Joe Klein’s piece on Time Magazine that made their front page is about Service. In particular service to a cause that is good and how it heals those who are suffering with PTSD and how it can give purpose to “a life lost”.
In particular it discusses combat PTSD which has to be differentiated to other PTSD due to the training received by the individual in the armed services. The PTSD suffered by a doctor is different to that of a soldier. There are similarities but some manifestations are different particularly how they cope compared to a civilian.
The article goes into a wonderful charity that is getting veterans back on their feet by giving them something “bigger” than themselves again to “serve”. To help those who are less fortunate and to socialise and indeed get them moving and not sit around feeling sorry for themselves.
It’s a lofty ideal and if it is working for these veterans then good. Excellent. Well done. High Fives and Beers All Round. I have no problems with that bit.
But does Joe really have to shoot himself in the foot while writing this piece?
But there was an occupying army of relief workers, led by local first responders, exhausted but still humping it a week after the storm, church groups from all over the country — funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals — and there in the middle of it all, with a purposeful military swagger, were the volunteers from Team Rubicon. They looked tough, megatatted, in camouflage pants, gray T-shirts and white hard hats. They moved with purpose and spirit and were equipped by Home Depot — which has done brilliant work locating and funding the very best veterans service groups — with an impressive array of chain saws, power tools, wheelbarrows, tarps and wood.
I quoted the entire paragraph to not be guilty of quote mining and I highlighted the line.
And here is where it breaks down.
Most secular humanists are not picky who they help and under what banner they help people. In fact most “Secular” and “Humanist” organisations emphasise on the secularity.
Joe here falls under the trap of equating secular with atheism and assuming that none of us do any charity work.
The most modern secular human declaration states that
- Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis.
- Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of evolutionary change, an unguided process.
- Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience.
- Life’s fulfilment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals.
- Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships.
- Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness.
- Respect for differing yet humane views is vital in an open, secular, democratic, environmentally sustainable society
There aren’t that many secular humanists out there but there are people who identify with these ideas. And there are institutions that have these ideas and have gone forth into the world to do great things.
They are secular in that they accept people from all faiths or lack there off. And they are humanist in that they abide by the above principles and do not discriminate on the basis of religion.
The Red Cross? Medicin Sans Frontier? There are some pretty big charities that subscribe to these principles. They just don’t go waving them around. The people who follow these principles are “quiet” and often quite unassuming. They don’t march under the banner of secular humanism because the point of charity is NOT for you to push the agenda of your personal ethos.
The point of charity is to make charity redundant. To remove the need for charity is the ultimate goal of charity. The people you help should eventually not need help any more and a lot of charity work is about helping people help themselves.
You don’t do that by wearing a t-shirt claiming your atheism or your secular humanism for the world to see. It’s not about “YOU” and “YOUR FAITH”. It’s about helping people.
And many secular humanists don’t care who they work with. They may be working around a plethora of different people of different faiths but that’s the point of being secular. Your faith is important to you, but not to the people you work with and who you are helping. So you don’t wear it in the open. Your faith is unnecessary to the job in hand. You are not representing anything, you are just helping people.
The secular charities of the Red Cross and Medicin Sans Frontier and things like the Gates Foundation have never been in it for recognition. They have always been in the game of charity to win. To achieve their goals.
Atheists and Secular Humanists have been to disaster zones across the world and can be found in pretty much every charity set up in every country doing everything from fundraising to front line aid. We may not be visible doing it but that’s because we don’t think our lack of faith is important in the situation and we would rather work cohesively as human beings than as “Secular Humanists”.
Now as with all groups there are “unfortunate members” who don’t quite realise that the point of charity is to “help”. Let’s look at these two anecdotes. I am sure that there are rude, abrasive and unpleasant atheists who would do charity work for the sole purpose of pushing atheism. But in my experience I have yet to come across them. I figure it’s because most atheists belong to secular charities where personal religious belief is not important and not a way of identifying with each other.
The first is from my personal experience.
