Almost a third of donations by Americans went to religion last year.

When people find out I’m an atheist it often results in a small discussion about religion in general and my beliefs in particular that at one point or another inevitably gets around to a common question: “Even if it turns out there are no Gods what harm is there in believing?” One of the answers I give to that question is the simple fact that religious belief results in massive amounts of hours and money being wasted on a pointless pursuit.

Take for example the fact that religious organizations swallowed up almost a third of all charitable donations last year:

According to Giving USA Foundation Americans donated $295 billion in charitable contributions in 2006. About $97 billion went to religious organizations—that is just a shade under one third of all charitable gifts. Last year, Americans gave $93 billion to religion.

Education was a distant second, receiving $41 billion (13.9 percent). Human Services received $29.6 billion (roughly 10 percent). Public-society benefit received $21.41 billion (7.3 percent) and health received $20.22 billion (6.9 percent). Arts, culture and humanities received $12.5 billion (4.2 percent) of the total, while the environment and animals received a total of $6.6 billion (2.2 percent).

Presumably the vast majority, if not all, of that $97 billion was tax free. Sure some of it goes to support programs set up and run by various religious organizations that are designed to help out the poor and disadvantaged, but a good chunk of it went to supporting the organizations and churches themselves. Not to mention more than a few lavish lifestyles led by some of religion’s biggest church leaders. That’s a lot of money spent on the pursuit of a comforting delusion. Imagine how much benefit could be derived if that money was given to programs that aren’t out to deliver a heaping of Jesus with their helping hand. For that matter, imagine how much better off some folks with limited incomes would be if they weren’t ponying up to some Evangelical preacher in hopes of winning Jesus’ favor.

19 thoughts on “Almost a third of donations by Americans went to religion last year.

  1. Very good point.  Apparently God is bad with money (thanks George Carlin).  Anyway, I found via various means a great podcast/blog by some ex-mormons called the Eight Hour Lunch, and they touch on this a bunch because the LDS church is really big on tithing and that sort of thing.  I forget which episode, but they discuss quite a bit the hypocrisy of a church that spends billions of dollars on new buildings and even a shopping mall now, but then wants others to donate more money to help out the homeless.  They also point out that no matter how bad the Mormons are Rome is the all time king when it comes to this sort of thing.

  2. Sure some of it goes to support programs set up and run by various religious organizations that are designed to help out the poor and disadvantaged, but a good chunk of it went to supporting the organizations and churches themselves. Not to mention more than a few lavish lifestyles led by some of religion’s biggest church leaders.

    Everyone should remember this the next time somebody claims that the US is the most generous nation on earth because of its private charity (especially when the US government pulls another gives less than any other 1st world nation bit ala the initial aid package after the Tsunami). Within 5 miles of my house I have the HQs of several Christian charities that give bibles to poor starving 3rd worlders who need food, real education, etc. more than they need the ‘word of God’. Yep, were very good at being generous at handing out crap, giving cash donations that have to be spent on American goods, etc. We’re #1 We’re #!

  3. I’ll bet it was given by a minority of Americans.  I’d like to know what organizations are “Christian.”  I’d also bet not a huge majority if a majority at all of that third was given to churches.

  4. That’s a lot of money spent on the pursuit of a comforting delusion. Imagine how much benefit could be derived if that money was given to programs that aren’t out to deliver a heaping of Jesus with their helping hand.

    On a related note, this truism was starkly revealed to me on my most recent trip to Europe. The churches and cathedrals there are absolutely stunning, and the Sistene Chapel/St. Peter’s/Notre Dame/Westminster Abbey/Florentine Duomo/Budapest’s St. Istvan’s/Krakow’s St. Mary’s etc. etc. are undeniably marvels of Western art, but if you consider how much benefit to humankind that all the time, money, and resources put into their construction and restoration could have provided, you’re left feeling a little cold inside.

  5. It would help if we knew the exact breakdown ? St. Luke’s Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston ( Who was kind enough to keep me employed while I attended College ) could be considered a religious institution. They have a fund that is set up for parents of sick and dieing children, the fund pays for the hotel bills of the parents, regardless of their religion or lack thereof. I still contribute every year. And I would still contribute even if their were no tax right off… I wish all of you good health and all… But I honestly feel if you were in the position of some of the parents of sick and dieing children. You may even find that the money spent on social workers ( Nuns ) is well spent. Sure the world is fucked up…But their are a some good folks out their even if they choose, or can’t help the way they were raised to feel and believe.

