Monday, October 17, 2011

The Phony War

I wandered out onto the Internet the other day, and there was the story on one of the news aggregation sites: “American Cancer Society Rejects Half-Million Dollar Donation from Atheists!” Right away, I was skeptical; the ACS is about as non-political as it gets, and I can’t imagine them refusing a donation that size from anyone, regardless of ideology. A little digging around the Web turned up the facts of the case, which are a little off from what the headlines are screaming:

First, it wasn’t a donation; it was a pledge to match the funds raised by a team of Atheists participating in the annual Relay for Life event, up to $250,000. This could end up increasing the donations made to the ACS, but it’s hardly the same thing as a check for $500,000 being turned down because the people offering it are a controversial group that could offend many other donor organizations…

Second, the American Cancer Society didn’t reject the offer; they rejected one of the conditions of the offer, which was that the atheist group (from the Foundation Beyond Belief) be allowed to participate as one of the National teams in the Relay. These positions are limited, and tend to draw the most attention. For the most part, the ACS tries to get corporate sponsors for the National teams, and very large (or influential) non-profit organizations to round out any remaining spots on the roster. Both the Foundation Beyond Belief and the Stiefel Foundation (which was offering the matching donations) were told they could participate on any local level they wanted…

Third, the outrage that has resulted seems a bit fishy. The only advantage that being a National team provides over participating in a local event is a larger stage (e.g. more exposure, more media attention, more opportunities to forward and publicize your own agenda). If, as they keep protesting, all the atheists wanted was the chance to contribute to the fight against cancer, they could easily do so; what they are actually saying is that if everyone doesn’t give them the spotlight to advance their agenda they won’t contribute anything at all and will just go home…

The story isn’t exactly a hoax; the matching donation offer was made, and the American Cancer Society did refuse to let the atheist groups have what they wanted. But the screaming headlines about the ACS discriminating against atheist groups (and being bigoted against atheists in general) are complete nonsense. The worst aspect of this, though, is that I don’t believe the Foundation Beyond Belief or Stiefel himself had any real expectation of getting the sort of attention normally given to a sponsor like the Ford Motor Company or the Ford Foundation through a grass-roots fundraising program and the promise of a matching donation. This was a convenient way of drawing a much larger amount of attention than the case could possibly deserve and advancing their own agenda at the expense of the American Cancer Society – and all of the people who actually have cancer and might benefit from ACS support…

I call this to your attention because if you don’t think the same tactics could be used against your business – especially if you are ever involved in an event that will draw national media attention – then you’re fooling yourself. The truth is, this sort of publicity stunt has been around for decades; it’s just that until recently you couldn’t use Twitter, Facebook, and various websites to turn this simple grab for attention into a national event. There are any number of ways the ACS could have fought back against this garbage, and hopefully they will at some point in the near future, but in the long run the only way to stop chicanery like this is to refuse to play those games. If you’re going to support the FBB or any other atheist group, do so because you share their beliefs, not because they’ve made up some absurd accusations about a national charity group discriminating against them. And if you’re going to withhold support from the American Cancer Society, do it for some reason other than because some special-interest group says the ACS was mean to them…

And in the meanwhile, let’s all try to avoid this sort of stunt in our own business dealings – and slap it down hard when it does appear…

5 comments:

Anderson Fortaleza said...

Very well said, this group was trying to jeopardize the ACS Relay for Life event. Check out this ridiculous comment that really shows how right you are:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Iv9fdAfCoE

Anonymous said...
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drax said...

It seems like you might be missing a few salient facts. For instance that the ACS initially agreed to the proposal, then changed their mind. They also subsequently changed the rules of the program to exlclude FBB, while still allowing some groups that don't meet the new requirements to be a national team. Sigma Alpha Lambda is one example of this. Also, one of the local groups raised $23,000 for the Relay for Life the previous year. If reapeated would deliver nearly 10% of the potential donation.

Atheism only continues to be controversial because theists make it so. I wonder how much of ACS' relay for life contributions are already made by atheists, skeptics, and agnostics. Statistics would suggest that it's 10-15 percent.

In leaving out facts your piece is nearly as dishonest as the statement that ACS turned town half a million dollars because it was from atheists.

Max P. Belin said...

Thank you, Anderson. I'm not sure if the FBB and its supporters are really trying to jeopardize anything; I think they may just be hijacking the attention given to the Relay for their own purposes. But either way, it's still wrong...

Max P. Belin said...

Drax, I'm not leaving out anything. I am not privy to the communications between the ACS and the FBB, so I don't know what "stories" were exchanged between the parties. But I have been to the Society's National Partners page, and all of the current-year partners are national companies (Target, Wal-Mart, AT&T, and so on) with the ability to bring in large numbers of participants AND spread the word...

I also don't know what every one of the teams brought in last year. But the average per team over the past decade is around $2,800 (look it up!), which means there may have been some teams bringing in $23,000 and others bringing in $100. It still wasn't an offer of $500,000 or anything like it...

Atheism remains controversial because its proponents insist on arguing that they, and only they, have a complete understanding of the universe - exactly as the various religions do. But you can't prove a negative, Drax; the absence of proof is not a proof of absence, and the case against the existence of God is based on which postulates you choose to believe, just as much as the case for God is...

But regardless of any other details, the fact remains that the FBB and other atheist groups are and remain free to donate anything they like to cancer research, through the American Cancer Society or anyone else; they just won't get the same recognition that a National Partner will receive for doing so. If all they want is to fight cancer and do good, no one is stopping them - least of all me...