You may have seen this meme making the rounds on Facebook, Reddit or Imgur in the last couple of days. It’s a photo of a bearded man sitting cross-legged on a sidewalk, holding a cardboard sign reading: “Which religion cares the most about the homeless?” He’s surrounded by eight small bowls and a hat, each labelled with different religions. Which bowl has the most spare change? Turns out “atheists” and “agnostic” appear to be winning this competition.
What difference does this make? Is one’s willingness to give money to someone with a cardboard sign a fair measure of Christian (or Jewish or Muslim or Pagan) generosity? Meredith Bennett-Smith writes at Huffington Post:
While this experiment is an amusing one, the question of whether or not to give money to homeless people is a complicated one that transcends religious affiliations.
The question became a national discussion, however, when Officer Larry DePrimo of the New York City Police Department was photographed buying a pair of boots for a barefoot man in New York City last winter. The picture went viral, but reporters later discovered the barefoot man was neither homeless nor particularly gracious about the publicity.
Religious experts were themselves unable to come to a consensus on the homeless question when asked by The Huffington Post’s own Senior Religion Editor Paul Raushenbush. Eric Gregory, a religion professor at Princeton University, noted that the Bible’s parable of the “The Good Samaritan” doesn’t account for a person who is poor but not necessarily deserving of charity.
“The Good Samaritan didn’t stop and ask the man on the side of the road ‘how did this happen,'” Gregory told HuffPost at the time. “He responded to an immediate need.”
Read her commentary here. What do you think? And (assuming this actually happened, which is not always a safe bet in a case like this) why do you think atheists and agnostics might outpace religious practitioners when it comes to this particular act of street-level charity?