Six months after starting a humanist charity in 2010, Dale McGowan unveiled a philanthropist’s version of a beta test. He already offered donors to his organization, the Foundation Beyond Belief, the opportunity to designate their gifts for groups that worked in fields like refugee aid and environmentalism. Then, in an contrarian brainstorm, he decided to try adding a category for progressive religious bodies.
He thought he had found the perfect test case with Quaker Peace and Social Witness, part of the British branch of the Society of Friends. Here was a nondogmatic denomination with a longstanding commitment to pacifism, racial equality and economic fairness. What, even for atheists, agnostics and freethinkers, was there not to like?
Well, Mr. McGowan soon enough found out. “No way am I going to give my money to groups that will use it to hit my kids over the head with a Bible,” wrote one member in an email as he cut off his financial support. A blogger on the site No Forbidden Q uestions put the objections somewhat more elegantly: “While I’m happy to hear when people move away from fundamentalism toward a more liberal understanding of religion, I think it would be best if people became (or stayed) atheist, and that’s the goal I want to support.”
As the weeks passed in the summer of 2010, however, few other critics turned up.