Sharing the love of Christ with others through Service (an experiment)

So this past Sunday my wife and I decided to join a church group that was going out to do community service.  I thought it would be fun for two reasons.  One, I like doing service, especially if it is already planned and occurs before I normally wake up so I don’t lose any of my weekend.  Two, being an atheist in a group of active religious people could be informative if not entertaining.  Below are my results.

The Good

Resources

Like I said before, everything was set up for us.  One huge benefit about doing service through any large organization (most of which just happen to be religious in nature) is the resources.  This is a large church (2500 members, approx 5000 attendees) and so they have people either paid or volunteering to schedule all of this.  They brought the buses for transportation, the cleaning supplies (we cleaned a West Dallas elementary school), did all of the coordination (had site leaders, bus leaders, notecards with tasks, organization out the wazzoo), and collective man power.  If you are really trying to make a difference in other people’s lives, getting organized is the way to do it.  1500-2000 volunteers with pooled money/time can usually make a much larger difference than 1500 individuals.

People

As I said before, the numbers were helpful, but here I am meaning the individuals.  The group of people we worked with were all pretty hilarious and I had a great time.  Based on my interactions with people, I would say overall organized religion gets a worse rap than it deserves, at least from me.  While there are plenty of outliers in the fundamentalist part of the curve, and even some of the more main stream have ideas about science/reason/morality that I strongly disagree with, for the most part this experience showed me that it is less about that.  It was mostly people who just wanted to help out and liked doing good things.  There were a few exceptions (you’ll see later), but I never got asked about god, never got asked to participate in prayer, never really even discussed religion.

Service

It is very easy to ignore people less fortunate.  I realize I work hard to be where I am and some people are looking for a hand out, but my elementary school didn’t rely on outside volunteers to clean it.  My high school didn’t have a 70% non-graduation rate.  I didn’t have to scrounge for 30 dollars a year to enter a little league baseball league.  I didn’t live in the 11th poorest area in America.  I didn’t have to wait on a list for a mentor so that I would have a positive role model/parent figure in my life.  These were all things I was told about the area when visiting West Dallas and learning about some of the struggles the people there have.  So it felt very good to do something to try and help out (even if it wasn’t enough).

The Bad

Unnecessary Restrictions

Why is it necessary to only do service for someone with the purpose of sharing jesus’ love?  Why can’t I help out of my own love for humanity?  The info sheet about this service event was capped off with the sentence: “Sharing the love of Christ with others through Service”.  This basically sets the priority that some of the individuals had.  First, share the love of Christ.  Second, do service.  As with all parts of religion, I feel this is unnecessary.  I wish ‘church’ as widespread as it is today was able to change its meaning from “a group of people coming together to worship XYZ and help make the world a better place” to “a group of people coming together to help make the world a better place”.  I just don’t see the need to add in an imaginary being as the reason behind it.  The other main unnecessary restriction is a true restriction.  A couple of the people I talked with help run a mentoring program that “pairs caring christian adults with underprivileged kids looking for a mentor”.  I got that tagline verbatim from each one separately, so you know it is important.  They have 500 mentors today, but the waiting list for children wanting a mentor is huge, i.e. they are in dire need of mentors.  Unfortunately I am excluded because I wouldn’t fulfill the ‘christian’ part of caring christian adult.  Why does this matter?  Well to me it doesn’t.  To them it does because one of their main priorities is to convert the child to christianity.  Again, this should be mutually exclusive to helping a child have a better life, and really becomes altogether unnecessary.

The Ugly

The Crazy Curve Ball

So after we got done cleaning our first room (the cafeteria, where I found a pepperoni that easily predates the bible and all the boogers I could handle) instead of getting a second assignment, we ‘lucked’ out and got chosen to pass out fliers.  BAM, curve ball.  At this point in my day everything was going well and I really didn’t want to cause any contention because of my different/lacking beliefs.  However I was not going to stand on a street and pass out fliers telling people how much I loved jesus.  But again, no problems.  The fliers we were passing out were door to door telling people about a little league baseball season that was about to start and about a community picnic event they were hosting.  There wasn’t one mention of religion on either flier (other than the names of the churches sponsoring it).  This league (and aforementioned mentoring program) is run by Mercy Street, which overall seems like a really great organization, except the hang up on christianity as the only way to be good.  And it looks like they are truly making a difference in the area.  My only concern would be if any of the mentoring, sports league, etc. centered around essentially teaching children make believe and to trust faith over reason, which unfortunately I am sure is the case.  Anyway, so I walked around a government subsidized housing area and stuck fliers in doors.  I met one angry lady (my fault, my flier accidentally slipped inside her house, a little too intrusive), one crazy guy (sang TI’s latest song to me for about a block and then kept asking me why the Mexican’s were giving him lube and making him take it), and several friendly people.

The Take Away

I think it was a great experience, and it has spurred me to do more.  I really wish there were more secular/humanist type organizations with the same resources (or maybe I just need to look harder).  I think it would be awesome to participate weekly in making people’s lives better, without thinking the underlying goal was to introduce irrational faith.  I think as atheists or non-believers or just humans, we need to spend more time acting and less time talking.  It is great fun to talk circles around irrational arguments, but unless we are making a difference in the world, what have we accomplished?

