Welcome to further than atheism - infidel mists of the mindFurther Than Atheism, an ongoing exploration of the wide open range of ideas that lies beyond the only idea that all atheists share: that life is best lived without gods. Atheism can be a beginning, more than just an end in itself. When they confine their attention to what they do not believe, atheists restrict themselves to mere reaction to the ideas of the religious. Standing alone, atheism consists only of refusal. Held along with compatible philosophies, however, atheism allows for an infinite variety of positive possibilities. The search for such possibilities is what Further Than Atheism is all about.

The Foolishness of Faith in Politicians

In one of his first acts as President of the United States, George W. Bush has dedicated this entire week to the creation and promotion of programs designed to donate public money to private religious organizations (or as he prefers to call them "faith-based initiatives"). With the creation of an official federal office of "faith-based action", Bush intends to replace the public social safety net in place since the days of the Depression with governmental funding of churches and other religious organizations that link charity to their missionary work.

As Bush promised during his campaign, "In every instance when my administration sees a responsibility to help people, we will look first to faith based institutions." What's so wrong with Bush's plans to fund religious charities instead of governmental social services?

Atheist Charity

What can we atheists do to prevent Bush's butchering of the freedoms we're guaranteed under the Constitution? Well, we can counter his political maneuvers with maneuvers of our own. We can speak out. We can demonstrate. We can write letters. We can support the efforts of organizations such as Americans United For Separation of Church and State.

We also might do well to engage in a little navel-gazing. The ability of George W. Bush to twist public opinion to support the undermining of our most basic freedoms is a testament to the automatic association that Americans make between charity and religion. Whether the perception is accurate or not, most Americans assume that religious people are more charitable than non-religious people.

I'd like to think that the opposite is true. As groups like the secular humanists have shown, compassion is at least as likely to come about through a commitment to irreligious principles as a fervent devotion to supernatural belief. In fact, George W. Bush's attempts to legalize government-funded coercion of the poor into religious practice demonstrate that the charity of religious organizations is often more self-serving than selfless service.

Still, it's up to us to prove the likes of George W. Bush, Trent Lott and Jesse Helms wrong. When it comes down to it, we're going to be judged by what we do, not by what we say. There's a real danger that by restricting ourselves to mere defensiveness, we atheists will appear to be nothing but self-absorbed complainers. If we atheists truly believe that compassion is best found outside of church walls, it's time for us to put up or shut up. It's time we form our own charities and provide more support for the atheist and otherwise secular charities that already exist.

A great starting point is a charity designed with exactly this idea in mind. It's called, very simply, Atheist Charity. Atheist Charity is getting ready for a new round of giving to people in need and other worthy secular causes, so if you're an atheist who likes to talk about the problems of the world as it is, I encourage you to give them a look and help them out if you can.

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