Pharyngula

The power of organization

The Non-Believers Giving Aid project has been a phenomenal success; it raised over $150,000 in contributions for Haiti within 24 hours, and at the last tally I heard was somewhere over $180,000, with an average donation of roughly $35 per godless donor.

I’ve been seeing a lot of sniping from various corners of the web that these contributions are just selfish promotion by atheists, that we wouldn’t ever help human beings if we couldn’t get advertising for it. This is absurdly false. Before the Giving Aid site was set up, I’d put up a call for donations, and the godless community responded then — and they sent in their money without any kind of label on it. When the new call from Richard Dawkins came, many donated again, and I also heard from several people who’d had difficulty with PayPal payments and even so, also donated again without concern that their dollars wouldn’t appear under the Non-Believers Giving Aid umbrella. The important goal all along was to contribute to disaster relief, and the numbers we have now are an underestimate of how willing non-believers were to give humanitarian aid.

I will freely admit, though, that a secondary goal was to correct a public misconception. There is a false perception that associates church attendance with selflessness and social responsibility, and that because non-believers do not make showy demonstrations of giving in the name of a deity, we must be uncaring. To the contrary, the godless have been quietly supporting good causes as independent agents all along — and sometimes have even been contributing to religious charities, if they do good work. All this new organization changes is the ability to give credit where it is due, and to wave away this mistaken notion that only people of faith can appreciate the importance of assisting our fellow human beings.

I’m hoping that this kind of central organization that channels the charity of the godless will persist, and help people realize that we’re all together in the effort to make a fairer, better world…and that the absence of a church is not a reason to snub us, or to think that we shouldn’t be courted to serve good causes.

(And you can still donate!)

Comments

  1. #1 Janine, Mistress Of Foul Mouth Abuse, OM
    January 18, 2010

    Mythusmage: DO NOT EVER TRY TO PRETEND TO BE ME. That kind of attempt to confuse issues and play identity games will get you banned.

    Are these the same types of people who point at religious charities and crow that religious people are just so generous?

  2. #2 Cuttlefish, OM
    January 18, 2010

    The NBGA clearly hypes
    Those good-for-nothing* godless types.
    Without divine or holy laws,
    These people donate just because.

    (it’s a compliment. not good for Jeebus, or good for buying your way into heaven, but good for no reason at all.)

  3. #3 Carlie
    January 18, 2010

    I was just going to say what Janine said. They don’t seem to mind at all when the 700 Club puts out press releases on how much they’re doing for Haiti, but oh no, if anyone else does it, it’s grandstanding.

  4. #4 Janine, Mistress Of Foul Mouth Abuse, OM
    January 18, 2010

    Wow, my computer is really buggy now. Sorry about that. This is what was supposed to cut and pasted.

    I’ve been seeing a lot of sniping from various corners of the web that these contributions are just selfish promotion by atheists, that we wouldn’t ever help human beings if we couldn’t get advertising for it.

    It would also help if I actually read what I have before me.

    Once again, I am sorry.

  5. #5 jdmimic
    January 18, 2010

    On the contrary (to popular belief), I tend to find that most religious people will not donate anonymously. They want to make sure everyone knows how good and generous they are. If people don’t know they gave for Jesus, it doesn’t count.

  6. #6 Celtic_Evolution
    January 18, 2010

    Honestly, why would anybody be despicable enough to go out of their way to question what the motivations for donating to the relief of any horrible tragedy are?

    Really… how can you say something like “you’re only giving this money to help these poor victims to further your own personal agenda” and not immediately think “wow… what a total asshole I am”?

    Donating to a relief effort is intrinsically a good thing. Period. Whatever the motivations might be.

  7. #7 avowed atheist
    January 18, 2010

    I contend that you cannot, in fact, make a selfless donation (or be good, etc.) unless you are a non-believer. If some imaginary deity has dictated your morals, you are merely following the rules in a vain attempt to gain favor with said deity. When you must determine on your own what is moral and just, you become a legitimate moral agent. It is only then that your actions can be truly selfless as it is only after you have concluded on your own the importance of helping others that you can actually act with your own agency rather than under the (malignant, in my humble opinion) auspices of some mythical creator.

  8. #8 nigelTheBold
    January 18, 2010

    This seems to be a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. Like partisan politics, one side will only find fault with the other. (Same goes for our side, no matter how much more fact-based our sniping generally is — we still find fault every chance we get. We just happen to be right.)

    Oh, well. No rest for the wicked.

    Because the faithful just won’t leave us the fuck alone.

  9. #9 Carlie
    January 18, 2010

    Honestly, why would anybody be despicable enough to go out of their way to question what the motivations for donating to the relief of any horrible tragedy are?

    Meet Rush Limbaugh.

  10. #10 ephemeriis
    January 18, 2010

    these contributions are just selfish promotion by atheists, that we wouldn’t ever help human beings if we couldn’t get advertising for it

    So all those religious charities that have their branding splattered all over every donation… Those are just selfish promotions too?

    Or is it somehow different when you do it in the name of your god?

  11. #11 hermanflinger#d4449
    January 18, 2010

    The Dawkins’ charity is one of many humanist efforts. American Humanist Association’s effort can be found at humanistcharities.org, with relief being delivered to the port town of Jacmel, Haiti, at this time.

  12. #12 Celtic_Evolution
    January 18, 2010

    Meet Rush Limbaugh.

    Funny, Carlie… that’s exactly who I had in mind while spewing that rant… I even had intended to add “I’m looking at you, Rush” to the end of it…

  13. #13 Crazyharp81602
    January 18, 2010

    I think the link to the Richard Dawkins donate page is broken, PZ.

  14. #14 Hampus
    January 18, 2010

    RDs’ givingaid page is down. Everyone man the harpoons! Or something.

  15. #15 terribletruthbeautifullie
    January 18, 2010

    Sounds like projection to me.

    You can almost imagine these people saying “Well, that’s the reason I would give money to charities so that must be the reason others do. What’s the point of giving my money away if I can’t look good and noble for doing so?”

  16. #16 Ol'Greg
    January 18, 2010

    Dang. I can’t click the link in any browsers even on the RD site! Are you sure it’s open for donation still? Sad, I had donated to PIH but was going to do a bit more. Oh well I’ll check back in a bit to see I guess.

  17. #17 Moggie
    January 18, 2010

    #7:

    I contend that you cannot, in fact, make a selfless donation (or be good, etc.) unless you are a non-believer. If some imaginary deity has dictated your morals, you are merely following the rules in a vain attempt to gain favor with said deity. When you must determine on your own what is moral and just, you become a legitimate moral agent. It is only then that your actions can be truly selfless as it is only after you have concluded on your own the importance of helping others that you can actually act with your own agency rather than under the (malignant, in my humble opinion) auspices of some mythical creator.

    Even then…

    I don’t advertise my charitable giving, and of course I’m not trying to curry favour with any supernatural being. But I’ve no doubt that part of my motivation is that I want to feel that I’m a good person. Is that selfish? If so, does it diminish the good done? This sort of sniping and one-upmanship is a silly sideshow; what matters is what help reaches the people in need.

  18. #18 aharleygyrl
    January 18, 2010

    I’ve been seeing a lot of sniping from various corners of the web that these contributions are just selfish promotion by atheists, that we wouldn’t ever help human beings if we couldn’t get advertising for it.

    Well, I always wonder what it is exactly we are advertising? We don’t have a church to go to and we don’t sell much of anything. We have no central governing bodies. Religious people treat atheism like it is just another religious group (cult). I sure wish that myth would be done away with.

  19. #19 Ol'Greg
    January 18, 2010

    “Honestly, why would anybody be despicable enough to go out of their way to question what the motivations for donating to the relief of any horrible tragedy are?”

    The idea is to get the argument into their familiar territory– unverifiable claims.

    That way they can lie and so long as there are opposing lies everything is good.

    You can’t PROVE your motivations are good so I can say they’re not because I believe in god and you don’t and that makes me good and you cant PROVE it doesn’t just like you can’t PROVE there’s no god and there has never been a transitional fossil not one 757 in the eye popped into existence… etc.

  20. #20 Strangest brew
    January 18, 2010

    So presumably the jeebus clones are a spitting feathers over the fact that their rhetoric does not quite match the deeds of the godless!

    What a shocker…that’s gonna cause ‘em sleepless nights!

    How can they peddle a construct if what they say about the enemy is shown to be completely bogus…very sneaky of atheists to prove them wrong!

    And particularly in light of the embarrassment that is Pat …seemingly their hero has done their image no particular good!

  21. #21 Ordeneus
    January 18, 2010

    Look at the teams on Kiva (http://www.kiva.org/community), by far the biggest group of donors are the atheists…

    I always thought generosity towards charity was an indicator of financial status? Poor people giving much more (proportionately) than the very rich?

  22. #22 Pastor Farm
    January 18, 2010

    For those who don’t mind donating to the Red Cross and who, like myself, do not carry credit or check cards, may make an automatic donation by texting “Haiti” (no quotation marks) to 90999. Standard text rates apply if you have them. I don’t, so it was all good.

  23. #23 bethrobson
    January 18, 2010

    I’m having trouble with the link, do we know if the givingaid site is down temporarily or permanently?

  24. #24 Jadehawk, OM
    January 18, 2010

    it’s back up now, I think we just accidentally pharyngulated it.

  25. #25 PaleGreenPants
    January 18, 2010

    I think some friendly competition could end up as a good. TAKE THAT! YOU BELIEVERS!!!

  26. #26 politically.speaking
    January 18, 2010

    I just wish I had heard about this early enough to funnel all my donations through this group of godless satanic heathens managing to help their compatriot deal-makers with the devil. ;-)

    But seriously – a sincere thanks to Richard Dawkins, PZ, and all that are involved in this fund raising effort!

  27. #27 tsg
    January 18, 2010

    This makes as much sense as Bill Donahue condemning atheists for giving more than Catholics and making them look bad.

    (As far as I know, he hasn’t actually done so, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he had.)

  28. #28 Molly, NYC
    January 18, 2010

    W/r/t religious scumbags and Rush Limbaugh, someone is auctioning Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh voodoo dolls on eBay to raise money for Haiti relief organizations–over $1,000 now, (at about a day and a half into a 10-day auction) which is pretty good for items originally listed at 99 cents each.

  29. #29 Levi in NY
    January 18, 2010

    I would love to chip in here, but PayPal won’t accept my credit card info for some stupid reason.

  30. #30 Shadow
    January 18, 2010

    Isn’t there something in the fundie’s hellish babble about not praying (preying) in public? Something about being in a closet.

    They are supposed to take care of the less fortunate — but they (mostly) only do so out of “fear of damnation”. Of course, the telepreachers make SURE everyone knows what they are doing.

    Unlike the athiests/secular humanists/non-religious who donate because it is the right thing to do. Something like Aristotle’s Moral Choice.

  31. #31 QuarkyGideon
    January 18, 2010

    I’ve put in my donation then! I was going to do it; may as well show my support.

  32. #32 fishyfred
    January 18, 2010

    I refuse to apologize for a charity that was started with the auxiliary goal of correcting a misconception about its target audience. Child’s Play was started with the exact same goal in mind and it has been a ridiculous success.

  33. #33 skylyre
    January 18, 2010

    Celtic:

    Really… how can you say something like “you’re only giving this money to help these poor victims to further your own personal agenda” and not immediately think “wow… what a total asshole I am”?

    Exactly what I was thinking. I mean these halfwits cannot accept that us free thinking atheists can do any good without imaginary guidance. So sad that in this time when people should be coming together to help each other despite our differences…. this is what we get.

  34. #34 heddle
    January 18, 2010

    There is a false perception that associates church attendance with selflessness and social responsibility, and that because non-believers do not make showy demonstrations of giving in the name of a deity

    Who has this false impression? You are just making this up as part of the usual poor-pitiful-atheist-we-don’t-get-no-respect martyr complex. And while it is true that you are not “mak[ing] showy demonstrations of giving in the name of a deity” it requires the “in the name of a deity” part to make it true. This post is a showy “Hey, everyone, lookee here at what we are doing!”

    jdmimic #5,

    On the contrary (to popular belief), I tend to find that most religious people will not donate anonymously. They want to make sure everyone knows how good and generous they are. If people don’t know they gave for Jesus, it doesn’t count.

    Again with the “popular belief” tactic. And again stupidity. You tend to find that most don’t donate anonymously? Let me see your statistics. I call bullshit. Do you realize that your claim even sounds stupid? (Not to mention that actual Christian theology as taught by that Jesus guy is that if you you do good deeds to seek the approval of others, you have received your total reward–which in fact biases us to do things quietly and behind the scenes.)

  35. #35 fishyfred
    January 18, 2010

    (Not to mention that actual Christian theology as taught by that Jesus guy is that if you you do good deeds to seek the approval of others, you have received your total reward–which in fact biases us to do things quietly and behind the scenes.)

    Yes, as we so often like to bring up to folks who don’t get this. Which seems to be most American Christians.

  36. #36 Bill Dauphin, OM
    January 18, 2010

    ahrleygyrl (@18):

    I’ve been seeing a lot of sniping from various corners of the web that these contributions are just selfish promotion by atheists, that we wouldn’t ever help human beings if we couldn’t get advertising for it.

    Well, I always wonder what it is exactly we are advertising?

    I don’t see it so much as a matter of advertising; I see it more as rebuttal. The notion relentlessly promoted by religions and religionists is that it’s impossible to be good… or, ultimately, to do good… except by the so-called grace of God. Over and over, the assertion that the godless are incapable of truly moral behavior is advanced as a defense of religion.

    In a neutral sociopolitical environment, we might not need to “advertise” the godless’ capability for goodness… but this is parsecs away from being a neutral sociopolitical environment, and it’s beyond me why the godless shouldn’t defend themselves against slander by publicly, conspicuously disproving it.

    In any case, I’m skeptical of the moral necessity of keeping quiet about one’s own charitable acts. Unlike the xians, we’re under no divine (aka, biblical) injunction to keep our charity private (which, BTW, most xians “honor” chiefly in the breach), and “because it feels good” and “because it makes me look good” strike me as being as good a reason as any to do good things, as long as good things get done.

