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David Diskin: Religious or not, we must all do what we can to aid the poor

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Posted: Sunday, September 29, 2013 1:00 am

The News-Sentinel asked: A recent report found that about 15 percent of Americans are living in poverty. Do you believe poverty is a faith issue? What does your organization do to fight poverty?

Poverty, like health and education, is an issue that should be important to Americans regardless of their worldview. It is a concern that must be addressed from all sides – nonprofit organizations (religious and secular), corporations, and governmental agencies – doing what they can to provide aid to those who need it.

Religious organizations have done an outstanding job in this endeavor, and rightfully get the credit they deserve for their efforts. But I also think that there are many unsung heroes that are fighting poverty from a secular angle. For example, while many religious Americans tithe a significant percentage of their income to church, a nearly-equal amount of secular Americans donate directly to secular charities. Further, I am happy that a portion of my tax dollars is used to provide SNAP vouchers to those who need it. It bothers me when conservative voters and politicians work to eliminate these programs.

The Red Cross and several of our local shelters and food banks are also secular organizations, working with volunteers of all worldviews to do good. Members of our group, the Stockton Area Atheists and Freethinkers, have often spent their time assisting these wonderful organizations.

Sadly, there have been times when our help was rejected by religious or secular institutions. Efforts to assist a local food bank were declined when they discovered we were a group of atheists. Similarly, the American Cancer Society recently turned away a $500,000 donation from The Foundation Beyond Belief – a secular charity – because they did not want to associate with us.

Regardless of these setbacks, I know we can do more. As our numbers grow, I look forward to offering more philanthropic and volunteer-based opportunities to our membership. But until then, I know that our members are – individually – doing what they can to make the world a better place. We are good (even) without God.

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