June 10, 2010

Should Atheists Help Predominately Christian People in Need?

helping-hands.jpgSince the earthquake struck Haiti, it became clear that countless atheists were interested in donating to relief efforts. Some contributed immediately to a variety of organizations without regard for whether such organizations might have a religious agenda; others contributed to explicitly secular efforts designed to help combat the stereotype that atheists are uninterested in charitable giving.

I noted a recent example of the latter in the form of Non-Believers Giving Aid, and there have been several others establishing ways for atheists to support relief efforts without having to support proselytizing. What I had not anticipated in this context was the question raised by one commenter on a post I wrote about Haiti: whether atheists should give at all to help a predominately Christian country such as Haiti.

Brad wrote:
What surprises me is is how many atheists and agnostics give a damn about helping these people. Yes, I know they are human beings, but step back for a moment Haitians are mostly pseudo-catholic (over 90% of the population) followed up with protestants making up a high percentage of the remainder. These people are zealous in their religious beliefs and for the most part would find my non-belief contemptible at best. Why should I help them when they would spit in my face for my beliefs? Screw them!
Honestly, the attitude expressed here made me feel nauseous. Was I missing something here? I wondered what sort of person might be capable of such a callous perspective. I help because it is the decent thing to do and because I would want others to do the same if I was in peril.

I recognize that Haiti is thoroughly Christian. So is Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida (other places to which I have sent money following natural disasters). I realize that a majority of Haitians (just like a majority of U.S. Southerners) despise me simply because I am an atheist. I do not deny any of this. At the same time, none of it strikes me as a valid reason to withhold aid.

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