If there were no religions, what would the atheists fight?

Answer by Jim Ashby:

And I quote: ". . . what is the next biggest problem for the people whose current biggest problem is religions?"

Pfft! Religion isn't the 'biggest problem' for any atheist I know or have known. It ranks well below family, profession, education and finances as a source of concern. Not only do these concerns exert more influence on us than religion does but we can exert more influence on these concerns than we can on religion. Get it? There are many more important things in life than religion. Those for whom religion is the 'biggest problem' are the fundamentalists, zealots, extremists, jihadis and terrorists who blight society with their willfully mindless, totalitarian and intolerant ignorance (a.k.a. denial).

Has anybody else noticed how denial has a way of coming back to bite us on the butt? If you watch or read the world news, I don't see how you can have not noticed. Any day, any time: religious strife (mostly involving Islam) dominates the news. To quote Ayn Rand (not my favorite philosopher):

"You can avoid reality but you can't avoid the consequences of avoiding reality."

If a religion does more good than harm, I have no problem with it. I may be wrong or missing something but I don't think most religions are terribly harmful. One form of religion, though, stands out for its perniciously detrimental effect on humanity: monotheism. The worst of the (major) monotheistic religions are the proselytizing ones: Christianity and Islam.

We've all heard about what's wrong with these religions: so I will focus on what's good about them. I'll address what is objectively positive about these two religions and, in the process, hope to show that not even the positive is as good as you might think.

Many believers cite certain aspects of religion that hold strong appeal for them: a sense of community, camaraderie, solace and comforting ceremonies, rituals and traditions. I'm not addressing these subjective, personal, aspects of religion: I'm addressing objective aspects relevant to society and humanity as a whole.

Try as I might, the only thing that comes to mind is charity. While charity is objectively good, Christianity and Islam are terrible at administering it. According to The Economist:

The church is the largest single charitable organisation in the country. Catholic Charities USA, its main charity, and its subsidiaries employ over 65,000 paid staff and serve over 10m people. These organisations distributed $4.7 billion to the poor in 2010, of which 62% came from local, state and federal government agencies.

Sounds impressive, doesn't it? Well, what about the 62% that comes from taxpayers? That's the majority of the charity money they distributed. Here's a graphic to show the details:

In 2010, only 2.74% of church spending was for charity. Of that amount, 62% came from taxpayers.

After doing a little math (4.7 x .38), it's revealed that the church spent only 1.786 billion of their own money on charity. Still think that's impressive? Well, what if I told you that their total spending (for all activities — not just charity) for that year (2010), in the U.S., was 171.6 billion dollars? That's right, only 2.74% of the church's spending was for charity — but if you subtract the taxpayer amount (62%), just 38% of that (1.04% of total church spending) came from actual church money! Only 1% of church funds is spent on charity!?! How do they get away with it in a country as prosperous as the U.S.?

Do other Christian denominations do any better? I'm sure that some do but, judging from TV evangelists, I lean toward pessimism on the question.

And what about Islam? As it turns out, Islam is a very charitable religion. But it's got one problem: virtually all of Muslim giving goes only to other Muslims. They're not very charitable to us infidels. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about Zakat:

Zakāt (Arabic: زكاة‎ [zæˈkæːt], "that which purifies"[1]), or alms-giving is the practice of charitable giving by Muslims based on accumulated wealth, and is obligatory for all who are able to do so. It is considered to be a personal responsibility for Muslims to ease economic hardship for other Muslims and eliminate inequality for followers of Islam.[2] The practice is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.

As a mandatory obligation of Islam, Zakat is treated something like a property tax in some Islamic countries. There's also a voluntary form of charity called Sadaqah. There's nothing in the Quran or ahadith that prevents giving Sadaqah to infidels. However, Muslim clerics frown upon doing so.

Of course, there's also the matter of charity going to terrorist organizations. This is difficult to prevent because the Quran and ahadith encourage (in no uncertain terms) contributing to Jihad.

So, with Christianity and Islam, charity is not all it's cracked up to be: especially in comparison to secular charities like the Red Cross (4% overhead), Doctors Without Borders (1.1%), Oxfam (6%), Stand Up to Cancer (9%), Kiva·org [Loans that change lives] (0%), Charity Water (11%) and many more.

I call religious charity positive but only with some major caveats. Other than charity, what has religion done for mankind (objectively speaking)? Yeah . . . you're drawing a blank too, aren't you? Art comes to mind but it's not as if the inspiration and creativity of artists wouldn't have blossomed without religion. Maybe you have some nominees you can offer in the comments to this post.

If there were no religions, what would the atheists fight?


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