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.

This quarter, Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW) is our featured charity in the Peace category. Quakers have been at the forefront in peace and nonviolence advocacy for over 200 years. QPSW is currently training peacebuilding teams in the Uganda conflict, facilitating truth and reconciliation work to deal with the past in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, managing teams of human rights observers in Palestine and Israel, working to strengthen nonviolent movements in South Asia, and advocating at the UN for refugees and for disarmament policies. In 1947, QPSW shared the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Many members have applauded the idea of reaching out to progressive religion, noting that Quakers are utterly non-dogmatic and non-proselytizing and include many nontheists in their ranks. Others feel that religion is religion and have no wish to support an organization that calls itself religious, no matter how liberal or attenuated. Both are legitimate positions. And thanks to our flexible donation system, there’s no need to exclude either vision.

The atheist and humanist blogosphere is busily discussing and debating this experiment. And it is just that — an experiment. We need to hear your thoughtful input so we can decide on our long-term policy. The great majority of our beneficiaries will always be secular. But is there value in offering an occasional, carefully-screened religiously-based beneficiary in the mix for those nontheist members who find that outreach meaningful? Or should this humanist Foundation serve only those nontheists who prefer a strict secular policy? 

It matters what you think. Add your voice to the comments below, to the FBB Forums (members only, log in for entry), or to the blog conversation at large. Thanks for being a part of this!