An Atheist's Perspective of Christian Charity
From across the pond, atheist Roy Hattersley speculates as to why Christians, especially those associated with the Salvation Army, are so willing to come to the aid of others in a disaster such as the one caused by Hurricane Katrina. He writes in The Guardian of London: . . .
The Salvation Army has been given a special status as provider-in-chief of American disaster relief. But its work is being augmented by all sorts of other groups. Almost all of them have a religious origin and character.
Notable by their absence are teams from rationalist societies, free thinkers' clubs and atheists' associations - the sort of people who not only scoff at religion's intellectual absurdity but also regard it as a positive force for evil. . . .
Civilised people do not believe that drug addiction and male prostitution offend against divine ordinance. But those who do are the men and women most willing to change the fetid bandages, replace the sodden sleeping bags and - probably most difficult of all - argue, without a trace of impatience, that the time has come for some serious medical treatment. Good works, John Wesley insisted, are no guarantee of a place in heaven. But they are most likely to be performed by people who believe that heaven exists.
The correlation is so clear that it is impossible to doubt that faith and charity go hand in hand. The close relationship may have something to do with the belief that we are all God's children, or it may be the result of a primitive conviction that, although helping others is no guarantee of salvation, it is prudent to be recorded in a book of gold, like James Leigh Hunt's Abu Ben Adam, as "one who loves his fellow men". Whatever the reason, believers answer the call. . . .
It ought to be possible to live a Christian life without being a Christian or, better still, to take Christianity à la carte. The Bible is so full of contradictions that we can accept or reject its moral advice according to taste. Yet men and women who, like me, cannot accept the mysteries and the miracles do not go out with the Salvation Army at night.
The only possible conclusion is that faith comes with a packet of moral imperatives that, while they do not condition the attitude of all believers, influence enough of them to make them morally superior to atheists like me. The truth may make us free. But it has not made us as admirable as the average captain in the Salvation Army.
Hat tip to the Christianity Today Weblog.