The Trouble with Good Works


Now if You all just think for a minute, You’ll know as well as I do why this is so damaging for Us: because the actual evidence for claiming that atheism will do as much good in the world as Christianity and other religions is embarrassingly against us. As in, way.

I’m not even talking here about the tired charges made by the Other Side about what happens when atheists actually run the world — mass murder, genocide, concentration camps, and the rest of the 20th-century record. Of course plenty of people do want to rub Our noses in History, the twerps. Papal point man Michael Novak appears to have been running especially annoying defense lately. I mean, that crack of his last year about how Mr. Sam Harris tries to “explain away the horrors of the self-declared atheist regimes in modern history: Fascist in Italy, Nazi in Germany, and Communist in the Soviet Union”: Ouch! That one had to hurt, even if it was totally off the wall in any historic sense. As if any one of those governments could top the Inquisition in a body count! Right?

Equally annoying are the people who argue that the record doesn’t support Your claim that Nazis and Communists and whatnot were really somehow religious underneath — You know, as if Paula on American Idol is secretly a fat bald Male teetotaler whose skin is Naturally almost as tight as Hillary Clinton’s. If You ask me, that mathematician and non-believer David Berlinski gives the “secretly-religious” theory a real smack in his treacherous new attack on Us, The Devil’s Delusion:

What Hitler did not believe and what Stalin did not believe and what Mao did not believe and what the SS did not believe and what the Gestapo did not believe and what the NKVD did not believe and what the commissars, functionaries, swaggering executioners, Nazi doctors, Communist Party theoreticians, intellectuals, Brown Shirts, Black Shirts, gauleiters, and a thousand party hacks did not believe was that God was watching what they were doing.

In one sentence, too! What a pain Berlinski is. He might as well be working under the table for the Loser. I wouldn’t be surprised. (Idea: The next time You Guys want to burn something, let’s start with his book!)

Now, I know how those trumped-up accusations about Atheist murder and genocide and whatever annoy Everybody — me, too! — so I’m not going to dwell on this any further. I’m worried instead about something related that hasn’t gotten the same attention as the little “excesses” of our recent History, but could be just as harmful to our Side if the Dulls started looking at it. It’s the Fact that the religious people in the West, generally speaking, take better care of the sick and weak than do secularists and atheists, and they know it.

Hospitals, soup kitchens, social services, charitable networks; missions, prison ministries, orphanages, clinics, and all those other institutions embodying the distasteful fixation of the believers on the Weak — now how can we atheists possibly compete with all that? The Catholics: 615 hospitals, 1,600 local agencies under Catholic Charities, over 7,500 schools and 221 colleges and universities; lay organizations like the Knights of Columbus, Black and Indian Missions, Society of Vincent St. Paul, and several hundred more engaged in charitable activity — all just in America. And that’s not to say the papists are the only ones who have it going on. So do the Jews, the Muslims, and the Protestants. Look at the evangelicals with their nonstop loser outreaches of all kinds and their foreign missions too — to which they shovel some $2.5 billion a year.

Then there are the Mormons, and I would most definitely not want us atheists messing with the LDS in any kind of goody-off contest. What’s the number one American city for charitable giving? Salt Lake City. Where are four of the ten American counties where charitable giving is highest? Right next to Salt Lake City. Oh, but you say, that’s all for the Church of Latter-Day Saints, hence suspect. Yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the state where volunteering — i.e. coaching, collecting food, etc. — is highest is also: Utah.

One of the worst things that’s happened lately for all those claims of Yours that believers and nonbelievers are morally equivalent in their behavior toward others in the Species is another horrible new book. This one’s by econo-brain Arthur C. Brooks and is called Who Really Cares: America’s Charity Divide: Who Gives, Who Doesn’t, and Why it Matters. Geeking over what he calls “the fruit of years of analysis on the best national and international datasets available on charity, lots of computational horsepower, and the past work of dozens of scholars who have looked at various bits and pieces of the charity puzzle,” numbers nerd Brooks shows beyond a doubt one fact that our Side should not want out — i.e., that American believers are more “generous” in every sense than the enlightened likes of Us.

Brooks says that religious people give more to charity than non-religious people — in fact, much more: “an enormous charity gap,” he reports, “remains between religious and secular people.”

To see this, imagine two women who are both forty-five years old, white, married, have an annual household income of $50,000, and attended about a year of college. The only difference between them is that one goes to church every week, but the other never does. The churchgoing woman will be 21 percentage points more likely to make a charitable gift of money during the year than the non-churchgoer, and she will also be 26 points more likely to volunteer. Furthermore, she will tend to give $1,383 more per year to charity, and to volunteer on 6.4 more occasions.

Brooks goes on to test the charity gap up, down, and sideways. The results are always the same: “People who pray every day (whether or not they go to church) are 30 percentage points more likely to give money to charity than people who never pray (83 to 53 percent). And people saying they devote a great deal of effort to their spiritual lives are 42 points more likely to give than those devoting no effort (88 to 46 percent). Even a belief in beliefs themselves is associated with charity. People who say that beliefs don’t matter as long as you’re a good person are dramatically less likely to give charitably (69 to 86 percent) and to volunteer (32 to 51 percent) than people who think that beliefs do matter.”

In fact, it’s not even all dollars and cents. Brooks also reports that religious people volunteer more than seculars — and even give more Species blood!