    It seems to me that the whole notion keeping charity private is an essentially religious idea, partaking of the presumption that “merely human” actions are depraved and without merit, unless they’re dedicated to the service of the divine, and thus any bragging about one’s own good acts is an insult to God. As I’m on record as hating the meme of the depravity of all mortal things, and I attribute a large fraction of the world’s misery to that false, supernatural bunkum, I’m hardly likely to buy into it in this instance.

    The hard (but not, IMHO, necessarily sad) truth is that nobody gives or sacrifices without hoping for some sort of reward. The thing is, the rewards hoped for by the godly — divine favor and eternal life — are cruelly illusory, while the rewards hoped for by the godless — endorphins, praise, and at least some hope for a better world to live in — actually exist.

    If we can, through some small act of sacrifice, help make the world a better place for our neighbors, and thus a better place for ourselves, why not brag about that? And if the ability to brag about something enlists even more sacrifice and giving, how can that be a bad thing?

  37. #37 Janine, Mistress Of Foul Mouth Abuse, OM
    January 18, 2010

    You are just making this up as part of the usual poor-pitiful-atheist-we-don’t-get-no-respect martyr complex.

    Bullshit! Too many religionists make the argument that religious people are more generous. Sadly, secular have to set up ways of showing off that humanists also contribute, otherwise it gets ignored by those who pat themselves on their own backs.

  38. #38 Bill Dauphin, OM
    January 18, 2010

    HTML FAIL @36: The words following “hating” should not be bold… and I’m left wondering precisely how I managed to misspell “</b>”???

  39. #39 skylyre
    January 18, 2010

    This post is a showy “Hey, everyone, lookee here at what we are doing!”

    Hm. I thought this was a response to people claiming atheists are not capable of doing good things, cuz we are teh eevil.

  40. #40 heddle
    January 18, 2010

    skylyer,

    Hm. I thought this was a response to people claiming atheists are not capable of doing good things, cuz we are teh eevil.

    No it is in response your whining (in a way that obviously gives pleasure) that everyone calls you evil. Come to my church–when we talk about you at all, which is rare, it is usually to shame ourselves into being more charitable–not to criticize your lack of charity. But that doesn’t feed the atheist persecution complex, does it?

  41. #41 Celtic_Evolution
    January 18, 2010

    heddle –

    You are just making this up as part of the usual poor-pitiful-atheist-we-don’t-get-no-respect martyr complex.

    How do you manage to speak without getting all that sand in your mouth? Really… that’s just about the stupidest thing you’ve ever said on this blog, heddle. And that’s quite the statement.

  42. #42 Janine, Mistress Of Foul Mouth Abuse, OM
    January 18, 2010

    Oh, and heddle; thank you for posting the perfect you are fucked no matter what you do post. If we donate quietly, the religious take the credit for the kindness. If we take credit for our actions, we are committing a show-off move.

    Patricia, do you have your fork ready for this one? I know just how much you love heddle.

  43. #43 fi
    January 18, 2010

    I contend that you cannot, in fact, make a selfless donation (or be good, etc.) unless you are a non-believer. If some imaginary deity has dictated your morals, you are merely following the rules in a vain attempt to gain favor with said deity. When you must determine on your own what is moral and just, you become a legitimate moral agent. It is only then that your actions can be truly selfless as it is only after you have concluded on your own the importance of helping others that you can actually act with your own agency rather than under the (malignant, in my humble opinion) auspices of some mythical creator.

    That’s pretty insulting to me as a person who believes in God, #7, and you’re only speaking of one type of spiritual person, completely discounting those of us who do not fit the stereotypical mold you have described. I understand that many atheists feel that they’ve been mistreated by believers (particularly those of the Evangelical variety), and I’m sure their feelings of resentment are justified, but you’re generalizing your theological counterparts just as badly as those whom you disparage.

    I chose my faith because I already believed in charitable giving – not the other way around. Furthermore, I do not trumpet my donations to earn the admiration of others, nor do I do it to please my personal deity; I am never so pompous as to think that *anything* I do is of any serious consequence or merit to a being I personally perceive as being vastly superior to myself. I do it because I know it’s right – which is *exactly* what led me to choose my particular breed of faith.

    But nor do I go out of my way to ridicule or belittle non-believers for their good-doing, which is precisely what I feel you have done to me.

    If you truly believe that secular humanists are better than those of us who are spiritually-minded, then start acting like it. You can start by refraining from uniformly patronizing us as being insincere in our compassion. Give believers the same respect that you demand.

    That goes for the rest of you who have been championing blanket statements of a similar ilk, and it’s all I have to say on the matter.

  44. #44 Janine, Mistress Of Foul Mouth Abuse, OM
    January 18, 2010

    Come to my church–when we talk about you at all, which is rare, it is usually to shame ourselves into being more charitable–not to criticize your lack of charity.

    Because your church is the entire fucking religious media. Because if it does not happen in your fucking church, it does not fucking happen.

  45. #45 Celtic_Evolution
    January 18, 2010

    Come to my church–when we talk about you at all, which is rare, it is usually to shame ourselves into being more charitable–not to criticize your lack of charity.

    Because your church is representative of christianity as a whole, and therefor falsifies the larger argument being made in this post?

    Do us a favor and fuck off, would ya, pal? Your continued stubborn defense of your stupid beliefs based on your limited, unique personal experience is fucking tiresome.

  46. #46 Sgt. Obvious
    January 18, 2010

    Moggie (#17): I’ve heard that before as a philosophical argument. Essentially, people are inherently selfish, and they only help others because they feel good if they do. However, the fact that you care enough to feel good about helping (and feel guilty if you don’t) is, itself, unselfishness. If someone were simply self-interested, they wouldn’t care either way.

  47. #47 skylyre
    January 18, 2010

    heddel:

    I was talking about PZ’s response, not yours.

  48. #48 Ol'Greg
    January 18, 2010

    “Give believers the same respect that you demand.”

    I will, as soon as they give up some of their privilege in mainstream media. As soon as we could even imagine having an atheist president. As soon as believers stop taking respect for granted. As soon as religious pundits stop actively trying blame the non-religious for every human ill, frailty, natural disaster, etc. When giving respect won’t mean giving up any hope of my own rights I’ll gladly give it.

    But respect is given only between equals, between mutually empowered individuals. So I will give respect when I am no longer disempowered by a society that favors religion.

    Until then, suck it.

  49. #49 heddle
    January 18, 2010

    Janine,

    That’s not a reasonable reading of my post. I applaud all of you who contribute to Haitian relief. I am repulsed, however, that you make-up straw-men “Why, just about everyone is saying these mean things about us! Oh don’t they look stupid now!” Just give and shut-up about it you bunch of crybabies.

    Because your church is the entire fucking religious media. Because if it does not happen in your fucking church, it does not fucking happen.

    As opposed to “if we say that it happens, it does! We KNOW that Christians rarely give anonymously, we just do! Whatever we claim about Christians, is gospel. ‘Cause we all were Christians until our superior intellects prevailed, and we know Christianity better than Christians.”

    I speak from my (yes limited to the churches I’ve been in, duh) experience. You speak about convenient caricatures.

  50. #50 tsg
    January 18, 2010

    If you truly believe that secular humanists are better than those of us who are spiritually-minded, then start acting like it. You can start by refraining from uniformly patronizing us as being insincere in our compassion. Give believers the same respect that you demand.

    That goes for the rest of you who have been championing blanket statements of a similar ilk, and it’s all I have to say on the matter.

    Your concern is noted.

  51. #51 Janine, Mistress Of Foul Mouth Abuse, OM
    January 18, 2010

    Right, heddle, we have no fucking idea how we are portraid in the religious media.

  52. #52 Tulse
    January 18, 2010

    I chose my faith because I already believed in charitable giving – not the other way around.

    You made a major ontological commitment based on the fact that you like to give people money? That seems a bit…cavalier.

  53. #53 aratina cage of the OM
    January 18, 2010

    the atheist persecution complex

    The what? *chuckle* I fully realize you said that without irony, heddle, which makes it even funnier.

  54. #54 Strangest brew
    January 18, 2010

    #34

    “You are just making this up as part of the usual poor-pitiful-atheist-we-don’t-get-no-respect martyr complex.”

    As opposed to the usual xian lament…”we is just poor jeebus sunbeams wanting the world to know how oppressed we are!”..and this in a country were purportedly 70% are xian!

    Little projection there Heddle…actually quite a lot.
    We all know that only xians can be true martyrs…so we assume you are just making that bit up to feel justified in ranting incoherently in the general direction of the non-believers.!

    “And while it is true that you are not “making showy demonstrations of giving in the name of a deity” it requires the “in the name of a deity” part to make it true.”

    Say again?

    Seems like you protesteth that because the donations were not jeebus generated that it was not nice to say so, a theist discombobulated, Oh dear, how sad, never mind!

    “Not to mention that actual Christian theology as taught by that Jesus guy is that if you you do good deeds to seek the approval of others, you have received your total reward”

    Yes that is what we suspect the hoohah that xians generate about so called charity is all about. They must be seen to be holier then thou in order to claim their brownie points for the heavenly express golden ticket!

    Then you claim the opposite that in fact you must keep it quite, and that in fact biases you to do things quietly and behind the scenes.

    No wonder xians are confused, all these unwritten caveats on their salvation.

    So boasting is fine as long as you make it perfectly clear that you are not boasting!

    Ahh! tricksy stuff this sky fairy nonsense!

  55. #55 Celtic_Evolution
    January 18, 2010

    fi –

    That’s pretty insulting to me as a person who believes in God, #7, and you’re only speaking of one type of spiritual person, completely discounting those of us who do not fit the stereotypical mold you have described.

    You are responding to a singular person’s rather bold statement, but addressing us as a whole. While the statement as #7 seems to be all-inclusive, I personally would disagree with it as being representative of the whole of religious people. But I would agree with his sentiment with regards to the religious in general. And I think the rest of the comments here are generalizations. You may disagree with them, but we’ve seen ample evidence to make them.

    I chose my faith because I already believed in charitable giving – not the other way around….I do it because I know it’s right – which is *exactly* what led me to choose my particular breed of faith.

    This is all very good for you… although I would contend that if that’s why you chose christianity, then you are frighteningly unfamiliar with a great deal of it. Don’t proselytize here about the merits of christianity, ok?

    If you truly believe that secular humanists are better than those of us who are spiritually-minded, then start acting like it. You can start by refraining from uniformly patronizing us as being insincere in our compassion.

    I would agree that uniformly labeling all believers in this way would be unfair… however i do think it’s a fair generalization. I’m sorry if that offends you, but honestly, I’m not talking about you… so… really I see no reason for you to be offended. Why exists this inherent need to defend one’s religion from all criticism, directed at them or not, escapes me.

    Give believers the same respect that you demand.

    Yikes… you’re playing the respect card?? There is NO group that demands respect more than chrisitians. Period.

    Fucking two-way street, buddy… you guys go first…

  56. #56 fi
    January 18, 2010

    Tulse: There were many other factors, of course, but seeing as that is the topic on hand, I thought it merited mentioning, and the others would be irrelevant to the discussion. I wanted to belong to an organization that matched my already-adopted ideals, and I found one. It’s no different than joining a club or non-religious organization. I don’t demand that others join my faith, unless they show interest.

    TSG: Thank you for your respectful response.

    And to Ol’Greg: I understand how frustrated you must be with all of those understandably-exasperating facets of society, but if you genuinely believe yourself to be the morally superior one, you should have no trouble convincing others of converting to your beliefs without stooping to disrespecting them, first.

  57. #57 Patricia, Queen of Sluts OM
    January 18, 2010

    What the hell are you doing back here Heddle? Get stuffed.

  58. #58 David Marjanovi?
    January 18, 2010

    Yes, as we so often like to bring up to folks who don’t get this. Which seems to be most American Christians.

    ?which, in turn, is what heddle doesn’t seem to get.

    The perception that religion is necessary for being good, especially for being selfless, or at the very least that religion greatly helps with these things, is very widespread indeed. It’s not even limited to the USA.

  59. #59 heddle
    January 18, 2010

    aratina cage of the OM

    The what? *chuckle* I fully realize you said that without irony, heddle, which makes it even funnier.

    Oh I admit Christians have a repulsive persecution complex too (repulsive in this country, not in, say, Sudan.) I have heard and read the blank in “We blank are the only group for whom it is still acceptable to discriminate against” filled in, in roughly equal numbers, with “Christians” and “atheists.”

  60. #60 Matthew_S
    January 18, 2010

    @ shadow, number #30.

    “Isn’t there something in the fundie’s hellish babble about not praying (preying) in public? Something about being in a closet.”

    If I remember correctly, it was in the Sermon on the Mount. Jeebus pretty much said “Guys, quit praying in public to show people how you’re more pious than them. Not on. Pray to the Lord because you mean it, not to show off to people. Don’t send people to shout out when you give alms; you should give money because you believe it, rather than trying to show off how generous you are”.

    With all the advertising churchs do, it’s odd how fundies like to invoke the Bible only when it backs up their point… ’tis almost as if they ignore all the “scriptural evidence” against them, not just the scientific evidence.

    Fortunately, there are plenty of reasonable religious chaps out there. Still.. don’t tell them that I said that :P

  61. #61 ursulamajor
    January 18, 2010

    I have fundie conservative relatives that are currently pissed off because they weren’t going to donate to those damn neeegros (not the actual term they used), but were guilted into it by the fact that their church was doing a drive. AND they told me that they weren’t the only ones who wished Haitians would take their AIDS with them when they died. Is this all Christians? Certainly not. But there are more than a few out there that feel that way but won’t admit it publicly. Mine have just gotten to the point that not only do they not care how offended I am by their opinions, but enjoy shaking them at me. Most of my atheist friends are liberals and have done everything in their power to help. Maybe it’s more a lib/con thing for Haiti than a religious thing?

  62. #62 RamziD
    January 18, 2010

    Heddle at #59

    The only difference is that the discrimination against atheists is real whereas christians make it up in their heads.

  63. #63 Celtic_Evolution
    January 18, 2010

    Oh I admit Christians have a repulsive persecution complex too (repulsive in this country, not in, say, Sudan.)

    Really… you can’t be that stupid… it’s not really a complex if you are actually being persecuted, say as you would be as a christian in Sudan.

