One of the hurdles that an organization such as Foundation Beyond Belief - or any atheist or humanist charitable organization for that matter - will have to cross is the fact that atheists tend to be a particularly selfish lot on average. They tend to display a rather weak interest in performing those actions that display concern for what happens to others.
It is ironic that those people who believe that there is a benevolent, omnipotent, all-loving being watching over us tend to do a better job of providing real-world help to those in need than those who believe we are on our own and we have nobody to depend on but each other.
Yet, statistics consistently show that this is the case.
It applies even to a simple act such as giving blood. At the current rate at which atheists and theists tend to donate blood, if everybody were to be converted to atheism, our blood supply would be less than two-thirds of what it is today. That is the magnitude of the difference between the donations of those who believe in a God and those who do not.
One of the theories that I have heard for this is that atheists are alienated from their community and, as such, do not form particularly strong desires to give anything back to that community. I, myself, have argued that the Pledge of Allegiance and the national motto, which give the message that the person who does not support a nation 'under God' or trust in God is not fit to be a respected member of this community - counts as a form of psychological abuse. They do, in fact, alienate thee atheist from the community at large. It is not unreasonable to expect that people alienated in this way will feel less of a sense of community that would otherwise inspire charitable acts.
Face it, when the atheist gives a pint of blood or helps a neighbor in need, chances are that blood or that charity will go to somebody who holds that atheists are the least fit to hold public office, who would gladly pass around a viral emial saying that atheists should leave the country, and who holds that the person who gave him that blood is the type of person he would least want his daughter to marry.
This then leads to grand downward spiral in which the lack of atheist charity then is given as a reason for alienating atheists and declaring that they are not fit to be considered fully respected members of the community.
However, the fact that a particular form of immoral behavior has a cause does not mean that it has a justification. In fact, every immoral act - from raping a child to herding Jews into a gas chamber has a cause. The fact that we can explain immoral behavior does not imply that we have a reason to tolerate it.
In fact, quite the opposite. It still remains true that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote an interest in helping others - by giving blood and performing other acts of charity. It is still the case that a person who performs charitable acts is deserving of our praise, while those who ignore or turn their backs on those who are less fortunate deserve our condemnation.
One of the implications of desirism is that the good person gets to do whatever he wants. This is because the good person wants those things that produce actions that tend to fulfill the desires of others. Therefore, he wants to do those things that others have reason (though perhaps they do not realize it) to praise and reward.
It's the evil person - or, at least, the less good person - who finds conflict between what he wants to do and what he morally should do.
The good person does not make a sacrifice when he donates money to charity - any more than he makes a sacrifice when he buys tickets to a sporting event. In both cases, the person is paying for something that he values. The difference is that the former person values helping others, while the latter person values being entertained by people running around in an arena for an hour or two.
The fact of the matter is that we are all better off to the degree that we can encourage people to adopt the first set of interests over the second. The person giving to charity gets to have his desires fulfilled - he gets what he wants in helping others. And, of course, the person who receives aid gets to have her desires fulfilled. Charity, after all, is an act that better allows the recipient to fulfill (or prevent the thwarting) of some particularly strong and stable desires.
Charity, according to desire utilitarianism - a virtue that research shows that atheists tend not to have.
There are, of course, bigots and hate-mongers in the world who like to use this fact for political gain. They like to take the general truth about atheists on average and present it as if it is a specific fact true of every individual atheist. They use these types of statistics to sell a message of hatred to those who would listen, telling their listeners and readers that this is just cause to case all atheists regardless of their individual merits.
There are atheists who make tremendous contributions or who take tremendous risks for the benefit of others. Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet are touted as atheists who have made tens of billions of dollars of charitable contributions. Pat Tillman, the NFL player who joined the military after 9-11 and was killed in Afghanistan - first sacrificed a multi-million dollar contract to play professional football, then sacrificed his life.
There is nothing in atheism itself that stands against the value of charity. There is, instead, the fact that too little work is done promoting charity among atheists.
The fact that people generally tend to alienate atheists from socity at large is not a justification for refusing to engage in charitable actions. It is, at best, an explanation. However, it is an explanation that does not deny the legitimacy of condemning the atheist who becomes selfish or for withholding praise from those who make these types of contributions. In fact, even more condemnation is deserved, and even more praise is recommended, to reverse the harmful effects of these types of social factors.
Charitable and selfish behavior both have their causes. If one needs a cause to become more charitable, then let this blog post serve as that cause. People do, as a matter of fact, have many and strong reasons to condemn those who are not charitable, and many and strong reasons to praise those who are. These facts are not muted by whatever experiences one has had as a child or the fact that society at large treats atheists unfairly. These facts are independent of those concerns, which is why those concerns do not provide an excuse for selfish and self-centered behavior.
So, it is time to fully appreciate the fact that there is no benevolent diety looking out for us, and that we have nobody to depend on but each other.
Being a typical atheist when it comes to acts of charity simply is not good enough. It's nothing to be proud of. A well-functioning community needs people who are better than that.
Today is a good day to start.