Doing the obvious right thing

Personal comment from executive director Dale McGowan

Some ethical questions are difficult, and some are not.

fsmvandalTwo churches in Bend, Oregon were tagged with graffiti over the weekend, including symbols and slogans associated with the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. FSM is one of the most clever and creative religious parodies I’ve ever seen. That makes it especially galling that someone has now linked it with mindless, pointless, counter-productive stupidity.

When something so clearly indefensible happens, the obvious ethical response is to condemn it, period — to say it was wrong, and not add a “but.” Fortunately many atheist, humanist, and Pastafarian blogs are doing exactly that, without equivocation.

Now Friendly Atheist and FBB board president Hemant Mehta has gone one step further, putting ethics into action by organizing a ChipIn drive to raise money to repair the damage.

The power of this gesture is incredible. Whether your interest is in showing that atheists are ethical, or bridging the gap between worldviews, or rising above tribalism, or opposing antisocial action, or in simply doing the right thing, it’s hard to imagine a better opportunity.

Some commenters have opposed the idea, saying they would never give money to a church for any reason, that the churches already have enough tax-free money to fix the damage, that the money would indirectly support proselytizing, that “they would never do the same for us,” and more.

Though it’s fine to make a personal choice one way or another, I find these particular arguments really disappointing and shortsighted. Whether they need the money utterly misses the point of the symbolic gesture against the act itself. Arguing that “they would not do the same for us” implies that we should measure our moral incentives on the lowest common denominator of those around us. I could go on for pages of Internet here.

But I do understand where these arguments come from. A lot of us have been wounded by religion. There’s no diminishing that reality, and it takes time and effort to get past the all-consuming influence of that justified anger. We should never stop opposing the ill effects of religion, but we do need to make sure that anger doesn’t blunt our ability to reason, to discern, and to act ethically — including the willingness to act more ethically than others.

Fortunately, many are rising to the challenge to do the right thing in this situation, expressing our opposition to the unethical incident without asking the victim’s worldview. Some are even going further by donating to right the wrong. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate humanism at its best. I hope that those of you who see the game-changing power of that gesture will add your support as well.

By way of full disclosure: Hemant has named FBB as the recipient of any overflow from this drive. I for one hope we don’t receive a dime — that instead, every bit goes toward this unique ethical gesture. Kudos to Hemant for leading the way.





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Foundation members top $100,000 in charitable giving


Early this morning, total donations from the members of Foundation Beyond Belief to our featured charities quietly surpassed $100,000.

That money has done a lot of good in our one and only world — feeding the hungry, educating children, providing access to health care, protecting biodiversity, fighting climate change, and supporting organizations that work for peace and basic human rights.

One of the central ethics of humanism is mutual care and responsibility. In the absence of a supernatural caretaker, we know that the responsibility for improving this world rests where it always has — with the people who live, think, feel, and act in that world.

The humanists in this unique philanthropic community have made the choice to step forward, becoming more active in creating a better world as an expression of our worldview. For the remainder of 2011, we’ll be working to increase our impact even more, connecting our members more tangibly to the work of our beneficiaries and increasing our own direct efforts through a humanist volunteer corps. 

In the meantime, thanks so much for your help in reaching this landmark. And on we go to the next!

Dale McGowan, Executive Director

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Is your local group a Foundation Partner?

partnersThe Foundation Partners Program gives existing organizations a way to engage in humanistic giving through Foundation Beyond Belief. Partner groups collect donations from their members to support our featured beneficiaries and the Foundation itself. Partners are encouraged to set goals, conduct fundraisers, and help connect their members to the outstanding work of our featured charities. 

It costs NOTHING to become a Foundation Partner, and all Partner groups get a handsome web badge to tell the world about their engagement with humanistic giving.

Added bonus: If you have members who are also individual Foundation members, their monthly contribution accrues to your group’s total as well. A dropdown menu at the bottom of your Manage Donation page gives you the option of linking your contributions to one of our current Partners.

