Hate Mail

From the RICoR inbox…

It’s easy to make a statement. It’s much more difficult to make a difference.


Imagine a world where there were no faith-based-founded organizations (hospitals, homeless shelters, food pantries).


Your organization’s money would be better spent making a difference than making a statement.


My response…


Dear [name withheld],


Making a statement needn't preclude making a difference. Our message lets people know that they don't have to give in to social pressure and profess what they don't believe, as so many people do. Take politicians. Wouldn't you rather know which ones are sincere and which ones are pandering to get elected? I would rather live in a world where an atheist isn't barred from any opportunity merely for being honest. If you disapprove of hypocrisy, as I do, we may have more common ground than you imagine.


Churches are tax exempt because, like other non-profits, they exist (presumably) for the public good. Wouldn't that tax-payer subsidy be better spent on charities that don't bother about what a person believes? Volunteers Beyond Belief is one such organization. Look into it. All but the most altruistic of us spend money that could be used to bring about a better world. I happen to think that our ad campaigns accomplish something worthwhile. You're free to disagree. I trust you apply the same vigilance to the opulent expenditures of the Vatican or the megachurches.


Why would you assume that our ad campaigns prevent us from doing good? Who spends all their time and money at the service of others? Must we give up all leisure and material comfort to demonstrate our commitment? The only conceivable reason to single out our ad campaigns as a distraction from doing good is to silence us.


There were outspoken atheists who supported the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, and the civil rights movement. They were expected to keep a low profile in order to placate religious supporters. Progressive movements work to expand equality across social, racial and gender lines. Now it's time to end the stigmatization of nonbelief.


When I imagine a world without faith-based organizations, I see a world where all hospitals offer a full range of services, including birth control and legal abortion. I imagine a world where we provide shelter and food for the needy because it's the right thing to do, not as a pretext for evangelizing.


I also want what many religious and nonreligious progressives want. In the world I imagine, the profit motive of the fee-for-services healthcare industry is replaced by a concern for health outcomes and public health. It's a world where charity is reimagined as justice. In the world I imagine and work to bring about, we recognize everyone's capacity for basic human decency without the coercion of eternal reward and punishment. We seem to understand that empathy is a normative human characteristic when we talk about psychopaths and sociopaths as anomalies, yet many insist that religion is the only reason people are good. It is intolerant to deny the basic decency of nonbelievers.


People are leaving religion in droves. Whether you view this attrition as a loss of faith or an inevitable awakening to the truth, the day will come when it is no longer possible to single out atheists for special scorn. Much of the developed world outside the U.S. is already less religious and more socially progressive. Human decency preceded religion and will survive it.


Thanks for writing.