Making good: humanist philanthropy & the duty to give.

Author:Trafas, Marlena
Position::Essay
 
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While religious communities have long been touted as philanthropic and generous, with many datasets showing that religious people give more money to charities compared to their secular counterparts, humanism prides itself on compassion and mutual respect without the need of a higher power. Therefore, it's an understandable frustration that religious institutions, even when criticized for discriminatory practices and beliefs, are still seen as the archetypes of giving. They feed the hungry and fight poverty. They help those dying of disease and they rescue those in war-torn areas. The nonreligious, it's often assumed, have so much less motivation to engage in charitable or philanthropic work and fewer direct avenues to do so, the common thinking goes. However, such perceptions don't encompass the full story when it comes to humanists and their charitable giving.

Both domestically and internationally, there are important elements to religiously motivated giving that ultimately undermine real progress and highlight how the generosity of nonreligious people can be just as, if not more, beneficial to society.

The Connected to Give project is sponsored by a number of independent and community foundations that set out to explore the nature of charitable giving in the United States. They've issued a number of reports in recent years that explore the patterns and relationships found in people's charitable contributions. One of their key findings in the third report, "Faith Communities" (released in 2014), offers important insight as to why there are these preconceived notions of overt religious generosity.

The report found that 73 percent of the total amount of American giving goes to religiously identified organizations. This encompasses two groups: congregations and organizations that work towards their goals under a religion-based framework. While this means a vast majority of all donated money is going to causes and organizations tied to religion, it actually doesn't mean that a majority of people are supporting them. This is clearly evidenced by the fact that of the 63 percent of Americans who give at all, 53 percent of them give to organizations that have no religious ties. So we're looking at a smaller percentage of people giving to sectarian philanthropic efforts at a higher rate: a median of $375 to congregations and $150 to religiously identified organizations. These numbers paired together make up that 73 percent of all money donated in the United States. On the other hand, the median amount going to secular organizations is only $250, but more secular people are giving. Indeed, there is a bulwark of support for charities that have no ties to religion and that help people by promoting the common good.

These statistics help explain the reports vital finding that "Americans with religious or spiritual orientations give at higher rates primarily because they give more to organizations with religious ties." Therefore, religious communities are often reported as giving at higher rates than...

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