Skepticism, Religion Archive

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Salvation Army - To Give, or Not to Give?

Salvation Army?It's that time of year when you can't go shopping without hearing the familiar ringing of bells being rung by the person standing next to the hanging red kettle, wishing you a Merry Christmas, grateful for any change you might have. I'd always given to the Salvation Army, usually more than just a bit of spare change, but now that I've begun paying attention to some of the criticisms of the organization, I wonder whether I want to support them.

First things first, the Salvation Army does a lot of good. Their thrift stores are well known, as well as their help to the needy. Perhaps slightly less well known are their disaster relief, rehabilitation centers, and homeless shelters, as well as a few programs I'm sure I've forgotten. And let me also dispel a prominent rumor. The bell ringers don't take a cut from the red kettle (see Snopes).

But, they're not without controversy. Keep in mind, the Salvation isn't just a charity. They're a church. They take positions on issues that would otherwise have nothing to do with their charity work. Take a look at this page on their site:

Salvation Army USA - Position Statements

They have positions on:

  • Abortion
  • Alcohol and Drugs
  • Economic Justice
  • Euthanasia
  • Gambling
  • Homosexuality
  • Human Equality
  • Human Trafficking
  • Marriage
  • Pornography
  • Religious Persecution
  • Suicide

Their positions are exactly what you'd expect from the religious right. For example, here's part of what they have to say about gambling.

The Salvation Army believes that gambling engages its participants and promoters in an exercise of greed contrary to biblical moral teaching. Gambling at best wastes personal resources, and at worst afflicts millions through a lifestyle of compulsive behaviors and destructive influences.

And just to show what they consider so bad:

Some examples of gambling include casino games, state lotteries, and betting on sports.

Moving on to something that's more of an active political discussion right now, here's part of their statement on homosexuality.

Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life. There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage.

And here's the beginning of their statement on marriage.

The Salvation Army affirms the New Testament standard of marriage, which is the loving union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. Marriage is the first institution ordained by God (Genesis 2:24), and His Word establishes its significance (Matthew 19:4-6).

Now, if they just had position statements, as bad as they are, that would be one thing. But the Salvation Army actively works to support their positions. The most famous example from this country was when New York City passed the Equal Benefits Bill, requiring all organizations receiving public funds to provide the same benefits to "domestic partners" as they do to spouses. The Salvation Army threatened to quit receiving public funding rather than abide by the law, which would have in effect shut down the majority of their operations in the city.

Then, there are numerous local incidents - none which are officially supported by Salvation Army headquarters, but which are still rather widespread. Someone else has already covered this pretty well, so here's a link to their article on the issue:

ARISE - Do not donate to the Salvation Army

Here's just a sampling of some of those local incidents:

Aside from how their positions affect their own charitable donations, here's an example of them trying to 'steal' money from another charity. When H. Guy Di Stefano died, he wanted his estate to be split evenly between 8 charities. One of them, Greenpeace International, was absorbed by the Greenpeace Fund between the writing of the will and Di Stefano's death. The money that was to go to Greenpeace International was going to go to the Greenpeace Fund, and none of the other charities had a problem with that, except for the Salvation Army. They argued that because it wasn't the same charity named in the will, that the money should be split evenly between the 7 remaining charities. An agreement was reached, and The Army's lawsuit was dropped.

More Info:
Seattle Times - Salvation Army settles its dispute over Issaquah man's $33 million bequest

And then, there's their cult like treatment of officers in their church. They can only marry other officers in the church. And it's not an empty threat. A few years ago, they did terminate an officer when he became engaged to someone from outside the organization.

More Info:
Christian Post - Salvation Army Leader to Lose Job for Violating Marriage Policy

So, what's a person to do? I think it's up to the person and how they're realistically going to respond. It's not as if the Salvation Army is the only game in town. There are plenty of worthwhile charities that don't have such horrible positions. My wife and I already donate to several charities, but I've decided to donate just a little more to make up for what I used to put into the red kettles.

But, I do think the Salvation Army does much more good than harm. So, if the only way you would donate would be to drop your change into one of their kettles, then don't hold back! Most of your money will go to helping people, and it's better than doing nothing at all. So in that case, go ahead and give the Salvation Army your spare change.

Friday, November 4, 2011

My Book on iBookstore

Book Cover to Leaving Christianity: A Collection of Essays by Jeff LewisI was hoping to have Part II of my yearly book review done this week, but that's taking a little longer than I'd hoped (I'm not as slammed at work as I had been, but I'm still working through many of my lunches). But, on a book related them, I'll mention that my book is now available through the iBookstore. So if you have an iGadget of some sort, you can go get it at the following link:

God? Leaving Christianity: A Collection of Essays

Friday, October 21, 2011

Does Religion Lead People to Inaction?

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismI only have time for a short blog entry again this week. I'm up to my eyeballs in work, so my lunchbreaks are getting cut a bit short.

