Are atheists more helpful than Christians?

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The tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma had a casualty count of two dozen killed and hundreds injured, with the cost of damage still being tallied, according to a recent report. Directly after the event, social media sites began seeing a plethora of tweets and posts of the damage from first-hand accounts, as well as a tremendous amount of hopes, good thoughts and prayers – just as anyone might expect. On the ground, many relief organisations moved in to give aid to those whose lives had just been drastically altered by the storms. 

But what were the reactions of those who not only believe in a divine creator, but also claim to know the mind of the creator or have a direct link to the divinity? First, I checked into what the largest, worldwide, Christian organization was doing to see what aid was coming from their leader. The Vatican’s response was to offer prayers, but not aid.  Here are some notable citations from public prayers given by Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome:

“Let us pray for the victims and the missing, especially the children, struck by the violent tornado that hit Oklahoma City yesterday. Hear us, O Lord.  Conscious of the tragic loss of life and the immensity of the work of rebuilding that lies ahead, he asks Almighty God to grant eternal rest to the departed, comfort to the afflicted, and strength and hope to the homeless and injured”.

“Upon the local civil and religious leaders, and upon all involved in the relief efforts His Holiness invokes the Risen Lord's gifts of consolation, strength and perseverance in every good”.

Pat Robertson, a well-known Christian leader, gave his sickening opinions about the tornadoes on The 700 Club. His response can be summed up as ‘it’s their own fault.’  According to Robertson, the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent sky father did not send the tornadoes; he only set the weather currents in place. It is entirely the victims’ fault for building homes there in the first place, and if they had only prayed more, or perhaps harder, they could have been saved from the disaster. His lack of compassion mixed with an arrogant display of ‘knowing God’s will’ should be enough to turn any non-sociopath’s stomach.

With all the money the Vatican has received from its own members, not to mention “donations” that have been coerced in order to buy “salvation” from the Church, could the Holy See not even make a suggestion to donate funds or time for those in need? Let alone, make a donation from their overflowing coffers? I could not find a single statement inciting followers to give money or time. I am quite sure local Catholic groups in the area are doing what they can to aid those in need, and I am not trying to suggest otherwise. Good people will do good things to aid their fellow humans. Luckily this is true even if the person whom they choose as their representative to their deity doesn’t bother to tell them that they should do so.

Billy Graham has been noted as one of the most recognised Christian leaders in America.  Well, let’s give credit where it is due. A support organisation called Samaritan’s Purse, which is associated with Billy Graham’s work, has been on the ground giving aid and helping to rebuild since the skies cleared. They do so while telling the survivors that God was looking out for them, while their sister-group, the Billy Graham Chaplains, provide counselling and ‘spiritual’ support. While they certainly appear to be doing more good than harm, I have to ask, are they taking advantage of a horrible situation in order to push the agenda of the church onto susceptible victims? People who have suffered and lost eagerly desire answers, even if there is little logic behind those answers. At least this group is providing actual help to those in need in addition to the sermons – although the comfort provided by the Chaplains, to me, would seem very fleeting, and in reality would only serve as a reminder that while God decided to save me, part of that decision was not to rescue the children who were killed in their school, or my neighbours and loved ones. It is my opinion that such a deity, if one existed, does not deserve worship, nor should they be thanked for their so-called mercy.

As the storm caused a giant upswing in prayer posts (which I see as nothing more than what I would call Religious Slacktivism), some posts from prominent atheists began appearing as well to counter the prayers, not so much to discredit or countermine the prayers, but to discourage the idea that prayers would have actual, meaningful effects. The posts suggested donating. One example tweeted by Ricky Gervais said that “The best way to help the disaster victims is to donate at http://redcross.org  or text REDCROSS to 90999. #ActuallyDoSomethingForOklahoma“. Many Christians were offended by the idea that an atheist would suggest that they were not actually doing something to help. They completely ignored the fact that Gervais was encouraging people to help one another. They were more focused on how their actions (or lack thereof) were being belittled.

One story that received a lot of media time was from CNN. While interviewing a random survivor of the storms, Wolf Blitzer made the mistake of assuming that anyone who survived would be thankful to God and asked a young woman named Rebecca Vitsmun if she was thankful to God.  She very politely responded with, “I am actually an atheist”. Good for her! It would have been very easy to just say, “Oh, we are thankful,” or something else equally as ambiguous so as to not publicly come out as an atheist, but she chose not to.  The outcome of such a statement, if it were made 50 years ago, would have had a devastating effect on this woman’s life.  It is good that we have made enough progress that, at least so far, the negative response to her has been completely overwhelmed by the positive. Comedian Doug Stanhope began a fund saying, "It's important that our community shows that we have your back when you come out publicly as an atheist."  Since that time, Sean Faircloth tweeted, “Give to the fund for the atheist tornado victim's family or to relief generally or both. Options here: http://on.fb.me/11foemB“, adding a huge audience of non-believers to the cause. Atheists Unite has raised more than $100k in support of Rebecca and her family. Becky Garrison has written an article detailing the story of support among atheists.

Comparing the amount of donations and aid provided by atheists and those of the religious may seem trivial or petty, but there is a reason I make the distinction. It is my opinion that if someone prays, posts to Facebook, and tweets, they are less likely to donate and less likely to become directly involved in support of those who need aid. After all, they have already done their part by praying, right? That’s good enough to still get into Heaven! Meanwhile, atheists know prayers or good thoughts serve no direct aid to victims. Therefore, atheists are more likely to actually take action and do what they can to ease the suffering of others. In my mind that makes the atheist more compassionate, considerate and caring.  We atheists know that we only have this life and that we need to make the best of it for us and for everyone we encounter. Waiting for God to do something is the biggest waste of time.

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