  6. While reading my church budget report, I learned our Senior Pastor earns 48% more than my husband, the Associate Pastor (with 25 scheduled hours/week) earns the same amount as my husband in a year.
    The custodian earns the same amount I do per hour.
    This doesn’t count that their health insurance premiums, and mileage on the car, etc. are paid.

    Sometimes, I have to think twice about putting money into the church offering plate, although I donate money regularly to a good social program.
    I tend to think of church for giving time and social contacts.

    Our congregation does have a good plan for education of its members, with interest free student loans.  The students are free to choose the path of study, so it is not like we’re churning out more preachers.
    There are several college professors, doctors, a librarian.

  7. Webs: Maybe God likes his Escalades…

    Nice!

    BTW Webs – Love that sig.  I liked the Unitarian Jihad Name Generator, but felt that it could use a kick in the vocabulary, so I put together a fast update. 

    Now I get cool names like:

    Brother Global Pandemic of Spontaneous Kindness
    Sister Claw Hammer of Measured Trustworthiness
    and my current fave: Brother Nuclear Winter of Brutal Honesty

    I’ll post the script on SB later.

  8. Brother Nuclear Winter of Brutal Honesty

    Awesome, I like it!

    For me it’s funny cause I actually try to envision it.  For mine I think of some big scary dude throwing a morning star and saying EVERYONE CALM DOWN!!!

    I love to see that script though.

  9. I’ve put the updated Jihad name script here

    Changes include –

    Split the adjectives out from the virtues
    Roughly tripled the number of weapons, adjectives, and virtues.

    I you don’t have fun, then I’m not The Kidney Punch of Sweet Mindfulness.

  10. Meh. Not my money.

    HAH.

    Well, to be quite frank, do you honestly believe that if it didn’t go to the churches, it would go other charities?

    Some of it sure, but I bet the bit that trickles once it gets through the religion machine just bout makes up for that.

    If Pastor Bob doesn’t get his escalade, then his masses will save up for their own. People look to religion for pretty much selfish purposes; you do it for YOUR salvation. You don’t get salvation? You get your escalade.

    Or, ice cream, or whatever placates your human brain.

  11. I wonder how much of church’s charity income is from that donations plate they pass around – anyway that does give it an advantage over other charities; you’re expected to go every sunday, and expected to give every sunday, and people you may well know would notice if you didn’t give (or in my case, stole) – there is more peer pressure, it’s more expected, and more regular.

    Then there’s people leaving their land to the church. I wonder how much it costs to go to xian heaven these days? Children pay their fee another way…
    Relative to other xians, preists get paid to go to, and in their eyes, guaranteed placement in heaven and priveleges in life (higher moral ground, instant respect from commonfolk, the above half of this paragraph…)

  12. I’m sure that adds up too, but individually, per week, I bet most of that probably does just centers back into the church.

    I don’t really know. I’m not familiar with church practices. I’d be glad to find out, just because now I’m curious, but I really don’t know how the God machine works.

    And stealing from the collection plate, shame! XD

    People choose to give, I guess people choose to take. Somewhere down the line though, I guess we all have to give more than we take.

  13. Somewhere down the line though, I guess we all have to give more than we take.

    Nonphysical things like effort and work and stuff, I suppose are often (at least percieved) to be given more than recieved as the world is now, but it is very hard to define how much someone deserves or how it translates into money, and it needs intimate knowledge of each person to be fair.
    A cash transaction though, needs to be recieved by one person as much as it’s given by the other (unless you’re smokin’ the odd note or something).
    Bare survival costs money though, which muddies the waters because if you live to work you’re not really getting anything back, existence is not a privelige you should have to earn (especially if it’s only to work), because it wasn’t your choice in the first place

  14. Hi Les, friends –

    Not sure where to post this, so hope it is found here and someone can offer their suggestions. I would like suggestions for short readings that would in effect be a secular “holy book” – I’m thinking Sagan’s ‘Pale Blue Dot’ and the sort that can inspire and help one define their moral principles the same way beleivers use their respective texts. Perhaps this has already been created (by the UUs?) and I would love to know about it.

    Thanks!

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