News Bits

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 15, 2010 in News

Informative site: Bad News About Christianity.

When measuring Official Development Aid (ODA) given by a country, as a percentage of that country’s Gross National Income (GNI), the most generous nations in the world are also the most atheistic: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, etc. See here (click ‘ODA/GNI’ and ‘Sort by ODA/GNIA’).

Pastor Daniel Sinclair discussed my work in a recent sermon, which you can download here. (Skip to about 6:20. Dan speaks about atheism at 13:10.) Daniel misunderstands my take on the theology of Paul vs. the theology of Jesus, though. I didn’t say Jesus’ mission was about keeping the Jewish law. I’ll eventually write more about why scholars think the mission of Paul was different than the mission of Jesus, but here are two links for now.

Good Lord. Can we hire this guy to help design better cities?

I am hosting the next edition of The Humanist Symposium. Submit your articles here. To qualify, articles should celebrate an atheistic worldview in positive terms.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Alex April 15, 2010 at 7:51 pm

I recall from writing a paper recently that the ODA figures may be somewhat misleading, depending on what point you’re trying to make in citing them. For example, the U.S. is by far the world leader in how much private individuals give to charity per capita. Although to be fair most of that doesn’t go to international aid (almost half actually goes to religious organizations, mostly churches and evangelistic groups).


lukeprog April 15, 2010 at 7:55 pm


Exactly. Nearly half of the USA’s ‘charitable giving’ goes to maintaining huge church buildings, not saving poor people from malaria and starvation.


Alex April 15, 2010 at 8:02 pm

Well, who cares about improving lives when going to heaven has infinite expected utility? :)


lukeprog April 15, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Keeping church buildings nice isn’t even about heaven. People choose denominations not because their theologies make sense or are supported by evidence, but because the church down the road has warmer pews and a better preacher, methinks. Nobody knows this better than church pastors themselves, who public 5 books a year on how to be ‘seeker-friendly.’


matt April 15, 2010 at 9:15 pm

hi all, I haven’t posted here before. I enjoy the site, and read articles on it from time to time.

I understand that the banter present in this comment section comes from a place of comfort, and intellectual rigor shouldn’t be demanded of joking around (nothing would be very funny without some clever conflation!), but I’d like to raise a couple questions/issues regarding the post and the comments.

It seems there’s an assumption that ODA giving is ‘better’ than giving to a religious organization. I’d assume that wherever that ODA goes, there are overhead costs and so on. How much of a church/denomination/faith based organization’s budget goes to ODA? At the particular church I attend (granted, it’s on the liberal side), the church itself has a budget and teams for that sort of work as it’s needed (they mobilize pretty quickly when an issue like Haiti comes up, for example). I don’t want to start a ruckus, I’d merely like to point out that this particular issue was jumped on too quickly. An obsession with ‘evidence’ tends to prompt both sides to engage in this (Christian apologists love Dawkins unfortunate tendency to rant, as he regularly supplies them with ‘evidence’ that he is irrational … as if that meant that all of atheism was as well).

Secondly, and this is sort of a parallel issue, while ODA is all well and good in places where the work is creating genuine relief, it can also smack of one brand or another of imperialism. Historically, Christian missionaries receive a bad rap for being a part, if not the spearhead for the westernization and dissolution of cultures. Imagining that because the cause is secular rather than Christian changes the whole enterprise seems inconsistent with reality. It is still connected to a nation, or a particular political philosophy that has earned its place and keeps it through violence. I’d look at the whole history of western culture as a gross, manipulative cycle of carrot and stick global maneuvering (Christianity was formerly the largest chunk of the carrot, but it shares it now with Humanism). I have difficulty taking pride, even in the ‘good’ work at my church. It seems like taking pride in being part of the carrot, and pretending to be somehow, magically unrelated to the stick. I doubt that the immediate ‘goodness’ of such relief efforts translates into a historic good. In the end, the most I can reasonably accept is that each person can have good or bad reasons for being involved, but it would be difficult for me to accept that the whole venture can be simply ‘good.’ Still, it is as difficult to say that ‘so-and-so is a good/bad person’ as it is to say ‘such-and-such is a good cause.’ For now, it is more likely that such global causes are well-intentioned pawns of a more machiavellian machine. Which, I don’t intend to mean that we should stop helping people out. Simply that we should not be so quick to parade statistics like these, or church charity, or any other such thing to even be evidence of goodness.