Since launching the Partners program in September, five groups have signed on, raising $2,475 for our featured charities, and we’re ready to welcome countless more. (We’ll be introducing you to one of these groups in a coming post.)

Interested in becoming a Foundation Partner? Representatives of existing groups compatible with the Foundation’s mission and approach may apply by clicking this link:

Apply for Foundation Partnership

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Help the Foundation end 2010 strong and secure

FBBsquare300It’s been a great year. With six weeks to go in 2010, the humanist members of Foundation Beyond Belief have raised over $70,000 for 37 outstanding charities.

Now we’re asking for a little help ourselves.

In 2010, our members fed, clothed, and paid school tuition for 22 impoverished children in Nepal. We have funded science education in India and in US public schools and supported efforts to fight global warming and protect biodiversity.

We put textbooks in Uganda’s humanist schools and peacebuilding teams in Uganda’s conflict areas. We funded efforts to improve access to health care for marginalized populations on four continents and in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake. We helped launch a new Camp Quest in Virginia and helped build a new school for girls in Pakistan.

We’ve added humanist voices and dollars to the fight for LGBT rights, the key civil rights struggle of our time. We’ve empowered adoptions, fed the hungry, and worked to protect the most vulnerable—refugees in war, victims of torture, women under threat of religious violence, political asylees, people struggling with addiction, and those hoping for dignity at the end of their lives.

Creating a truly new humanist community effort has been so gratifying. But it also comes with expenses such as grant writing, publicity, web hosting, member communications, and professional accounting. Since we are committed to remaining a 100 percent pass-through organization, we rely on separate donations for our own operational costs. Because the current economy took a serious bite out of our major funding sources, we are left with an operating deficit for 2010.

Can you help us close that gap?

We have big plans for 2011, including tripling membership and donations, creating a disaster relief fund, and launching both a kids’ giving program and an initiative reaching out to other worldviews. It’s going to be an amazing year of active, compassionate humanism.

Please help us end our first year strong and secure by going to our ChipIn page to make a tax-deductible donation of any amount to the Foundation, or by simply clicking on One-Time Donation.

Deepest thanks for your support and encouragement!

Dale McGowan

Executive Director



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A mea culpa by the Executive Director


by Dale McGowan

Executive Director, Foundation Beyond Belief

Foundation Beyond Belief is the current focus of my career and the greatest challenge I’ve ever taken on. Mostly things have gone well, but now I’ve made a serious mistake.

As you know, we decided early on to focus the vast majority of our charitable work on strictly secular organizations, but to also occasionally give members the choice of supporting an organization with a progressive religious identity that does good work and does not proselytize. Our support of a Quaker peace organization succeeded brilliantly at this.

When the organization Soulforce came to our attention, we were riveted. Short of explicitly nonreligious critics, we had never seen such a clear condemnation of the toxic central role religion plays in the struggle for LGBT rights. Even though they are not affiliated with a denomination themselves, the condemnation is enhanced by the presence of religious leaders on their staff. They train members of ten denominations that hold anti-gay doctrines to work for change within their churches. They get themselves arrested at Focus on the Family and the Southern Baptist Convention. They put the heat on and keep it on.

It’s brilliant work that no one else is doing at that level. Critiques from outside the church doors can be powerful. But when a religious leader (finally) says, “The organized Christian religion has become the enemy of God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children,” it’s an extra body blow to our shared target. I pushed for consideration.

But in our enthusiasm for Soulforce’s work, I failed to take sufficient care in assessing other aspects of their message — less prominent, but no less significant.

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Another landmark: $50,000 in contributions


by Dale McGowan

Executive Director, Foundation Beyond Belief

Sure, it’s just a number. But this morning, when our member contributions rolled over $50,000 for the year, I allowed myself a private little woohoo!