  64. #64 Bill Dauphin, OM
    January 18, 2010

    Tulse (@52):

    I chose my faith because I already believed in charitable giving – not the other way around.

    You made a major ontological commitment based on the fact that you like to give people money? That seems a bit…cavalier.

    Cavalier, perhaps, but surely not surprising? I’ve long suspected that many (if not most) churchgoers choose their church (or choose not to leave the church they were raised in) for reasons that have little or nothing to do with theology or doctrine, but have everything to do with temporal, social factors (like agreeing with that church’s particular social or political activism). It’s just rare for someone to actually say so out loud.

  65. #65 heddle
    January 18, 2010

    ursulamajor

    I have fundie conservative relatives that are currently pissed off because they weren’t going to donate to those damn neeegros (not the actual term they used), but were guilted into it by the fact that their church was doing a drive. AND they told me that they weren’t the only ones who wished Haitians would take their AIDS with them when they died. Is this all Christians? Certainly not. But there are more than a few out there that feel that way but won’t admit it publicly. Mine have just gotten to the point that not only do they not care how offended I am by their opinions, but enjoy shaking them at me. Most of my atheist friends are liberals and have done everything in their power to help. Maybe it’s more a lib/con thing for Haiti than a religious thing?

    No bullshit stereotyping or convenient caricatures here–just erudite, scholarly, substantiated insight into the racist Christian mind. Move along.

    (It makes it so much better that you added a little caveat that all Christians are not like this. Thanks. Maybe even some of your best friends are Christians?)

  66. #66 Patricia, Queen of Sluts OM
    January 18, 2010

    Gosh Janine, aren’t you just panting to rush off to Heddles church? I know you would be so welcome there. *snort*

  67. #67 Strangest brew
    January 18, 2010

    #59

    “”We blank are the only group for whom it is still acceptable to discriminate against” filled in, in roughly equal numbers, with “Christians” and “atheists.” ”

    Fucking lying prick!
    Xians do it by default even when an atheist individual or organisation even dreams of filing a discrimination complaint the jeebus souls are all over it bleating oppression of their faith.
    None do it better!

  68. #68 CRS
    January 18, 2010

    Check out the Discover / Bad Astronomy blog if you want to see people proving PZ’s point. The comments about Dawkins and James Randi giving through secular channels are so caustic.. So many comments about it being opportunistic or self-serving. I’ve had enough of churches and missionaries parading the good they do as if they do not have other motives. Let a non-theist try to balance the scales and we are vultures looking for publicity.

  69. #69 Celtic_Evolution
    January 18, 2010

    Shit… I need to retract my #63, heddle… that was the point you were actually trying to make. Didn’t read it carefully enough at first.

    My apologies…

  70. #70 heddle
    January 18, 2010

    The only difference is that the discrimination against atheists is real whereas christians make it up in their heads.

    Of course–what was I thinking?

  71. #71 fi
    January 18, 2010

    You are responding to a singular person’s rather bold statement, but addressing us as a whole.

    Not true. If you read the entirety of my post, I went to great efforts to clarify that my response was levied at anyone who also made such generalizations, but I certainly did *not* say it was aimed at every one on this forum. I apologize if I failed to make that clear.

    But I would agree with his sentiment with regards to the religious in general. And I think the rest of the comments here are generalizations. You may disagree with them, but we’ve seen ample evidence to make them.

    They are, still, generalizations. As long as they are identified as such, I have no problem with it. But, as I underscored in my response, this individual (#7) explicitly stated that all faith-motivated people are uniformly incapable of acting out of compassion – that a person ” cannot, in fact, make a selfless donation (or be good, etc.) unless you are a non-believer.” Not to mention your claim of evidence for people’s motivations, as a person who presumably believes in science (as am I), is practically impossible – how do you prove motivations enough times to determine any statistically significant correlations?

    This is all very good for you… although I would contend that if that’s why you chose christianity, then you are frighteningly unfamiliar with a great deal of it. Don’t proselytize here about the merits of christianity, ok?

    I find it interesting you presume I’m Christian. I said I was a believer, not a believer of what.

    I’m sorry if that offends you, but honestly, I’m not talking about you… so… really I see no reason for you to be offended.

    Unless you are the person who made post #7, I see no reason for me to be offended if you’ve made it clear that your statements are indeed stereotypes and there are people like myself who don’t fit that mold. I’m a little confused as to why you’re responding as if I’ve attacked you … unless you also post under the name “avowed atheist.”

    Yikes… you’re playing the respect card?? There is NO group that demands respect more than chrisitians. Period.
    F***ing two-way street, buddy… you guys go first..

    Again, this presumption that I’m Christian! The post that bothered me was aimed at all faith-motivated people, not just Christians. It never clarified about a specific group, but it would have bothered me just as much if it had specifically targeted Muslims, Jews, or any sect of Christianity.

    But more importantly, I’m prompted to wonder: is this “you guys go first” approach really taking the moral high-ground?

    I’m glad that my post has prompted a debate over some of these issues. Thank you for this discussion.

  72. #72 lsyx
    January 18, 2010

    As a strong supporter of this idea, I do have to say that the 233-word run-on paragraph on the Giving Aid site can’t possibly help our cause. It looks and reads like a rant, and smacks of pseudo-intellectualism. The author of that piece appears to have spent too much time reading Hitchens and Dawkins, but not enough time in school to emulate their writing without evoking a sophomore English major. “Canard”? Please. I donated to the site, but not without cringing at the screed, which in its desperation reminded me of an ID activist’s apologetics.

  73. #73 Jadehawk, OM
    January 18, 2010

    but if you genuinely believe yourself to be the morally superior one, you should have no trouble convincing others of converting to your beliefs without stooping to disrespecting them, first.

    congratulations on completely misunderstanding… well, pretty much everything about this thread. “converting” to anything doesn’t have anything to do with morality, and everything to do with what’s factually true/provable/supported by evidence, and what isn’t. The point of this isn’t to make atheists look nice so that more people de-convert; and someone who merely becomes an atheist because atheists are nicer is doing it wrong.

  74. #74 Patricia, Queen of Sluts OM
    January 18, 2010

    Perhaps Heddle you should recall the story of the poor widows Mite before you go bragging on your shitfesterd christianity.

  75. #75 Ol'Greg
    January 18, 2010

    ” if you genuinely believe yourself to be the morally superior one…”

    I don’t. I believe myself to be morally equal in the best circumstances.

    However, there is a deeply embedded mainstream belief in the country where I live that morality requires religion. There is a serious hypocrisy in that belief in that it suggests all morality derives from fear of retribution (although often from a loving deity). It’s hard to ignore that belief because it is, for instance, re-iterated in the media all the time. Hey, just think about Hume talking about Tiger Woods for instance. And that’s just celebrity gossip!

    Regardless, my moral value system might not resemble other peoples. Frankly, I think most people are “moral” and their morality leads them to hold different value systems anyway. The goal, to me, is to be unafraid to question morals in light of utility.

    Secondly, I have NO DESIRE whatsoever to convert anyone. I just want the right not to be converted.

    Thirdly, ah well perhaps I should have just noted your concern as well. Consider it noted here too then o_O

  76. #76 IaMoL
    January 18, 2010

    …and it’s all I have to say on the matter.

    Somehow I doubt that.

    (reads next posts while typing)

    Whaddaya know?!! I was right.

  77. #77 Ol'Greg
    January 18, 2010

    lsyx @ 72

    I hate to admit it but I pulled a TL;DR on it. It was a bit much.

  78. #78 PZ Myers
    January 18, 2010

    We should be grateful that Heddle has come around to our way of thinking: religion does not make you more moral than the godless, belief in god does not make you a better person than an atheist, and that Christians can stop pretending to hold the moral high ground (or rather, that in Heddle’s muddled mind, Christians never ever even pretended to hold that high ground).

    It’s one more step towards getting one more wackaloon to admitting that there is no good reason to promote his crazy religious beliefs.

  79. #79 Patricia, Queen of Sluts OM
    January 18, 2010

    I’m a believer too fi. In Mullo the Celestial Jackass, proof of his powerful work is on disply 24/7.

  80. #80 heddle
    January 18, 2010

    PZ,

    We should be grateful that Heddle has come around to our way of thinking: religion does not make you moral than the godless, belief in god does not make you a better person than an atheist, and that Christians can stop pretending to hold the moral high ground

    ?? I didn’t “come around”–I always believed that and stated it plainly.

  81. #81 Patricia, Queen of Sluts OM
    January 18, 2010

    One vote for Heddle for the Brass Toilet Seat award.

  82. #82 Celtic_Evolution
    January 18, 2010

    I find it interesting you presume I’m Christian. I said I was a believer, not a believer of what.

    I find it interesting you continue to not simply indicate it… if you’re not, simply say so… but you are making some fairly common “christian” arguments, so I’m making an assumption… one you could easily clear up.

    Not to mention your claim of evidence for people’s motivations, as a person who presumably believes in science (as am I), is practically impossible – how do you prove motivations enough times to determine any statistically significant correlations?

    What I meant by “evidence”, is that I’ve seen enough evidence of christians boasting about their generosity, and making pompous claims about atheism lacking that core value, to make what I believe to be a fair generalization about the religious concerning this subject. If you’re asking for a statistical survey to back it up, then I think you are really missing the point.

    I’m a little confused as to why you’re responding as if I’ve attacked you …

    I’m not feeling personally attacked… my comments were in general… I actually don’t agree with #7. It was the more general points of your post that seemed to be aimed at the atheist group as a whole here that I am addressing…

    Again, this presumption that I’m Christian! The post that bothered me was aimed at all faith-motivated people, not just Christians. It never clarified about a specific group, but it would have bothered me just as much if it had specifically targeted Muslims, Jews, or any sect of Christianity.

    And again, you could clear that up pretty easily… but honestly, you can’t really blame me for assuming you were christian… we have been mainly talking about christians, and your arguments seemed to have a christian bent. You can keep criticizing me for assuming you are christian, but at this point there’s no reason for you to be evasive about it. I’m sorry for assuming you are christian… but you make a damn good advocate for the christian god, in any case.

    F***ing two-way street, buddy… you guys go first..

    Ummm… I think there’s something wrong with your keyboard… the word there was FUCKING. You should look into that and maybe get it fixed… or, ya know, assume we’re all adults here and that words don’t scare us.

    But more importantly, I’m prompted to wonder: is this “you guys go first” approach really taking the moral high-ground?

    Did I indicate I was trying to take any moral high ground? See… I think you and I have entirely different definitions of moral high ground.

    For example, I don’t think expecting deference and demanding respect for your beliefs has anything to do with morality.

  83. #83 Tulse
    January 18, 2010

    there is no good reason to promote his crazy religious beliefs

    Given that Heddle is a Calvinist, and thus believes that his god has already decided who gets to heaven, I’ve never understood why he (or any Calvinist, for that matter) bothers to promote his beliefs. According to him, there is literally nothing one can do or believe that will alter one’s fate, so why bother?

  84. #84 Strangest brew
    January 18, 2010

    #73

    “congratulations on completely misunderstanding…”

    No not as such, just that xian mindsets are rather stagnated in the need to infect their delusion anywhere they can, ‘conversion’ is their holy grail.
    They can think of nothing else, they are obsessed with it, therefore everyone else they come across must be doing it as well.
    Summat to do with those pesky brownie points they all swarm after!
    They have the same incomprehension that Atheism is not a religion, to them it must be cos why else would it seem that there are so many atheists around.

    That is why they feel more then comfortable tackling it as they would another religious belief.
    That allows them to project their more dubious traits on to the enemy and deflect, or at least assuage, some of their sub-conscious guilt!
    They know how religion works and they know how to undermine it, they think!

    They seem so desperate when those tactics fail so abysmally and they are left to whine about how atheism is so immoral…because…well just because!

  85. #85 PZ Myers
    January 18, 2010

    Then toddle off, Heddle. You’ve got no reason to preach your bizarre, cultish beliefs here, and you yourself have no belief that they bring any material benefit to the people who read Pharyngula.

    And no, please don’t bother to try to justify your intrusions. We fucking don’t fucking care.

  86. #86 Knockgoats
    January 18, 2010

    The hard (but not, IMHO, necessarily sad) truth is that nobody gives or sacrifices without hoping for some sort of reward. – Bill Dauphin

    How do you think you know that?

  87. #87 heddle
    January 18, 2010

    PZ,

    Then toddle off, Heddle. You’ve got no reason to preach your bizarre, cultish beliefs here,

    Geez,

    Does having having someone not lavish praise on your awesomeness really bother you that much? Any reasonable person would agree that (at least in this thread) I did not preach anything, I just called what I saw as bullshit (your self-aggrandizing post) bullshit. That’s not preaching. Surely you know the difference.

  88. #88 Sophocles
    January 18, 2010

    The Mormons have this down to a science. They have gone to great lengths to make sure that their volunteer efforts are clearly branded and easily recognizable at the scene of any high-profile disaster.

    Check out the 14-page PDF outlining the program–the bulk of which details use and care for the vests and T-shirts required of all Mormons who offer volunteer labor:
    http://www.lds.org/pa/pubAf/MormonHelpingHandsGuidelines_DPAs_eng.pdf

    They understand the power of organization. Is this something we should emulate? Should nonbelievers unite under some common branding to dispel misconceptions about us?

    Or is this in poor taste? Personally, when I read that the main objectives of the Mormon Helping Hands program are all PR-related, with disaster relief as a means to that end, it doesn’t really make me think highly of the church. It comes off as a little too corporate. Not exactly in the spirit of anonymous giving that the New Testament teaches.

  89. #89 Patricia, Queen of Sluts OM
    January 18, 2010

    Watch out PZ, Heddle’s getting all flirty at you.

  90. #90 Janine, Mistress Of Foul Mouth Abuse, OM
    January 18, 2010

    Right, heddle, you have us dead to fucking rights; all of us here drop by to lavish PZ with praise. You are just as on target about this as you were about your original charge.

    So, heddle, should we just give aid in silence and allow the religious leaders to take all of the credit for acts of kindness? Should we allow ourselves to be demonized as selfish? Please, explain, what the fuck should we do so that we may be credited with being members of the fucking human race?

  91. #91 Patricia, Queen of Sluts OM
    January 18, 2010

    Sophocles – Check out the big red A on the left side of the page.

