We often hear from both the religious camp and certain atheists or skeptics that Atheism only stands for negatives, or rather expresses what it does reject, not believe in, or perceive to be false beliefs or flawed moral values, instead of being positive and offering alternatives worldviews, values or ethics.
At the same time the supernatural camp finds arguments for its claim that religion is a force for good in the world in the large amount of charity work it does, and the social services they run or support. It was presumably with this in mind that Michael Shermer suggested at the recent Think Inc event that we should be running atheist soup kitchens, to somehow compete with the religious ones for good PR.
I don’t think that we should be running atheist homeless shelters or soup kitchens at all, and let me tell you why.
I don’t see anything special in the fact that a multi-billion dollar enterprise like say the Catholic Church will give some tuppence to homeless shelters or hospitals. And besides, these good deeds often don’t come entirely for free, be that through the adherence to church dogma over women’s reproductive rights in Catholic hospitals, or proselytizing in soup kitchens or charities.
I think these kind of services ought to be provided by secular institutions and governments, not religious ones, and certainly not by our side, which is a mere collection of people sprinkled all over the world who share some common values and beliefs, or lack thereof, without collection plates, billions in assets, and no real organisation to speak of.
But I concede that at this point, religious organisations in some areas and countries are often the only ones to provide adequate services for the less fortunate, the poor, and the homeless, and that an Anglican or Baptist soup kitchen is better than none at all.
As to what the positive values that we should be promoting ought to be, I think a message of secular humanism, of an appreciation for truth and evidence over false beliefs and superstition, of the fact that the world is just as beautiful and can be appreciated as such, when viewed through the eyes of science rather than the narrow lens of superstition, the fact that we support gender equality and women’s rights, is in my view much more important, and sends a much better and clearer message, than serving pea & ham soup at Chez Dawky.