It’s been so gratifying to watch this experiment in humanist philanthropy come together. Members write in to tell me how good it feels to finally link their compassionate actions to their worldview. We know how fortunate we are to be in a position to give. And without a supernatural caretaker, we know that any progress — in social justice, human rights, the quality of human and other animal life, and the health of our one and only world — is up to us.

I’ve heard from many members that the Foundation’s giving model and humanistic focus have increased the level of their charitable giving this year. Others have been drawn into a closer connection with charitable efforts around the world by learning about our featured beneficiaries each quarter.

You can see in the reports from our beneficiaries how our contributions are making a difference. But I’m also interested in how Foundation membership has made a difference for you, the members.

So click here and tell me: Why is membership in Foundation Beyond Belief important to you? Has it made you think differently about what it is to be a humanist? Raised your awareness of a particular issue? We’ll include some of your responses on the home page.

Thanks as always for being a vital part of this adventure in active humanism!

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End of the membership fee

For the first six months of our existence, membership in Foundation Beyond Belief included a $9 annual fee. This provided a small, reliable income stream to see us through the early days. Those of you who joined under that system helped provide that extra support we needed, and we thank you.

We’ve now decided to drop the membership fee entirely. New members can now sign up for our charitable giving program with no additional fee.

We still have operational costs, of course, but it’s now entirely up to each member whether to contribute to the running of the Foundation. We hope this organization is valuable enough for members to designate a small percentage of their monthly donation to the care and feeding of the Foundation itself. If you’d like to do so, just log in, then click here to change your distribution.

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The flexible key at the heart of FBB


by Dale McGowan

Executive Director, Foundation Beyond Belief

I’ll spare you the tired cat-herding simile, but it’s true that nontheists are a famously divergent bunch. We choose different labels, express ourselves at different volumes and with different degrees of heat, and favor a hundred different strategies for how best to move forward. This Foundation was created to allow every type of nontheist to engage in charitable giving as an expression of worldview and to tailor that expression as he or she sees fit.

Our donation distribution system makes that possible. Members distribute their donations across ten cause areas by percentage. See a group you like? Up your percentage for the quarter. See one you don’t like? Zero it out.

This quarter, that unique system is earning its keep.

As most of you know, the Foundation has always welcomed nominations of organizations founded in any worldview so long as they do not proselytize. Our first quarter featured the Bergen County Sanctuary Committee, a consortium of humanist and religious communities aiding political asylees in Greater New York City.

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Best Practices in Philanthropy: Focus on Women


by Dale McGowan

Executive Director, Foundation Beyond Belief

There’s a strong and growing consensus in philanthropy that aid directed to women, especially in developing countries, has a greater positive impact overall than aid directed to men. It’s no surprise, then, that three of our beneficiaries for the current quarter—Equality Now, Circle of Women, and the Haitian Health Foundation—have programs focused primarily or entirely on women and girls.


A little history

In the 1970s and ’80s, a “Women and Development” movement brought the issue of gender-specific aid to the forefront. But many women’s advocates and development experts felt that it was the right idea delivered in the wrong way—that in addition to being patronizing, it was often ineffective, since resources were too often simply poured into local communities with no attempt to address the larger systemic and cultural issues that put women in that position in the first place.

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Drawing lines in the right places


by Dale McGowan

Executive Director, Foundation Beyond Belief

Though world attention has largely turned elsewhere, the crisis in Haiti is ongoing. Many organizations continue to offer assistance to the devastated country. Foundation Beyond Belief will be supporting one Haiti-based medical aid organization in the second quarter. Watch for the announcement Thursday.

Disasters of this kind can reveal clear differences in approach among the involved organizations. In addition to questions of efficiency, focus, and methodology, it’s been interesting to see clear differences in purpose.

As noted in our FAQ, this Foundation does not support organizations that proselytize a given worldview, including our own. In addition to being a drain on donated resources, using a crisis or ongoing need to directly promote one’s worldview is ethically questionable.

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