A Cause Worth Evangelizing?

A show of hands–who would agree that unsolicited evangelism is one of the more irritating religious pastimes? I think we can safely assume that “spreading the good word” tops the shortlist of things that annoy the hell out of non-believers. There is something unsettling about “every moon-faced spoon-bender, shrub-flatterer, and water-diviner” that presents at our door, as the late Christopher Hitchens would have it.

How We (Don’t) Evangelize

Some non-believers “do unto others” by rarely divulging their preferences, whereas others, the “alpha atheists” are often fighting battles on multiple fronts. Few non-believers are up for initiating that particular conversation with strangers, and at least some of that unwillingness might be attributable to a negative association.

But should this meek, live-and-let-live mentality of disengagement be the ultimate goal for an evangelism-averse community? Should atheists be content with simply reacting to whatever the latest infuriating developments happen to be? In a world where inaction is action, non-decision is decision, and non-believers have just as much to offer as the religious, is it time for atheists to consider causes worth evangelizing?

The Effective Altruism Movement

Historical records largely find the irreligious at the forefront of the more desirable social movements. From leading abolitionists to the inner circle of Martin Luther King Jr., non-believers have a rather impressive knack for embedding distinctly humanist principles within major social causes. At present, one of the larger stones left unturned by non-believers is charity, an area long monopolized and often mishandled by the religious community.

Among the modern-day social movements worth evangelizing, the Effective Altruism Movement, largely populated by the skeptical, secular, rational, and atheistic types, is the darling of a newly reframed outlook on helping those in need. The utilitarian bent of the movement, which advocates doing the most good for the greatest number, appeals to nearly everyone. And the insistence on making critical decisions with evidence and reason (e.g. randomized control trials, external evaluations) would motivate nearly everyone as well, and particularly the Skeptics For Charity submovement currently taking shape.

Skeptics For Charity

Peter Singer’s TED Talk on the subject netted over 1.2 million views and Givewell, the flagship charity evaluator of the Effective Altruism Movement, is now moving more money than Charity Navigator. Skeptics For Charity in particular favors throwing out the model of charity-as-usual in an era with so many unproductive options. Out of the innumerable charities reviewed by GiveWell (including the big boys), the select few charities advocated by Skeptics For Charity have ample evidence including randomized control trials and other evidence showing that they have far more impact per dollar than nearly all others. Because of their insistence on evidence-based charities with the biggest impact, donations to these charities could be worth 100x the spending power elsewhere. The way things are going, if the Effective Altruism Movement isn’t careful, atheists may be given reason to evangelize about how to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number. Is that the kind of world we want our children to inherit?

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