(This was written specifically for Tacoma Atheists but I felt it was also worth posting here)
"Philanthropist" is a word which, translated from Greek, literally means "lover of humanity". There is no caveats attached to this term which dictates that the lover of humanity must also believe in a god or gods, but it would seem that some religiously affiliated and atheist warry folks would ignore that lack of inclusion as an overlooked but understood truth. Those people are certainly misguided - it is only the religious who feel that religion is needed in order to be a charitable person.
Something which should be a point of pride for all atheists - especially when you're being told by someone who knows little about you besides the fact that you're not a believer that you're the reason babies die and the elderly lose their ability to do cartwheels - is that the two biggest charitable contributions in American history can both be attributed to non believers: Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.
But charity is not and should not be a game of tallying which side has done more and then declaring a winner. Is shouldn't be about who wins - the focus should be on helping people whether you're religious or not. I have been told more than once by religious people who were disturbed by my atheism that if there were no god fearing, good people on this earth there would be no hospitals, no orphanages, no clothing and food drives, no helping hand for anyone. In this bleak and truly apocalypic atheist future, everyone is looking out for themselves and the very idea of helping others is perverse and uncessesary. Help out your fellow man? Heh, who's gonna make me?
The fact is that there are plenty of secular institutions already in existance that provide every kind of charitable resource you could imagine - and they provide these things without the common "Are you really thankful for our help? Well then you should probabaly believe in this god." attitude which is often found when participating at religiously affiliated institutions and events. I remember specifically helping an older woman who's husband had died. A big group of us were there cleaning her house and fixing up her yard. I was helping the woman sort through clothes and she started talking about how wonderful the Catholic organization was that had set up the work we doing and by proxy, how wonderful we all were. I thanked her, and I didn't correct her assumption that we were all Catholics doing good Catholic work because I felt that the work we were doing was important, not the details of who was doing it to be nice and who was doing it because of god. However, I personally realized that in a lot of cases people do assume that charity work is being done in the name of some holy organization.
The only way I can see to change the public perception of atheists and to help change the common assumptions being made about charitable work is for atheists to get involved with their communities as atheists so that we can show by example that we are upstanding citizens who are interested in philanthropy in it's purest form.
Below is a list of secular charities and aid-based organizations which would be worth looking into if you are looking to donate some time or money to your fellow human beings. This is by no means a complete list and does not include many local organizations which are always looking for volunteers. Remember, while donating money is always appreciated and needed, what a lot of charities need even more is your time and physical involvment. If we all tried to get involved or if those of us who can't get involved were willing to support those who are even a little bit, we could do a lot to change the commonly held and entirely unfair position that atheists are selfish, mean people who don't have the capacity for compassion that religious folks have. It's not at all fair to have to do so, but it's up to us to prove them wrong.
DonorsChoose.org a simple way to provide students in need with resources that our public schools often lack.
Kiva.org lets you connect with and loan money to unique small businesses in the developing world.
American Red Cross The American Red Cross, a humanitarian organization led by volunteers, guided by its Congressional Charter and the Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross Movement, will provide relief to victims of disasters and help people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies. The USA's premier emergency response organization, over 91% of Red Cross spending is on charitable services.
American Civil Liberties Union The mission of the ACLU is to preserve all of constitutional protections and guarantees relating to First Amendment rights, including the freedom to practice religion and the freedom not to have religion rammed down our throats, equal protection, due process, and right to privacy.
United Nations Children's Fund UNICEF mobilizes political will and material resources to help countries, particularly developing countries, ensure a "first call for children" and to build their capacity to form appropriate policies and deliver services for children and their families. UNICEF provides emergency and disaster relief.
Doctors without Borders Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international independent medical humanitarian organization that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural and man-made disasters, and exclusion from health care in nearly 70 countries.
Amnesty International AI’s vision is of a world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards. In pursuit of this vision, AI’s mission is to undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of the rights to physical and mental integrity, freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination, within the context of its work to promote all human rights.
Oxfam International Oxfam International is a confederation of 12 organizations working together with over 3,000 partners in more than 100 countries to find lasting solutions to poverty, suffering and injustice. The Oxfams operate in over 100 countries worldwide working with local partners to alleviate poverty and injustice.
The Nature Conservancy The Nature Conservancy is a leading international, nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the diversity of life on Earth. An environmental group that protects natural habitats and the wildlife within them. Focuses on "science-based" initiatives.
Population Connection Population Connection is the national grassroots population organization that educates young people and advocates progressive action to stabilize world population at a level that can be sustained by Earth's resources. Works against faith-based policies that are supported by the Religious Right.
DefCon: Campaign to Defend the Constitution DefCon is an online grassroots movement combating the growing power of the religious right. It includes a blog on religious freedom issues, action alerts, and in-depth articles on scientific, religious, and legal issues of the day.
The SEED foundation National nonprofit that establishes urban public boarding schools to prepare students from underserved communities for success in college.
Project Peanut Butter Project Peanut Butter is a therapeutic feeding program for malnourished children in Malawi and Sierra Leone, on the continent of Africa. It was founded by Professor Mark Manary, M.D., a pediatrician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and a professor of pediatric medicine at Washington University School of Medicine.
Electronic Frontiers Foundation When our freedoms in the networked world come under attack, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is the first line of defense. Blending the expertise of lawyers, policy analysts, activists, and technologists, EFF achieves significant victories on behalf of consumers and the general public. EFF fights for freedom primarily in the courts, bringing and defending lawsuits even when that means taking on the US government or large corporations.
Mercy corps Mercy Corps exists to alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression by helping people build secure, productive and just communities.
Seva Our programs serve people who have been economically, politically, or otherwise marginalized. We change our program approach to relate to their culture and circumstances, reaching out in very different ways, for example, to nomads in Tibet, women in Tanzania, or indigenous Mayans in Guatemala. Our aim is to build a bridge of compassion between our donors and the people we serve — people around the world who have the fewest resources.
International Peace Institute The International Peace Institute (IPI) formerly International Peace Academy is an independent, international institution dedicated to promoting the prevention and settlement of armed conflict between and within states through policy research and development.