It is not unusual for me to be presented with this notion by supporters of various religions in full agreement with each other on this issue… as if it were unquestionably true. After all, there really are many religious charities and organizations doing socially responsive work. I even see some advertised on the local public transit. Fortunately, we have some census data out of Great Britain that may surprise these supporters (I have added some bold):
In terms of civic engagement and formal volunteering, the figures show no significant difference between those with a religion and those with no religion (57% and 56% respectively). There is scarcely any difference in participation between those with no religion and self-described Christians (56% and 58%). At 44%, the proportion of Hindus and Muslims participating in civic engagement and formal volunteering is actually lower than the proportion of non-religious people doing so, and the lowest of all groups. This is no flash in the pan – it is a continuing feature of the figures over a number of years.
The figures supplement other data that makes the same point, not only from previous years’ citizenship surveys. In 2007, Faith and Voluntary Action, from the National Council of Voluntary Organisations found that “religious affiliation makes little difference in terms of volunteering”, and as a matter of simple numbers, the overwhelming majority of the voluntary, community and charity sector in the UK are secular.
I think the Guardian article helps explain further:
Non-religious people are volunteering all the time, but don’t feel the need to do it in the name of being non-religious. They may even do it for charities that have a nominally religious origin. Being therefore less visible than specifically religious contributions to society, this can support the myth that non-religious people do less community work. This anecdotal misconception can only be corrected by data, which is not something to which most people have access.
So I’m just doing my bit to spread the data to a wider audience (and even I have donated through religious organizations for specific charity work and I wouldn’t consider myself much of a religious supporter). Yes, Virginia, you really can be good without god Now… where’s a bus to carry that message? Oh right… this atheist campaign to adorn buses with reassuring messages that morality is not dependent on religious affiliations was refused access to advertise on public transit in my hometown. Too… militant and strident and divisive for the public transit commission officers making the decision to reject it. That the message happens to be true in fact doesn’t seem to carry much weight in such decisions made on the public’s behalf. No surprise there.