(in fact, I think that’s also a theologically acceptable position, but that’s probably better a conversation between believers, I think the idea has merit outside of theology, as it were).

sorry, I always write a lot, whenever I do write, which isn’t often. It’s probably a result of insecurity over being misunderstood.


matt April 15, 2010 at 9:18 pm

and yes! we should let that guy make cities!


lukeprog April 15, 2010 at 9:28 pm


Thanks for your comment. I’m not concerned to argue that atheists are more generous than believers. Rather, I’d like to counter the religious claim that atheists are unloving and uncharitable, which I think comes from holy scriptures that say unbelievers must be stupid and evil because otherwise they would obviously believe in some particular god.


matt April 15, 2010 at 11:37 pm

that would be going after an argument based on a pretty prejudiced reading of scripture. And I’d encourage going after it =). A good exegesis should cure that idea. I’d mostly like to point out that the whole thing is more easily debunked by saying “It’s all an ad hominem in the first place, and that’s a logical fallacy, thank you very much.” Responding to logical misstep obscured in evidence with counter evidence seems like a sort of scientistic knee-jerk thing to do. (or, at worst, an assumption that a piece of evidence is an argument). Alex already pointed out that statistics can be a shaky bit of evidence in the first place. Wouldn’t appealing to statistics also be a sort of fallacy, similar to an appeal to authority? i.e. ‘This group does this, therefore they have this quality…’ That was more my point in the first post. It doesn’t follow that people who participate in charitable organizations, religious or secular, are acutally charitable or loving. (In fact, it is still important to demonstrate that the act itself is ‘good’ and that ‘good’ is real and not so arbitrary in definition as to be nonsense). Even further, a person who cites evidence, for whatever cause, is as likely loving or charitable than they are narcissistic or brainwashed (I am a Christian, and there is all this statistical evidence to demonstrate Christianity does good things, therefore I am good by association! Haha! I have proof of my own goodness!). In this case, Jesus certainly was on to something when he advised to do good deeds without pomp (Matt6:2,Matt23:25). There is the implication that those are the sorts of deeds that are actually good, from the point of motive. I think I’m wandering off the topic, though. It’s late where I’m at. Thanks for talking to me.


Charles April 16, 2010 at 6:40 am

Unfortunately, many Christians would say Scripture trumps man’s logic.


matt April 16, 2010 at 11:15 am

A person who took that view would have to ignore the necessary role that logic played in studying scripture (or they could be really crazy and believe that they actually were not thinking). Or the role that logic, albeit bad, played in their arriving at the conclusion that scripture trumps logic. It’s just as well to say, ‘unfortunately, many people don’t think critically.’ That said, I was talking more about statistics, goodness, and what counts as evidence, in regards to the content of the original post.

I should ask… is it ok for me to go on like this here? I don’t want to violate the etiquette of this site more than I may already have.


Al Moritz April 16, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Thanks for your comment. I’m not concerned to argue that atheists are more generous than believers. Rather, I’d like to counter the religious claim that atheists are unloving and uncharitable, which I think comes from holy scriptures that say unbelievers must be stupid and evil because otherwise they would obviously believe in some particular god.  

Hi Luke, I can agree with that.

As for myself, I have a monthly deduction from my bank account going to Food for the Poor, a faith-based (highly rated) charitable organization. This certainly won’t count as ODA; the point about ODA is contentious indeed.


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