Category Archives: philanthropy

No Virginia, there isn’t a God?


An atheist organization (The American Humanist Association) has adapted the British Humanist Association’s UK campaign (“There’s probably No God – Now stop worrying and enjoy your life “) to the US starting in DC with a Christmas season ad campaign to try to convince more Americans not to believe in God and to be good anyway, (“Why Believe In God?  Just Be Good For Goodness Sake”).

Unfortunately, their campaign flies in the face of strong data-based evidence in the US, from a high quality, large scale survey, of how religious citizens (controlling for lots of other individual factors) are better citizens: they give more to secular causes, volunteer more for secular causes, vote more, are more engaged in their communities, to name only a few benefits.

That said, the survey did not find that it is belief that produces this benefits, it was having friends in a faith community, probably because it was something about being surrounded by others who were infused with moral beliefs that held them accountable for their actions.   The survey findings reveal that “belief in God” is not the crucial predictor; atheists in theory can be nice and happy if go to church and make friends there (although only 4% of those attending church monthly are “not quite sure” they believe in God), and conversely, believers who don’t go to “church” or don’t have any friends there are more likely to be mean and unhappy.  The survey reveals that 21% of those who are “absolutely sure” about God attend church no more than once or twice a year.

This and other evidence of how religion and public life intersect will come out late next year in a book, tentatively entitled “American Grace” (Simon & Schuster) by my colleague Robert Putnam, and professor David Campbell at Notre Dame.

Civic Petals Unfolding from the Ashes of 9-11

Alexandra Marks of the Christian Science Monitor reports on one group’s efforts ( to turn September 11 into an outpouring of good deeds for fellow Americans.  They have shown impressive growth (over 250,000 Americans pledged to do good deeds on 9-11-07) and if they find a way of knitting this into something throughout the year rather than a 1-day affair, they could be part of sparking a civic renaissance. 

We hope they succeed as it is a great opportunity to honor the countless acts of heroism of fellow citizens on September 11, sometimes for their colleagues and sometimes for complete strangers.  This heroism and concern for others is a key part of what makes America great.

Here are clips from Alexandra’s story:

“In 9/11 remembrance, a turning to good deeds: President Bush for the first time this year included a call for volunteering in his annual 9/11 proclamation. ” (Alexandra Marks, The Christian Science Monitor, 9/10/07)

“On Sept. 11, Jacob Sundberg of San Antonio has pledged to make eye contact and smile at everyone he meets. Kaitlin Ulrich will bring goody baskets to the police and fire departments in and around Philadelphia.  And 100 volunteers from New York – 9/11 firefighters and family members among them – are going to Groesbeck, Texas, to rebuild a house destroyed by a tornado last December.

“This is a minute sampling of the hundreds of thousands of people who have pledged to memorialize those killed on 9/11 by doing something good for others.

“The heroic acts of all those killed trying to save others that September morning has spawned a growing grass-roots movement. The goal is to ensure that future generations remember not just the horror of the attacks, but also the extraordinary outpouring of humanity during the days, weeks, and months that followed.

” ‘It was the worst possible day imaginable, and in some ways, a remarkable day, too, in the way in which people responded,’ says David Paine, cofounder of ‘We need to rekindle the way we came together in the spirit of 9/11: It would be almost as much a tragedy to lose that lesson.’

“Sept. 11 has inspired dozens of philanthropic efforts – from groups dedicated to building memorials to foundations designed to improve education in the Middle East. But myGoodDeed has a more universal goal: to turn 9/11 into a day dedicated to doing good – from small, simple things like Lisa Scheive’s pledge to help stranded turtles cross the road in Pompano Beach, Fla., to lifesaving efforts, such as John Feal’s decision in New York to donate one of his kidneys to help a seriously ill 9/11 worker.

“The idea has been endorsed by members of Congress, and at myGoodDeed’s urging, President Bush for the first time this year included a call for volunteering in his annual 9/11 proclamation.

“After major disasters, Americans have historically tapped a deep reserve of compassion and reached out to others. But in the months and years that follow, those compassionate and civic urges tend to recede. Studies at Harvard’s Saguaro Seminar on Civic Engagement in America found that in as few as five months after 9/11, most Americans had gone back to their daily lives and were not more engaged as they said they’d hoped to be. Part of the goal of turning 9/11 into a national day of service is to remind Americans of the inherent joy of giving and to hopefully spur volunteering and charitable acts throughout the year.

” ‘I don’t know of any research that’s been done on one day of service, but studies have shown that people who do volunteering in high school are more likely to volunteer throughout their lives,’ says Thomas Sander, executive director of the Saguaro Seminar.”

[Article goes on to highlight the impetus for forming from the heroism of volunteer fireman/lawyer Glenn Winuk who grabbed his medic bag and ran towards the smoke streaming from the World Trade Center.  His body was later found among the ashes.  His brother Jay Winuk launched MyGoodDeed.  It started in 2002 with a few individuals doing an act of goodness on 9/11/02 like donating a day’s pay and then snowballed from there. The article highlights some sample volunteer projects like a New Jersey food drive, an Atlantan woman who now gives more personal philanthropy (less to organizations and more to needy individuals she knows) and how the giving has changed her, and an Anchorage bike-a-thon.]

Full story here.