There is a stigma that non-religious people are selfish, immoral, and do not volunteer. This is probably due to several reasons, but one could be that non-religious people may donate individually and do not have a church associated with them. Churches provide strong social networks and those social ties greatly increase the likelihood that one will give to charity. Sequentially, larger charity efforts allow for more people to become aware of the work being done. The non-religious community is growing, but is still quite small and loosely connected. However, secular humanists have been known come together and help out during tragedies. I recently had the experience of organizing one of these successful humanist charity campaigns.
A horrific tragedy occurred in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday, June 17th 2015. Dylan Roof went into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and killed nine people. Roof is deeply racist and committed this act of domestic terrorism in hopes of starting a “race war.” This gruesome act is an example of how racism and intolerance are still major problems for our country. Humanists condemn racism and intolerance and we wanted to help out those who suffered from this tragedy.
Directly after hearing the news, people in the South Carolina Facebook groups I’m involved with were discussing how we could help. Amy Monsky and I decided that a great way to help out would be to create an online campaign to support the families of the victims involved in the attack. This campaign was organized and spread by humanist groups, but anyone could donate. In just three days this campaign was shared thousands of times and raised over $12,000 from over 300 donations.
It might seem counterintuitive that a campaign organized by secular humanists to help religious people would be so successful. However, my response to that is simple: as humanists we aim to help out when people are in need. It doesn’t matter who the people are or what their religious beliefs are. The money is being donated through the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund, which helps the families pay for funeral costs, burial costs, counseling, and other expenses as some of the people killed were providing for their families. Even if some of the money finds its way back to the church, I don’t think humanists should be concerned with that. The church is part of a community that suffered a horrible event. Even if we are not religious, we should be happy to help their community heal.
I found this experience quite encouraging as I was overwhelmed with the prompt and enthusiastic support we received. It was beautiful to see the non-religious community put their differences aside and help out those in need. It was also great to see so many non-religious people condemn these actions of racism and hatred. As the humanist community grows and becomes more connected, it will continue to help out during catastrophes. Having an established network definitely facilitates being able to help and that is something we can learn from our religious neighbors.