Friday, June 15, 2007

Atheists weak on charitable giving

A Christian blog reports on a Barna poll of believers and atheists:
Most atheists and agnostics (56 percent) agree with the idea that radical Christianity is just as threatening in America as is radical Islam. Two-thirds of active-faith Americans (63 percent) perceive that the nation is becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity.

Atheists and agnostics were found to be largely more disengaged in many areas of life than believers. They are less likely to be registered to vote (78 percent) than active-faith Americans (89 percent); to volunteer to help a non-church-related non-profit (20 percent vs. 30 percent); to describe themselves as "active in the community" (41 percent vs. 68 percent); and to personally help or serve a homeless or poor person (41 percent vs. 61 percent).

Additionally, when the no-faith group does donate to charitable causes, their donation amount pales in comparison to those active in faith. In 2006, atheists and agnostics donated just $200 while believers contributed $1,500. The amount is still two times higher among believers when subtracting church-based giving.

The no-faith group is also more likely to be focused on living a comfortable, balanced lifestyle (12 percent) while only 4 percent of Christians say the same. And no-faith adults are also more focused on acquiring wealth (10 percent) than believers (2 percent). One-quarter of Christians identified their faith as the primary focus of their life.

Still, one-quarter of atheists and agnostics said "deeply spiritual" accurately describes them and three-quarters of them said they are clear about the meaning and purpose of their life.

When it came to being "at peace," however, researchers saw a significant gap with 67 percent of no-faith adults saying they felt "at peace" compared to 90 percent of believers. Atheists and agnostics are also less likely to say they are convinced they are right about things in life (38 percent vs. 55 percent) and more likely to feel stressed out (37 percent vs. 26 percent).
The results about "convinced they are right about things in life" is not surprising--that strikes me as the difference between arrogant dogmatism and open-mindedness and humility, and brings to mind studies which have shown that the highly competent believe themselves to be less competent than the incompetent believe themselves to be.

The lack of voter registration could also be a sign that atheists and agnostics don't think their vote makes a difference.

What I find contrary to my own personal experience are the results regarding charitable giving and assistance to the homeless. From my perspective, all of the charitable donation dollar amounts ($200/year for atheists/agnostics, $400/year for believers not counting church giving, $1500/year for believers including church giving) seem quite low.

I'd like to see more of the data, and see how income level and political affiliations are correlated with charitable contributions. (I previously commented on another study that found that conservatives were more generous than liberals, which also said that the religious were more generous than the secular.) I've found significant differences within secular groups when raising funds for RESCUE's Bowl-a-Rama two years ago (which Kat was a bowler for last year)--my requests for donations to groups of skeptics yielded absolutely nothing from people who have known me (at least online) for years, while my request to the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix yielded well over $1,000 in donations, many from people who didn't know me at all. (My target was to raise $3,500 for the event, which I surpassed.) I've heard, similarly, that more donations to the Center for Inquiry come from humanists than from skeptics, even though there are more skeptics subscribing to Skeptical Inquirer than there are humanists subscribing to Free Inquiry. HSGP, by the way, is a regular contributor to HomeBase Youth Services, a group that helps homeless youth in Arizona.

Another comparison from my own experience that is inconsistent with these results is that Kat and I know a couple of homeless people by name who we periodically help out in various ways (typically not by just giving them money), yet we're unaware of any similar activities by our extended families (who are all born-again Christians on my side). But perhaps the survey answerers were counting giving cash to panhandlers at freeway ramps or on the street, which is something I make a point of not doing, and don't consider to be an effective way of helping the truly needy (though I have, in the past, fallen for the occasional well-told sob story from a con artist about a lost wallet, dead battery, need for bus fare to a job, etc.).

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