A missionary told me of how proud she was to help the people of Africa who “Needed it more” than my patients. She had gone to Uganda, spoke AGAINST vaccinations despite the country having made massive strides in eliminating Measles as a childhood disorder. She also proceeded to construct a water collection system that was uncovered which would result in the proliferation of mosquitoes and while rain water harvesting is good for alleviating footprints, the overall rainfall of Uganda may not be sufficient to create a total independence from “poor” water supplies. Finally she advocated the benefits of raw milk.
In total the effect was to try and flog an anti-vaccine viewpoint while encouraging the consumption of unpasteurised milk, a single food source that was once responsible for 25% of all diarrhoeal diseases while constructing a gigantic reservoir free of fish with no covers and providing a variety of breeding grounds for different mosquito species.
In short? Her organisers were not interested in keeping tabs on her and her “faith in Jesus” was more important than what she did to help these people. What she did may have made her feel better but she subverted the ideas of many doctors who are working to make Uganda a better place, created breeding grounds for the vectors of disease and gave these people terribly dangerous advice.
She would not have been allowed to work for secular charities.
Secondly? We must go to the Red Dirt Report
“We were working side by side for about an hour with about 5 members of this church, cutting down trees and piling up metal, lumber, and tree branches. The property owner asked for a group photo of all that were cleaning up her property so we walked to where her house once stood. On the way up, one of my friends was asked where he was from, and he replied ‘the Atheist Community of Tulsa,’ to which the member from Freedom Assembly of God got quiet and walked up the hill and into the group of volunteers to take the picture. When the pictures were done, a Christian volunteer with FreeOK, Stephanie Derby, had been working with us all day. She was very aware that we were a group of atheists, but we were there for the one reason she was and that was to help out.
Anyway, one of the members called her aside and told her that she was with a group of atheists, that they were going somewhere else and that she should leave with them. Stephanie replied; ‘No. I’ve been with this group of people all day, I’m here to help and so are they.” The Assembly member then responded, ‘but you’re a Christian,’ indicating the cross she wore around her neck. Stephanie said, ‘Yes I am and I’m staying with them. I’m helping here. We are here to help, not judge.’”
All five of the Assembly members left that area to work elsewhere where they would not be knowingly working alongside atheists. They stayed for the picture, though (see featured image). In Hawaii, there may be a bit of your standard ‘old lady clucking disapprovingly about your life choices,’ but they’re not going to stop cooking for you. For the most part, however, these incidents have been minimal in my experience with regard to the relief effort. When I asked Stephanie about featuring the incident here, Stephanie said “I enjoyed spending the day with each of you. I met a lot of great people on Saturday from FreeOK. We were all out there for one cause and working as a team!”
I think the second case demonstrates the best and worst of people and indeed the nature of secular charity while demonstrating the existence of “secular humanist charity”. Stephanie and her interaction with the Atheists Community of Tulsa are pretty much how most secular charities work and indeed how most charities SHOULD work. The 5 Christians who thought it was more important to not work with Atheists? That’s not what charity is about. They were doing it for the wrong reasons. Just as we do not judge the actions of Christians by the actions of these, so must people like Joe Kline not judge the actions of Atheists based on our unwillingness to make our charity about our atheism rather than about helping people.
I find it unnecessary to work under a banner of atheism. I am not embarrassed, I am proud of being an atheist. I just don’t see it as relevant to the idea of my charity work. What difference does it make if I were Atheist or Christian? Hindu or Musllim? Satanist or Scientologist? What matters is the work I do and how I treat those in their hour of need.
No deity will save us; we must save ourselves. We are responsible for what we are and for what we will be. The burden of humanity is borne by humans and all that we have achieved on this planet is by the sweat, blood and ingenuity of humans. The world’s problems are not going to be solved by prayer but by human effort. Joe Klein simply “forgot” that and forgets that even the most religious of charity workers helps, not by prayer but by deed.
The best we can do is to leave the world better than we found it, irrespective of whether or not we believe in a god. And that is the most human idea of them all.
So Joe Klein! I may not be named by the gods in their books of the righteous, I may not seek recognition as a worker of charity under the gigantic A of Atheism, but write me down as one who loves his fellow man.