It is almost on a weekly basis that we hear or read about some atheist billboard or the other being erected, denied, or vandalized.For a thorough listing of these billboards, you can visit atheistbillboards.com. Also, at this time of year we hear and read stories of secular displays being erected in public next to religious Christmas displays.
I understand the impulse – the need to establish an equal footing in the public sphere for atheists, thumbing your nose at the man (for the more mischievous among us), gain media attention etc. But are these initiatives really the best way to channel our energies and monies?
At this time of year it seems that in every grocery store or mall I hear the jingle of the bells rung by members of the Salvation Army. As I pass by I notice that their coffers get quite full. Growing up, the arrival of the Army in stores and malls were a sign of Christmas as much as the Santa Claus Parade, Christmas music on the radio, or the ‘Sound of Music’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ showing on the television. I took it for granted that the charity offered by the Salvation Army was a good thing, a necessary thing, a Christmas thing. As I got older and started to think more deeply of things, and started to challenge my assumptions, and started researching various issues, I came to the realization that I should not take the Salvation Army and its Christmastime charity blitz for granted. The charity offered by the Salvation Army does not come without cost.
Charity should not be co-mingled with proselytizing and this is what the Salvation Army is all about. Their mission statement in fact includes the following: “Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.” The proselytizing of the Christian faith is not exclusive to the Salvation Army and their charitable outreach; most (if not all) religious charities share this characteristic. More than the proselytizing though, the Salvation Army has actively engaged in discriminating against the LGBT community (even though, ironically, their mission statement makes clear that they do not discriminate). This is enumerated in this article at the Huffintonpost.com. So supporting the Salvation Army (and other religious charities) comes with a cost, to human dignity and equality.
For far too long the religious has cultivated the falsehood that atheists are an uncaring and uncharitable lot, and that organized religious organizations have a monopoly on charity. Well, it is clearly not true. Atheists are indeed caring, charitable folks who are doing great things for fellow humans around the world, but without the proselytizing that accompanies the charity offered by religious organizations. We need to continue to press this point, and in the process do some fantastic things for our fellow travelers on this tiny planet. My plea to the atheist community and to atheist organizations is to unite and develop a charitable organization that can rival the Salvation Army. If we can channel our energies and monies into getting people on the ground collecting charitable donations that can be doled out without any proselytizing or discrimination whatsoever wouldn’t that achieve what we want (equal footing in public sphere, increased awareness etc.) while doing something that is desperately needed?
To be sure there are some great secular charities out there worth supporting. Here is a short list of some of these: