FBB’s updated policies

Whoops! I was clicking around the FBB website not long after publishing my last post, and I happened to notice these changes to the Frequently Asked Questions page which I somehow missed. I think this question was there before, but the answer has clearly been updated with their new beneficiary selection plan:

Q: What are the criteria for selecting a beneficiary?

A: Among other considerations, beneficiaries are chosen for efficiency, effectiveness, moderate size (annual budget under $10 million), compatibility with humanist focus on mutual care in this world and this life, and geographic diversity. In addition to direct research, FBB makes use of Charity Navigator, the Better Business Bureau, GiveWell, GuideStar, and other third-party sources of information and charity review. Beginning in January 2011, beneficiaries in nine of our ten categories will be strictly secular, while a tenth category called CHALLENGE THE GAP will give our humanist members the option to support a non-dogmatic, non-proselytizing, progressive religious charity.

So, it looks like they’re only going to have ten categories still. Does that mean that the FBB administrative category is one of the nine “strictly secular” ones? Even though the FBB has a specially designated category for giving money to religious organizations?

This one looks like an entirely new Q&A to explain the changes to the previous one:

Q: If you include a category for religious charities, how is this a “Foundation BEYOND BELIEF”?

A: “Beyond Belief” refers to our humanist and atheist members. Some of those members choose to support only secular charities, while others like to occasionally demonstrate humanistic generosity across lines of belief. So long as a large portion of our membership wants the latter option, we will keep it alive. And thanks to our donation distribution system, each member can tailor his or her donations precisely. Most important of all, no member is bound by someone else’s definition of humanist giving. It’s freethought in action, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hmm. I thought that freethought was “a philosophical viewpoint that holds that opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, or any dogma.” It’s a lot more than just having different opinions for the sake of thinking as “freely” as possible. I’m not satisfied with saying, “Ah well, I guess we disagree, but that’s just freethought in action!” Because I value freethought, I want to talk about it, understand why you think the way you do, have you understand where I’m coming from, and (hopefully) reach some logical conclusion together.

I know that there are some people who believe they can demonstrate their atheist/secular humanist generosity by giving money to religious people, who use it to show how generous and kind religious people can be. What I don’t know is why they think that. I would still love to hear reasons.

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  1. “I know that there are some people who believe they can demonstrate their atheist/secular humanist generosity by giving money to religious people, who use it to show how generous and kind religious people can be.”

    Or they might use it to build schools or feed kids or somesuch. Seems like a strawman to me. I’m fairly certain we can winnow out any charities that exist merely to fluff up the egos of the religious. Unless your contention is that all religious charities exist merely to do so?

  2. If their goal were solely to build schools, it could be called “People for Building Schools” and they could accept employees and volunteers from all different religions or no religion. “People for Building Schools” might have been founded by a Lutheran who was personally motivated by Christ’s love for the less fortunate, but if he or she was primarily interested in starting a charity to build schools, that’d be as far as the religion went. If it’s called “Lutherans for Building Schools,” there’s clearly a secondary purpose. They’re explicitly labeling themselves as religious — why do you suppose they would bother?

    I wrote about this when the issue was FBB’s support of Quaker Peace and Social Witness. In point #2 here, I quoted a man who wrote in a BBC column, “Over several years I noticed wherever there was good work being done there always seemed to be a Quaker present. I was intrigued.” He’s not alone. When you see that all the good people around you are religious — or are perhaps one particular religion — you learn to equate good people and religious people. So if you want to be good (and of course you do), you figure you should be religious too. Religious people know this, and use it in their evangelism and/or outreach. It’s no secret.

    If all you care about is that more schools get built, then go ahead and give money to “Lutherans for Building Schools.” I care that schools get built and that groundless superstitions don’t cloud the minds of people who deserve the chance to make rational evaluations of the world around them and that more people in our society realize that atheists aren’t angry misanthropes (as well as a number of other things, obviously). I’d prefer to support “People for Building Schools” or “Atheists for Building Schools” over the Lutherans any day.

  3. I didn’t wish to drop drive by snark on you because I love your blog.
    “I’d prefer to support “People for Building Schools” or “Atheists for Building Schools” over the Lutherans any day.”
    Isn’t always a choice available to us. I’d love to donate to a secular neighborhood support group in my neck of the woods, but there isn’t one. What there is is CAIN (Churches Active in Northside) and we have them on our charity list because they’re there. They do a lot of good work in what is pretty much the most liberal neighborhood in Cincinnati. Do I share their desire to spread the word of jesus? No… but I do want to help make sure my spare kids clothes go to help someone in my hood.

    Now I get where you’re coming from on the FBB (I’m a member as well). I think the board is trying to navigate some rocky terrain with a membership that is pretty diverse. For a fairly new organization doing something really unprecedented, the fact that we’re even arguing about stuff like this is rather remarkable. It means that the major parts of the machine are working well and we’re fiddling with the fine tuning.

  4. That’s a totally fair point, Lou. I didn’t mean to imply that there could never be a reason for an individual atheist to support any particular charity that happened to be religious. Sometimes your neighborhood really needs some more charity-of-type-x, and the only one around is run by a religious group. Or you have a family member who works for a religious charity, and you want to support your family member. Or you had some personal great experience with a particular group and want to show your appreciation. Everyone has their own unique situation and is deciding what’s best for them and their own money.

    I’ve lived in cities all my life and have never really been in an area where the only food cupboard is run by a church, or something like that. Still, I think my personal preference in that situation would be to support wider-reaching (regional, national, international) secular charities even if that means missing out on an extremely local focus. (I bring my old clothes to Goodwill, which has no religious affiliation as far as I know.) My hope is that the more people do that instead of just giving to a religious group anyway, the more likely it is that secular charities start to reach into the currently unreached areas.

    I also think that FBB is a different sort of actor than you or me. By aggregating the donations of nonbelievers, they’re sending a message about what nonbelievers support. An individual with some special circumstances might have valid reasons to choose to donate to a particular religious organization, but FBB the nonprofit organization isn’t tied to any small locality, doesn’t have family members, etc. None of those special circumstances seem to apply, and they’re just left making a generic statement about the preferences of atheists. In that context, it seems most appropriate to go for the charities all atheists can get behind.

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