 

5 Responses

  1. Michael Says:

    Nice write up here.

    I agree with you in that I really do love volunteering and helping out in service based efforts, but I too am a little weird about it being under a religious pretext. Just not my thing I guess.

    In terms of you wanting to find more organizations that do the above sans religion: check out http://www.meetup.com – it’s pretty much the craigslist of well, groups. Meaning, it’s the de facto place to go to find a group of people that have similar intentions as yours.

  2. Jo Mama Says:

    Don’t let yourself get hung up on the rhetoric. The reason these people happened to unite like this was because they have a shared belief in something, and that belief inspires them to want to give back. I think that’s good enough. Whether or not I agree with or belong to the same manner of thinking as them, I am just glad they are being motivated to do something good.

    It’s like if you were in a kayaking club, and you decided you wanted to “Share your love of kayaking through a lake clean-up project.” Okay, not exactly the same, but do you get what I am saying? If they were out evangelizing to people and their main goal was to try to convert people, I would have a harder time with it, but if they are truly trying to do some good in an area that really needs it, I don’t care if their motivation is a common belief in Jesus, membership in a certain organization, or a desire to spend time with people they like — if something motivates you to do good in this world, more power to you.

    For all the problems I have with organized religion, the one thing you have to give it credit for is that a lot of community service comes about as a result of it. A lot of people don’t have that inner motivation to do good just for the sake of doing good, so if some other outside force is needed to help motivate them, I’m okay with that.

  3. meezy Says:

    One of my main points (although possibly not well illustrated) was just what you are saying. At first I had preconceived notions based on the rhetoric and other things, but for the most part (like 99%) they were proven wrong.

    I think where we disagree is that not everyone had the idea of giving back as their top priority. The overwhelming majority did, but some didn’t. For example, if the primary goal for mentoring kids was to give them a positive influence in their life, then why limit it only Christian adults? Either they ignorantly/arrogantly believe that Christianity has a monopoly on positive morals, or their primary goal isn’t giving kids a positive influence. That may prove to be a false dichotomy, but I can’t think of better way to explain it.

    I’m definitely for people uniting to do service, but I think we can’t overlook one key thing. The motivation behind doing something does make a difference.

    You say you don’t care what their motivation is in doing the service, but I can tell by your surrounding sentences that you really do. You qualify it twice. You don’t care, as long as their motivations don’t diminish or become the primary goal, and as long as their motivations aren’t something you see as negative. I don’t think you would say “I don’t care if their motivation is a common belief that homosexuals deserved to be stoned and suffer eternal torture”, because what if they happened upon a homosexual while doing their service, or even worse a child?

    So, the motivation behind doing service can make a difference. If I am motivated to help my neighbor because my parents threatened me with grounding, that is one thing, my secondary motivation doesn’t necessarily get in the way of the primary outcome. But, if I am motived to help my neighbor because I really want to try and recruit him to join the Taliban, that is different. I only use Taliban there because it is usually associated with negative ideas, whereas Christianity (for some reason) isn’t. So let’s look at some real Christian ideas that could diminish my primary outcome. Consider me helping my neighbor while trying to convince him that science should be rejected (there by leading to a less competitive school system, or death due to lack of vaccination, or death due to prayer instead of medical attention) and that homosexuals aren’t equal (there by leading to discrimination and hate or even suicide or murder) and that all abortion is wrong (there by leading to children raised in the worst conditions, like a 9 year old raising her rapist’s child) or that using condoms won’t help slow the spread of AIDS, or that questioning faith is bad, or that not truly believing in my ideas will make you be tortured for all eternity, etc. The list could go on, but my main point is that, if any part of your motivation behind doing something, such as trying to be an good influence in a child’s life, causes you to spread the above ideas, I consider that a huge and unnecessary detriment.

    So one last thing to re-iterate. I think 99% of the people there didn’t have a motivation that diminished the outcome, and so I was proven false in my preconceived notions. But the 1% who did, I disagree with.

  4. Jo Newcomb Says:

    I hear ya. I knew when I wrote that entry (while taking a lunch break to eat a hot pocket and thus probably not my finest writing) that it probably wasn’t coming across the way I wanted it to. You are right; I don’t think that it doesn’t matter at all what someone’s motivation is. I guess I am just saying it doesn’t matter to me if people are motivated by Christian ideals if it results in them doing good for the world, and I guess you are saying the same thing at least in the particular experience you had with this group.

    I applaud the fact you and Janet were willing to be part of this project despite the way it was positioned, which quite honestly might have scared me away because I would have been afraid I was going to be preached to (something I got my fill of at Catholic School and Baptist college). Kudos to you for keeping an open mind.

    I really think you guys should come to a Unitarian Universalist service with me sometime. I think you’d find it interesting.

  5. meezy Says:

    Yeah I think we are on the same page. I was also pretty sure I would be preached to (but I like arguing in case you hadn’t noticed), but I wasn’t, which was nice.

    I’ve never read anything about UU, I’ll give it a look and let you know.

Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.