McDonalds, Atheist Altruism and the Christian Gospel

What, you may ask, is Altruism? Of course, you already know what McDonalds is! Altruism “…is the renunciation of the self, and an exclusive concern for the welfare of others. It is a traditional virtue in many cultures, and a core aspect of various religious traditions, though the concept of ‘others’ toward whom concern should be directed can vary among religions. Altruism is the opposite of selfishness.” Today, in my RSS reader, a very interesting blog post was written on Friendly Atheist. It was about a subscriber to Friendly Atheist by the name of Amélie. And Amélie had a very interesting story to tell on her blog.

Basically, the story goes that Amélie went to McDonalds and decided to go through the Drive-Thru. Once she got to pay for her meal, the person serving told her to not pay for her meal as the payment had been dealt with already. At this point, I was wondering how this could be, whilst at the same time wishing someone would pay for my McDonalds’ when I was having a hard day at least!

When she enquired and probed deeper into the situation, she found out that the person in front of her had asked the checkout person to give her this:

My bet is that this card that you’ve just seen is provoking one of two reactions inside of you. You either think “Ahh that’s great! Active evangelism; blessing the community, living love, faith in action” and so on… or you’re thinking “Propaganda, ideology spreading, religion promotion”. Of course, either of these statements defines you as a Christian or someone who isn’t a Christian. In Amélie’s case, it was an “agnostic who leans towards atheism”. Amélie thought to herself…

I can’t accept this.  I prefer science-based thinking and ideology to be promoted and spread throughout the world.  I don’t feel right–won’t ever feel right–accepting this free food knowing it was free for the purpose of spreading an ideology I don’t believe in.  By the time I came to this conclusion I was back on the highway and halfway through my fries.  My destination, aka home, was about 30 minutes away and I used that time to think about what I would do to make my world right again.

The problem I have with this statement isn’t her reaction to it. It’s the fact that she thinks that the guys in front of her were promoting an ideology. Of course, this isn’t what is going on at all. It’s a spreading of Jesus love. It’s theology. It’s gospel. It’s evangelism – spreading good news. Amélie decided that in order to pay back the Christians, she would donate the money that she ‘owed’ the Christians to American Atheists.

As a result of this story, Friendly Atheist has also made a comment on it…

I’ll admit, though, regardless of intention, that’s a pretty nice gesture from the Christians. I’m a little upset they beat us to it. We can’t let them show us up like that. It comes off like Christians are the only people who would do something that nice… and, dammit, we know that’s not true! In fact, there’s no reason we can’t do the same thing — hell, we’ll come up with a fancy name like Fast Food Friends for what we’re doing, too. My proposal: Atheist Acts of Altruism.

For a few bucks (that most of us probably wouldn’t miss), we could make a random stranger’s day that much better. So let’s do it. Go do something nice for someone you don’t know. Pay for someone’s food without letting them know who did it. Send someone you haven’t talked to in a long time a nice email letting them know how much you care about them. Instead of eating the next baby you see, save it for the next person.

I don’t think Friendly Atheist gets that the Christians weren’t concerned about doing a good deed. They weren’t even THAT concerned about spreading ‘ideology’, if one was to insist on that word. The sole reason of concern to them was why they did a good deed towards Amélie…

They had the aim of giving her just a glimpse of the joy and feel-good feeling that they have because Jesus lives! That he died for them! That they’re forgiven from sin! And in obedience to Jesus’ command to love the neighbour and love the world, they went out and blessed a stranger, asking for no thanks or identification.

But Friendly Atheist is ‘upset’ that the Christians thought of the idea first. He also feels ‘shown up’ by them. I’d like to point out that this isn’t a kindness competition, it didn’t have the purpose of showing anyone up, and it wasn’t in order to ‘get in there’ before anyone else did. The motivation was Jesus. And so it should be.

So if Atheists want to be Altruists, then that’s fine. Are Christians Altruists? Kind of. A more Christian term for an Altruist is a Jesus loving disciple. And that’s what we’re called to be and do. We’re told to always be willing to give a testimony, to love our neighbours and enemies. To treat others how we would want to be treated.

This isn’t in order to show atheists up. It isn’t to get one over on them. It is just part and parcel of the Christian life; displaying outward signs of kindness, compassion and love as a small, small picture of the life changing kindness, compassion and love that has been shown to the Christian through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for us.

Dean Roberts

Dean is a Minister in the Anglican Church. Currently he is Curate in the parishes of Bedwas, Machen, Michaelston-y-Fedw and Rudry in South Wales. He was born and bred in Wales, is married to Megan, and has two dogs called Taliesin and Melyn, and two cats named Sinsir and Hâf. He graduated from Cardiff University with a BA Hons. in Theology & Religious Studies, and has studied for an MA in Theology, Ministry & Mission at Trinity College Bristol. He also holds a Cert.RSCM from the Royal School of Church Music. He loves playing music, walking, reading, blogging and horse riding as well as going to the cinema and theatre. Read More @

  • stephen porter

    I agree completely with you about intentions of the Christian who paid for the meal. Though I think another thing atheists, agnostics and pluralists don’t understand about Christians is that in order to be a follower of Christ, one most do a certain amount of “ideology” pushing. The last commandment Jesus gave us is to preach the good news to every tribe and tongue in the world. People who don’t preach the good news (in words and deeds) to the unChristian aren’t really following the directive Christ left with us, so they can’t honestly call themselves Christians.

    On another note, if our acts of charity because of our love for Christ cause atheists to be more altruistic, then by all means let’s make it a competition. The battle over who can be nicer may make the world a better place.

    Manifest Blog

    • I hear what you’re saying Stephen… but we don’t want it to be a competition for the wrong reasons. And I’m still uneasy about the word ‘ideology’…

  • *sighs*

    Once again, Dean, you show me what real Christian charity is about. I automatically get so prickly over these things so it’s great to read your posts first.

    I find a lot of this strange religious blogging culture to be a load of ‘seriously missing the point’ (not just from atheists, mind you. We Christians are just as guilty of this too – I know I am). However, as Stephen says, I rather like the irony of having opposing philosophical/religious camps duking it out for 1st prize in ‘who can be the nicest?’ as opposed to ‘who is the truthiest?’

    It’s rather amusing that Friendly Atheist says ‘I’m a little upset they beat us to it.’ Well duh. Where has he been for the past 2,000 years?

  • First off, I think he was just taking the ‘piss’ with what he said and mostly mocking the guy. Nice guesture from the dude, if he’d done it without leaving his jesus calling card. Also, you don’t actually know why he did it, you’re just assuming based on how you wish to believe all Christians are. Now I know a lot about altruism and something that most people can’t even make up their minds whether pure altruism exists, you can hardly say it’s what christians are all about. Personally I think most christians who do good do it for selfish reasons, most will admit they do good because they want to go to heaven. That is NOT altrustic. When religious people do good things, they do it because they think god or jesus or any other god in any religion told them to do it, or they get a prize at the end and a pat on the head. At least when Athiests do good things they do it because of their innate morals (probably sometimes to get something in return also). But again at least if it turned out god didn’t exist, athiests good and bad would continue doing their good deeds and bads, but how many religious people if religion was proven fake would stop doing the good deeds? A lot I reckon because most only stay in line because of the fear of hell and being tortured. When that fear goes, their true colours will show and then we’ll see if they were capable of being loving christians but not loving humans.