Apr 5
Charity Bet
icon1 meezy | icon2 service | icon4 04 5th, 2009| icon3No Comments »

Just a quick post to share the results of a bet I recently made.  A friend (http://terrbear.org) and I recently made a friendly bet about eating out with all proceeds going to the charity of the winner’s choice.  Well we ended in a split of him owing $100 and me owing $50.  So here is what I would like him to do with his $100:

I choose this charity:
http://www.icr.org/

Just kidding. If you ever donated there, I would stop being your friend.  Science FTW.

Really, I choose:
http://www.thp.org/

They provide aid in countries with severe poverty and/or violence. But instead of just giving a hand out, they try and help people/communities become self sufficient. They also give focus to women and try to help them become fully respected and participating members of society.

I also choose them because they have low administrative overhead costs and can allocate a high percentage of donations towards their programs.

Anyone else reading this, it would be cool if you donated as well.

Mar 30

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?