Why wouldn’t we care for the sick without Christianity?

I was listening to Radio 4’s Beyond Belief yesterday episode “Are Institutions in Decline” and Rev Sam Wells makes a point to say that without the church there is no argument for caring for people that can’t be cured (at about 28:25). This really made me angry, as an atheist I believe that everyone should be cared for.

I moved to the UK 10 years ago and my favourite part of the UK is the NHS. It took care of my mother in law when she was dying of cancer, it has taken care of my daughter who has incurable auto-immune conditions, and it has helped me many times. I think it is ridiculous to think that people don’t understand that people need to be cared for without the church. Had this taken place in my home country of the USA we would have been brought to bankruptcy and my loved ones would have died quicker, so it isn’t the church that would have stepped in to save them (there are plenty of churches in the USA), it is the caring nature of humanity that stepped in and helped my family.

It isn’t just Christian morality that says that we have to take care of the sick and needy, this is answered by basic human compassion and Humanism is full of compassion. I can see no reason that we wouldn’t take care of the sick and needy without the church because it is something that just needs to be done.



  1. Richard Zetter · · Reply

    I am sorry to hear of your personal experiences, the painful circumstances that have led you to need to use the NHS (though as you say, thank goodness it is there). I also hope that this post does not cause offence, as I realise this is a personal topic. I also confess that this is not an area of particular knowledge of mine – however perhaps this comment and the links that I post to might be thought provoking. I am not certain about the view I lay out below, but find it plausible.

    You point out (correctly) that humanism can be a source of great compassion. However a Christian might possibly respond that the modern concept of caring for those outside of our social circle is the result of Christian influence upon the world. Arguably the humanist ethic of compassion to all people, regardless of their background, and perhaps also the humanitarian institutions like the NHS, stems from a Christian milieu or one influenced by Christianity. A controversial thesis, but which might find some support here (particularly from the heading ‘The Contrast Between Pagan and Christian Concepts of Charity’, if you wish to save time):


    Admittedly the article is not dealing with non-Christians, but Christianity as contrasted with non-Christian polytheistic religions, a category which humanists of course would not fall into. But one could still argue that humanism inherited a humanitarian ethic from Christianity. One could argue that things might have worked out differently – Christianity might not have taken hold, yet humanism might still have emerged and developed it’s humanitarian ethic. Who can say, it is hard to envisage alternative histories…

    Just before the conclusion, there is a section on the influence of Christianity in terms of charitable giving in the USA, your home country (in response to one of the comments that you made). I have not looked into the following study nor article from which it is cited, but:

    ‘A study by Professor Arthur Brooks of Syracuse University reveals that 91 percent of religious Americans donated money to charities whereas only 66 percent of secular Americans did so. When it comes to volunteering time for charitable efforts, 67 percent of religious Americans did so and only 44 % of secular Americans did. They also gave more. Average annual giving among the religious is over $2,200, whereas for secular Americans it is less than $650.’


    Perhaps there are other factors at play – maybe due to social background American Christians re naturally more wealthy, who knows…

    As I said, I am no expert, but I just thought it might be helpful to raise the above response. My apologies for any inaccuracies or misleading information.

    While I think the Church has been a force for good, it has also been a force for evil, and we are sorry for that. Additionally, Christianity could do more to be a force for good in the world, which it currently does not do.

    I hope this response has not been offensive. My best wishes to you, and I’m afraid that due to impeding finals I may not be able to respond

    1. I would agree with you if only Christian societies had charity as a concept or only Christian societies had national healthcare systems. I’m not saying the Christians don’t care about other people, what I am saying is that Christianity is not the source of caring about your fellow human being. We have cared about each other since the time that we were hunter gatherers and it makes little sense to imagine that our evolutionary in-tribe/out-tribe dynamics aren’t at play here. The concepts I am talking about existed before Christianity and without Christianity, so you cannot give Christianity the credit for inventing them or credit Christianity with being the sole reason that they are existent.

      It is perfectly natural as a human to take care of others in your society and we see this throughout all human societies.

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