express some personal opinions on religious questions.

Now, it may be true, as Klein notes in his rejoinder, that "organized" secular groups are sparser on the ground than organized religious groups. But that may have more to do with resources than with beliefs. Currently, groups that organize themselves around a professed belief in the supernatural are entitled to a slew of benefits and preferences to which groups that organize themselves around nonbelief are not entitled. Unlike secular nonprofits, for example, houses of worship are assumed to be tax-exempt as soon as they form. This exemption is rarely examined, and is free from the mandatory reporting obligations that are imposed on secular non-profit groups. Religious entities are not required to report their wealth, salaries, or value of their land to any government agency. Houses of worship also obtain exemptions from civil law governing health and safety inspection and workers' rights — and, not to be forgotten, they derive substantial benefits from the gravy train of "faith-based partnerships." So when Klein called it "funny" that you "don't see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals," it wasn't just demonstrably false–it also, to the extent it described an actual difference, wasn't "funny," in the sense of being particularly mysterious.

Such swipes at secularists are worth attention because they often express a certain assumption that confuses a false sociological observation with a questionable political agenda. The unstated premise is that religion is the most reliable way to organize people to help others. The breakdown of virtue and community feeling in modern America, according to this line of thought, can be attributed to the loss of belief in the supernatural. And the cure to what ails us is to get government out of the way and let religion take over the task of rebuilding our communities.
 

Written By: Katherine Stewart – The Atlantic
continue to source article at m.theatlantic.com

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  1. 
    What is an “organised secular group” exactly? Here in Britain we have the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association, and that’s about it. They are “organised” to promote secularism and fight religious privilege. They are not “organised” to provide soup kitchens at disaster scenes. There are other organisations to do such things – not least the state, in a way which does not seem to routinely apply in less “socialist” America. So we don’t really need a bunch of flag-waving, look-at-me god-botherers on the scene in such crises anyway.

    • In reply to #2 by Stevehill:

      
      What is an “organised secular group” exactly? Here in Britain we have the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association, and that’s about it. They are “organised” to promote secularism and fight religious privilege. They are not “organised” to provide soup kitchens at disaster…

      What is an “organized secular group”? Seriously? Have you never heard of the Foundation Beyond Belief, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), Engineers Without Borders, or The Secular Humanist Aid and Relief Effort (SHARE)? These are organized secular relief groups. They’re not the ONLY ones, just some examples.

      It may not be necessary to have either religious or secular relief efforts in Britain, but it is in much of the rest of the world.

  2. Rationalists don’t need to advertise their beliefs when they distribute food to people in need or do relief work. As a matter of fact people, any people, helping others don’t have to do any advertising of their creeds, they just have to help the needy. To religious organizations people in need are the means to reach their end, i.e “my religion is better than the others, join us”.

  3. Here in Canada, Calgary was hit with the biggest flood ever. The Christian fundamentalist Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his second in command Joe Oliver went on the air to do some global warming denying. If Calgarians refuse to lower their astronomical green house gas emissions, and refuse to rebuild stronger infrastructure, and refuse to build back from the riverbanks, I don’t think the rest of the world, especially the atheists, will be as willing to help them out next time. The same thing should apply to the USA with its ever nastier hurricanes.

    • In reply to #4 by Roedy:

      Here in Canada, Calgary was hit with the biggest flood ever. The Christian fundamentalist Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his second in command Joe Oliver went on the air to do some global warming denying.

      That’s the thing that faith thinkers don’t get! They can tangle up as much contorted denial thinking as they like, but the climate will not take the least bit of notice of them or their gods!

  4. More to the point… He didn’t see a single police officer or fire fighter there? See, they don’t work in the name of an god. Which kinda makes them secular… So there were no secular organisations there – apart from the two loudest and biggest ones that were organising everything.

    Someone needs a trip to specsavers.

  5. Another reason you don’t “see” them is that atheist groups generally spend all of the money raised for the relief effort, on the relief effort, instead of wasting some of it on tee-shirts or baseball caps for its workers.

    An important part of religious self image is that they get seen doing their “good works”, both to convince others they are good people, and to convince themselves.

    To quote a comic character (the vacuous DJ Mike ‘Smashy’ Smash) from here in Britain: “I do a lot of work for charidee [sic] but I don’t like to talk about it” (which he will tell you at almost every opportunity)

    This is cynical opportunism, they are not doing “good works” because it is simply the right thing to do, they are doing them as a publicity opportunity, and the worse the disaster, the better the publicity.

    What this tells us about the morality of religious people isn’t good. The religious frequently claim that without (their) god, morality is impossible and irrelevant, but this tells us more about them than it does about atheists. You don’t hear stories on the news about gangs of atheists continuously roaming the countryside raping, murdering and stealing from everyone they meet, but implicit in the contention that morality comes from their god, is that if they lose faith they think they will do these things. I guess its therefore almost a good thing they cling so tightly to their beliefs and that they think someone is watching everything they do

    • Currently, groups that organize themselves around a professed belief in the supernatural are entitled to a slew of benefits and preferences to which groups that organize themselves around nonbelief are not entitled. Unlike secular nonprofits, for example, houses of worship are assumed to be tax-exempt as soon as they form. This exemption is rarely examined, and is free from the mandatory reporting obligations that are imposed on secular non-profit groups. Religious entities are not required to report their wealth, salaries, or value of their land to any government agency. Houses of worship also obtain exemptions from civil law governing health and safety inspection and workers’ rights — and, not to be forgotten, they derive substantial benefits from the gravy train of “faith-based partnerships.”

      The solution to this double standard is to get rid of every last unfair benefit. Tax the houses of worship, make them report their wealth and financial information to the government, have them inspected regularly just like other organizations, and either allow secular partnerships too or ban faith-based ones outright. It really annoys me when people make snide remarks about secular organizations, yet don’t acknowledge the huge elephant in the room that is religions’ political privilege, because it is both unfair to the non-religious and an underhanded tactic, or else immensely ignorant and mean-spirited of the commenter.

      In reply to #7 by N_Ellis:

      Another reason you don’t “see” them is that atheist groups generally spend all of the money raised for the relief effort, on the relief effort, instead of wasting some of it on tee-shirts or baseball caps for its workers.

      An important part of religious self image is that they get seen doing their “…

      Well, I certainly wouldn’t go that far if you mean to imply all religious people have a flawed moral compass. I imagine the majority of them really were sincere in their desire to help the victims, and have mixed views on to what extent their religious beliefs played a part in their morality. Pointing out that secular charities work just as well, if not better, would be as much to their benefit as to everyone else’s. Especially if they are being manipulated into serving a religious agenda, some of them might not appreciate being used if they understood the situation better.

  6. Excuse me for asking, why the picture of the dogs?

    • Reply to myself (duh)

    Therapy dogs and their handlers from Therapy Dogs International walk down a ravaged street in Moore.

    Secular/atheist dogs ?

  7. The thing about Religion-Based Relief organizations is that they not only get preferential treatment from government tax exemptions, finances and laws, but whatever effort they make, there is always a ‘skim’ on every dollar spent, to pay for the religion business and / or the in-group benefit – whether it be purely psychological influences, like repeated media and social exposure, or direct effects, like captive audiences with opportunities to prosthelytize, give out bibles or tracts, often blackmailing their ‘victims’ into some indoctrination before giving the needed relief, etc.

    You don’t see any Secular Relief Organizations getting rich while doing their humanitarian thing…. Mac.

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