Monday, December 8, 2008

RtBotS, Part 2 of 9: Atheist Soup Kitchens


(4) One of the things atheists like to say is "Imagine a world without religion." Their goal is to conjure images of a world in which the Twin Towers still stand, in which the Spanish Inquisition never occurred, in which the Crusades never occurred, in which World War II came and went without a Holocaust. To a religious moderate, though, an entirely different set of images gets conjured. The religious moderate thinks, "Last summer I sent my daughter on a mission trip to New York City where she spent a week working in a soup kitchen. Every year our church does a nonperishables drive to contribute to the local food bank. And the church is a major donor to that homeless shelter downtown. Why would I want all that to end?" The religious moderate is justifiably filled with revulsion at the thought of these good works vanishing.

Now, it's easy for an atheist to counter that by saying, "Yes, but in a world without religion, secular charities would fill the gap." But that kind of statement is arguably just as faith-based (i.e. speculative and unreliant on evidence) as the statements we routinely get worked up about religious believers making.

I'm an aspiring screenwriter, and one of the themes that comes up again and again in that industry -- from seminars, books, interviews with successful professionals -- is "show, don't tell." The way to create a convincing narrative is not merely to tell the viewer about the hero, but to actually show them something about him through his actions. When atheists claim that charitable good works don't have to be done in the name of God -- or indeed, more generally, that one can live a good and moral life without having to believe in God -- we're telling, not showing.

To start showing, we need to organize ourselves to do charitable good works. It is true that there are already many secular charities (Oxfam International, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, etc.), but there is a difference between doing good works in the name of nothing in particular versus doing good works in the name of atheism. There are already lots of atheist organizations, but they persist in thinking that merely telling the public about atheism will be good enough. They need to branch out and become the atheist Knights of Columbus, the atheist Shriners, the atheist Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.


No comments: