Atheists can be proud that, through the internet, we have been able to form a strong, international community.
Events like the Global Atheist Convention, along with local humanist, rationalist, atheist and skeptical organisations allow us to meet and become real friends in the real world.
But atheist charity is a concept which is still developing. Foundation Beyond Belief, formed several years ago by Dale McGowan (author of Parenting Beyond Belief), is now strongly supported and expanding internationally. An FBB chapter will soon be operating here in Australia. To date, FBB has given away close to a million dollars to selected, secular charities.
On a smaller scale, we still lag behind churches – mainly because we lack the organisation of religious denominations. Our face to face gatherings tend to be small and we have no pastor at the pulpit to say, “Dave’s been having some health problems lately and had to take a lot of time of work. Let’s dig deep and help out the family and, ladies, how about organising some baking to deliver to Dave’s family.”
Of course we can, and have, done this online. When atheist comedian, Sam Singleton’s wife, Cari, had a terrible accident, atheists from around the world contributed to her recovery – but, of course, Singleton is well known.
Last year, the organisers of the Global Atheist Convention generously donated a ticket to Robert Tobin who has been undergoing treatment for oesophageal cancer but we still had to get him there from Queensland and accommodate him. I was so touched that, within 48 hours of asking for donations on my Facebook page, we had raised enough money to fly Robert to Melbourne, put him up in a budget hotel, and give him a little extra towards transfers and meals.
So, we can do the charity ‘thing’, but ‘online’ it’s somewhat harder because people are naturally skeptical about giving money to people they don’t actually know and who may well be spinning a ‘line’. I’ve been caught this way myself.
Perhaps as our community grows stronger, and our networks expand, we’ll find more instances of atheists supporting atheists-in-need as ‘people we know’ can verify that individuals ‘we don’t know’ are ‘real people’ in ‘genuine need’.
I have one such example. A delightful member of the atheist community, Jenny Sutherland, suffers a raft of health problems, including lupus, type 1 diabetes, endometriosis and ADHD. She really hit the jackpot, poor kid! Because of her lupus, getting around is difficult for Jenny. Jenny’s tried struggling on a pair of crutches which are unwieldy, ungainly and take a considerable amount of energy. Currently, she’s using an old cast-off wheelchair which requires someone to push her, so she has no independence. She really needs a better wheelchair, but the cost of one that will serve her needs is $4,500. That’s a lot of money when you’re disabled! Jenny managed to save up $500 and, with the help of a number of Facebookers, we’ve been able to boost that up to $2,280 but there’s still a way to go.
I met Jenny’s mother, Denise Sutherland, at The Amazing Meeting in Sydney in 2010. Denise is a well-known puzzle writer and author of a number of “….. for Dummies” books. Denise and I met again in 2011 when I was in Canberra for Ron Williams’ High Court Challenge against Federal funding for the National School Chaplaincy Program – another brilliant example of atheistic/secular crowd-funding. Denise and her daughter, Jenny, have since visited my cousin, the brilliant ‘Letter to the Editor’ writer, Doug Steley at his home in country Victoria. So, we know that Denise and Jenny are ‘real’ and that Jenny’s health problems are genuine.
So, if you’d like to participate in a little ‘atheist charity’ and, if you can spare even a small amount, I’d take it as a personal favour if you can make a contribution towards Jenny’s ‘wheels’.
If you’re in Australia you can donate via BPay: Biller Code: xxxx ; Reference No: xxxx
Or, via Direct Deposit to: UBank; Account name: Wheelchair; BSB: xxxx; Account number: xxxx
If you prefer to go really ‘old school’ and write a cheque, you can make it out to: Jenny Sutherland and post it to: xxxx
If you’re from overseas, you can make a donation to Denise’s PayPal account, using her email: xxxxx. Add a note saying it’s for the wheelchair, so Denise will know to transfer those funds into Jen’s account.
There is just over $2,000 to raise to get Jenny into a wheelchair – it’s not a huge ask and I think we can do it. Come on, let’s show a little atheist charity.
Update: Absolutely fantastic news from Denise Sutherland. The generosity of their friends and the atheist community means that her daughter, Jenny, now has enough money to order a wheelchair. Many, many thanks to all of you who so generously donated.