Clean Water versus Holy Water

For two years, I worked as a community development volunteer for Peace Corps in Costa Rica. My job was to meet with community organizations to prioritize, design, manage, and assess community projects. I was sent to work in a very rural, poor, underdeveloped community located in a sparsely populated, mountainous region. There were many infrastructure projects that the town needed if the people were to ever live healthy, prosperous lives. Unfortunately, time and time again, I found the religiosity of community members to be a huge hindrance to the progress of community development.

The hindrance of religion in community development can be summed up quickly: it causes people to prioritize incorrectly and thus diverts resources from worthier projects. Religion teaches its followers to believe that nothing is more important than it and thus nothing should take priority over it. The truth is that there are instances where other things should take precedence over religion. Let’s take the community that I worked with for example. It desperately needed a new aqueduct, new roads, and a new health center, yet all of the town’s focus went towards the construction of a new church (mind you, there had already been a church until the committee decided that it did not meet god’s expectations and hastily tore it down). The small amount of excess capital in the community, as well as many hours of manual labor, was entirely directed towards the new church. To quantify this misappropriation of capital, let’s compare the amount of money these competing projects raised in the two years that I was there. New church: $18,000. New aqueduct: $2,000. New health center: $500. With the amount of money the church raised in those two years, the town could have either a new aqueduct or a new health center. But why have clean water when you can have a priest bless it for you? Why have a decent medical center when you can pray for god to cure your diabetes? This is but one example of the misappropriation of resources caused by religion. Undoubtedly, cases such as this occur all over the world.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “But angry atheist Austin, religion does so many good things in the world.” Ignoring the semantics of “religion” versus “religious institutions”, as well as the fact that mission trips are a waste of time, I have to agree. Religion does do many good things in the world. However, it is a very inefficient mechanism for good. In the absence of religion, people would be able to take the money that they would have donated to churches and donate it to other charitable organizations instead and you would, undoubtedly, get much more “bang-for-your-buck”. For every dollar that is given to a church, maybe 20 cents (yes I pulled that number out of thin air) of it goes towards charitable causes, whereas nearly 90 cents of every dollar given to Doctors Without Borders goes directly towards humanitarian aid. The issue is one of administrative overhead. I think we can all agree that the elegance of the average charity office pales in comparison to the wasteful grandiosity of the average Catholic cathedral.

I’m not saying that I want a world completely removed of all religion. What I am saying is that I want a world of common sense. I want a world that realizes that having clean water is more important than having holy water.