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….

To the non-believer: If there is no God, this whole discussion is hogwash. It means nothing, because everything means nothing. If no God, there are no morals, no kindnesses, no love. Nothing. In which case I see three choices: get on with the party and live it up because this is it, blow your brains out since your life is meaningless, or try to be the fittest and decimate those around you (One with the most toys wins). If there is no God and you, a non-believer are right, trying to convince someone else or even espousing it is simply a waste of everyone’s time (especially your own). Your crying “foul” when someone expresses belief in God because of perceived atrocities arising from past misplaced belief is without merit. Because if no God exists, there are no atrocities, no fouls. All is fair, because there is no such thing as fairness. Anything goes, because every action, word, belief (or non-belief) is irrelevant. If there is no God, there is no worth. No right, no wrong. All is futile. No truth, no lies. If you are right, we believers are all going to look like fools and you can relish in your intellectual superiority. Oh yeah, you won’t be able to relish anything because you, like me, will be dust. So can someone please tell me why the heck this rich know-it-all and all you other non-believers are wasting your breath and making noise like you are scratching a chalkboard. Get on with your self-described meaningless lives or don’t. Whatever.

Or may God open your eyes and show you the Truth. In the precious and holy name of Jesus I pray. Amen.

Wow, what a sparkling new argument. I’ve never heard that one before. And my favorite:

Hello there Satan…

Comments

  1. laurentweppe says

    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.

    If you were to consider someone who believes in freedom and equality and decency and God as “not on your team” it would mean that you did not believe in freedom and equality and decency; it would make you just another tribalistic poseur, no different from the religious tribalists.

  2. slc1 says

    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.

    Well, I’m sure that Godwin will be cited for the following argument but, what the hell, I’ll post it anyway.

    Let’s see, Frankenberger built the Autobahn, set up the Volkswagen company, and reduced unemployment a lot more then Roosevelt did. On balance, the Nazi Party rule over Germany did far more damage then good but it isn’t the same as not doing any good at all.

  3. A Hermit says

    I may have rejected the mythology of my parent’s religion, but the philosophy of it; the message of compassion, openness and humility which led them to open their home to wounded refugees, to volunteer their time teaching adult literacy, to helping battered women…that still inspires me today. My humanism is deeply informed by that heritage.

    Andre Comte-Sponville talks about the need to recognize that part of our heritage; as atheists we reject faith, but we shouldn’t reject what he calls “fidelity” to the positive aspects of our religious traditions.

    I won’t back down on my doubts about the existence of God or on the frequent ill effects of religious belief but I won’t let that one point of disagreement blind me to the good in people who do believe.

  4. dingojack says

    Hmm. Considering that the areas in the US with the highest rates of drug and alcohol dependency, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, teen-aged parents, single parent families and divorces, all happen to correlate with those areas with a high levels of religiosity, perhaps it’s not an issue of freedom, but one of public health and safety.
    Dingo

  5. Shplane, Spess Alium says

    I’m not convinced that religion can actually motivate kindness. It can JUSTIFY kindness that already exists, and it can motivate one to PRETEND to be kind in a cynical, self-serving manner, but it cannot cause one to actually be kind. It’s simply not a part of the philosophy. This is not to say that we should not work with good religious people, but we should never start to think that their goodness comes from their religion. If someone only acts good because of their religion, they’re actually a barbarous monster, and they will start to act like a barbarous monster again as soon as their religion allows them to justify it. Religion cannot make people good, it cannot transform the cruel and hateful into good people, it can only scare those people until they to pretend to goodness.

    The world will only be better off without religion. There are plenty of better ways, both more reliable and more philosophically defensible, to keep our villains in check.

  6. laurentweppe says

    Frankenberger built the Autobahn, set up the Volkswagen company, and reduced unemployment a lot more then Roosevelt did.

    All that thanks to an unapologetic endorsement of Raubwirtschaft. Pretending that Hitler’s economics had good aspects is akin to pretending that the mass child-molesting within the Catholic Church had some good aspect because it kept some priests sexually satisfied

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    What discrimination???? Please shut-up …

    Hoo hoo, ha ha, hee hee!

    If faith, the art of sincerely, simultaneously believing mutually contradictory ideas, gets you into heaven, this lovely Xian is guaranteed a warm seat in Yahveh’s hairy muscular lap.

  8. Sastra says

    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.

    I think the reason you disagree with Hitchens here comes down to a difference in how you’re defining “religion.” Hitchens is focusing on what makes religion distinct from non-religion: the supernatural beliefs. You’re considering the total package: the supernatural beliefs + the morals, actions, art, community, etc. Hitchens (and I) would take all the reasonable aspects inside the philosophy and organization and claim them for secularism. After all, if they make sense to atheists then you can’t group them as uniquely religious — derived ONLY from religious beliefs. Common ground is going to be rational and secular.

    Whenever it really does take religion to see the value or harm of something … then it’s toxic. We’re dealing with poison.

    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.

    Sure. They’re also on Hitchens’ team.

    But we all have more than one “team.”

    People who are right for the wrong reason — and/or who THINK they are right only because of a wrong reason — bring in other problems and these may be more crucial because they are more basic. Method, method, method. That’s what Shplane in #6 is pointing out. A homeopath who wants to campaign for vaccinations is both an ally — and potentially dangerous. The more the religious appeal to things which make sense to atheists the more they try to co-opt humanism as Godly. That’s a double-edged sword.

    God is not supposed to be a secular humanist. The whole point of religion is to transcend the rational world. The line between where you do this and where you don’t is arbitrary and individual — a matter of faith.

  9. slc1 says

    Re l;aurentweppe @ #7

    Frankenberger accomplished the three items I mentioned before he started engaging in raping his neighbors (e.g. the Anschluss didn’t take place until 1938). By he way, Weppe is apparently unable to detect the snark in my comment. It should in no way, shape, form, or regard be considered an endorsement of Frankenberger.

  10. says

    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.

    But saying that “religion poisons everything” is not the same as saying that religion does no good at all.

    I’m sure that cigarettes make people feel good. So does alcohol (as I can attest). And although smoking helps women keep unwanted pounds off, and drinking does a world of wonders for bolstering self-confidence, overcoming shyness, etc… ultimately they are both poisons, and in steady doses they lead, in most cases, to an early grave.

    I’ve been in an ongoing polemic engagement with my fundamentalist uncle for more than 3 years now, and I can tell you that, while he was probably born every it as intelligent as anyone else, his seminary education has crippled his ability to think seemingly beyond repair.

    Hitch was right. Religions poisons everything. But I’d take it a step further and say faith is the true poison.

  11. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    By he way, Weppe is apparently unable to detect the snark in my comment. It should in no way, shape, form, or regard be considered an endorsement of Frankenberger. – slc1

    But you do share with Hitler a deep interest in and positive attitude toward genocide, so such an error is readily understandable.

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