Religious Belief and Charity

One of the things that comes up a lot around this time of year is that the religious are far more generous and charitable than the non-religious.  But that’s just not the case.  And it’s simply wrong because of the way that studies consider charitable giving.  In fact, they consider giving to a church to be charity, which is not what it is.  The overwhelming majority of churches do very little actual charitable work with the money they receive.  In fact, as I’ve written before, they tend to use charity as a means to preach to the most vulnerable people in society, people who have nowhere else to go and are therefore inundated with religious messages over and over again so they can get something to eat or have a roof over their heads.  I find that kind of religious charity to be reprehensible.

In fact, once you remove church giving from the mix, it turns out that the religious are very uncharitable.  Back in 2013, a study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy suggested that southern states were, in fact, the most charitable around, with about 5.2% of discretionary income given to charity. Of course, once you pull out the church giving, that number went down to 0.9% of their discretionary income given to actual charities.  You know, the ones who actually help people. And who did lead the way in actual charitable giving?  The northeast states, which just so happen to be the least religious. That should come as no surprise.

In another study, this one coming out of England, they tested the altruism of children and found that non-religious children are by far more generous than religious children.   The study also found religious children to be more “sensitive” than non-religious children, but that non-religious children, rather than being “sensitive” actually did something about inequality.  This confirms the finding in the 2013 study that shows that the religious, while feeling more “sensitive”, also only try to help themselves.  We know that 75% of “charitable giving” in this country is money given to churches.

But as we know, most of that money that is used for “charitable” purposes doesn’t go to the poor.  According to Harvard’s Robert Putnam, “Over the last 30 years, most organized religion has focused on issues regarding sexual morality, such as abortion, gay marriage, all of those. I’m not saying if that’s good or bad, but that’s what they’ve been using all their resources for … It’s been entirely focused on issues of homosexuality and contraception and not at all focused on issues of poverty.”

So can we really consider religious giving, that money that either goes directly to the churches or to religious charity, to be all that worthwhile?  After all, very little of that money goes to help anyone and where it does, there is often a very heavy-handed religious message attached.  Actually helping people is a loss-leader, their real goal is trying to convert the masses, not trying to lift people out of poverty.  Those charities, almost all secular, who just help people for the sake of helping people, are much better than those religious charities who only help people to inflate their numbers.  They aren’t doing it out of altruism, they are doing it out of self-interest.  Is that charity?  I don’t think so.

1 thought on “Religious Belief and Charity

  1. I think you are right to highlight the reprehensible nature of using money collected from charitable donations to preach to the most vulnerable. It often baffles me that this does not seem to bother many religious people, including some who will actually acknowledge that it takes place. They seem to think that helping the less fortunate entitles them to exploit others by pushing their delusion on those who are in no position to refuse.

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