Note: This is not a very coherent post. It’s basically a stream of thought reflection.
Today I came across this article by Hemant Mehta, who writes for the Friendly Atheist on Patheos. In it he draws our attention to serious issues regarding an atheist non-profit organization’s transparency. The organization in question is We Are Atheism. Basically, he found major discrepancies between how much money they claimed to take in before being granted non-profit status and how much money they donated to various causes for which they were raising that money. He also had concerns about how they were choosing how to distribute this money.
I urge you to read his article. It’s an in-depth examination, and I’d rather not write 10,000 words to sum up his findings. This post is merely to reflect on his investigation.
When I read Mehta’s expose — if you will — my heart sunk in my chest. Although I’ve never donated to We Are Atheism, I felt defeated, cheated. I should stop right here and frame the necessary caveats. Mehta is not necessarily accusing We Are Atheism of anything. He’s not claiming they broke the law or embezzled from donors. He’s merely pointing out discrepancies. But these discrepancies — at face value — are rather damning, and are sufficient fuel for evangelical groups to accuse atheist organizations of being dishonest, immoral, or criminal, something atheists already put up with enough.
Thankfully, Mehta is an atheist. Because an atheist exposed We Are Atheism’s inconsistencies, it communicates the message that we will hold our own accountable. Although we’re not a coherent and cohesive group, the perception about one atheist can easily be applied to the rest of us. Mehta’s article shows that the acts of one do not reflect the acts of the many.
Prior to publishing his article, Mehta contacted We Are Atheism to get their side of the story, speaking with Amanda Brown, who accepted full responsibility for “royally fucking up” the Paypal donation transactions. This is unacceptable. If Brown was not knowledgable in basic accounting she should have not accepted donations until she had a grasp on what she was setting out to do. It’s my opinion that she should resign her post with the organization. Let’s assume for a second that she’s being honest — that this was a simple yet major mistake on her part. Her resignation is a necessary (yet insufficient) step towards regaining my trust in We Are Atheism.
It’s also my hope that We Are Atheism does regain my trust — and the trust of a lot of other people. There aren’t that many atheist organizations out there both raising awareness about atheists and secularism and helping our communities heal following disasters. This black eye doesn’t have to spell doom; it could be a wake up call to the organization to get better organized.
Then again, if there’s criminal activity involved, all parties should be held accountable.