Helping Haiti

There’s much that needs to be done to assist the recovery in Haiti, but the consensus of those on the ground is that what’s needed now is money. Don’t mail blankets or whatever, just let the aid agencies buy what they need and ship it in. The airports and seaports are clogged and there’s minimal capacity to offload supplies, so let the aid groups make decisions about what’s needed and when.

The Intersection has a good roundup of the top aid groups. Personally, I’ve always been happy with Oxfam. They have a longstanding presence in Haiti, and I know that they’ll be working not just on the immediate relief effort, but ensuring that the long-term recovery is sustainable and more resilient and people-friendly than what came before. Oxfam really does apply the “teach a man to fish” model of aid, which is what Haiti needs.

You can also give via the Richard Dawkins website, where a bunch of nonbeliever/freethought groups are funneling donations to the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. I’d suggest just giving directly to those groups, but the site is set up to pass all the donations directly to the aid groups, without taking any processing fees along the way. The idea is to show how much nonbelievers give and to fight the perception that nontheists are less generous than theists.

I find the pissing match a bit unseemly, but the project seems fiscally sound and genuinely helps people in need. As always, your motives matter less than your actions.


  1. #1 Liz
    January 19, 2010

    Just to clarify a point, Non-Believers Giving Aid is not to create a ‘pissing contest’. Please visit the website,, to get a fuller understanding of what the cooperative is attempting to do.

    People give to others in dire need because we evolved to be empathetic, as Andy Thomson, psychiatrist and Trustee for RFDFRs said, “Evolution gave us brains with hard-wired capacity for empathy, mirror neurons. We need no god to feel others’ pain. We need outlets to act across the ocean to people we cannot touch directly. Our brains are compassionate by design. We are providing an outlet that permits direct altruism. ”

    Unfortunately, non-believers have been publicly criticized by many religious apologists (thus feeding into the negative stereo-type of non-believers) that do not engage in the community. This stereotype remains in tact despite growing evidence that non-believers are one of the most generous in terms of donating money to charitable causes. But, we are often ignored because we don’t give through a church.

    It is extremely important that we don’t let this become a competition – it isn’t. What we do want to make clear is that believers and non-believers give for the same reason. We care about humanity.

    Is there really anything wrong with attempting to show that as humans, we have more in common than not, despite our various views of the world…. so rather than focus on our differences – let’s look at our similarities and attempt to build some bridges. This is the one of the goals of NBGA.

    Thank you
    R. Elisabeth Cornwell, PhD
    Executive Director
    The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science

  2. #2 Josh Rosenau
    January 19, 2010

    Liz: As I said, the important thing is that the project genuinely helps people in need. But one could help people in need by simply linking to the Red Cross and MSF websites, rather than by gathering the money through NBGA and then disbursing it. It is the choice to act as a conduit for the funds, rather than as a conduit for donors, that makes it look like RDFRS is keeping score, and that’s why I say “pissing contest.”

    Naturally I did visit the site before linking it, and the “pissing contest” perspective was reinforced by the paragraph emphasizing the contrast with “[p]reachers and televangelists, mullahs and imams” who “seem almost to gloat over natural disasters,” and whose “church[es] … rack up statistics of competitive generosity.” Saying, after all that, that NBGA “provide[s] an easy conduit for the non-religious to help those in desperate need, whilst simultaneously giving the lie to the canard that you need God to be good,” gives the semblance of a pissing contest, in which atheists show themselves better than theists by racking up more donations.

    This is not to say NBGA is a bad idea, nor would I discourage anyone from donating through it. I just find its presentation unfortunate.

  3. #3 Ray Ingles
    January 19, 2010

    Josh, sorry, I think you’re reading a bit much into it. I think the point is to argue against people – and there’s a depressing number of them – who claim that atheists can’t be or do good at all.

  4. #4 Peter Beattie
    January 19, 2010

    » Ray Ingles:
    I think the point is to argue against people … who claim that atheists can’t be or do good at all.

    What on earth made you think that that was the point, Ray? Could it have been the phrase “giving the lie to the canard that you need God to be good”, which somehow says exactly that and conspicuously fails to entail the idea of showing anybody to be “better than theists”?

  5. #5 Ray Ingles
    January 21, 2010

    If you want an example of someone turning charity into a “pissing contest”, see here:

    “So where are the atheist organizations? Are they sending aid workers, money or prayers? No. But they do have money to devote to a display in the Capitol building in Olympia, to tell us there is no God, there is no heaven or hell.

    If there are atheists interested in helping the people of Haiti, I ask them to give to World Vision or one of the other fine Christian organizations. Or they can do nothing.”

  6. #6 Josh Rosenau
    January 21, 2010

    Ray, no doubt that there are religious people who are jerks. But two wrongs don’t make a right. I can refute that letter by waving the receipt from my donation to Oxfam just as easily as by pointing to the NBGA website.

  7. #7 Ray Ingles
    January 22, 2010

    I can refute that letter by waving the receipt from my donation to Oxfam just as easily as by pointing to the NBGA website.

    Sorry, no. Your donation hasn’t been covered by multiple news organizations. All your donation would show to the letter writer is ‘no doubt there are a few atheists who aren’t complete jerks’. Dawkin’s point is how common charitable giving is among atheists – which, sadly, is actually surprising news to a lot of people.

    The contrast between that letter and Dawkin’s plea is palpable. The letter makes things a pissing contest – “Us theists donate, atheists don’t.” Dawkins, on the other hand, merely says “Many, many atheists donate too.” One’s an attack, the other’s making a positive point.

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