Alistair McBay suggests that charity work should be done because it’s a good thing to do, not as a way to justify arbitrary privileges.
Recently some Christian leaders in Scotland angered at secularists challenging their privileges have responded by pointing out the National Secular Society and other secular groups don’t run care homes, or operate food banks, or run adoption agencies. Secularists have been the target of this ill-informed sniping from both the Free Church of Scotland and the Church of Scotland, and Anglican and Catholic leaders have made similar attacks in the past.
It’s a familiar trope. “You rage-bloggers aren’t out there bagging up groceries for war refugees so shut up!” You can plug in any terms you like in order to jab at anyone you don’t like. What did you do in the war Daddy; Dear Muslima; first world problems; professional victims; yadda yadda. It’s not always wholly unreasonable, but most of the time it’s mostly unreasonable. Use sparingly if at all.
The NSS is not a registered charity, it is a not-for-profit campaigning organisation. It would be more accurate for the churches to compare us not with themselves, but to the Christian not-for-profit think-tank Ekklesia, which is also a campaigning group, not a registered charity, and doesn’t run care homes or food banks.
And that kind of distinction applies to so many things. Journalists aren’t firefighters; musicians aren’t doctors; engineers aren’t charity administrators. Different people do different things. Lots of things need doing. We get to choose.
I know of no secular charity that prostitutes its charitable works as justification for retaining special privilege in society – that seems to be the sole prerogative of some religious groups. All over the UK, every day of the year, people of all religious beliefs and none perform selfless works and activities to raise funds for those worse off in some way, or give up their valuable personal time as volunteers to make better the lives of others less fortunate. Yet the only people who consistently brag (sorry, bear witness) about what they do in this regard are church leaders looking to leverage this work in exchange for power and privilege, and to champion their allegedly superior belief system.
I suppose they want to think their allegedly superior belief system is good for something.
Of course many secularists donate or support charities run by religious groups, including the many secularists who are also believers. How wonderful it would be if Christian leaders could continue the good work that their churches and congregations do because they are just good people with a human desire to help others, and did so without using it as a bargaining chip for special favour and influence.
Yet in its own way the NSS funds charitable organisations and activity. For example, we may not run schools or provide shelters for battered women, but our annual Secularist of the Year fund has recognised and rewarded charities such as Plan UK which supports the education of girls and young women around the world, an award we made in recognition of the wonderful example of Malala Yousafzai. We also continue to support secular groups such as the Southall Black Sisters, who do such sterling work on behalf of victims of domestic abuse in the UK’s black and minority ethnic communities and challenge the religious dogma which contributes to their marginalisation. And we could do so much more of this if only we didn’t pay our taxes in full and enjoyed the tax breaks and regular Government handouts the churches receive.
I have yet to see any church leader comment that the £15m handed out in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement for church roof repairs would be better spent directly providing a happier Christmas for many of the homeless. And this, remember, is on top of the £42m Listed Places of Worship Grants Scheme, which provides funding amongst other things for auto-winding turret clocks, pipe organs and bells and bell ropes!
See? That’s the danger of this “why don’t you do _______ instead of what you are doing?” trope – it can be applied to almost anyone; it’s a gun that fires backward.