Here's a question I've been pondering for a while. How many times have you heard a Christian, particularly of the evangelical variety, claim that it's not through works that we are saved, but through acceptance of Jesus? Can this attitude lead people to skimp on the works? Can Christianity lead people into inaction when it comes to charity?

Anyway, it's just a question. I think religion does influence people's actions, but I also think that people often adjust their interpretation of religion to match their existing ideology. So, if someone's of a charitable nature to begin with, they'll probably be charitable whether or not they're religious. And if they're of a selfish nature to begin with, they'll probably be more focused on the faith over works aspect of Christianity. I just worry that it could have a negative effect on some people, and skew them towards doing less.

On a related topic, here's an article on Jerry Coyne's website*, Why Evolution Is True, exploring the claim that religious individuals donate more than non-religious individuals. The entry is actually a guest post by Sigmund.

*because Coyne hates the term, 'blog'.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Microcosmic Hell

CreationJust for the sake of argument, let's say that one day, we discover how to create an alternate universe that we can have complete control over. We can even create souls. And just for the sake of argument, imagine that we can control time in the created universe, so that we can witness how it changes over the eons. Imagine, basically, that we get to play god*.

Now, imagine that Person A visits Person B, while Person B is playing with their creation, and the following exchange takes place.

Person A: So, whatcha doin'?

Person B: Oh, just torturing one of my creations.

Person A: Really? Why? Did it do something horrible?

Person B: He doesn't believe in me.

Person A: Did you give him a good reason to?

Person B: Well, a couple weeks ago, I was playing around with the little guys. I noticed they'd started developing religions, so I gave one of 'em a personal revelation. I told him to start a new religion, and to tell everybody else about me.

Person A: But, the one you're torturing now - did you give him a good reason to believe in you?

Person B: Well, he had the stories from when I visited, didn't he?

Person A: But how fast is time running in that universe?

Person B: Oh, it's probably been a few thousand years in their time.

Person A: And you haven't been back since?

Person B: Nope.

Person A: And you expect them all to keep on believing a two thousand year old story, even though they already had other religions going on, and you only revealed yourself to one of them? And you're torturing that one little guy right now because he doubted you?

Person B: Yeah, that's about right. But they are my creation. I can do whatever I want to them.

Person A: ...

When you think about it that way, the concept of eternal damnation to Hell seems like a pretty horrible concept. Now, when you're talking hypotheticals, it's possible that the creator of our universe could be such a petty, vindictive bastard that he'd punish people for simple doubts. But it really goes against the whole 'God is love' thing that most people these days want to believe in. It also seems a bit silly.

*Yes, this is very much like Theodore Sturgeon's short story, Microcosmic God.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

In Which I Actually Somewhat Sympathize with Pat Robertson - Divorce

Pat RobertsonI've been way too busy this week to write a good blog entry. So, I'll just post something a bit thought provoking.

If you haven't heard yet, Pat Robertson has once again landed in hot water, this time for suggesting that it might be okay for a man married to a woman suffering from Alzheimer's to divorce her. Many people have jumped onto his statements, but not always fairly presenting all that he said. Here, from the New York Times, is one of the fuller accounts I've seen of the conversation.

“His wife as he knows her is gone,” the caller said, and the friend is “bitter at God for allowing his wife to be in that condition, and now he’s started seeing another woman.”

“This is a terribly hard thing,” Mr. Robertson said, clearly struggling to think his way through a wrenching situation. “I hate Alzheimer’s. It is one of the most awful things, because here’s the loved one — this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years, and suddenly that person is gone.”

“I know it sounds cruel,” he continued, “but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but to make sure she has custodial care, somebody looking after her.”

When Mr. Robertson’s co-anchor on the program wondered if that was consistent with marriage vows, Mr. Robertson noted the pledge of “till death do us part,” but added, “This is a kind of death.”

He said the question presented an ethical dilemma beyond his ability to answer. “I certainly wouldn’t put a guilt trip on you if you decided that you had to have companionship,” Mr. Robertson said, apparently suggesting divorce as a way to avoid the sin of adultery.

So, why do I sympathize at all with Robertson? Well, this is a tough issue. It deals with identity, our obligations in a marriage, how to handle stressful situations, etc. And in fairness, he did specify that the man should ensure that his (soon to be ex-) wife is taken care of.

Why do I only somewhat sympathize with him? It's his glaring hypocrisy. He has no trouble promoting traditional marriage when it's used to support his bigotry in denying homosexuals the right to marriage, but he's willing to ignore traditional marriage when it's an inconvenience to a heterosexual spouse. There's also his inconsistency in saying that this is a type of death, which would make sense to a materialist, but not to a mind-body dualist like him. Plus, I'm not so sure I like his answer. Marriage is a commitment we make that should be taken very seriously, and unless a couple has made some type of agreement before something like this happens, I'd say that a person is obligated to care for their ailing spouse.

Anyway, I'd love to give this more thought and write something better, but I just don't have time right now.


Selling Out