The Charity of Atheists

Question from Melisa:
I have a friend from high school who is a wonderful person married to a wonderful man and they are both committed to only adopting children, rather than having their own biological children. They also happen to be Christian.

They recently made a post asking for help in finding a toddler bed ASAP (they have been fostering a lot while they are in the adoption process), my husband and I happily arranged for the bed and some other small items to be delivered.

She was very gracious but many of her friends posted religious things in response, which irked me. Is there a polite way to say, “Hey, please keep your religious comments to yourself, we’re atheist (and aren’t missing a moral compass, btw!)”?

Should I just leave this alone? Or this an opportunity to enlighten?

Thanks!

Answer by SmartLX:
You didn’t say what kind of religious comments they’re making, but chances are they’re either saying God will reward you for what you’ve done or crediting God for your actions, or both.

I know it’s irritating, believe me, but before you speak up in protest consider that they’ve most likely assumed you’re Christian yourself. You did a good thing for a couple of Christians, and that’s supposed to be what good Christians do. (This basic assumption goes beyond anything in scripture; people in any group “look after their own”.) Therefore they think they’re responding to an act of Christian charity, and everything they say is meant to make you feel good. As misguided as their comments are, this is them being nice. Any contrary response at all is liable to make some of them feel as if you’ve bitten their heads off for no good reason. I hate that this happens, but it’s just how it will come across.

You’re right though, this is an opportunity to enlighten. The fact that an atheist is capable of the same charity as a Christian is unfortunately news to many Christians. Now that the deed’s done, all you need to say in order to get that across is that you and your husband are atheists, so you needn’t reject anything explicitly while doing so. Maybe just make the point while also taking their comments in the spirit in which they’re intended: for example, “We’re atheists so I wouldn’t comment on that, but thanks for the good wishes.”

Sadly, the mere existence of atheists is an insult to some Christians, because it says to them that someone out there thinks they’re wrong, and maybe stupid or crazy as well. If you do anything but completely hide your atheism, someone will probably take offence no matter how tactful you are. It’s bound to cost you something socially. It might however be worth it.

One thought on “The Charity of Atheists”

  1. Its a bit frustrating to get god’s blessings whenever I do any sort of charity or provide help.
    Although I do understand the sentiment behind the “blessings” and try to move on, I do get a bit turned off. I’ve thought over why I get turned off … I think its not because I am an atheist and the god blessings mean nothing to me. Its more because the “god bless” points out to me that the person receiving the charity still thinks some sort of god operates things somehow.
    To me, this is an indication that this person is likely to think that god will help him out … and thus, maybe this person’s effort to pull him/ herself out of their current situation might diminish due to their world view.

    I’d rather people just say thanks. Simple statements like “hope you remain happy”, “hope your endeavors are successful” are also enough for me.

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