Irreverent atheists crowdsource charitable giving

GENEVA Mon Dec 12, 2011 9:14am EST

Doctors from treat a woman at an emergency medical centre for flood victims operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Charsadda, located in Pakistan's northwest Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province August 17, 2010. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

Doctors from treat a woman at an emergency medical centre for flood victims operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Charsadda, located in Pakistan's northwest Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province August 17, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Tim Wimborne

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GENEVA (Reuters) - Atheist bloggers have shown their charitable side by swarming to donate money to Doctors Without Borders, in what turned into the humanitarian agency's biggest online fundraiser.

Doctors without Borders (DWB), also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, gets about 4,000 hits on its U.S. website on an average Sunday. Last Sunday that number ballooned to 50,000 as a horde of redditors, subscribers to the social media site reddit.com, thundered across the DWB homepage.

Thousands more clicked through from the atheism sub-reddit, a site normally given over to finding holes in religions and picking fights with creationists, and headed for a dedicated site at firstgiving.com, where they have so far given $180,000.

"It's amazing, what's going on. The amount being raised is amazing, definitely," said Natalie Favre, an MSF spokeswoman in Geneva. "We don't control any of this."

Many donations were tagged with messages such as "Because god won't," "Good without god" or even "Good without Zeus."

"I WAS gonna buy some Taco Bell... but screw it," wrote DJW3NCH, who donated $5.00 via firstgiving.com.

Reddit's atheist page, www.reddit.com/r/atheism, boasts more than 300,000 subscribers while the Christianity page has 20,000.

One atheist reached across the divide to ask what the Christians thought about the donation campaign. A redditor calling himself Duke_Newcombe replied: "What do I think? Praise God. And thank you, r/atheism."

Reddit is owned by Conde Nast, better known as the publisher of Wired, Vogue and GQ. Unlike Twitter or Facebook, it thrives on anonymity, fostering a creative chaos which is divided up into "subreddits" and largely self-policing thanks to guidelines known as "reddiquette" and the desire to collect "karma," the points earned and lost from upvotes and downvotes.

A similar reddit drive raised about $50,000 last year. This year, donations picked up as many redditors promised a few cents for every upvote they got, and then sought to outdo each other by upping the cash value or matching what others gave.

Jennifer Tierney, who is in charge of fundraising at DWB, said the money from reddit was not earmarked for any particular project and could be used for any of DWB's work, which this year included fighting cholera in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo and responding to emergencies in Libya and Ivory Coast.

A big priority will be to fill the gap left by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which is cutting grants because of economic problems faced by donor countries.

DWB normally gets a few million dollars a year from about 250-300 third party fundraising events, anything from reddit to a child selling home-made lemonade on the street corner. Reddit has contributed about 10 percent of that total in a few days.

"Things are looking good. Our donors have been really, really loyal to us, which is wonderful. I know it's tough for people out there and it's great that they're continuing to support us," said Tierney. "This is very good example of how the communities online can get together and make a huge difference."

Although it welcomes the windfall from reddit, DWB is aware of the dangers of expecting the reddit atheists to donate every year, and it is not planning to chase them for money.

"We're not doing a heavy push on fundraising. We're really not trying to overwhelm people that way," said Tierney. "I think the most important thing on social media is you engage people and they get to know you. It's a great space for that, and try not to use it to force a donation. It doesn't work that way."

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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Comments (22)
ywilber wrote:
“Because God won’t”? I do not understand this sentiment. Charitable activity was a basic part of the Jewish faith which was later expanded by Christianity and the admonitions of Jesus. Do atheists really think they are inventing something new by giving to a charity? Charitable and social movements in the West have almost always come through the efforts of the church. The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) announced recently that cash charitable giving to ECFA members totalled $9.38 billion last year, a 5.8 percent increase from the 2009 level of $8.87 billion. Because God won’t? Oh please. He does…through his people.

Dec 12, 2011 12:27pm EST  --  Report as abuse
fan_22 wrote:
“God won’t? Oh please. He does…through his people.”

You mean the same God that was created by people, now does work through his people?

Low logic at it’s finest!!!

Since you missed the mark here on what was meant by “Because God won’t,” I will explain it to you.

If your God is omnipotent, why does he not simply help the people in need himself. Millions of children die each year from starvation, lack of clean water, curable illnesses, etc. Why would your God not simply help them directly? I think the answer is pretty clear.

Dec 12, 2011 3:03pm EST  --  Report as abuse
givingatheist wrote:
ywilber:
You are missing the point. God will not cure disease. Only people can cure disease. Only people can heal the sick. Continue to give to charitable organizations, ywilber. You are helping humanity. If they are noble and do give your money to those in need and don’t discriminate based on mythology or pay to maintain a castle for the religious elite, you are helping. Because god won’t. Because god can’t.

Dec 12, 2011 3:22pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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