  92. #92 heddle
    January 18, 2010

    Janine, Mistress Of Foul Mouth Abuse, OM

    Please, explain, what the fuck should we do so that we may be credited with being members of the fucking human race?

    For starters, stop the unseemly whining about being misunderstood and unappreciated. I’m guessing the English language allows for post that encourages giving to Haiti without turning it into a pissing contest.

  93. #93 Patricia, Queen of Sluts OM
    January 18, 2010

    Yeah, so there Janine! Suffer and be silent, woman . /biblical sarcasm

  94. #94 avowed atheist
    January 18, 2010

    My apologies for not replying sooner, I, unfortunately, have not had sufficient time to read through the comments prior to this time.

    #17 Moggie:

    Well, I would tend to agree with you. I would personally claim to be almost purely motivated out of selfishness. Every act is a calculated one that I assume benefits me in some way. In helping Haitians or any others with humanitarian aid, I believe that I am indirectly helping myself by making the world a better place (I know, a few dollars hardly helps to achieve this). A stable infrastructure and economy in Haiti, healthy citizens, and a stable relationship with the nation have the ability to benefit everyone including me. I also have a strong dislike for human suffering, so I find it beneficial to me for me to do something about it (again, realizing that a few dollars is a rather poor overall effort).

    #43 fi:

    You are correct, I am generalizing and lumping virtually every religious group into my summary. I do not feel this is unfair, however. With the exception of religious sects that tend to view god as a metaphor, virtually every believer is morally informed by his or her belief to at least some degree. The level of individual moral agency is inversely proportional to the role one’s belief plays in informing one’s morality. The more you rest your moral decisions upon some other authority, the less you can claim your own moral agency. This applies equally well to atheists, however, which I left out. I do not seek to ridicule believers, only to make a logical argument about moral agency and whether selflessness is possible if one does not posses moral agency (i.e., whether one has concluded their morals through careful consideration rather than taking wholesale the word of someone else). However, I have yet to see a religion that professes a diety who does not make a single claim to any moral truth.

  95. #95 shatfat
    January 18, 2010

    Two tries to log in–yay!

    I’m not sure how I feel about this LJ login now that godbot Pharyngula lurkers are leaving droppings all over my blog posts that previously were only read by my friends. 8 out of 9 stupid cultists couldn’t even muster a coherent argument in response to a non-serious satirical post I made about taunting God by refusing to fill birth control pill scrips–I mean, if your God is omnipotent, he can get around THAT, amirite?

    Anyway, back to charities: we give quite a bit to our local food bank, but my wife almost cut them off this winter after they sent her a CHRISTIAN CALENDAR in the mail. She’s Jewish, and this is the South where you hear “jew” used as a verb on a weekly basis. (She retorts by saying she “protestant christianed” someone on a deal.) The South–every bit as bad as you’ve heard. (Although not EVERYONE marries their first cousin. Now that interracial marriage is allowed the young people are experimenting with third cousins and even fourth cousins once removed! Okay, that was a JOKE, haha funny. The Black folk I know, the old people, used to go out of their way to ensure they didn’t date close relatives. Then again, that doesn’t really clear the white folks up in the hills, now does it?)

    The people who work in the food bank are cool, and they use the Medicaid guidelines for handing out food, but it is a religious organization with a religious name. They’ve also refused to send out thank you letters with both of our names on it (we’re a same-sex couple), even though they end up wasting money by sending two separate envelopes to the same address. On account of the same check. FAIL.

  96. #96 Janine, Mistress Of Foul Mouth Abuse, OM
    January 18, 2010

    Why, thank you, heddle. I shall also allow all of the religious leader argue that people like me have no charity. Instead of being in a pissing contest, I shall ask them to piss on me. Your advice is as useful as your criticism.

    Patricia, are you sharpening the tines of your fork?

  97. #97 jdmimic
    January 18, 2010

    “You tend to find that most don’t donate anonymously? Let me see your statistics. I call bullshit.”

    Heddle, who are you to call bullshit on my personal experience? Let me see your statistics on all your personal experiences. How many times last year did you take a crap? People like you are one of the big reasons that people leave religion, because they find that too many people use religion to justify insults, bigotry, and all sorts of things they call sinful in other people. Hypocrites have no cred.
    As it happens, I was raised Southern Baptist and have attended many churches. I don’t need to cite statistics to know that most of the Christians I know make a show out of contributions. Sure, not all of them are like that, but too many of them are. I have an uncle that was a pious missionary to Guatemala (that most heathen of countries) that would not feed people until they “converted” and sent his own family form letters for donations to their “good works.” And you wonder why I have a low opinion of religious oriented giving.

    Besides, even if I provided you evidence, you have shown yourself to be unswayed by hard evidence, so really, what’s the point?

  98. #98 Jadehawk, OM
    January 18, 2010

    I’m guessing the English language allows for post that encourages giving to Haiti without turning it into a pissing contest.

    you mean kind of like this one, and this one, for example?

    so stop fucking whining just because you don’t like Atheists not wanting to be invisible anymore

  99. #99 Bill Dauphin, OM
    January 18, 2010

    Knockgoats (@86):

    The hard (but not, IMHO, necessarily sad) truth is that nobody gives or sacrifices without hoping for some sort of reward. – Bill Dauphin

    How do you think you know that?

    You make (however implicitly) a fair point: I guess I don’t know it, in the sense of being able to prove it, but I do believe it to be so. But I don’t think you and I are really at odds here: I’m not suggesting that there’s no such thing as altruism, nor that everyone is inherently selfish and materialistic; rather, I’m suggesting that doing good is inherently rewarding (note that I’ve defined “reward” to include psychic1 rewards and the communitarian rewards of living in a better world that one has helped create), and there’s nothing wrong with feeling good about doing good.

    I doubt many (if any) approach charity and giving with the idea that they not only will make some material or practical sacrifice, but will feel bad about it as well, and will never experience any benefits of any sort from having done good. And,frankly, I question the sanity of any who do feel that way.

    Ultimately, making sacrifices for the common good is pro survival behavior; isn’t that a reward in itself? I had a high-school math[no s] teacher who used to tell us that “virtue is its own reward.” She meant it as a snarky way of denying requests for extra credit… but 40+ years later, I think she had a point.

    It seems to me that the other side of the argument — the people who claim with a straight face that there’s no reward for altruism aside from God’s grace, and that charity not done in Jesus’ name is not worth doing (I’ve actually seen comments to that effect in the wake of the Haiti quake) — are the ones devaluing charity, not people like me who celebrate the “selfish” rewards of “endorphins, praise, and at least some hope for a better world to live in.”

    1 In the most strictly secular sense of that word, of course!

  100. #100 Patricia, Queen of Sluts OM
    January 18, 2010

    All ten tines Janine. But if Heddle keeps dumping troll turds around here as big as that last one I’ll be overloading the trebuchet.

  101. #101 Janine, Mistress Of Foul Mouth Abuse, OM
    January 18, 2010

    Patricia, don’t look at it as overloading the trebuchet, think of it as more ammo to toss back. If it is overloaded, it is your own fault.

    ‘raspberry’

  102. #102 alysonmiers
    January 18, 2010

    I donated more than $35 to SHARE before Prof. Dawkins set up his Giving Aid page, and I didn’t advertise my donation anywhere. I just wanted to do what I could, from my cozy earthquake-free spot in America, to contribute to the relief effort, and I wanted to know that my money was going to an organization that would help without proselytizing.

  103. #103 Kome
    January 18, 2010

    Don’t know if it’s been mentioned in this or other threads, but a few years ago the guys at the webcomic Penny Arcade set up a charity to help sick kids in hospitals around the country (named Child’s Play) with a secondary goal being to show that the negative stereotypes concerning gamers are wrong. That they (gamers) are in fact generous, compassionate, and will give help to those in need as opposed to killers-in-training and/or lazy, unmotivated social misfits. It initially met, by some in the media and other cynical jerks who have a blog, with some of the same kind of nonsensical “you’re only doing it for selfish reasons” that is going on here. But, guess what? They’re still going strong and after a while they mostly stopped caring about whatever bad stereotypes gamers have because the reality is they’re helping hospitals, they’re helping children and their parents, they’re helping actual people. Heck, they even threw their charity in the face of an insane lawyer (Jack Thompson) when he publicly called them amoral criminals who support X, Y, and Z kinds of evils. Kind of a funny story that, if you’re inclined to, you should check out.

    Give this Non-Believers Giving Aid project a few years of helping those who need help, and I think many of us will just smirk when atheists are called silly names that simply do not reflect how much we are just as moral, compassionate, giving, caring, humane, and generous as any other arbitrarily defined group of people.

  104. #104 CTC
    January 18, 2010

    Brothers, sisters…to paraphrase the immortal words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just…admit we’re assholes?”

  105. #105 Patricia, Queen of Sluts OM
    January 18, 2010

    Looks like I don’t need to worry, Heddle must have buzzed off to his prayer closet.

  106. #106 heddle
    January 18, 2010

    jdmimic

    People like you are one of the big reasons that people leave religion,

    Tell me about it. I get blamed for people’s deconversion all the time. I’ve deconverted more people than Dawkins, and PZ wants me to go away! And it is independent of what argument I am making. I could be talking about science and, voilà, “it’s Christians like you who are one of the big reasons I left the church!”

    If you can’t be clever, at least try to be original.

    As it happens, I was raised Southern Baptist and have attended many churches.

    Yeah, yeah, everyone here on Pharyngula was an altar boy or a conservative Baptist until they heard one too many Christians like me discussing the evils of miscegenation.

    I don’t need to cite statistics to know that most of the Christians I know make a show out of contributions.

    Of course you are correct. You do not have to cite statistics. You can make up any crap you like and post it without any supporting data at all.

  107. #107 Paul
    January 18, 2010

    Because your church is representative of christianity as a whole, and therefor falsifies the larger argument being made in this post?

    Oh hi, you don’t appear to have met heddle before. Celtic_Evolution, meet heddle. His congregation disproves anything you think you might know about common practice among Christians.

    Ultimately, making sacrifices for the common good is pro survival behavior; isn’t that a reward in itself?

    You’re right on a population level. But that’s not the level we individual humans operate on. When you give $100 to a food bank, do you really expect it to benefit yourself in any way? I understand the potential subliminal “I may be in a place where I need the aid someday” thought, but does that really affect your decision to give/sacrifice? There is the tax deduction motive, but I know I have given to charity before and deliberately not attempted any sort of record for tax purposes (but that is for complicated personal reasons that I don’t expect anyone else to share).

    For an even more immediate example, if you see a lost stranger do you ever help them out? If so, do you expect remuneration? I understand your point also takes into account endorphins and other types of “rushes” from doing the right thing, but I do not experience that same type of sentiment to any notable degree, and I’m sure I can’t be alone there. But even taking into account “hope for a better world to live in”, do you need to seriously posit a mechanism for your helping a stranger to lead to a better world where people might help out other people? If you do not posit said mechanism, do you really hope that your altruistic gesture will lead to a better world to live in? Or do you just help people because you consider it a better course of action than not helping other people, absent hope for a better world? If you lost hope that the world would become a better place, would you refuse to help strangers?

    I don’t mean to sound preachy or like I’m lecturing, but I thought it was a worthy avenue of thought to explore.

  108. #108 Janine, Mistress Of Foul Mouth Abuse, OM
    January 18, 2010

    Patricia! Stop speaking of The Devil!

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  109. #109 Strangest brew
    January 18, 2010

    #90

    “Please, explain, what the fuck should we do so that we may be credited with being members of the fucking human race?”

    According to a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church it is but a matter of belief in a sky fairy…then the godless shall be lifted from their ignorance and cease to be ‘Sub-human’

    Not an utterance from a common or garden priest with a simple messiah complex and an eye on martyrdom but by fucking Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor obviously with a gigantic one and a larger need!
    And they have the temerity to demand respect for their excessive juvenile delusional tics!

    And he has never withdrawn that accusation, tried wheedling that he was misunderstood, as they always do when called on their verbal effluent, but never withdrew it, speaks volumes does it not?
    And Benny baby utters not a word!

    In other words there is no road but their road to salvation and being treated as a valid human part of this world.
    They are not after a so called multi-faith, multi-non-faith, multi belief, multi non-believe consensus in society, just the one faith, just the one belief, or the high road to hell…or indeed sub humanity.

    And that is the bottom base line desire of every cult that fancies itself as a religion.

    There is no desire to allow atheism to be a accepted position, no desire at all, that is just too uncomfortable to contemplate, their kids might ask to many questions and the lies get to complicated to keep the story straight.

  110. #110 aharleygyrl
    January 18, 2010

    #49 Posted by: heddle | January 18, 2010 1:47 PM

    That’s not a reasonable reading of my post. I applaud all of you who contribute to Haitian relief. I am repulsed, however, that you make-up straw-men “Why, just about everyone is saying these mean things about us! Oh don’t they look stupid now!” Just give and shut-up about it you bunch of crybabies.

    No, we atheists do not care if you say mean things about us. We have the satisfaction of knowing there is no god. We are kind enough to give you science info to try and save you from yourselves. We have no agenda. And, it is defintely the creationists who have all the strawman arguments. I guess they have to, they only have circular logic, which doesn’t fly in the science world. We are simply trying to show the world morality doesn’t come from any of the gods, that and we are very kind toward fellow humans, more kind than many religious people.

  111. #111 heddle
    January 18, 2010

    Paul, 107,

    His congregation disproves anything you think you might know about common practice among Christians.

    Doesn’t disprove anything. It just seems reasonable that an actual conservative, Baptist, southern church is relevant when discussing what conservative Christians–often in fact depicted as southern and Baptist, actually do believe. The inconvenience, of course, is that reality is often in violent disagreement with the perceptions of bigots. (Occasionally I even get the equivalent of “you’re a credit to your race” from a well meaning soul.)

  112. #112 Patricia, Queen of Sluts OM
    January 18, 2010

    and PZ wants me to go away…

    See I warned you PZ that’s one hot fan boy you’ve got there.

  113. #113 Jadehawk, OM
    January 18, 2010

    bigots? really?

    you’re such a condescending, vile ass. And apparently unwilling to accept that many people here were real Christians before they became atheists, so their experiences with them are very real and valid. Are you accusing them of lying now?

