What Charity Could Be If It Weren’t for Faith

What Charity Could Be If It Weren’t for Faith

How Religion Corrupts Charity

It is often asserted by the faithful, with the same degree of certainty with which they claim a person rose from the dead, that faith in God makes people more charitable.

They point to religious hospitals and soup kitchens to make their case, and, because holidays are a perfect time for them to really harp on it, they do. A few things should be said. 

First, you don’t see Atheist-built hospitals because people don’t tend to organize around what they don’t believe. 

You don’t see hospitals built by a-unicornists, but you don’t hear anyone calling a-unicornists uncharitable either. 

Another thing to be said is that the way religious people often conduct their charitable efforts reveals just what a detriment faith can be to doing good. 

Take, for example, the Upstate Atheists in Spartanburg, South Carolina. They tried to sign up to volunteer to serve Thanksgiving dinner at their local soup kitchen last year. 

But the kitchen’s director, Lou Landrum, would not allow them to help because her soup kitchen is “a place of God.”

Even when the group promised not to wear Atheist apparel or attempt to deconvert anyone (as if they were going to in the first place), the answer was still “no.”1

To an Atheist, a soup kitchen is a place to feed the hungry. Period. 

Hemant Mehta said on his blog, “I’ve never heard of a charity/soup kitchen that was so overrun with volunteers that they can turn them away without a loss of ability to feed the poor, and the kitchen in Spartanburg is no different.”2

Landrum, executive director of the Soup Kitchen, told the Herald-Journal she would resign from her job before she let Atheists volunteer and be a “disservice to this community. 

This is a ministry to serve God,” she said. “We stand on the principles of God. Do they (Atheists) think that our guests are so ignorant that they don’t know what an Atheist is? Why are they targeting us? They don’t give any money. I wouldn’t want their money.” 

When Christians feed the poor it’s a service to the community. When Atheists do it, it’s suddenly a disservice? That logic makes about as much sense as, well, Christianity. 

If you think that feeding the poor can ever be a disservice, then you’ve just disqualified yourself from being able to run a soup kitchen in any sane world.


The people who denied the Atheist volunteers should be ashamed, and probably would be if their faith wasn’t calling them to be so damn prideful.


Landrum turned away resources and volunteers, ensuring that the kitchen would be less able to feed the poor, and somehow it’s the people who wanted to help who are doing the disservice? 

Frankly, that’s stupid as hell. It’s also immoral—are you there to feed the poor or to discriminate? This particular soup kitchen feeds the poor to the greatest extent possible unless it can trade some of its capacity to do so for the opportunity to discriminate. 

That’s despicable. You have to really be committed to the myth that Atheists aren’t charitable in order to stifle evidence to the contrary by turning away an offer to help alleviate suffering in your own town. 

In order to maintain her set of beliefs, Landrum ignored the facts and then acted morally outraged whilst in the throes of immorality herself.


To an Atheist, a soup kitchen is a place to feed the hungry. Period.


People like her are why hypocrisy is often associated with Christianity. If this is how the charity is operated under “the principles of god,” then I can only hope, for the sake of the mortals on Earth, that other Christian charities operate as un-Christian-like as possible. 

This scenario surfaced again in Kansas City. For the last few years, the Kansas City Atheist Coalition (KCAC) has brought the largest contingent of Thanksgiving Day volunteers to the Kansas City Rescue Mission (KCRM), which provides meals to needy families. 

When I volunteered in 2012, it was wonderful to see religious people and Atheists working side by side in our shared cause of a better world. Some Atheists even stayed late last year when the demand exceeded the volunteer base. 

But 2013 was different. For a month, the KCAC leadership tried to reach someone—anyone—at the KCRM to coordinate the details of the volunteer effort for that year. No one ever returned their calls. Eventually, they received what can only be called a rejection letter. 

As KCAC explains on their website, “Kansas City Rescue Mission has decided to use the meals they deliver as a chance to proselytize to its recipients by inserting religious literature into the meals. They informed us that we ‘would not be a good fit’ (emphasis theirs) for volunteering with them, and declined to respond to any further inquiries.”3 

The situation is simple. They have decided to be less efficient at feeding the poor so they can better proselytize to the people they can still manage to reach without the help of their largest contingent of volunteers. Including messages of god’s love with a meal to the poor is opportunistic in the extreme. 

If God cared about them as much as the KCAC volunteers do, there would be no need for soup kitchens. God would already be taking care of the needy. 

But he’s left it to people to take up the slack and do what he can’t be bothered to do himself— despite how much easier it would be for him, being god and all. The real message is that god (if he exists) was created to need and suffer and doesn’t think it’s a mistake. 

Otherwise, he’d fix it. But people? People do care, and people do love, but sometimes their care and love can be diminished in the servitude of an uncaring god’s image. 

This highlights another difference between god and me: if I can do something to help the needy, I do it. 

It also highlights a difference between Atheists and Christians: our primary goal is to help as many people as possible. 

Often, their primary goal is to spread their faith, and alleviating suffering comes in somewhere behind that. 

The people who denied the Atheist volunteers (after leaving them hanging in silence for a whole month) should be ashamed, and probably would be if their faith wasn’t calling them to be so damn prideful. 

In these cases, and in all the similar cases that go unreported, Christianity does not make people more charitable. Instead, it reduces the amount of good an otherwise charitable person would do because it corrupts their priorities. 

Any time a hungry child is handed a Bible instead of food, religion corrodes charity. This is one more item on a long list of reasons why religion must die in order for humans to reach their full potential as compassionate beings. Do you want to know what real altruism looks like? 

My fiancée (most likely wife when you're reading this), Michaelyn, studies cognitive neuroscience and puts her skills to use as a suicide hotline volunteer. The hotline is slammed during the holidays, which are very depressing times for some. 

The number of suicides is especially high on Christmas and Valentine’s Day. On Thanksgiving, Michaelyn spent part of her holiday helping people who might not have lived to see another day if it weren’t for her presence. 

She did not try to exploit their moment of weakness and attempt to convince them that there is no god. She just helped. 

That’s all. No strings, just care. If more religious people understood this lone, simple concept, I’d be out of a job.


1. http://TinyURL.com/UnbelievableBeliever


If god cared about them as much as the volunteers do, there would be no need to give food to the needy. God would already be taking care of it.


J.T. Eberhard

by J.T. Eberhard

J.T. Eberhard is the co-founder of the Skepticon conference and served as the event’s lead organizer for its first three years. His blog, What Would J.T. Do?, is at Patheos.com/Blogs/WWJTD.

More from the author:

Coming Out of the Closet as an American Atheist: Why It’s Worth It

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