Do you support religious charities if they’re doing good work?

There’s an organization in Toledo that is giving out free Norway Spruce seedlings. Their goal is to give out as many seedlings as there are people in Toledo — 280 thousand some. 

I really want a seedling. I’m looking around our yard for a good place. It’s just my daughter and I are really into plants. I actually don’t have a lot of knowledge about plants, but we’re starting to have a nice collection in our house. My daughter names each one and we talk to them a little as we water them. I like to think this will make my daughter a little more respectful of other living things.

Anyway, this organization giving out seedlings is a Catholic organization. Why on earth does an organization whose mission is to plant a bunch of trees have to be associated with a religion?

I still want a seedling, but maybe I should just buy one.

Why does doing anything good have to be associated with god? Can’t you just do good things because you’re a good human?

I had a job a few years back where I had to drive people to food pantries. Sadly, most food pantries in Toledo are associated with a church and many make people sit through prayer or mini-sermon before getting their food. Why is that even necessary? It’s important that people get the help they need, but why does it have to be in god’s name?

I still kinda want a seedling. Do you support an organization doing good work even if it’s a religious organization? Does it make me an asshole if I don’t?


  1. sqlrob says

    Do you support an organization doing good work even if it’s a religious organization?

    Nope. At best it’s the thin edge of the wedge, and opens society to the grifters, even if they intend the best. If there’s a sermon involved, there’s a cost and it’s not exactly charity, is it?

    Does it make me an asshole if I don’t?

    In the eyes of the religious, probably. Even the religious don’t donate to religious charities because they’re religious, so their view of you means nothing. How many Christians donate to a Muslim charity, even if it does good work?

  2. scarter00 says

    BTW, I don’t mean that you shouldn’t take one, if they’re giving them for free. I just mean that you’re not doing anything to perpetuate their beliefs, just doing something you think is worthwhile. “Help” is potentially misleading in the way I used it.

  3. says

    I’d accept a free tree from anyone, on the proviso that they don’t demand my email or phone number in exchange. Some years ago a good friend of mine died, he happened to be quite religious but a genuinely nice guy anyway. His widow asked me to help clear out his shed of interesting items for a donation to their church. I was quite happy to do that, except she wanted me to do it online. No way, I said, here’s some cash, deal with it yourself. Churches can have my thanks but they can’t have my contact details. Spam sucks.

  4. Bruce says

    If the organization’s goal is to find people who will plant and care for their seedlings, then you should accept a seedling.
    If their goal were to trick gardeners into having to attend mass and endorse all their ceremonies, then no.
    So check how involved you have to be. I bet this is fine.
    But to the larger question in general, I don’t assume things a church does are good. For most churches, I expect them to spend 1% on true charity, and 99% on growing their club, I.e., attendance, I.e., NOT charity.
    To me, such churches are like a mob boss or drug dealer who gives a small donation to a poor person every time they sell a million dollars of cocaine. I don’t consider that to be a charity worthy of my support.
    But if you’re only getting involved by accepting and caring for saplings, then it doesn’t matter if they’re a pedophile club.

  5. says

    If they mention their religion in the name or in the documentation, it’s advertising and public relations, not “charity”. Religions use charity as a means of converting others (e.g. the “10/40 window”, fundy xian proselytizers after natural disasters). It’s not about giving; if it were, they wouldn’t put preconditions on their “aid” (e.g. “no religion, no food!” as many do). Politics are the same. “USAID” and the “peace corps” are inexpensive touchy-feely propaganda while the military is the real foreign policy.

    Genuine charity and altruism means giving with no expectation of getting anything in return. Take current events – Taiwan’s government openly acknowledges that’s its export of masks and other medical equipment to other countries isn’t charity. It’s partly self-defence (to limit the spread of COVID-19) and also a political manoeuvre win support and votes at the UN for recognizing Taiwan as an independent nation. But at least the government is up front about its intent, not deceptive like religions.

  6. Jazzlet says

    I do not give religious organisations money or time, I have always managed to find reputable secular charities that do whatever the religious ones do without that baggage. If you can get something from them with no strings attached I would be happy to take it, doing so is diverting the money they spend on it from worse uses so that’s something, but it really would have to be no strings attached, not even giving my name and address. Having said that depending on the size of the sapling they are extremely cheap, so I’d be inclined to buy one that I knew would work with what else I might want to do in my garden, especially as there really isn’t much that will grow under a conifer and Norwegian Spruce get big, have a look at The other thing is that as the name implies it’s not native, you may be better planting something native if you’d like to see your local wildlife, such as it is in a city, make use of the tree.

  7. John Morales says

    Catholic charities are pretty good; unlike most Evangelical/Protestant ones, they tend to be less pushy with the goddishness, and more into charity. Except in very poor countries, of course.

    My advice is to get your free seedling.

    Informative reading in Chapter 6 of The People of the Abyss by Jack London.

  8. Katydid says

    Going to take an opposite stand from most of the people here; I say it depends. In the past I’ve supported a couple of charities that provided actual value for the money. Currently I’m debating whether to support a charity that’s rooted in religion but does demonstrable good for an underserved population. I know this doesn’t help you. I guess you need to ask yourself what accepting the seedling will “cost” you. Must you give your name and address to get the seedling? If so, they’re just looking to add your name to their database, much like supermarket discount cards. Can you live with that?

  9. says

    Do you support an organization doing good work even if it’s a religious organization?

    Depends. Is it ISIS? Or the roman Catholic Church? It’s hard to find a religious organization that’s not perpetuating some kind of homophobia, racism, or sexism.

    They want to do good deeds to impress their terrible and all-powerful, vengeful master. I suppose you could take pity on them.

  10. says

    No I don’t; and if I was in charge, I would actually impose restrictions on “charitable” activities undertaken by religious organisations.

    Because there’s a fine line between helping people and harming them, and that goes double for vulnerable people.

    Giving food to hungry people is generally a good thing. But “giving” food to hungry people contingent upon them attending a sermon or reading a pamphlet is coercion. It’s exploiting a power differential: someone who is too hungry realistically to refuse an offer of food is effectively forced, by the combination of their hunger and their own politeness, to comply with any attached forfeit. And someone who’s just been fed is also easy to manipulate.

    “There’s going to be a free meal after the service!” isn’t an offer of food; it’s naked recruitment of desperate people.

    If you want to feed hungry people, you can do so without so much as mentioning religion, and certainly without inviting them to participate in a religious group. That is, after all, the way normal people do it, because feeding hungry people is a good thing in its own right. But if you can’t feed hungry people without recruiting them to a death cult, then I’m sorry but any good you might be doing feeding hungry people does not make up for the harm you are seeking to do.

    I’d love to think I had the strength of character to die of starvation sooner than accept a single mouthful of food from a Christian or Muslim, preferrably right there on the spot before their eyes, finger raised in defiance. But I also know, with more certainty than anyone deserves, how hard that would be, even without the effort I’m making never to be back in that situation.

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