Atheist "Missionaries"

I guess I’m thinking along the lines of providing help to people in the third world.
(I don’t want to turn this into a debate on atheism vs religion, as I’m just curious about this!)

Are there any atheist groups or organisations who send “missionaries” to other parts of the world, where different religions currently have missionaries of their own? (I guess atheist organisations might do this in order to get “equal time” to express their views, to contrast with religious missionaries already present.)

For example, could there be an atheist version of something like World Vision, where they’d provide help to the people in their area, (like religious organisations try to do), but it would be done while expounding an “atheist alternative” to the people.

If atheist missionaries could provide the local people with at least an equivalent level of health care and other aid (when compared to the religious missionaries), would they be welcome in areas where missionaries from the many religions are already established? And if they are welcome, could they eventually sway the local people into become atheists themselves?

ETA: oops, sorry, misread the OP

Trying to skirt Great Debate territory here, but most atheists would probably say that groups that spend money on education would be more effective than what I suppose you would call atheist proselytizing.

In practice, I think Oxfam is sort of the secular equivalent of the sorts of groups you’re thinking of and where most atheists would send money if they’re feeling like helping the third world.

Oxfam is not in any sense an atheist organisation, or even, strictly speaking, a secular one. Its objectives are to tackle poverty and injustice, and its volunteers and supporters may be motivated either by religious or secular beliefs. IIRC, it was founded by religions believers. Similar comments can be made about agencies like the ICRC, Médecins sans Frontières, etc. And of course there are many explicitly Christian (or other religion) charities agencies that secular people are quite happy to support. A great many of these engage in fighting poverty and injustice as religious duties in themselves, not as adjuncts to formal evangelisation.

If you’re looking for organisations engaged in development aid of one kind or another who have an explicitly secular, non-religious ethos which they seek to promote, and who engage in development aid with a view to advancing that ethos, you could consider government aid programmes – Cuban provision of medical aid in a number of African countries, a variety of development aid projects run by the Soviet government and its satellites, and by China. You could, I think, characterise a lot of western development aid in the same way, in so far as it is motivated partly by a desire to raise the profile and advance the values (and frequently the interests) of the country providing the aid.

Having an atheist-based “mission” would make about as much sense as having a “people who don’t believe in moon elves” mission.

As others have said, there are plenty of people and organizations that provide help to people in the third world without trying to convert them to a religion.

I’m not aware of anybody going to the third world to try to convert people to atheism, so I’m not aware of any “atheist missionaries”. But that doesn’t mean that atheists don’t provide help to people in the third world. I’m not sure why you equate “providing help to people in the third world” with missionary work. Indeed, missionary work need not involve providing help to anybody, apart from the supposed benefits of being converted to the religion.

What would motivate an atheist to pull up stakes and go out preaching? What reward would he receive in the afterlife for de-converting souls?

Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens do spend an awful lot of time abroad.

I’m an atheist aid worker employed by a seculare NGO. I’ve never seen atheists organized and delivering aid in the way you describe.

You seem to be assuming that atheists are incapable of idealism or altruism. Why could he not be motivated by the belief that he is promoting truth, and that this is an inherently good thing to do?

Indeed, have you any evidence that religious missionaries are always or generally motivated by the desire to achieve a reward in the afterlife by converting souls?

There’s plenty of religions out there that don’t have any explicit built-in reward for evangelism whom nonetheless feel the need to do so. The yearn to inform others of the “good news” as well as boosting the numbers of like-minded individuals is the chief motivating factor for these missionaries and there’s no reason why athiests wouldn’t want the same things.

Granted, saving one’s immortal soul and all that is probably more pressing in a religious person’s mind that getting rid of some silly old superstitions is in an athiest’s mind. Really this is probably the heart of the question-- to a religious person, catering to someone’s religious needs (as they see it) is just as important as catering to their practical needs, whereas the practical needs vastly outweight the philisophical needs in the eyes of most atheists.

This is a bit of a highjack so feel free to tell me to shut up. I have actually thought about the idea of atheist missionaries but in a different way - freelance missionaries. A freelance missionary would offer a variety of religions to lost souls. In exchange for successful conversion, the missionary would be paid by the relevant church or religious organisation (perhaps with bonuses for each year the convert remains in the church, bonuses for snagging rich or high profile converts etc).

The freelance missionary could have a file of brochures from various churches to peruse. They could give potential converters a quiz on their preferred diet, sexual practices, afterlife etc and match them the most suitable religion.

It’s totally impractical and it’s never going to happen.

The issue isn’t whether atheists will do good or not. The issue is that (I think it is fair to say) most atheists don’t see the point of organizing around their lack of belief. That would be akin to organizing around the fact that we don’t avoid the number 13, or that we don’t collect four-leaf clovers. Also, most atheists don’t organize their lives around the idea of spreading their lack of belief.

As I said, I’m an aid worker and I’m an atheist. There are many, many secular NGOs out there. Oxfam has been mentioned, but there are dozens big and small.

The third world example was just that–an example. I think that people equate missionary work with helping in places like the third world. (Why wouldn’t people think “third world” when traditional missionary work is mentioned?)

The OP: The closest thing I could come up with is The National Service Conference of The American Ethical Union.

Manwich’s missionaries could refer to the Belief-O-Matic quiz or this handy flowchart.

Bizarro cartoon.

Account of Christian missionary converted to atheism by Amazonian natives. BBC Radio 4 presentation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dr3q6Cid1po

List of secular charities: http://www.thinkatheist.com/notes/Secular_charities

The point wasn’t about the “third world” part, but the “helping people” part. When people think of missionary work, they think of trying to convert people to a religion, not trying to help people (even though that’s sometimes part of it). More important, helping people does not imply missionary work. You seemed to be assuming that providing help means doing missionary work. I’m not sure why anybody would say this; clearly many people provide help, in the third world or elsewhere, without doing missionary work.

I always thought that a missionary would go to an area with the intent of helping the people, and while doing so, impart their religious message.
Going into an area with the intent of just setting up a church and nothing else seems to me to be a bit short sighted.

I was thinking about something like having an atheist missionary going into an area in desperate need of physical aid, and while doing so, imparting an atheist message (in contrast to the religious missionaries providing the same kind of aid while converting people to their religion.)

And while we’re out there what other things we have a lack of belief in should we be drawing to people’s attention? Apart from Moon-elves of course. I so don’t believe in those little …

Peace Corps?

I’m an atheist Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. I never tried to convince anyone that atheism is the right choice because someone else’s religion is none of my business.

Plus, I served in Eastern Europe, where religious sentiment is not high, after years of official atheism under communism. No one gives a shit if you’re an atheist there.