Syracuse University professor Arthur C. Brooks argues in Who Really Cares (Basic Books, 2006) that when it comes to charitable giving and volunteering, numerous quantitative measures debunk the myth of "bleeding heart liberals" and "heartless conservatives." Conservatives donate 30 percent more money than liberals (even when controlled for income), give more blood and log more volunteer hours. In general, religious people are more than three times more generous than secularists to all charities, 14 percent more munificent to nonreligious charities and 57 percent more likely than a secularist to help a homeless person. In terms of societal health, charitable givers are 43 percent more likely to say they are "very happy" than nongivers and 25 percent more likely than nongivers to say their health is excellent or very good.Matt says that, even though he's not religious, he admires people of faith because of their morals, their value for community, and that "they walk the talk when it comes to generosity and tolerance." Further, he concludes, "Faith, ultimately, is about optimism. Perhaps this is why I think it's worth defending."
He's got a point, but Shermer's piece is somewhat more equivocal about the evidence, observing that "Religious social capital leads to charitable generosity and group membership but does comparatively worse than secular social capital for such ills as homicides, STDs, abortions and teen pregnancies."
I don't think there's any disputing the value of community and mutual aid, nor that the secular have had a harder time promoting those values, in part due to the fact that we are fewer in number and widely dispersed. But the nonreligious have made some very dramatic philanthropic contributions which are likely to have a much greater beneficial effect than any church tithing will ever have.