“What They Really Need. . .”

I heard something in church the other day that’s been bothering me ever since.  That’s not exactly right actually, it’s something that’s always bothered me – even when I was a Christian – but this brought it to the forefront of my thoughts.

Yes, I’m an atheist who goes to church.  I’m even on a first name basis with my pastor.  I even call him “my pastor”.  It’s weird, but I have a family who are all of them Christians, so compromise is kind of the order of the day.  Typically I don’t mind – but this service was different.


There was a team talking about a missions trip they’d recently returned from (a “missions trip” is when a small group of people raise money from a church to go do some sort of mission work in another country for a few weeks) to South America.  They’d worked with families and especially children who live in the garbage dumps sorting trash to eek out a miserable existence.  This team had gone to help construct a new orphanage nearby and help out organizing a center near the dump for kids to play and learn to read and write and, yes, learn about Jesus.  Those are, honestly, some really great things.

What bothered me was the admission, over and over, that ultimately it was a hopeless endeavor to actually improve the lives of these kids in the long run, and that the ultimate solution was to convert them to Christianity.  This sentiment was perfectly illustrated by one member when she said,

“They told us that one thing they could really use was a new water tower to help provide clean water for these families, but really what they needed most was Jesus.”

In what world, I can only wonder, is Jesus more important than clean water?  Because it’s certainly not this one.  It reminded me of a Facebook post from an old friend of mine urging people to donate money to a cause that was sure to rid the world of suffering: providing a bible to every person on Earth.

Poverty, especially in the third world, can be overwhelming.  I should know, having spent twelve years growing up in Africa where my parents worked.  It’s not abnormal for people to visit, realize how monumental the suffering is, and retreat from it by saying it’s a hopeless battle and Jesus will have to solve it.  This has always bothered me.  It is, I think, a failure of moral courage. A failure to face the world as it actually is, choosing instead to retreat back into the bubble of faith where God will right all wrongs in the end so we don’t need to worry about it.  Just tell ’em about Jesus and everything will be okay.

But it’s not okay.

The world doesn’t need more bibles, it needs more textbooks to teach children to read.  The world doesn’t need more churches, it needs more schools, more playgrounds, more wells.  The world doesn’t need more pastors, it needs more doctors, teachers, and engineers.

Not shown: Anything that will be changed by believing in heaven.

I honestly think that religious faith can lead people to do good things.  But how much better could they be doing without it?  What if we skipped the Sunday school lessons and just built a damn water tower?  What if we took all that money from buying kids bibles and bought mosquito nets to prevent the spread of malaria or chlorine tablets to help purify water?

“If humanity does survive it will only be by its own efforts.  Never can we sit back and wait for miracles to save us.  Miracles don’t happen.  Sweat happens.  Effort happens.  Thought Happens.”  –Isaac Asimov

Sweat.  Work.  Think.  Build the damn water tower.



7 thoughts on ““What They Really Need. . .”

  1. It reminds me of the episode of south park with “starvin’ marvin” in africa where the sunday school teacher says to the starving etheopian child “how many times have I told you, no eating your bibles!” If there is a heaven though better to convert someone and blow their brains out then help them and let them die a non-christian.

    I’m glad we don’t really think this way anymore or we’d be bringing back the middle ages.

  2. Absolutely.
    Yet, we must not fool ourselves that “water towers” are the answer either. Sure, the slaving children will be less hungry and live longer to have other children in the same shoes.
    Almost all efforts are to make ourselves feel better about doing something.
    Real change is a tough question. Stop human hatred and selfishness, stop human reproduction — yeah, like that is easy.
    Maybe the Christians, if they feel Christianity changes people, should have missions to the dictator’s and selfish rich folk’s kids and turn them on to Jesus — maybe that would be a better plan to help people.

    But really, I think they are just looking at number of souls — besides, people with insecurities (social, physical, health) are most ready to grab religion and they know it — hell, Jesus knew it.

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