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Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Atheists are the most generous—even without heavenly reward!

Hank Pellissier

Ethical Technology

November 25, 2011

Who gives the most to charitable causes? Those who believe in gods or those who don’t?

“Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven…” (Mark 10:21)

“Any charity you give is for your own good. Any charity you give shall be for the sake of GOD. Any charity you give will be repaid to you…” (Koran 2:272)

Charitable behavior gets big perks in the afterlife, according to Christian and Islamic theology. Philanthropy, in these creeds, is a highly profitable long-term investment, a down payment on ecstatic immortality. Quite the bargain!
But atheists? No heaven awaits them. No pearly gates, eager virgins, harping angels, fluffy clouds, or succulent oasis. No reward whatsoever. Atheists have no faith, no expectation of benefit from a deity. So, atheists are probably selfish, right? Pitiless, parsimonious. Totally stingy misers, not passing a penny off to the poor…correct?

WRONG! Atheists, non-believers, secular humanists, skeptics—the whole gamut of the godless have emerged in recent years as inarguably the most generous benefactors on the globe. That’s right. Hordes of heretics are the world’s biggest damned philanthropists. Both individually and in groups, heathen infidels are topping the fundraising charts.

First, the facts. 

The current most charitable individuals in the United States, based on “Estimated Lifetime Giving,” are:

1) Warren Buffett (atheist, donated $40.785 billion to “health, education, humanitarian causes”)

2) Bill & Melinda Gates (atheists, donated $27.602 billion to “global health and development, education”)

3) George Soros (atheist, donated $6.936 billion to “open and democratic societies”)

A century ago, one of the USA’s leading philanthropists was Andrew Carnegie, atheist.

Regarding “group efforts”—, the micro-financing organization that has distributed $261 million to people in 61 nations, has “lending teams” that post their generous efforts online. The leading team on November 22, 2011, is “Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists, and the Non-Religious.” These 18,127 benevolent blasphemers have lent $5,623,750 in 187,920 loans. Their simple motto is: “We loan because we care about the suffering of human beings.”

Trailing behind in the #2 slot are the “Kiva Christians” who have loaned $3,211,250. Their supernatural rallying cry is, “We loan because: Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)”

I’m gleeful that the irreligious are the most altruistic because I was incessantly told the inverse by credo-worshipping commenters after I published my article “Tax the Churches and Give the Revenue to Hungry Children.” Pious posters informed me that my secular proposal would seriously damage charitable causes, because it would hamper the vast, sublime generosity of the devout. Ha! The numbers above suggest that their contention is just the usual sanctimonious drivel. A favorite slogan of atheists is, “We Don’t Need God To Be Good” and the philanthropy figures I’ve presented indicate that is exactly the case, indeed, we seem to be “BETTER without God.”

In actuality, there are complex difficulties in funding religious organizations; I discovered this five years ago when I donated money to a impoverished tribal village in the Philippines that was being educated, and medically treated, by a Catholic layperson. The tribe had a sickly population of 66 individuals; within two years it had ballooned up to 100, even sicker at this point, with tuberculosis and malnutrition. When I strongly suggested to the Catholic layperson that my next contribution should be a bag of 10,000 condoms, to halt the population explosion, she replied, “Oh no, we are Catholics, we only practice natural birth control.” 

After that exchange, I moved my atheistic generosity to Kiva.


The top-slotted “Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, etc.” lending team at Kiva is led by a young Canadian duo, “Team Captains” Peter Kroll and his wife, Ravjee. I interviewed Pete via email:

Hank Pellissier: Hi Peter. How did you and Ravjee become atheists? Most atheists were raised religious—when did you decide to become non-religious?

Peter Kroll: My father is a non-practicing Christian and my mother was a non-practicing Muslim. One of my first memories regarding religion was asking my mom if we were Anglican or Protestant, I must have heard someone at grade school discussing it. She told me I could consider myself Christian, but I had never been to church, so in a way I always considered myself without a religion. I can’t say I ever really believed in God/Jesus and I had not heard of any other gods until grade 8 when we learned about Greek mythology. 

My wife was raised Hindu, the religion of her mother, her father was Jain. So she as well was raised in a mix-religion family, that was very moderate in terms of religion. When we first started dating we had a conversation about a Ganesh statue she had in her room. I asked her if she really believed it was god and she said she didn’t.

HP: How do you define yourself? Atheist, Secularist, Humanist, Agnostic, etc?

