May 19, 2015

Religious Groups Engaging in 'Competitive Philanthropy'

Nepal Patan Mangal
By Clemensmarabu, via Wikimedia Commons
Nalika Gajaweera has an interesting post up at Religion Dispatches in which she examines competition among faith-based groups doing charity work in the aftermath of the earthquake in Nepal. While she seems to have a generally positive impression of the work many of these groups are doing, she notes that they do not always cooperate as well as one might hope.
In the direct aftermath of the quake, for example, the Hindu American Foundation sent out an email encouraging individuals seeking to support relief efforts to channel their donations to Hindu charities in particular.
Gajaweera refers to the manner in which some religious groups target segments of the population they believe have been exposed to proselytizing by other religious groups as "competitive philanthropy." This strikes me as a fantastic term for it. She suggests that it is important for us to improve our understanding of the many ways that various religions can impact what happens in places like Nepal and the site of other tragedies. She notes that the interplay between various religious groups can sometimes impact direct aid between governments.

That religious groups would compete in the provision of aid does does not surprise me at all. To some degree, I suppose it is preferable that they would do this over exploiting the vulnerable by proselytizing.

And perhaps it would be unwise to be too harsh in our criticism of this sort of thing. After all, I have seen atheists doing something similar on a number of occasions (i.e., encouraging people to channel their donations to secular charities that appear to have been set up primarily to make it clearer that the donations are coming from secular sources).

To be clear, I am not opposed to the idea of there being secular charities (although I do have some real ambivalence about what the need for charitable organizations says about the role of government). I think it is nice for atheists to have the opportunity to donate to groups that do not proselytize. What I find unseemly are the efforts to steer people away from donating to some of the well-established charities which also do not proselytize (e.g., Doctors Without Borders) and to instead support those that make it clear that they are funded by secular donors. While such efforts may still manage to get assistance to those who need it, they can make it seem like helping others sometimes takes a backseat to public relations.

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