Where charity begins — and where it stumbles

In this Oct 16, 2018 photo, Volunteer Erin Miller sorts newly donated clothes at the Lutheran School Association Resale Shop in Decatur, Ill. It's the holiday giving season, but for some charities and thrift stores collecting used items, there's a fine line between a blessing and a burden when it comes to what's being received. Organizations are put in the tough spot of being both grateful for contributions while having to wade through piles of donations that aren't usable. (Jim Bowling/Herald & Review via AP)
File 2018/AP
A volunteer sorted donations at a resale shop in Decatur, Ill.

Wrong to say religious people spread more charity than atheists, agnostics

In “If religion shrinks, so will charity” (Opinion, Jan. 23), Jeff Jacoby retreads the oft-debunked belief that the secularization of our country will cause charitable activity to dry up. Jacoby is right on one point: that Americans, particularly the younger generations, are giving up on religion. But he’s wrong to say that religious people are spreading more charity to their fellow Americans than atheists and agnostics.

The National Study of American Religious Giving found that almost three-quarters of religious people’s giving is being donated back to their own churches. Once those donations are removed from the equation, Americans in the least religious states give the most to charity.

For example, atheists have given major donations to help victims of everything from the California wildfires to Hurricane Maria to war-torn Yemen.


Furthermore, Jacoby asserts that religious people are intrinsically more generous toward others and unselfish. Wrong again. A study of 1,170 children published in Current Biology found that nonreligious kids are more generous than religious ones when it comes to basic things like sharing games with strangers. That’s because charity means helping those beyond your own tribe.

Annie Laurie Gaylor


Freedom From Religion Foundation

Madison, Wis.

Relying on charity lets government off hook, leaves many needy wanting

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Jeff Jacoby’s “If religion shrinks, so will charity” misses the point. Since George H.W. Bush coined the phrase “a thousand points of light,” America increasingly has placed the burden of serving the needy on private acts of charity. I, for one, would rather pay taxes to the government for programs that address social ills in a uniform, equitable way rather than relying on individuals, religious or not, to select the issue or groups that are deserving of attention. Much like the ubiquitous holiday gift and fund-raising drives, this approach showers some people or programs with more than is needed while others have no supporters.

My mother ran a program for single mothers in the 1980s and ’90s. The women told us that they received an avalanche of food, clothing, and children’s toys in the six weeks between mid-November and the end of the year. But no one reached out to them at any other time.

Further, religious groups can have agendas that bias help away from marginalized groups for a variety of theological reasons. Private charity is lumpy and uneven. It is our responsibility to help others by fully funding programs that seek to help everyone equally.

Susan Haltmaier

North Andover