  114. #114 Joffan
    January 18, 2010

    It would be interesting from a sociological viewpoint to try to establish whether secret or public charitable giving is more effective, for a population as a whole.

    Secret charitable giving maybe has the advantage of allowing small donations that might be seen as inadequate if they were publically declared. This might add up over a population to a significant charitable money flow.

    Public giving allows people to compete for the glory of high-giving status, perhaps increasing the total giving by that route. My expectation would be that this would outweigh any small-donation loss.

  115. #115 Knockgoats
    January 18, 2010

    I doubt many (if any) approach charity and giving with the idea that they not only will make some material or practical sacrifice, but will feel bad about it as well, and will never experience any benefits of any sort from having done good. And,frankly, I question the sanity of any who do feel that way. – Bill Dauphin

    OK Bill. Say you are in the power of a fiendish mad scientist investigating altruism. He has convinced you that he can make you misremember the decisions you have taken. He also has another captive, whose fate depends on you (let’s suppose he’s set this up so you believe him). He gives you the following options:

    A) The other captive will be released, but you will be made to believe that you traded their life for your own.
    B) The other captive will be killed, but you will be made to believe you nobly offered to sacrifice yourself to save them.

    Would you choose A or B? Would you be insane to choose A?

  116. #116 Tulse
    January 18, 2010

    everyone here on Pharyngula was an altar boy

    I don’t know about “everyone”, but I certainly was. And when to parochial school. And went on summer seminary trips. And spent several summers at a monastery.

    Does that count?

  117. #117 Patricia, Queen of Sluts OM
    January 18, 2010

    By your race they must mean a Calvinist Hypocrite.

  118. #118 heddle
    January 18, 2010

    Jadehawk, OM,

    Not all of them, just a minority. On this thread I accuse only ursulamajor #61 with his/her:

    but were guilted into it by the fact that their church was doing a drive. AND they told me that they weren’t the only ones who wished Haitians would take their AIDS with them when they died

    and jdmimic, #97

    I don’t need to cite statistics to know that most of the Christians I know make a show out of contributions. Sure, not all of them are like that, but too many of them are. I have an uncle that was a pious missionary to Guatemala (that most heathen of countries) that would not feed people until they “converted”

    of lying. It happens when people on either side of an argument claims anecdotes that smell “too good to be true.”

  119. #119 Jadehawk, OM
    January 18, 2010

    so heddle, if I trotted out my boyfriend’s brother in an argument about rural Americans and racism (he wants to re-institute slavery, and has a sick admiration for Nazi Germany), you’d accuse me of lying just because it’s a story that’s “too good to be true”?

    like I said, you’re an ass.

  120. #120 Bill Dauphin, OM
    January 18, 2010

    Paul (@107):

    Ultimately, making sacrifices for the common good is pro survival behavior; isn’t that a reward in itself?

    You’re right on a population level. But that’s not the level we individual humans operate on.

    For many individuals, I’m afraid you’re right… but happily, I’m fairly well convinced that you’re not right about most. Why do I think so? Because we humans — “on a population level” — have not only survived but prospered, which speaks of many millennia and generations during which sufficient numbers of individuals have made both temporary and permanent sacrifices on behalf of the common good.

    When you give $100 to a food bank, do you really expect it to benefit yourself in any way?

    Absolutely: I have every expectation that a world with $100 worth less hunger and misery in it will be a better world for me to live in. And while the incremental change in the goodness of the world that’s attributable to my particular contribution might be undetectably small, I have confidence that the cumulative effect of all such contributions will not be small at all. And my contribution is an indispensible part of “all such contributions.”

    Besides, being generous makes me feel good. I’m admittedly an untrained layman when it comes to evolutionary analysis, but I can’t help suspecting there’s an evolutionary basis for this feeling of wellbeing that springs from giving to one’s fellows.

    Or do you just help people because you consider it a better course of action than not helping other people, absent hope for a better world? If you lost hope that the world would become a better place, would you refuse to help strangers?

    If I lost hope that I could make the world a better place, I might be tempted to off myself… but no worries: I can’t imagine ever losing that hope. In particular, I can’t imagine believing it possible to genuinely help my fellow humans individually without thereby also making the world a better place. I think you’re creating a false dualism between “the world” and the people who make up the world, and I reject it.

    More and more, I find myself guided by two propositions: The purpose of life is to be happy, and all your fellows have the same right to be happy that you do. I know that risks sounding simplistic, but if one has a properly nuanced and expansive definition of happy, and one also accepts the fundamental moral equivalence of all people1 (as virtually all cultures do, through some version of what we think of as the Golden Rule), it’s hard not to conclude that the best way to do good for yourself is to do good for the world, and that doing good for the world is indistinguishable from doing good for your neighbors.

    All this is in stark contrast to the “I got mine!” approach that dominates the American conservative movement, and thus threatens the peace and stability of the world. Sorry ’bout that, y’all.

    1 Note that it’s people I’m saying are fundamentally morally equivalent, not all instances of human behavior.

  121. #121 ursulamajor
    January 18, 2010

    “you’re such a condescending, vile ass. And apparently unwilling to accept that many people here were real Christians before they became atheists, so their experiences with them are very real and valid. Are you accusing them of lying now?”

    Not to mention the ones that have relatives that are southern, conservative churchgoers. As such I don’t always see the “church face”. But I sure hear about how they really feel.

  122. #122 PZ Myers
    January 18, 2010

    Heddle, YOU are the ass who is over here whining that atheists have been vocal and have made a substantial contribution. We aren’t, for instance, making an appearance at the web site of your favorite Calvinist charity and mouthing off about how they’re running a competition with us…but here you are, claiming that we’ve made it a pissing contest.

    Apparently, you think we’ve pissed on you because we’re getting organized and coordinating the charitable giving of thousands of atheists. If you really cared about the plight of Haiti, you wouldn’t care — it would just be one more group putting one more drop in the bucket.

  123. #123 Celtic_Evolution
    January 18, 2010

    Yeah, yeah, everyone here on Pharyngula was an altar boy or a conservative Baptist until they heard one too many Christians like me discussing the evils of miscegenation.

    You can hand-wavingly dismiss this all you want, asshole… but why you have such a hard time accepting that many, if not a majority, of the atheists that frequent this blog are former christians and even christians who were active in the church at one time is interesting to me.

    We’ve told you and others thousands of times: the surest cure for religion is a full and comprehensive review of its literature.

    For those who are able to think rationally and critically, the more immersed you are into religion, the more you actually read the bible and other holy books, the more you are forced to question its veracity. So active members of the church, alter boys, etc, are going to get a much higher exposure to this stuff than the common parishioner.

    Happened exactly that way for me… confirmed catholic, alter boy for 3 years.

    Accept it, heddle, high doses of religion often have counter-religious effects.

  124. #124 heddle
    January 18, 2010

    Jadehawk, OM,

    so heddle, if I trotted out my boyfriend’s brother in an argument about rural Americans and racism (he wants to re-institute slavery, and has a sick admiration for Nazi Germany), you’d accuse me of lying just because it’s a story that’s “too good to be true”?

    If you put it this way, a la jdmimic:

    I don’t need to cite statistics to know that most of the rural Americans are white supremacists. My boyfriend’s brother has a sick admiration for Nazis.

    then yes, I would consider you disingenuous. At best. But if you simply tell me your boyfriend’s brother is a Nazi, then certainly I’ll take you at your word.

  125. #125 Paul
    January 18, 2010

    It just seems reasonable that an actual conservative, Baptist, southern church is relevant when discussing what conservative Christians–often in fact depicted as southern and Baptist, actually do believe.

    Your anecdotes are not relevant as a counterargument to other people’s anecdotes on what they experience on encounters with Christians. That never stops you from replying as if they do, whether or not you admit here that it’s not proof one way or another. You can’t reason that your congregation doesn’t really care one way or another about atheists, therefore no Christians do and atheists are participating in pity parties where nobody really dislikes them. It flies in the face of most available evidence, see: RCC describing atheists as sub-human. It does not change that my pastor would always refer to atheists as selfish people that would never give to charity like good Christians to (with plenty of evidence to back it up, amazing how high the figures go when they include tithing as charity).

    Great, you don’t experience what some others experience. Quit acting like that’s some sort of counterargument.

  126. #126 Jadehawk, OM
    January 18, 2010

    If you put it this way, a la jdmimic:

    I don’t need to cite statistics to know that most of the rural Americans are white supremacists. My boyfriend’s brother has a sick admiration for Nazis.

    then yes, I would consider you disingenuous. At best. But if you simply tell me your boyfriend’s brother is a Nazi, then certainly I’ll take you at your word.

    except of course he didn’t do that; he didn’t extrapolate from a single person, he described his experience with the many(!) Christians he knows.

    Is he susceptible to confirmation bias? sure. But that’s why it’s an anecdote, not data. You can’t accuse him of lying for describing experiences which you haven’t made. that’s absurd.

  127. #127 jdmimic
    January 18, 2010

    So now you are calling me a liar too, Heddle? You are SUCH a good Christian. No, I was not ever an altar boy (that sort of thing is really more for Catholics and not so much Southern Baptists anyway). My anecdote (and yes, that’s all it was, not “proof”, merely an example) may sound too good to be true to you, but sadly for me is completely accurate. Whether you believe it or not won’t really change that.
    I don’t think anyone could quote statistics about the number and types of people they meet and their actions thereof. To ask such is ridiculous. You are setting up your own straw man so please stop complaining that others are.
    And I never said that you in particular drive anyone away from religion, although I would not be surprised if it were true. I DID say that people LIKE you do. Your brand of religion and social interactions are clearly going to be a poor example of your faith and can and do drive wedges between a religion and people who are undecided. The first step of Witnessing is to be a good example of your faith and on that you are hurting your religion.
    I have no statistics to back this up, but I would not be surprised if the majority of people who leave a religion do so because of disgust at the people who practice it. That situation would describe me, I thought about the religion critically only after I was disillusioned by the people.

  128. #128 Bill Dauphin, OM
    January 18, 2010

    KG (@115):

    Really??

    My head already hurts today (for, I’m sure, purely organic, sinus-related reasons), so I hope you’ll pardon me for not fucking around with insanely cackling comic-book villains? Let me just rephrase myself:

    Most people, most of the time (and esp. when they’re not being manipulated by fiendish mad scientists or the writers of the Saw movies), feel good about their charitable acts. Feeling good about yourself — and feeling good about how others perceive you — is inherently rewarding, so most people feel rewarded for the good they do. There is nothing wrong with this, and it in no way “cheapens” said folks’ charity!

    S’alright?

    I’m really not sure why you’re arguing with me on this; I would’ve thought we were more-or-less, if not exactly, aligned on the desirability of people doing good works, regardless of how “selfish” their motivation might seem to hypcritical religionists. Have I misread you that badly?

  129. #129 Ol'Greg
    January 18, 2010

    Bill Dauphine… rational self interest? Here and now?

    lol

    I don’t think we do good things for rewards only, some times we do it out of compulsion. I tend to do it to remind myself that I have benefited from others. I suppose you could twist that until you found some reward for me in it, but that would at least not be a motivation I was conscious of which is the most I can offer.

    I like knockgoats’ thought experiment. Option A all the way, I get to feel bad about myself AND save some one’s life. Win win! Oh wait… that just added another layer of complexity didn’t it? I mean, what if I’m masochistic and enjoy the excuse to beat myself up!?

  130. #130 heddle
    January 18, 2010

    PZ,

    Apparently, you think we’ve pissed on you because we’re getting organized and coordinating the charitable giving of thousands of atheists. If you really cared about the plight of Haiti, you wouldn’t care — it would just be one more group putting one more drop in the bucket.

    Nice deflection and a bit disappointing– because, now I will lavish you with some praise, your arguments are usually way, way better than a tiresome “If you really cared…” tactic.

    As I said, it is a deflection. I applaud anyone giving to Haiti–my comment on this post was not at all about giving to Haiti (witness that I did not comment on previous Haiti posts), it was on the self-righteous nature of this particular post, i.e., “I will freely admit, though, that a secondary goal was to correct a public misconception. There is a false perception that associates church attendance with selflessness and social responsibility, and that because non-believers do not make showy demonstrations of giving in the name of a deity, we must be uncaring.

  131. #131 jdmimic
    January 18, 2010

    And Heddle, don’t you think that requiring an absurd level of statistical rigor when you dismiss most of science in the first place is just a wee bit hypocritical? It makes you look rather closeminded, disingenuous, and stupid. From the comments others have posted, it seems you have given that impression to a lot of people here. But then I’m new to Pharyngula.

  132. #132 Walton
    January 18, 2010

    Jadehawk,

    so heddle, if I trotted out my boyfriend’s brother in an argument about rural Americans and racism (he wants to re-institute slavery, and has a sick admiration for Nazi Germany)

    That’s really, really scary. I’ve met plenty of racists in my life (of the British BNP variety), but I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone who seriously expressed admiration for Nazi Germany.

  133. #133 Janine, Mistress Of Foul Mouth Abuse, OM
    January 18, 2010

    Please explain why atheists should give to charity in silence and allow the religious leaders to claim that atheists contribute nothing? Is that such a fucking difficult question to comprehend?

  134. #134 Celtic_Evolution
    January 18, 2010

    heddle…

    how does this:

    I will freely admit, though, that a secondary goal was to correct a public misconception. There is a false perception that associates church attendance with selflessness and social responsibility, and that because non-believers do not make showy demonstrations of giving in the name of a deity, we must be uncaring.

    fit any definition of the word “self-righteous”?

    Expressing a desire to correct a negative mis-conception is self-righteous?

    Really… it takes a christian to make such a claim.

  135. #135 heddle
    January 18, 2010

    jdmimic

    So now you are calling me a liar too, Heddle? You are SUCH a good Christian.

    Yes nothing personal–but we all read things that we don’t believe — what can you do about it? I don’t believe that most of the Christians you know make a big fuss about their charitable giving (assuming you know a statistically significant number of Christians), and I don’t believe you had a missionary uncle who would not give food to the hungry unless they converted.

    I could of course be wrong. But we believe what we believe.

