CNN’s Story on Todd Stiefel

Dan Merica of CNN’s Belief Blog did a story about Todd Stiefel, the young philanthropist from North Carolina who supports many worthy secular, atheist and humanist causes. The headline calls him the “money man behind atheism’s activism,” but he’s much more than that. He’s really become an important leader and thinker as well.

“I try to walk a line,” he said. “I see religious criticism as valuable, and groups like American Atheists are good at that. I do think we have to have a dialogue about who has the right ideas and part of that is pointing out the flaws in religious ideas.”

Stiefel continued: “I also see inter-belief work, though. I do find a lot of value in inter-belief work and I do see a lot of value in general charity work.”

Evidence of that is his work on cancer fundraising.

In 2012, Stiefel approached the Foundation Beyond Belief with an idea of creating networks of nonbelievers around the country to help raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Stiefel tapped into his atheist network and began organizing different event.

In total, the atheist groups raised $430,000 in 2012, including a $215,000 donation from Stiefel and his wife, Diana.

“Across the country there are 150 local groups of atheists and freethinkers raising money for charity,” Stiefel said proudly.

The key, however, was bridging the gap between atheist and religious communities in the name of charity.

“We welcomed Christians, as well,” he said. “Some of our biggest fundraisers were Christians.”

As the article notes, the goal for 2013 is to raise $500,000 and the Foundation Beyond Belief is working hard toward that goal already. He also says this:

“What I would really like to see is expanding out communities to people who may not just be atheists or agnostics and into people who are religiously skeptical and may still have some religious beliefs,” he said. “Nobody is a perfect skeptic and I would like to see more people like that in our community.”

For Stiefel, this is a personal priority. He says his wife, whom he describes as a skeptical Christian, is someone who would fall within an expanded atheist movement.

“My message is not only of anti-theism,” Stiefel said. “I don’t choose to attack religion itself. I see religion as something that provides both good and ill to the world.”

And I agree with him. I simply don’t agree with Hitchens’ statement that “religion poisons everything.” I think on balance, religion does more damage than it does good, but that isn’t the same thing as not doing any good at all. Religion is a human institution, so it is prone to all the same tendencies that human beings are. Religion can motivate unspeakable barbarism and extraordinary kindness, sometimes in the very same person. And ultimately, I don’t really care whether someone believes in God if they also believe in freedom and equality and decency. If they’re willing to work with me toward those ends, they’re on my team. Does that make me an “accommodationist” or an “appeaser”? I can live with that.

But some of the comments on this article definitely show the negative side of religion:

“We are still in the early stages of eliminating discrimination against atheists and humanists” What discrimination???? Please shut-up about your belief system or lack of one. Nobody cares and really that’s what you’re putting your money into ….what about starving children, the poor and the sick? Oh wait that might make people think your a Christian! Don’t want that…

Did he not read the article? Is he incapable of reading with comprehension? A few more:

Well, I guess all you agnostic/atheist/non-believers don’t have to worry about hell, then? In that case, go right ahead while I bid farewell. Be careful not to trip. It could be a painful fall….

I continue to be amazed at the number of individuals who try to disprove the existence of God by using the world they live in as their framework. For example, someone earlier presented a medical scenario of what physically happens when you die. Their conclusion: there is no ‘soul’ because it is scientifically impossible. While brilliantly presented, they left out the most important consideration. God does not need to play by the physical rules of our world, if He did, He wouldn’t be God. That is why you will never be able to prove or to disprove the existence of God. Only when you close your eyes for the last time will you see for yourself….

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