A recent story about Robert Wilson, an atheist who gave $22.5 Million toward New York Catholic Education got me wondering if there have been other good deeds such as this done by atheists. I didn’t have to look far.
Atheists are often challenged with questions like, “So you can just do whatever you want?” or accusations such as, “You don’t have a moral code to live by.” Well, as Kathryn Hepburn once said:
I’m an atheist. And that’s it. I believe there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for each other.
What other philanthropy of our time has been the benefit of godless members of society? For one Warren Buffet, the world’s second richest man. From Buffet’s Biography:
“He did not subscribe to his family’s religion. Even at a young age he was too mathematical, too logical, to make the leap of faith. He adopted his father’s ethical underpinnings, but not his belief in an unseen divinity.” –from Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist, by Roger Lowenstein (Doubleday, 1995), page 13.
Last year, Buffet donated more than $30 Million to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, which brings me to our next person.
Bill Gates has never explicitly made any statements about atheism, but according to an about.com article:
Gates was interviewed November 1995 on PBS by David Frost. Below is the transcript with minor edits.
Frost: Do you believe in the Sermon on the Mount?
Gates: I don’t. I’m not somebody who goes to church on a regular basis. The specific elements of Christianity are not something I’m a huge believer in. There’s a lot of merit in the moral aspects of religion. I think it can have a very very positive impact.
Frost: I sometimes say to people, do you believe there is a god, or do you know there is a god? And, you’d say you don’t know?
Gates: In terms of doing things I take a fairly scientific approach to why things happen and how they happen. I don’t know if there’s a god or not, but I think religious principles are quite valid.
It’s interesting that he thinks “religious principles are quite valid,” but he isn’t a believer in the Sermon on the Mount. Usually, when an irreligious non-Christian recognizes any validity to Christianity, it’s usually through some of the principles in the Sermon on the Mount. I wonder what Bill Gates had in mind?
Gates was profiled in a January 13, 1996 TIME magazine cover story. Here are some excerpts compiled by the Drudge Report:
“Isn’t there something special, perhaps even divine, about the human soul?” interviewer Walter Isaacson asks Gates “His face suddenly becomes expressionless,” writes Isaacson, “his squeaky voice turns toneless, and he folds his arms across his belly and vigorously rocks back and forth in a mannerism that has become so mimicked at MICROSOFT that a meeting there can resemble a round table of ecstatic rabbis.”
“I don’t have any evidence on that,” answers Gates. “I don’t have any evidence of that.”
He later states, “Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.”
So, Bill Gates doesn’t go to church on a regular basis, doesn’t believe much in the specific elements of Christianity, doesn’t think there is any evidence for souls, doesn’t know that there is any god, and doesn’t consider religion very efficient. Bill Gates is definitely irreligious and is definitely agnostic. He may or may not be an atheist, but he is also definitely not the sort of person whom religious believers have in mind when they claim that religion is necessary for charitable work. Bill Gates is thus an effective demonstration that charity is possible without religion playing any role whatsoever.
When people speak about the good that religion has done, philanthropy is always one of the first things to be spoken about. Why isn’t it brought up that some of the largest philanthropic efforts in the world are being conducted without religion?