  136. #136 Patricia, Queen of Sluts OM
    January 18, 2010

    self-righteous nature…

    comes out of Heddles mouth? Bwha-ha haw!

  137. #137 Paul
    January 18, 2010

    Bill Dauphin, your cheeriness depresses me. But then, it’s good to know some people are that positive and hopeful.

    As a counterpoint (well, more a differing view) from your other post. I am nowhere near the “I’ve got mine, fuck you” archetype. But when I help someone, I harbor no illusions that I’m making the world a better place. Most of the power to do that is in elected government, and I lack the personality type or the funds to get into that game. At best, I’ve given a family a few meals (nothing to sneeze at, and it’s necessary, but the lasting impact is small). Contributing to a food bank is not going to bring socialized medicine to those who need it, or shrink the military industrual complex, or really, increase human-kind’s long-term survival chances in any measurable way. The ability to do those things, at least in the US, lies in the hands of somewhere ~1000 people in DC. Really, in the scheme of things, what I do means fuck-all on a population scale. Anything that really matters, I have no say in changing. But I will still help people that I see in need, if only because I find it less distasteful than seeing a place I could help yet do nothing.

    I do not think I am creating a false dichotomy when talking about a person vs. “the world”, but just to be clear when I refer to “the world” I really meant humans at the population level as opposed to the individual level. Anyone can help an individual. Very few people can change things for populations. And even if I had no expectation that anyone else would do the same, I’d still help out my neighbor if there was a need. That was why I joined Knockgoats in questioning if we only help people out of self-interest or hope of such. I suppose it could be argued that we get a self-interested moral high ground by helping. Not sure how I’d respond to that.

    Sorry for the disorganization, that was rather stream-of-thought.

  138. #138 ursulamajor
    January 18, 2010

    The same reason, Janine, that they think we atheists would be almost tolerable if we just didn’t discuss our atheism in public.

  139. #139 CRS
    January 18, 2010

    @127:

    The first step of Witnessing is to be a good example of your faith and on that you are hurting your religion.

    You nailed that one. This is exactly what I heard week after week as a ten year-old sitting bored in a Baptist church. (When I was “encouraged” by the pastor’s wife to be “saved”.) When our small town started broadcasting Showtime around 1980, the preacher man demanded no one watch it and that no good Christian ™ should work for a sinful cable company. Everyone knew one of his deacons was a cable installer. Nothing like the feel of a public shaming. I could go on all day, but I’m sure many of you could as well.

    heddle, please just go away. You should be well fed.

  140. #140 heddle
    January 18, 2010

    jdmimic

    And Heddle, don’t you think that requiring an absurd level of statistical rigor when you dismiss most of science in the first place is just a wee bit hypocritical?

    What science do I dismiss? Given that I am a professional scientist, teach graduate level physics (grad Thermodynamics this semester; oh noes, the 2nd Law!) and conduct research at a national lab, this is vital information!

  141. #141 Bill Dauphin, OM
    January 18, 2010

    KG:

    A quick clarification of mine @128: On re-reading, I realize it may appear that I was calling you an “insanely cackling comic-book villain,” but not so. I was referring to your hypothetical mad scientist.

    Ol’ Greg (@129):

    I don’t think we do good things for rewards only, some times we do it out of compulsion.

    Well, if you mean compulsion in a clinical sense, note that I did leave room for insanity as an alternative. However…

    I tend to do it to remind myself that I have benefited from others. I suppose you could twist that until you found some reward for me in it,…

    Noting that reinforcing positive self-knowledge is a benefit seems like “twisting” to you?

    …but that would at least not be a motivation I was conscious of which is the most I can offer.

    Never did I mean to suggest that people are particularly conscious of the ways they get rewarded for their good works. I wasn’t accusing people who do good works of being venal; I was pushing back on people who claim those who do good works for “the wrong reasons” are venal. If you’re doing something that’s truly good, you are benefiting yourself, because you’re making the world better (conversely, if what you’re doing doesn’t make the world better, it’s hard to argue you’re truly doing good), and you’re part of the world. All I’m saying is that the (mostly religious) notion that taking any personal joy or credit for your good works is sinful is fatuous bunk. You don’t disagree, do you?

    Option A all the way, I get to feel bad about myself AND save some one’s life. Win win! Oh wait… that just added another layer of complexity didn’t it? I mean, what if I’m masochistic and enjoy the excuse to beat myself up!?

    Well, I suppose there is a fine line between fetish and insanity, and far be it from me to try to walk that line! ;^)

    But… if you feel bad about doing good, and you like feeling bad… you’re still being rewarded, aren’t you? Though in this instance, I won’t argue with “twisted”! ;^)

    I think there are other regulars more qualified than I to pick up this linechain of reasoning!

  142. #142 Jadehawk, OM
    January 18, 2010

    and I don’t believe you had a missionary uncle who would not give food to the hungry unless they converted.

    oh really? well then here’s another atheist’s account of Evangelical Missionaries being assholes which you won’t like to believe: http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2009/06/our_research_camp_as_a_mission.php

    relevant quote:

    But that was the Catholics. The Evangelicals did it differently. Their medical facilities were available for those people who lived in their built communities, and their communities were essentially giant walled villages full of converts. Although it was not overt, it was clear nonetheless: Medicine for your soul.
    [...]
    Without leading the witnesses, I was able to satisfy myself that indeed you were either in or out, in these parts, of the mission station. If you were in, you had access to the doctor and the medicine, if not, you did not have such access.

  143. #143 Bill Dauphin, OM
    January 18, 2010

    Oops… @141, the strikethrough was only supposed to affect “line.” Way to stomp on the joke, Dauphin!

  144. #144 Paul
    January 18, 2010

    I’m really not sure why you’re arguing with me on this; I would’ve thought we were more-or-less, if not exactly, aligned on the desirability of people doing good works, regardless of how “selfish” their motivation might seem to hypcritical religionists. Have I misread you that badly?

    I think Knockgoats’s angle is arguing against the viewpoint that people are purely motivated by rational self-interest. Which, I don’t think you disagree with? The quote he started questioning reeked of “rational self-interest”, but it seems you’re backing away from that idea. It’s too common in threads like these to see people advocating it as the way we make moral decisions. Some actions and activities could be explained by that model, but it is not nearly the best we have for modelling human decision-making. It probably works good enough to fit your criteria of “most people, most of the time”, but I’ll leave it to the sociologists and behavioral anthropologists to tell me what the most fitting model is.

  145. #145 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    January 18, 2010

    Frankly the whole scene of people making a public statement about how charitable they are leaves a bad taste in my mouth no matter who it is coming from.

    I have no problem with using promotion to ask for donations to and shine a light on certain groups or causes but using it as a “look at me” proposition sort of takes away from the whole giving because you want to give thing.

    My humble opinion.

  146. #146 jdmimic
    January 18, 2010

    Sure you can believe what you want, Heddle. The difference is that some of us try to examine our beliefs to see if they make sense and some of us blindly accept what their preachers tell them.
    You could be right, my story about my uncle could be untrue. But if it is false, it is because my aunt and uncle lied to me, which I doubt since I had it confirmed by others that it was standard practice at their church to only provide food and services to people that agreed to attend their sermons and say they were Christian. If they did not agree they were welcome to be preached to, but not to join in the food.
    I know other Christians that are truly wonderful people that I just happen to disagree with. Unfortunately, they are the exception in my experience, not the rule.
    Don’t believe me? Drop on by Arkansas any time you like. I can regale you with stories about evil acts by Christians committed in Jesus’s name until your ears decay and fall off your head.
    You say most christians aren’t like that? You prove it to me.

  147. #147 PZ Myers
    January 18, 2010

    I don’t believe that most of the Christians you know make a big fuss about their charitable giving

    And since I made no such claim and never have, your faux irritation at the stated fact that every atheist here has encountered the attitude that atheists are less moral than the religious is simply stupid.

    Now go away. You’re done. You’ve done your monthly evangelizing to demonstrate the power of Christ to turn people stupid.

  148. #148 heddle
    January 18, 2010

    Rev. BigDumbChimp,

    Frankly the whole scene of people making a public statement about how charitable they are leaves a bad taste in my mouth no matter who it is coming from.

    At the real risk of tainting you with association: bravo!

  149. #149 Janine, Mistress Of Foul Mouth Abuse, OM
    January 18, 2010

    Chimpy, I would prefer that people did not make s big play about how much they give. But in this case, I think it is justified for the simple reason that the religionists argument that only people of faith are giving.

    And frankly, I do not give a flying fuck that heddle is whining that PZ is making this into a pissing match.

  150. #150 Walton
    January 18, 2010

    But when I help someone, I harbor no illusions that I’m making the world a better place. Most of the power to do that is in elected government, and I lack the personality type or the funds to get into that game. At best, I’ve given a family a few meals (nothing to sneeze at, and it’s necessary, but the lasting impact is small). Contributing to a food bank is not going to bring socialized medicine to those who need it, or shrink the military industrual complex, or really, increase human-kind’s long-term survival chances in any measurable way. The ability to do those things, at least in the US, lies in the hands of somewhere ~1000 people in DC.

    I passionately disagree. And I would go so far as to argue that this attitude – the pernicious notion that it is for government, not individual citizens, to deal with society’s problems – is a road to authoritarianism.

    Firstly, private charity does a lot more good than you seem to be asserting – especially in the developing world, where a small amount of money (by Western standards) goes a long way.

    Secondly, not all the political decisions to which you refer, and which make an actual substantial difference to people’s lives, are made in DC. If you live in the US, then a number of the public services which you use on the day-to-day basis are run at the city, county or state level – by officials who are much closer to you than those in Washington, and whose decisions you can affect through your votes and activism. This includes some of the most essential services which make a positive difference to people’s lives: social services, various forms of aid for children and the elderly, emergency medical services, and public education. You don’t need to wait for benevolent bureaucrats from Washington to sort out all your community’s problems; your community can make decisions for itself. That’s what local government is all about.

    At the same time, I agree that quite a lot of the evils and abuses of our world today can only be changed at the national, macro-political level. In particular, the obscene US and EU system of tariffs and farm subsidies, which literally starves producers in the developing world, can only be changed by policymakers in Washington and Brussels. And I will be the first to admit that you, as an individual and without a political party organisation, can’t change that on your own. But there’s a lot you can do, as a private citizen, as a voter and as a political activist.

  151. #151 Janine, Mistress Of Foul Mouth Abuse, OM
    January 18, 2010

    At the real risk of tainting you with association: bravo!

    Asshole, you have yet to explain why atheists should allow religious leaders to claim that atheists do not give to charity, that it is the domain of the faithful.

  152. #152 Paul
    January 18, 2010

    I passionately disagree. And I would go so far as to argue that this attitude – the pernicious notion that it is for government, not individual citizens, to deal with society’s problems – is a road to authoritarianism.

    Walton, I’d love for you to describe how I can help enact a system of socialized medicine. Please, regale me with tales of how shitty the NHS is and how lucky we Americans are for getting the choice to go bankrupt or die instead of have to live with bureaucrats providing us with medical care. Or with tales about how the problems of starving and homelessness were solved through charitable giving. What? You mean those problems still exist, even though charities are in place?

    All I was saying is I recognize that legislation plays a vital role in enacting anything on a nationwide scale. With a couple grand in savings, I have no “in” to that game. Most things that matter will be decided well before I have any sort of influence into the process. Perhaps in England there is some sort of public financing of election campaigns? Some sort of laws governing corporate lobbying that actually hinder the practice and make legislators give a flying fuck about what the citizens want?

  153. #153 Ol'Greg
    January 18, 2010

    Truth be told Bill I’m not much into ethics, but if some one doesn’t know they’re acting in their own self interest, are they actually motivated by self interest? Maybe I guess if it is some kind of impulse, dare I say compulsion even, because that’s how they were made to act when faced with certain stimulus?

    Meh… at this point I’m just enjoying a conversation that isn’t Heddle oriented. Sorry if it seems nitpicky.

  154. #154 Paul
    January 18, 2010

    Posted too early. Just wanted to add something. People in my state actually participate in website exchanges where they agree to vote for the opposite party, as long as someone in another state will vote for the party the first voter prefers. This happens because their vote means fuck-all in this state due to the winner-take-all election system.

    As a private citizen, I can write letters to my Congress-people that they will ignore. As a voter, I can cast votes that do not matter due to the structure of the political system. As a political activist, I can kill any future chance of elected office by actually taking firm positions on issues, while being alienated by both major parties for not agreeing (or at least, not disagreeing) on all their hot-button issues.

    America is great!

  155. #155 David Marjanovi?
    January 18, 2010

    you’re such a condescending, vile ass. And apparently unwilling to accept that many people here were real Christians before they became atheists, so their experiences with them are very real and valid. Are you accusing them of lying now?

    Calvinism. The idea that there is such a thing as a Real True Christian™. The idea that God determines who is a believer and who is not. God never changes his mind (to do so would mean he’s not omniscient ? logical deductions from premises that come out of thin air are what Calvinism mostly consists of), so if you’re a Real True Christian™, you are not capable of deconverting, and if you’re not one, you are not capable of becoming one, because God alone decided (an eternity ago) who is one and who isn’t.

    So, he’s saying that everyone here has never been a Real True Christian™ and didn’t know it.

  156. #156 Bill Dauphin, OM
    January 18, 2010

    Replying to several comments together, for the sake of synthesis (which is what this is really about):

    Paul:

    Bill Dauphin, your cheeriness depresses me.

    I’m pretty sure that’s intended, if not as an outright insult, at least as bemused chiding over my naivete… but I refuse to be insulted. “Cheery” is probably not the right word, but I am unapologetically positive. At the risk of making my self sound even more Disneyesque than y’all no doubt already find me, I’ll just note that one of the things I learned as the parent of a cancer patient is that dwelling on the things that are beyond your control is a sure path to despair… which can be quite literally deadly, because it demotivates you WRT the things you can affect.

    …when I help someone, I harbor no illusions that I’m making the world a better place. … At best, I’ve given a family a few meals (nothing to sneeze at, and it’s necessary, but the lasting impact is small).

