Saturday 6 November 2010

Are Volunteers Really Selfless?

I am always skeptical when volunteers, who are motivated by or associated with religious goups, are praised as “selfless”. Here is an example from The Standard (Praise pours in for `selfless' volunteer) of charity workers who are Catholic.

Are these kinds of people really selfless or have they been brainwashed into thinking that there is an all-knowing, all-present, all-powerful being up there who will grant them access to heaven when they die? Is that the ulterior motive behind all these seemingly “selfless” acts by people who are religious?

Compare this to non-religiously motivated acts of selflessness such as giving blood or organ donation like this example from the same issue of The Standard of a customs officer donating part of his liver to a work colleague (New hero emerges in liver saga), which does not appear to be religiously-motivated.


  1. not to mention that religious volunteers also sometimes attempt to convert the people they help.

    I always found it amazing hearing about the groups of US or Korean christians who went to Iraq or Adghanistan, and, strangely, the locals were less than impressed...

  2. Absolutely spot on. Thanks for that candid, factual comment AW. Yes, even with the 2004 Asian tsunami aftermath the media reported how religious groups were "helping" (i.e. converting) the survivors.

    To follow up on the recent living organ donor, the second news article from The Standard still does not mention any obvious religious association or motivation in the volunteer’s selfless act (who is described as a 40-year-old bachelor). I wonder if there's a story in that? Only time will tell ...

  3. Some religious people help people out and don't expect anything in return. Others, however, while helping those in need, also seem to target those people for proselitising while they are most vulnerable, which is highly questionable.

  4. That is why it is reasonable to ask if there is an: “ulterior motive behind all these seemingly “selfless” acts by people who are religious?” Although some religious people may genuinely be helping others less fortunate than themselves and are not obviously evangelizing, the question whether they expect to be “rewarded in heaven” (and are scared witless at being sent to hell) must still be raised.

    Atheists don’t do it for brownie points in order to get in to some supernatural figure’s good books.

  5. I don't have a problem with the devout who expect that their good deeds will benefit them in the afterlife. As long as they help people without any string attached, that is fine with me.

    But when they proselitise/pressure the needy and desperate, whether before, during or after "helping" them, that I have a problem with.

  6. Problems arise when the devout's defintion of "helping others" is clouded and not based on an agreed and objective defintion. Perhaps "helping others" should be replaced with "do no harm to others"?

  7. Thanks Anon. This is a good point and illustrates a huge hazard in wanting to help others in the name of some religion or another, or based on some religious individual's interpretation of "helping" others.