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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The goal posts, they are moving.

We atheists often get a bad rap. By and large is seems that people don't like us, despite the fact that we don't usually do anything all that wrong. But, you know, that's a small price to pay for your beliefs.

One of the more specific things that bugs the hell out of me is the claim that atheists aren't interested in helping others. This is, in a word, bullshit. I have been an atheist for most of my life and was a regular platelet donor in multiple cities.* I only stopped donating platelets because I finally accumulated enough "yes" answers to the pre-donation survey that I'm no longer allowed to donate.** More recently I've taken to giving money to charity and am involved in a program to provide education to underprivileged groups. I've never done this sort of thing specifically as an atheist- you know, jumping up and down proclaiming my religious affiliation- I've just done it because it's the right thing to do. Nevertheless, I've been more than slightly annoyed at claims that atheists are uncharitable.

And I'm not the only one. In hopes of responding to this claim, several groups have started organizing charitable giving under atheist, agnostic, and secular humanist banners. One such group- that I've mentioned before- is organized by the Center for Inquiry. Recently, Richard Dawkins launched another called Non-Believers Giving Aid. Both of these are currently involved in supporting efforts to help the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. And Dawkins' efforts netted over $150,000 in the first 24 hours. Not bad, considering how few of us there are.

So does this help convince some quarters that maybe we atheists aren't such bad folks after all? Yeah. Not so much:

I always get a kick out of evangelizing atheists and how they’re so desperate to prove that they’re as good (and usually better) than us religious types. Dawkins writes on the charity’s website: “When donating via Non-Believers Giving Aid, you are helping to counter the scandalous myth that only the religious care about their fellow-humans.” While we should all applaud Mr. Dawkins’ altruistic efforts to help his fellow man I’m just not sure he’s making the point he thinks he’s making.

If Dawkins is running this charity to show up religion and helping Haitians is only a secondary consequence then we could hardly claim that what he’s doing is good by most definitions. Because if that’s true then it would seem that the greatest value of Haitians lives to Dawkins is how they make Dawkins look.

But let’s give Dawkins the benefit of the doubt because us religious types like to do that. If he’s helping people because he wants to help people then I almost hate to tell him that he’s kind of supporting some of our arguments. While Dawkins argues that he can be good without God, I think he’s actually only proving that Richard Dawkins can be good while not acknowledging God.

I have to wonder from what philosophical grounding does Dawkins’ altruism emanate? Why is other human life worth anything if there is no God? From what philosophical groundwork is he basing his good works on? Dawkins, it would seem to me, hasn’t defined his terms and is only borrowing our definition of “good.” Because without our definitions he’d have to ask the question, “What is good without God?” And that’s something I haven’t seen answered yet.

Right. So. When we just do good for our fellow human beings- whom we wish to do good for because we atheists believe that we have to take care of each other because no invisible friend in the sky will do it for us- we're accused of being uncharitable because people don't see us screaming about how awesome we are. But when we go out of our way to make sure the charity we were already doing is properly acknowledged as coming from atheists, agnostics and free-thinkers, we're bad because we're "only giving to make ourselves look good." And even then, we're accused of co-opting religious notions of morality, which is flatly absurd since the things we do agree with- like being kind to neighbors- are universal while the truly, uniquely religiously-motivated morals- like not eating pork for example- we pretty much ignore entirely.

Fine. You know what? I give up. Believe whatever the hell you want about me. But no matter how much you think I suck, it won't stop me from giving to charity and helping others because I believe its the right thing to do.

I'm just sorry that you can't imagine that being enough without someone looking over your shoulder the whole time.

* If you're not afraid of needles, please allow me to encourage you to consider doing the same. It's not really all that unpleasant and it's a very necessary service!

** Specifically, I've spent too much time in specific European countries. I have not been deferred for having gay sex with rodeo clowns or whatever other bizarre conditions are on the UDHQ now.

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Blogger LemmusLemmus said...

"I have to wonder from what philosophical grounding does Dawkins’ altruism emanate? Why is other human life worth anything if there is no God?"

I don't know about Dawkins, but utilitarianism provides obvious "philosophical grounding" for helping others (if they gain more than you loose). This whole "without religion there is no morality" idea is surprisingly popular among religious people because it implies that if there were no god (which must be a conceivable notion even for people who are certain there is one) it would be o.k. to walk around killing others. Not that I'm the first person to point that out.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 2:28:00 PM  
Blogger scripto said...

"“What is good without God?” And that’s something I haven’t seen answered yet."

Probably because it's a stupid question. How does the idea of morality emanating from some supernatural source and passed on through human agency even make sense to theists? And we're supposed to take the legitimacy of this idea on their say so? You would think that if your whole world view was based on a flimsy set of unsupported and unsupportable assumptions that you would have sense enough to keep your head down and shut the fuck up instead of questioning the motivation of atheists who are going out of their way to help others.

Sorry to rant but that whole condescending "you know not what you do" attitude from some of these douchebags pisses me off. You got kids running around with gangrenous partial amputations. Any help from anyone is the right thing to do.

Thursday, January 21, 2010 7:48:00 AM  
Blogger Marf said...

"Why is other human life worth anything if there is no God?"

If you have to ask that question, you're not a good person.

Saturday, January 23, 2010 1:20:00 PM  

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