    Suppose your contribution supports food and cots in for a family of four in a homeless shelter for a period of three days? By what definition do you claim that a world with 12 fewer person-days of hunger and exposure isn’t a better world? Your problem appears to be that you think there’s some high place from which the appropriately powerful person (or handful of people) could Fix It All At Once©. In many ways, that’s a “cheerier” point of view than mine… but I’m afraid I don’t buy it. Occasionally there’s a chance for someone to make big change on a big scale, but most of the work of making the world a better place consists in making tiny slices of it a little bit better, day after day.

    I’ve been reading popular books about evolution lately — Dawkins, Coyne, et al. — and one of the things they always point out is the admittedly counterintuitive, but absolutely essential, concept that there’s immense power in the accumulation of vast numbers of almost undetectable changes. Mindful as I am of the dangers of applying evolutionary concepts to social problems, why is it so hard to see that something similar is at work in societies? You’re only roughly one seven-billionth of humanity; if you do even a tiny bit to make the world better, odds are you’re doing more than your share (which is necessary, of course, because so many people do so much less than their share… but still).

    I do not think I am creating a false dichotomy when talking about a person vs. “the world”, but just to be clear when I refer to “the world” I really meant humans at the population level as opposed to the individual level. Anyone can help an individual.

    You disavow any false dichotomy, but then go on to describe exactly that even better than I could have: The human population is a synthesis of human individuals, not something fundamentally distinct. It’s like saying, “I’m talking about molecules, not gallons.” To be sure, we can view things at micro and macro levels, and on a continuum in between, but that doesn’t make them different things: You can’t change gallons without changing molecules, and you can’t change molecules without changing gallons.

    I think Knockgoats’s angle is arguing against the viewpoint that people are purely motivated by rational self-interest. Which, I don’t think you disagree with? The quote he started questioning reeked of “rational self-interest”

    If you take “rational self-interest” to be a shorthand for bald selfishness, then no, I don’t argue that’s what people are motivated by. But that’s just a libertarian caricature of self-interest, and I don’t accept it as truly “rational,” no matter what they say. What I do argue is that a truly rational investigation of self-interest will lead one finally to what you and KG and I would recognize as altruism. Because ultimately, what’s good for each of us turns out to be what’s good for all of us, if we look at the problem hard enough and take it seriously enough.

    Walton:

    I passionately disagree. And I would go so far as to argue that this attitude – the pernicious notion that it is for government, not individual citizens, to deal with society’s problems – is a road to authoritarianism.

    Surely you realize that, despite the fact that we both disagree with Paul on this point, you’re not agreeing with me here. My rejoinder to Paul — that individuals and the larger population are not separable and conflicting interests, but rather two views of the same thing — serves equally well as my rejoinder to you: The question here is not whether “the government” or “the people” should have primacy; the government is the people, and vice versa.

    Ol’ Greg:

    at this point I’m just enjoying a conversation that isn’t Heddle oriented.

    Yah. Likewise, my joking around about fetishes and compulsion was meant to be lighthearted, in case there was any doubt.

    All:

    Actually, this whole thing has gotten deeper and more serious than is justified by my original point, which was that it’s OK to feel proud and boastful about doing something good, and that religious whingeing about charity “for the wrong reasons” is teh bullshitzzzz.

    Gotta’ go now; going to a Democratic Town Committee meeting, because I try to change the world that way as well. ;^)

  157. #157 Paul
    January 18, 2010

    I’m pretty sure that’s intended, if not as an outright insult, at least as bemused chiding over my naivete… but I refuse to be insulted. “Cheery” is probably not the right word, but I am unapologetically positive.

    I apologize very much! I did not intend to patronize or insult you! To get at what I mean, you make me feel ssomewhat like a Philosophical Zombie. I do the “right” things, but I don’t really feel anything in so doing. The shortcoming is on my end, I am not trying to imply any on yours. I’m actually quite embarrassed you’d take my words that way.

    Suppose your contribution supports food and cots in for a family of four in a homeless shelter for a period of three days? By what definition do you claim that a world with 12 fewer person-days of hunger and exposure isn’t a better world? Your problem appears to be that you think there’s some high place from which the appropriately powerful person (or handful of people) could Fix It All At Once©.

    Oh, I wouldn’t say that 12 fewer person-days of hunger and exposure isn’t a better world. I went a bit afield from my initial post, but “a better world” was being used as shorthand to discuss a world where my contribution would have served the purpose of bettering myself (cf. the initial post where we do things because of some expectation of self-benefit). So in your case, while the world as a whole would be incrementally better, it would not be likely to benefit me, thus not giving me any expected benefit from my contribution. “Better world” wasn’t the best way to shorthand that idea.

    My point wasn’t that someone can fix it all at once, and I’m not that optimistic. But at best I can help a few people at a time. There are areas where people could help many people at once, for example by helping lower healthcare costs, but there are well-funded opponents in the insurance lobbies. This is one reason your evolutionary explanation is a little off (I know it’s not supposed to be exact). Not only are the small evolutionary changes directionless, but there’s the additional complication of people actively trying to set back any progress we make. And the worst part is, many people will actively argue against their own best interests because of fear and a slick marketing campaign. This is probably the biggest reason for my “can’t change anything” attitude, but people show no sign of rationally evaluating things instead of just acting out of fear of the other.

    You can’t change gallons without changing molecules, and you can’t change molecules without changing gallons.

    Different tools are required. No matter how much I try to sort molecules, unless there is infrastructure in place to distribute the gallons to people, they will not go anywhere. I can carry molecules, but have you tried to get your car to start with a few molecules of gas lately?

    If you take “rational self-interest” to be a shorthand for bald selfishness, then no, I don’t argue that’s what people are motivated by. But that’s just a libertarian caricature of self-interest, and I don’t accept it as truly “rational,” no matter what they say.

    Did I not emphasize the “purely” enough? I don’t think anyone will argue that “rational self-interest”, defined in any sensible manner, figures into one’s decision making apparatus. But the initial post he replied to (and what actually piqued my attention) did make it seem like that was the main decision-making factor. I don’t mean to pick up this argument for him, I just figured I would point out what I thought he was getting at, as I have seen him argue that point in a few different threads in the past.

    What I do argue is that a truly rational investigation of self-interest will lead one finally to what you and KG and I would recognize as altruism.

    But do we make altruistic choices because they are in our self-interest, or did we meat robots pick up reciprocal altruism along the way as part of our programming (because we were more fit than the others that way), and now we sit around and act like we all along had the free will to develop this rational self-interest?

    Because ultimately, what’s good for each of us turns out to be what’s good for all of us, if we look at the problem hard enough and take it seriously enough.

    Well, that depends on how you define good :-). But I think I’ve irritated you enough on this subthread to want to discuss it further.

    The question here is not whether “the government” or “the people” should have primacy; the government is the people, and vice versa.

    As much as I cheer on your political aspirations, tell that to a Republican in a Democratic state. Or vice versa. Or someone who is not part of either party, but has no chance at elected office because voters like to check the R or D box depending on which party they were born into. As nice as “government is the people” sounds, the vast majority of the people in the country have no chance of serving in an elected manner in their government. Those who do serve in an elected manner spend more time pandering to those who got them there (see: large donors) than they do “the people”. Do you really not recognize the difference between the “ruling class” and everyone else? For every person like you that has an ongoing correspondence with their Congress critters, there are many, many more who write letters and just get form letters back that basically say “your concern is noted” while they have their best interests voted against.

  158. #158 llewelly
    January 18, 2010

    nigelTheBold | January 18, 2010 11:43 AM:

    This seems to be a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.

    Greta Christina has written an excellent article about the many ways in which believers try to have it both ways, enabling them to create the appearance of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situations.

  159. #159 Bill Dauphin, OM
    January 18, 2010

    Paul:

    I apologize very much! I did not intend to patronize or insult you!

    No worries, mate! I thought you were tweaking me a bit, and I was just tweaking back… obviously not as gently in practice as I intended.

    The truth is, I think our hearts are basically in the same place, even if we’ve taken different paths through our heads to get there. We are, it seems to me, in what the engineers I work with would call violent agreement. No point, I don’t think, in hashing through it point by point, so I’ll just leave you with one bit:

    Oh, I wouldn’t say that 12 fewer person-days of hunger and exposure isn’t a better world. … So in your case, while the world as a whole would be incrementally better, it would not be likely to benefit me, thus not giving me any expected benefit from my contribution.

    Here’s where I really may be a bit “cheery”: I think you always benefit from a better world. You never know whether the kid whose meal was bought with your donation will grow up to cure a disease that would other wise kill your child… or whether those nights in a shelter instead of on the street will be the tipping point between a useful life and a life of violent crime that might intersect with your own existence. And if you benefited in a way like one of those, you’d conceivably never know it. But even if you didn’t, I think whenever the net happiness of the world is increased, or the net suffering decrease, we all benefit, from the mere fact of living in a happier, less painful world.

    Or maybe you benefit simply by feeling better about yourself because you did something you’re proud of: You count as part of the world, too, and a net increase in your happiness constitutes a net increase in the world’s.

    John Donne said that “[a]ny man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind”; I think in like manner, any man’s (or woman’s) happy life expands me, because I am involved in [hu]mankind. And so, I conclude, it is impossible for me to do good for others without benefiting myself as a matter of course.

    Sappy enough for ya’? ;^)

  160. #160 'Tis Himself, OM
    January 18, 2010

    Shorter heddle: You atheists are big meanies for donating to Haitian relief and not keeping quiet about it.

  161. #161 Flex
    January 18, 2010

    Paul wrote, “…the vast majority of the people in the country have no chance of serving in an elected manner in their government.”

    I assume you mean at the federal level.

    After all, I’m a local elected official and even though I ran against two other citizens I spent less than $1000 on my campaign and still won. Even getting to the state level isn’t particularly hard.

    In fact, I recommend people to get involved locally simply because aside from the federal taxation, most of the things in your life are decided on a local level. I.e. roads, schools, trash services, water/sewer, development and other zoning issues, traffic, and even most law enforcement.

    And yet, people don’t want to be politicians on a local level. The pay is poor, its often a part-time job which interrupts other activities, and on a semi-regular basis you get yelled at by an upset citizen. (Often the same citizen who won’t serve themselves, but can tell you how poorly you are doing your job. But that’s another story.)

    There are, in fact, two very different sides to political office. The first one; the electioneering, glad-handing, going to the right parties and walking the streets, can be tough but straightforward. You simply need to join the right clubs and become known as a good guy to the stakeholders in a community. This isn’t hard, the clubs are open to anyone and the stakeholders like be to viewed as powerful. You also have to say the same things your clubs and stakeholders say, even if you know they can never be realized. To get elected, you can’t shatter anyone’s dreams (this is easier than you think, the best tool is to not talk).

    The duties of office itself are a different matter. As a township trustee I spend about 20 hours a month reviewing spreadsheets, discussing proposed zoning changes (pro and con), looking at sheriff logs (and discussing ways to reduce crime), reading utility department reports on sewer and water line repairs, looking at grant proposals, electricity bills, water rates, and lots more spreadsheets. I do get paid for doing this, $100/meeting, one meeting a month. It works out to about $5/hr.

    Not that I’m complaining because I love doing the job. I ran for this position with my eyes open, and got training in the job before I ran.

  162. #162 shatfat
    January 19, 2010

    When you give $100 to a food bank, do you really expect it to benefit yourself in any way?

    Let me go all Abe Lincoln and say yes, because I wouldn’t want to live in a county where people are starving.

    I donate to the food bank monthly. I used to get involved in drives and bring food, but found that was a bit off b/c they can’t always use what we bring & they’re usually flush in near-date goods (so far as that goes) from the stupormarkets anyway. So now I just give them money.

    I know some food banks are crooks but the need is so bad in our county and I’ve yet to hear a bad word about them. (Except from those who don’t qualify for aid, or those who are pissed about the people who DO qualify… system ain’t perfect.) In fact, some people in other counties have donated equipment to them. So I’m going to trust that it’s going to a good place for now.

  163. #163 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawm5UbdajNPPy1Ue7LfSyPMNiC_SsiUrHj0
    January 19, 2010

    I gave to Haiti via the German Red Cross before the “Non-Believers Giving Aid” thing. I was absolutely happy to do so and so was my equally atheistic fiancée.

  164. #164 TwinCoricopat
    January 19, 2010

    What just happened?
    I guess TypeKey vs. Google account isn’t a perfect match?

  165. #165 Walton
    January 19, 2010

    Bill Dauphin,

    The question here is not whether “the government” or “the people” should have primacy; the government is the people, and vice versa.

    I know we’ve discussed this at length before, but I still don’t fully understand how you can sustain this notion.

    The idea that a constitutional-democratic notion is “ruled by the people” seems to me to be a fantasy, and a conflation of rhetoric with reality. “The people” is a very nebulous concept. In reality, in a vast and diverse nation like the United States, “the people” consists of many different, overlapping communities and groups, with their own interests, wishes and values. Politics, realistically, consists of constant conflict between these different sectional interests, over the allocation of limited resources and the proper use and limits of state coercion. There is no single, homogeneous “will of the people”; there are temporary majorities on particular issues, but “the people” are never united. Nor should they be, because we wouldn’t be human – with all the capacity for independent thought and action that our nature entails – if we were capable of having a single collective will and purpose. As Lord Vetinari says in one of the Discworld novels: “Pulling together is the aim of tyrants. Free men pull in all kinds of directions.”

    Furthermore, even to the limited extent that there is such a thing as a “popular will”, democracy as actually practised in the real world can never be anything more than a weak, haphazard reflection of it. Every electoral system is imperfect and effectively disenfranchises some of the voters; in the US, for instance, your geographical location makes a huge difference to how much your vote “counts”. Furthermore, no society allows everyone who is affected by a decision to vote on it; most countries do not accord non-nationals or minors the right to vote, and some also disenfranchise convicted felons and other parts of the population. And, of course, a large proportion of the citizens do not understand, and are not engaged in, the political process; if they vote at all, they tend to do so on a fairly arbitrary basis.

    I also think the notion that government decisions represent the collective “will of the people” is not only naive, but dangerous and pernicious. Opponents of gay marriage argue, for instance, that Proposition 8 and similar plebiscites represent “the will of the people”. Ditto with the vote to prohibit minarets in Switzerland, and other similar illiberal measures that diminish the freedom of unpopular minority groups. According to your maxim that “the government is the people”, you have no effective way of denying that these measures are an example of “the people” giving effect to their wishes. I, obviously, do not take this view: I see them as instances of the majority imposing its irrational prejudices on the minority. But I don’t know how they fit in with your view that “the government is the people”.

