Faith, Charity, and the Atheist

By Miguel Guanipa
Thanks to the congenital human faculty of empathy, there is no shortage of charitable agencies ready to assist people in dire straits. One venue which I find particularly interesting is a collection of — for lack of a better definition — “like-minded” organizations, banded together under the moniker Non-Believers Giving Aid, in a joint effort to address the enormous amount of suffering caused by the sudden outbreak of tragic events currently taking place around the globe.

This curious gathering — or as they fancy themselves, “free thought groups”– is the brainchild of famous atheist Richard Dawkins, founder of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS), who pioneered this alliance, along with other non-religious affiliations, with the purpose of funding relief efforts to help victims of natural catastrophes — or as insurance agencies like to call them, Acts of God.

Given the preponderance of secular associations Dawkins has enlisted in this venerable campaign against suffering, it would seem that he is none too eager to accept any membership requests from groups that openly profess allegiance to any religion. Indeed, Dawkins makes a point of reassuring prospective donors that their contributions “will only be passed on to aid organizations that do not have religious affiliations.” One could surmise that this progressive coalition is not averse to openly engaging in a very direct form of religious discrimination. But Mr. Dawkins has reasons for this caveat, which are outlined in the group’s mission statement.  

Although at first glance it looks like a noble effort on their part, the initiative is billed as an attempt to counter the more sanctimonious and judgmental approach of religion-based charities, whose emissaries, according to Richard Dawkins, are often more inclined to “gloat over natural disasters” — an unfortunate reference to televangelist Pat Robertson’s impetuous claim that the earthquake in Haiti was a form of  divine chastening against a nation that had entered into a pact with the Devil.

Yet despite Mr. Dawkins’ selective outrage at religious-based charities, nobody is really arguing that religious and secular institutions should compete for the benign privilege of lending assistance to the needy, as the immediate concerns of people in distress often trump fact-checking the doctrinal beliefs of their benefactors. Unfortunately, what is purported to be Dawkins’ main objective of alleviating people’s suffering ends up being sidetracked by this backhanded rebuke against his more pious competitors in the field.

Now, since Dawkins has chosen to make God-centered charities the object of his vilification, an equally impartial examination of what he offers as the alternative is in order. And frankly, if the substance of his charitable endeavor were of no importance, then why would he and his posse of God-less relief agencies go to such lengths to assure potential patrons that theirs is just as generous and substantive — if not more worthy — a mission as that of their rivals?

In terms of substance, Dawkin’s amoral altruism is rooted in an eminently self-serving ethos. It showcases a magnanimity grounded on feelings rather than a transcendent absolute. The shallow brand of compassion that it produces seeks to satiate a sense of self-fulfillment through service to others. That is, since it assumes that there is no moral law-giver to whom we are accountable and from whom we derive moral concepts like good and evil, which ultimately steer us toward self-renunciation for the sake of the less fortunate, we are left with helping others simply because it makes us feel good about ourselves. This kind of charity is defined as that which springs from a desire to meet a vague sense of obligations to help others, and it is fueled by the expectation of reciprocity and a self-congratulatory reminder that we are, after all, rather decent human beings.

Real charity instead is anchored on the injunction furnished by the millennia-tested Judeo-Christian tradition, which affirms that every benevolent act towards a fellow human being in need is a direct offering towards our creator — a reminder that charity begins with a surrender of the self and a concern for the other. Moreover, this tradition does not cast all suffering as intrinsically evil, but it recognizes that in many instances, evil does result in much of the suffering we experience in the world. But also, in a deeper sense, suffering can ultimately have a redemptive purpose. 

In contrast, Atheists tends to view suffering as an evil to be avoided, for some even at the cost of removing those whose suffering is deemed less consequential and yet are the most vulnerable, such as the terminally ill and the unborn. Ironically, this is a supreme evil perpetrated in the name of what is really a hollow form of compassion.

So what’s really at play here is a brazen attempt on Mr. Dawkins’ part to impute legitimacy to a time-worn assertion that Atheists have been peddling for decades, which is that morality can exist without God. In other words, since the moral concepts of good and evil are social constructs that tend to organically emerge within any given cultural setting, we can arbitrarily fashion a moral paradigm where actions can be judged as good or evil, and we can bypass any invocations of a higher being we have to eventually answer to. We thereby answer only to ourselves. 

Following in the tradition of their neo-Darwinist cohorts, to whom they are greatly indebted, Atheists maintain that the survival of the species somehow hinges upon a yet-undiscovered benevolent gene that mysteriously compels the fittest — against their native instincts of self-preservation, no less — to help the weaker victims of undirected natural forces, or the very forces which Dawkins describes as being “supremely indifferent to human affairs and sadly indifferent to human suffering.” Incidentally, these are the same forces that arbitrarily chose to bring both victim and rescuer into being. This rather uninspired tautology also allows for random mutations that intermittently favor or hinder our own preservation, giving, on occasion, only the illusion that a personal deity is supervising these complex natural phenomena.

But who can discern the moral divide between helping our fellow man and abandoning him to perish in his suffering in the context of an amoral world like the one envisioned by Atheists? How does the Atheist draw the sublime authority in the first place to judge whether or not suffering is an undesirable state of affairs — an evil, if you will? In a universe that is merely the product of random, unplanned, undirected, and hence purposeless forces of nature, how does he arrive at a fixed criterion for appraising the goodness or depravity of an act, since there is no absolute, transcendent moral standard he can appeal to?

In short, from where does the unbeliever summon the prerogative to decree a moral benchmark by which he can judge the evil or good qualities of chance-driven phenomena — of which he is also a product — that haphazardly transpire in a wholly impersonal universe, including the natural occurrences that bring so much suffering to humans?

In Dawkins’ world, these are questions that should remain outside of the purview of the religiously inclined; but the answers to them could very well spell the moral insolvency of his coterie of faithless philanthropists.

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