Do Atheists Care Less?  Yes, says MacLean’s Magazine

May 7, 2010

MacLean's, one of Canada's most read magazines (Americans may be familiar with it as the publication that was hauled before the Human Rights Commissions after Mark Steyn wrote his piece "The Future Belongs to Islam"), recently published a piece entitled "Do Atheists Care Less?" in which the editors superficially copied two figures from a StatsCanada report to make the case that religious believers are more benevolent than atheists and hence should the Canadian trend towards apostasy continue, we are in danger of losing our core value of charity.  Comments may be added following the piece online.

In submitting a simple letter to the editor on behalf of CFI, I came to appreciate that had the editors given their initial piece as much deep consideration and research as they put into looking at the contents of my short statement, they would likely never have published their drivel in the first place.  After considerable back and forth, a version of our letter will be published, but as it will necessitate a length reduction of considerable magnitude, I thought here it would be appropriate to include the full response, as drafted by Greg Oliver, President of the Canadian Secular Alliance , and myself:

In the May 10th editorial "Do atheists care less?", the author makes a deeply misleading use of a Statistics Canada figure that states that the average annual charitable donation from weekly churchgoers is $1,038, compared to $295 for the rest of the population.  The simple conclusion is that atheists are less benevolent.  Appropriately enough, the devil is in the details.

Deeper research into the Statics Canada data from which the $1,038 figure is derived shows the majority of that amount in the form of donations to charities whose only stated purpose is "the advancement of religion".  These charities do not feed the poor, operate blood banks, provide literacy programs or lead other activities we generally consider beneficial.  When we filter out such donations, we find that weekly churchgoers, who represent 17% of the population, are said to be responsible for 20% of donations to "non-religious" charities.  That no longer seems so impressive.

Clouding the issue, Statistics Canada somehow managed to count missionaries, seminaries and religious publishers and broadcasters as "non-religious" charities for this particular survey.

The real issue here is the unfair government imposed wealth transfer from the non-religious to the religious in Canada by granting charitable status to organizations simply for propagating religious opinions and nothing else.  The tax expenditure from the public coffer for registered charities whose only stated purpose was to advance religion was $1.18 billion in 2007.

When these factors are properly accounted for, the proposition that weekly churchgoers are more generous than atheists is simply incorrect.  Charitable donations may be higher, but this is only because Canadian law still upholds the outdated principle that espousing religious opinions is in itself a legitimate charitable activity.

The study was also deficient in not being able to count contributions by atheists to benevolent non-charitable organizations, such as volunteers in medical, scientific, educational and ethical societies.  Ironic for those who arrogantly profess atheists should - and could - do more, is the fact that legally, ethical societies that do not contain an element of theist worship may qualify as a charity only with great difficulty and cost.  Go figure.