    I contend, therefore, that the government does not and cannot represent “the people”, because there is no such thing. Rather, government represents the set of sectional interests and ideas which happen to have prevailed at any one time – and since these inevitably conflict with competing interests and ideas, all government action carries the danger of oppression. I would argue that there should be absolute, rigid limits on the scope of permissible government activity, no matter what the majority of voters want: which is why I believe in constitutional rights, and why I think democracy alone is insufficient to protect freedom.

  166. #166 JayK
    January 19, 2010

    Done. Thank you, PZ, for the gentle reminder that helping others is worth doing just for the simple reasons, most importantly, that helping people is a compassionate and empathetical gesture.

    Science side, it also releases dopamine to give you that warm fuzzy feeling. Mmmmm, dopamine.

  167. #167 Feynmaniac
    January 19, 2010

    Walton,

    The idea that a constitutional-democratic notion is “ruled by the people” seems to me to be a fantasy, and a conflation of rhetoric with reality.

    To a certain extent I agree with you. In practice, constitutional democracies frequently go against the wishes of “the people” in favor of the rich and powerful. However, the people do have a significant say in what goes on in the government. Now, one or two private citizens may not be able to change things, but if you organize many people you begin to see a difference.

    “The people” is a very nebulous concept. In reality, in a vast and diverse nation like the United States, “the people” consists of many different, overlapping communities and groups, with their own interests, wishes and values. Politics, realistically, consists of constant conflict between these different sectional interests, over the allocation of limited resources and the proper use and limits of state coercion. There is no single, homogeneous “will of the people”; there are temporary majorities on particular issues, but “the people” are never united.

    Furthermore, even to the limited extent that there is such a thing as a “popular will”, democracy as actually practised in the real world can never be anything more than a weak, haphazard reflection of it.

    I contend, therefore, that the government does not and cannot represent “the people”, because there is no such thing

    I don’t think the conclusion that there is not such thing as a government representing the people follows. All you showed is the concept is complex and is difficult to put into practice, something that’s not really controversial. However, we shouldn’t expect it to be simple because few things in anything as complex as human societies are simple. Just because you aren’t able to come up with a simple definition that’s implemented perfectly doesn’t mean the concept is invalid.

    In most (if not all) societies larger than a hunter gatherer tribe there is a segment of the population that is more powerful than others. Governments prevent these powerful agents from completely ruling and allow the average person to at least have a chance against them. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. The agents often use their power to lobby and disproportionately influence gov’t. However, citizens end up having more say than if the society was run purely by gangs, an oligarchy, corporations, church, etc.

    Now in practice things are messy. There are a number of factors involved in any one issue. Not all issues are going to be solved by “majority rules”. In the example you gave of Proposition 8 I’d say the use of ballot measure was invalid because this was a matter about individual’s rights. The same can be said about segregation in the South. Even in other cases where the bulk of the population is effected it isn’t always clear whether to follow the will of the majority or have some sort of compromise.

    Again, societies are complex and we shouldn’t expect easy answers.

    [ Hmmmm, I guess I have to agree with what others on this blog have said. I prefer to write about specific issues rather than abstract political theory. These discussions often tend oversimplify beyond the point of being a useful approximation and are somewhat Utopian (I include what I wrote above).]

  168. #168 Paul
    January 19, 2010

    Flex@161

    Yes, your assumption regarding my meaning is correct. The reason I fixated on the Federal level is there are many things that could be done to ease suffering at that level that would be infeasible to do on a local level. All the same, it really does come off as pathetic bleating on my end about lack of power to change things when there is at least some power available at the local level. Of course, my problem is I live in an area very sharply ideologically opposed to my own views. I think any sort of local government would be a non-starter on my end. But it is something I should consider going forward.

    Thanks for your input.

    @Bill Dauphin, 159

    Aw, I was curious about your opinions regarding our differences of opinion in government! But yeah, too much time sunk into this thread and we really don’t disagree all that much.

    Don’t think I didn’t catch you solving the problem by definition! It’s cheating to define yourself as [involved in] humankind, and thus anything that benefits humankind benefits you! Logic does not work that way! I mean, if I benefitted humankind by giving $50k to everyone below $10k income per annum, that would not benefit you (and in fact, the inflation might harm you!).

    But then, at least it’s a positive outlook on life, and the world could only get better by people adopting the view.

  169. #169 Bill Dauphin, OM
    January 19, 2010

    Flex (@161):

    Thanks for jumping in with your experiences in local government. I, too, am involved in local government: Even though I failed to get elected to Town Council (no worries; I’ll keep trying), I serve on a local commission (in this case, overseeing a bond-finance $70 million program to renovate all 7 of our public school campuses) and I’m an official of the local Democratic Town Committee (i.e., the official local arm of the party). In that latter capacity, I help shape the legislative agenda of my fellow Democrats who are on the council. In addition, I’m involved in state and federal politics through my volunteer work for campaigns ranging from State Representative (my State Rep is also my literal neighbor) all the way up to POTUS.

    None of this has required me to be rich or well connected, nor to give any particular amount to any candidate (I am a small-dollar donor to candidates I support, but that’s because it makes me feel invested to give, not because it’s demanded of me nor because I expect to gain any extra influence thereby), nor to give up my day job. I think it’s far easier than most people realize to be meaningfully involved in government, and government is a continuum that stretches all the way from your local town hall to the Capitol and the White House: If you’re involved in any of it, you’re involved, to some degree, in all of it.

    In my experience, people who are involved in government, even at the most minimal level, tend to be far less cynical about it than those who aren’t. People who assume (usually incorrectly, I think) that “government” is something distant and inaccessible to them tend to buy into philosophies like Walton’s, which characterize “the Government” as an external entity, separate from and in fundamental opposition to, the people (or, since many like Walton don’t accept the existence of any such collective entity, individuals).

    Walton, you seem to focus on the fact that the representative character of government is imperfect. I agree. But where this fact leads you to the notion that representative government per se is a fantasy, and the whole model needs to be abandoned, I instead conclude that the model needs to be made better. Not that it can ever be fully perfected — what human activity ever can be? — but that the attention and diligent involvement of the people can and will make it better over time. Your comment about free men “pulling in all directions” strikes me as a recipe for anarchy (which I mean in the common sense of the word, without reference to the political philsophy of anarchism [hi, SC!])… and it’s beyond me how that would make things better for anyone except the people who already have either the most money or the most guns.

    Paul:

    I was curious about your opinions regarding our differences of opinion in government!

    Maybe some of my comments to Flex and Walton have shed some light?

    Don’t think I didn’t catch you solving the problem by definition! It’s cheating to define yourself as [involved in] humankind, and thus anything that benefits humankind benefits you!

    Well, first, my main motivation for dragging that Donne quote in is just that I like Donne. My background is in English Lit, so literary allusion is a bit of an occupational hazard.

    But I disagree that it’s a cheat: I literally mean that anything that benefits humankind broadly benefits all humans.

    Logic does not work that way!…

    I think your “logic” is a bit too literal and monetized. If I send $50 to help rescue, treat, and feed people in Haiti, I probably won’t receive any direct, personal, material benefit from that… but a world in which people like me send money to help strangers in distant lands is a better world than one in which we don’t… and living in a better world is a benefit in and of itself.

    You actually do understand this, despite the fact that you keep arguing the point:

    But then, at least it’s a positive outlook on life, and the world could only get better by people adopting the view. [emphasis added]

    Right.

  170. #170 Walton
    January 19, 2010

    Walton, you seem to focus on the fact that the representative character of government is imperfect. I agree.

    Not just that. I also contend that the concept of a truly “representative government” is incoherent in itself, even in a society better and more enlightened than our own. Simply put, each person is different, and each person belongs to a number of overlapping sectional groups and communities (based on geographical location, religion, nationality and culture, occupation, socio-economic class, and a host of other factors). And the different interests and values of these different groups often, inevitably, come into conflict.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not, at all, denigrating liberal democracy, nor am I arguing that it should be replaced with something different. On balance, it’s the best system we have available for adjudicating between all these different competing interests and ideas. But we need to recognise that it’s inevitably a crude tool; that its outcomes are inevitably slanted towards larger, wealthier and better-organised groups and against small, poor or marginalised ones; and that democratic decisions “represent” only the wishes of the victors in any given political conflict, not “the people” as a whole.

    Your comment about free men “pulling in all directions” strikes me as a recipe for anarchy… and it’s beyond me how that would make things better for anyone except the people who already have either the most money or the most guns.

    That’s not really what I meant. I didn’t mean that every citizen or every group should be free to do as they please. Any society needs some sort of governmental process – backed, in the last resort, by coercion – to adjudicate between all the different competing interests and ideas which grapple for resources and public space. And constitutional democracy is the best process we’ve yet invented for achieving this.

    So we’re disagreeing, here, on something which is more philosophical than practical. Yet it can manifest itself in practical contexts, too, on specific issues. Your statement – that “the government is the people” – would, if it were interpreted literally, give licence to the democratic majority to implement whatever policies it pleased. I’m not, in any way, accusing you of advocating this; I’m aware that you strongly support civil liberties and the rights of minority groups. But I don’t understand how you can reconcile your support for the constitutional protection of individual rights against the popular will, with your idea that “the government is the people”. If government and people were truly the same thing, then surely the judicial protection of fundamental rights would be unwarranted, since even the most authoritarian legislation would simply be an instance of “the people” exercising their right to make decisions?

  171. #171 Paul
    January 19, 2010

    But I disagree that it’s a cheat: I literally mean that anything that benefits humankind broadly benefits all humans.

    That’s not necessarily true. Humankind would broadly benefit from a worldwide governing body that prevents whaling. This would not help any groups that subsist largely on whale meat. Humankind as a group would benefit from reducing carbon emissions so that future generations do not experience catastrophic ocean rising levels and higher temperatures. But going this route would have a detrimental effect on the luxury experienced by many humans in the present, even if they were not likely to live to see the catastrophic outcomes. They would experience the negative impacts without seeing any personal benefit.

    But then, at least it’s a positive outlook on life, and the world could only get better by people adopting the view. [emphasis added]

    Right.

    That’s not an explanation in and of itself, Bill. Just because something leads to better outcomes doesn’t make it ‘right’ or ‘logical’. But really, any disagreement we might have on how we come across our outlooks is mostly academic. I’m not about to advocate cessation of charitable acts or anything.

    The world getting better doesn’t keep me from getting hit by a car, or my theoretical future kid from catching Leukemia. That’s all I meant from calling you out on faulty logical inferences. While humankind being better off as a whole could be said to be a net gain, there’s no guarantee of me getting anything out of it.

    I’m not trying to come off as all Libertarian or anything, or trying to argue that there is no value in helping others. Just pointing out the logical disconnect. But at the same time I recognize that helping others (cumulatively) leads to better average outcomes and quality of life, which could be a benefit to me. But I don’t expect or hope better for myself (which was your initial statement that interested me! But you’ve since qualified the statement, and I don’t find it objectionable at this point). But I suppose I fall under the pessimist umbrella.

  172. #172 Bill Dauphin, OM
    January 19, 2010

    Walton:

    This is an argument that you and I will no doubt continue having for as long as we’re both posting here, so I won’t try to have all of it now. One response, though:

    But I don’t understand how you can reconcile your support for the constitutional protection of individual rights against the popular will, with your idea that “the government is the people”. If government and people were truly the same thing, then surely the judicial protection of fundamental rights would be unwarranted, since even the most authoritarian legislation would simply be an instance of “the people” exercising their right to make decisions?

    I think I’m both more hopeful (aka naive) and more cynical than you on this score. My insistence that a synthetic collective called the people actually exists doesn’t mean I’m blind to the fact that people often oppose one another, and are too often not fair about it. The existence of the sort of judicial protection you cite (and of minority-protection measures like the filibuster, which we’re discussing in another thread) doesn’t imply that “the people” and “the government” are in fundamental opposition; it only means that “the people” sometimes need to protect themselves from each other.

    Families typically have some mechanism for preventing several members from ganging up on the most defensless among them (even if it’s only “don’t make me stop this car!”)… but that doesn’t mean there’s some sort of fundamental, philosophical divide between the family and its individual members.

  173. #173 Bill Dauphin, OM
    January 19, 2010

    Paul:

    The world getting better doesn’t keep me from getting hit by a car, or my theoretical future kid from catching Leukemia.

    Maybe not, but the world getting better might help you recover after getting hit by that car, or might help your kid survive leukemia (kids surviving cancer, BTW, is an area where I have some personal experience, as I might have mentioned here once or twice). And even if it doesn’t do either of those things, it means you’ll be living in a better world up until those tragedies strike. That, by you, counts for nothing?

    OK, enough; as you point out, we’re getting into the philosophical weeds. It’s sufficient that we both agree charitable giving is worth doing. Cheers!

  174. #174 bastion of sass
    January 19, 2010

    I’ve been thinking for a while that if religious charities want to show that the basis for their good works are not self-aggrandizement and gaining converts, they could start by changing their names to something a little less obvious.

    Yes, I’m thinking about you, among others, Catholic Relief Services, Lutheran World Relief, and American Jewish World Services.

    I note that the Christian Children’s Fund changed its name to ChildFund International, which apparently distressed some Christians, but pleased others. Some were pleased because they recognized that the non-profit had become more secular in its mission; yet others were pleased because they had felt that the group wasn’t Christian enough and use of the term “Christian” in its name was misleading to those who only wanted to donate to charities who “helped” children by feeding them the gospel.

    Although, if the religious based charities did change their name to something more secular, I’d be very very suspicious of their motivation: Are they just trying to trick donors into thinking that they aren’t a faith-based-with-strings-attached group? Or are they simply truly being less boastful of, and more selfless in, their good works?

  175. #175 Rob Adams
    January 19, 2010

    I already donated before but I threw in another $100 through the RDF.

  176. #176 monado
    January 21, 2010

    There are a lot of plainly secular donors who don’t give as non-religious groups, but we can count them, namely companies that donate money or supplies. Quite a few have put links on their web sites for donations or are holding special fund-raising drives.

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