ST: Non-belief doesn’t hinder philantrophy

Our reply to a journalist’s concern that ‘the rise of atheism or those who are not religious might (hinder philanthropy). Zheng Huifen, the author, pointed out that non-religious people donate to charity and take part in volunteer work too. Original letter submitted to ST:

Non-belief does not hinder philanthropy

I refer to Robin Chan’s commentary published on 6 July 2013, “Time to address the demerits of meritocracy.”

I was most surprised by the writer’s throwaway assertion that “perhaps the rise of atheism – or those who are might religious – might (hinder philanthropy).” The basis for this claim is “a study” for which the citation is not given. This is crucial as it provides the context to the said generosity.

For example, if the writer was referring to the recent study by the Nottingham University Business School to investigate the role of religion in public life, generosity *was* found to be correlated with being religious, but *only* with those of the same faith. Indeed, the co-author of the report told *The Telegraph*, “One would imagine the charity inherent in many well-known articles of faith might have some impact on everyday behaviour. But we discovered no evidence of that when we examined what happens when people who are religious knowingly interact with those of a different or no faith. When we looked at how religious people knowingly interact with those of the same faith, on the other hand, suddenly their religion started to explain their actions. This leads us to the sobering conclusion that religion doesn’t affect people’s behaviour in general terms. Rather, it affects how they relate to different individuals.”

Notwithstanding the irony in suggesting that non-belief should be policed to promote charitable behaviour, the writer’s assertion also casts aspersion on atheists and freethinkers who give quietly to society without the name of a god or a faith.

[New paragraph:] Singaporeans need not worry that atheism will shrink donations to charity. In the United States, non-religious billionaires have donated generously to the needy, regardless of race and religion. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, both agnostics, donated US$30 billion (S$39 billion) and US$11 billion respectively to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to enhance health care and reduce poverty worldwide. (unaccounted leap from atheism to agnostics. Suggest edited: non-believers)

Here in Singapore, the Humanist Society (Singapore) holds monthly events where we provide hot meals to and interact with elderly residents of rental flats in Buona Vista. Some of our members also participate in a programme known as Room to Read, where volunteers regularly read to children from underprivileged families to enhance the literacy of these children.

Many of our members are also volunteers with and donors to other NGOs in Singapore such as AWARE, Cat Welfare Society and ACRES.

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