Actions and words

I've had an interesting conversation/debate with my brother, a Christian, on Facebook today. I posted the following picture, which mocks "Tebowing", named so because Tim Tebow genuflects every time he scores a touchdown:

The point here is obvious: that it's absurd to believe that God helps you win football games while millions die of famine.

My brother responded by noting that Tim Tebow isn't just some paper Christian – he gave his entire signing bonus to charity, and is turning a luxury condo into a soup kitchen for the homeless. My brother then suggested that we non-believers have no business mocking or criticizing his beliefs because chances are we are not doing anywhere what he is to help the needy. So while we may find his underlying motives objectionable, we should still agree that they produce a "net positive" for humanity and avoid criticizing them:
I'm not talking about non-believers generally. I'm talking about you and everyone who feels it necessary to pile on in this post to dog the beliefs that motivate a man to kneel after a touchdown, which happen to be the same beliefs that motivate him to feed the hungry. I'd wager you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in a secular NGO or a religious charity who would take joy in doing the same thing you're doing with respect to anyone who was putting a hand to the plow and helping their cause, for whatever reason.
[Charity] "can only be measured by the degree to which giving becomes sacrificial", like the parable of the widow's mite in the Bible. So, while I don't care about the gross amount of one donation vs. another, I don't think you've got a leg to stand on unless you actually care enough to do whatever your parallel to Tebow's (spending his entire signing bonus on charity and living in a place while having it renovated to being a soup kitchen) might be.
And my point is that unless your beliefs net humanity a greater (albeit proportionally adjusted) good, the only thing you prove is how bad a case of plank eye you have.

I responded that no amount of charity exempts ideas from public dissemination and criticism, and that the latter is every bit as important to our humanity as the former. To which my bro replied, "Tell that to a starving child." My final response, I feel, is my coup de grace. I can think of nothing further to add. So here it is, in its entirety:

Tim Tebow's beliefs don't exist in a vacuum. While he's done acts of charity, he's also publicly campaigned for (and is a member of) Focus On The Family – which opposes gay rights and sex ed, promotes the subjugation of women in marriage, promotes the pseudoscience of Intelligent Design, and wants Roe V Wade overturned.

That is what I mean when I talk about the importance of the public dissemination of ideas. Those touchy-feely beliefs that are motivating him to do charitable things also motivate him to support an organization that opposes civil rights, science education, and the autonomy of women. Tebow doesn't get off the hook for that stuff because he's building a fucking soup kitchen. He can build a hundred soup kitchens and it will not elevate his beliefs above criticism. I may or may not be devoting "x" proportion of my time/income/possessions to charity in equal measures to him. But I'm not endorsing an anti-humanist organization either.

And, point of fact, a significant part of Africa's starvation today can be traced back to Christian imperialism. So while I'd sooner give the starving child a morsel than a book, in the long term I would stake much more than his own well-being on his valuing of reason and his rejection of dogmatic ideologies.

My bro's argument is one that he's used in the past to criticize Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and other atheist polemicists. His argument is that the effect of religion is a "net positive" for humanity, and atheism has nothing to offer but harsh words. To my mind, this is incredibly disingenuous. Atheism is not an ideology and atheists are a significant minority, so you are not going to find too many "atheist charities". But there are a litany of secular charities, including ones founded by both Dawkins and Harris. And I think it's very short-sighted to measure the impact of religion only by its modern charitable contributions when its ideologies permeate so many facets of our culture and have such a complex and often sordid history.

As humanists, we have an ethical duty to speak out against absurd and dangerous ideologies, even when they are enshrouded with a thin veil of charity.


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