PK: Atheist and Skeptic. Sometimes a Secular Humanist. I find it especially important to emphasize the Skeptic label because that’s the mental tool we use filter out all the bogus claims that we encounter in life.

HP: How did you decide to start the KIVA group? How did you get so many people to participate? Are you surprised that your group is the top philanthropist?

PK: I’ve been a lender on Kiva since 2007. A year later Kiva launched the Kiva Community area where people could lend in teams. I immediately went looking for the Atheist team and didn’t find one so I decided to start it. I wanted to make sure all the secular-minded folks could team up together so I made a very long and inclusive name to get “us” all together regardless of labels. I think we got momentum early by focusing the team around team goals and open discussions. Kiva lenders are some of the best people I’ve interacted with on the Internet. We give each other a lot of respect, understanding and patience. At least, that is the experience I’ve enjoyed with my fellow teammates. Reading the daily digest of team messages I get in my inbox every morning makes me feel connected to a community of like minded folks, who like me, are trying to make the world a better place.

In my opinion there are two central world views. You either believe the world is in its current state for divine reasons OR you believe we humans shape the current state of the world. If you believe the latter you’re more likely to proactively help to make the world a better place. 

HP: How do you decide who to lend to? Are there certain people from certain nations that you are inclined to lend to? For example, Vietnamese are largely atheist—does that appeal to you? Do you avoid Catholic and Islamic nations, like the Philippines and Pakistan?

PK: I’ve been a Kiva lender for over four years, so my mood and/or the tools I’m using to access Kiva will influence who I lend to. One strategy is to be a “country collector” and lend to every country Kiva has available. Another strategy is to avoid micro-finance institutions (MFI or Kiva Field Partners) that are religiously affiliated. My teammates maintain a list of every micro-finance institution and score it on how secular it is (“secular score”) and also on how beneficial it is to the local community (“social score”) by providing extra services like savings accounts and/or education. These two scores are not related. I never focus on the religiosity of the individual borrower. I believe prosperity will provide people the chance to open their eyes to the grander truths of nature. 

HP: Have you had trouble with your funds being spent in a way you didn’t like? For example, finding out that it was used to proselytize at a mission? Or to build a church?

PK: I like to stay informed about which micro-finance institutions proselytize, it biases my lending away from those. However, some areas are only served by micro-finance institutions who proselytize so I do make exceptions. Many of my teammates would like to see Kiva gather information from the micro-finance institutions with respect to whether or not they are a secular organization. So this information can be shown on the micro-finance institutions details page on Kiva.

HP: Do you have any long term goals as non-religious fundraisers?

PK: We make yearly monetary goals but our long term goals are to help alleviate poverty and let people see that secular individuals have a lot to contribute altruistically towards their fellow humans.

HP: What message do you think your group’s generosity gives the world? There have been accusations that atheists are stingy—this seems to counteract it, doesn’t it?

PK: I think it gives a concrete and transparent example that secular individuals are generously leading in one aspect of philanthropy, micro-finance. In other areas of philanthropy it can be hard to determine if the sources of funding are more secular or religious. For example, how do we tell who is making donations for medical research? I don’t consider it generosity or philanthropy when individuals donate to a church. It’s not philanthropy if I go to the movies or a sporting event; church is a social form of entertainment. 

The Church of England publishes detailed financial information about their operations on their website. From what I can determine approximately 4% of the gross revenues are donated to registered charitable causes. The rest is spent on bureaucracy. 
HP: What do you see in the future for non-religionists? Gaining recognition and political rights for atheists, and a dwindling of special benefits for the religious?

PK: I think more people will become non-religious in the future. It’s the natural outcome of having a scientific education. As education and prosperity spread throughout the globe, so will secularism. Humanity is not going to survive unless we live in peace and order, the more we come to a common understanding of the nature of the universe and the more people get access to knowledge by learning languages which have scientific textbooks the more secularism will thrive. The future is bright for the non-religious. 

Bright future? Yes, indeed. I’m happy that secular-minded people are banding together and consistently opening up their wallets, and it’s wonderful that their funding isn’t squandered on expensive worship paraphernalia, forced Bible readings, and promulgation of fear-based ethics systems.

The Godless are Good! Hallelujah!

Hank Pellissier serves as IEET Managing Director and is an IEET Affiliate Scholar.


Contact: Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes,
IEET, 35 Harbor Point Blvd, #404, Boston, MA 02125-3242 USA
phone: 860-428-1837