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atheists should tithe

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Actually I don’t mean that atheists should tithe at all, I mean that humanists should donate a reasonable proportion of their income to charities, but it wasn’t as catchy.

An atheist, is strictly speaking, a person who doesn’t have a belief in God. This statement implies that atheism says nothing about morality or how one should live one’s life. However, many atheists would also consider themselves humanists. Humanists basically believe that humans are on our own in the world and that we need to make the best of it. This means that humanists specifically rule out appeals to deities of any kind. This is why I really mean that humanists should be doing something.

Tithing is the practice of giving 10% of your income and/or wealth to the church - it is implicit that this is the church that you belong to. Its therefore unlikely that atheists or humanists are going to think that this is a good idea at all; because they’re not, as a group, big believers in churches (or other places of religion). However, the practice of tithing was partially used to support the good works of the church to the poor and 10% is a reasonably large quantity, one that should certainly make a difference. So that’s why I used the word tithe.

There is a general reason why everyone should give some of their wealth or income away, regardless of their position on God(s). That is that quite simply, it’s a nice thing to do.

For those people in the world who have consider themselves members of a religion with a scripture inspired by God (or Gods), there is a second reason. God said so. If you look in your scripture I’ll put money on you finding it there, although perhaps not in those exact words. The rest of this post isn’t aimed at you, - although you are more than welcome to read and comment on it - so if you don’t agree, please consider that first.

But what if you are an atheist (humanist), do you have any compelling reasons to give money away?

Well, if you are a humanist, this existence is all of the life and experience you are going to get. It also means that:

  • Nothing is going to improve the lives of the poor and suffering, if nobody, anywhere does anything about it.
  • Nobody is going to save the environment if some humans don’t do it.
  • People are going to die early from disease and accidents unless some people do something. And when they die, that’s it.

Christian Aid has the slogan “We believe in life before death”, humanists would add “and that’s all the life we get”. So it should be more important to humanists than to anyone else, to extend everyone’s life and quality of life.

There is a general rule in life that if nothing is going to get done unless somebody does something about it, you’d better start doing it yourself or nobody will. So, humanists should be donating serious amounts of money. Starting today (yesterday if you have a time machine). Just as the religious are exhorted to act on their beliefs, so should the humanists. And part of that means putting your money where your mouth is.

If you truly believe that there is no one but us to turn to, then act as if no one else can help us with our problems and start contributing to the solutions by giving money (and lots of it).

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19 comments for “atheists should tithe”

  1. I’ve read many times that if everyone in the developed world gave 10% of his or her income to poverty-related charities, there would be no more poverty. When you think of the disparities, even 1% of the typical American income could change an entire African village’s lives.

    Posted by story | April 9, 2007, 1:39 pm
  2. story makes a good point. I donate a significant ammount, but it doesn’t go just to my church. I would love to allocate a full 1% to african villiages. Problem is that I have not found a charity for which I belive that the 1% actually goes to the people in the african villiages.

    My mother goes to mexico twice a year for a health mission trip. They take doctors and tons of medical supplies. That is one cause that I am 100% sure uses all their donations.

    Posted by broknowrchlatr | April 9, 2007, 4:18 pm
  3. I was watching the dvd of the live 8 concerts yesterday, and noticed that one of the slogans was “No one should die of starvation in the 21st century”, and thought that I couldn’t agree more.

    I personally donate to Oxfam and I know that not all there money is spent on directly alleviating poverty, they spend some on campaigning and I’m happy with that.

    Posted by plonkee | April 10, 2007, 7:56 am
  4. Great post! Broknowrchlatr–The best resource I’ve found for giving is charitynavigator.org. This site uses tax info to break down for you where the money you donate goes. I’m a big fan of Direct Relief International (99.2% of their revenue goes to relief), but there are many other charities profiled by the site that are great, too, and many of them work in Africa. Good Luck!

    Posted by Alex | April 10, 2007, 3:59 pm
  5. How would one define “improve”, “better”, and “good”?

    Do you believe in Darwinism?

    Posted by Tim | April 11, 2007, 3:43 pm
  6. I’m an athiest and I give to charity, but I tend to give as much to charities that care for other species and the environment because I don’t believe humans are alone–they are simply one of millions of species on earth. So, what to call a non-humanist athiest? hmmm.

    Posted by Anonymous | April 11, 2007, 6:05 pm
  7. anonymous:
    Humanism is more the belief that humans can do well by themselves than that other species are not important. Personally I think that saving the environment etc is a good thing which I promote through my actions rather than my cash.

    Along with most scientists, I accept that evolutionary theory is the best explanation for the existence of life, in the same way I accept that electromagnetic theory is the best explanation of how my lights work in my house.

    You can define the terms good, improve and better any way you please. I like the Benthamite principle of the greatest happiness for the largest number of people, noting that the largest number of people live with an awful lot less than I do.

    Posted by plonkee | April 12, 2007, 7:58 am
  8. Then there are Christian humanists. Like Erasmus, lots of guys in the Renaissance, Dorothy Sayers, Thomas More, etc.

    Posted by Monica | June 18, 2007, 6:14 pm
  9. I think, you should consider, research, and go look at the representative number of atheists out there already working hard in the various charities… and then compare them to the involvement of churches before going off on this topic.

    Atheists are a small number of people, and yet, everyone I seem to talk to that IS an atheist puts forth quite a bit of effort in the community.

    However, AS ATHEISTS, we avoid giving money to charities with religious ties. Nothing worse than donating to a charity to buy food for the poor, and finding out that the money was used to send bibles or other religious texts instead.

    So, yeah, go do some research, find some numbers, do some comparisons… that’ll help your arguments.

    Posted by Tanya Kuzara | June 19, 2007, 12:03 am
  10. I’m with you, Tanya. I’m an atheist, but I give a lot of money and time. The beautiful about atheists who donate is we’re really doing it from our hearts - NOT because we believe we’ll be rewarded in heaven.

    Posted by Michelle | July 15, 2007, 11:32 pm
  11. Just so we’re all on the same page, I agree that atheists give money - in fact all the atheists I know give money / time. I like to think about why we should - which is where the inspiration for this post came. It is not unknown for theists to express amazement that atheists can think of reasons to give money and I wanted to address that.

    Also most religions don’t say that if you donate you’ll be rewarded in heaven, they say that you should donate because its a good thing to do. Implicitly this relates to heaven but not necessarily so.

    I also avoid giving money to charities with religious aims but not ties. Oxfam - one of my favourite charities - started out as a Church of England (Episcopalian) charity but that does not impact on the work that they do. I’m certainly not wanting to pay for bibles to be sent anywhere (unless I’ve ordered one for myself).

    Posted by plonkee | July 16, 2007, 8:46 am
  12. Excellent points. I have known my share of athiests over the years, and I can’t recall even one of them being a giver, whether it be cash or time. I believe the world would be a better place for each and every one of us if we gave just a little more of ourselves in the service and support of others.

    Posted by Rick Rouse | November 20, 2007, 1:40 am
  13. As I’ve said before, I’ve never met a sincere and committed atheist who didn’t give to charity.

    Posted by plonkee | November 20, 2007, 9:24 am

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