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Atheism, Religion

How Many Hospitals Have Christians Built?

I came across this article by accident while searching for something else entirely, but now that I’ve seen it, I think it deserves to get another public airing.  (Once you read it, check out the website where it was published:  American Atheists.)

The Question of Atheists Hospitals


The Question of Atheist Hospitals

This article challenges the notion that organized religion is necessary for establishing hospitals. The old challenge, “How many hospitals have Atheist built?” is debunked through a brief presentation of the facts.

By Doug Ittner

Conversations with Christian apologists often turn up the question, “How many hospitals have Atheists built?” The question is directed towards a justification of organized religion as a preferred establishment over Atheism. The assumption of the answer is zero. The question is not a new one; Col. Robert Green Ingersoll attacked the issue in his essay, “What Infidels Have Done.” [1]

One hundred years after Christ had died suppose someone had asked a Christian, What hospitals have you built? What asylums have you founded? They would have said “None.”Suppose three hundred years after the death of Christ the same questions had been asked the Christian, he would have said “None, not one.” Two hundred years more and the answer would have been the same. And at that time the Christian could have told the questioner that the Mohammedans had built asylums before the Christians. He could also have told him that there had been orphan asylums in China for hundreds and hundreds of years, hospitals in India, and hospitals for the sick at Athens.

To be fair to the Christian apologist, perhaps the question should be directed more towards modern times, after Christianity has been well established. America, as Christian historical revisionists have claimed, was established under Christian principles and is therefore a Christian nation. Therefore it makes sense to conclude that a Christian nation would build hospitals faster than a colony of ants could build an anthill.

The oldest American hospital in existence is New York’s famed Bellevue hospital, established in 1736. The hospital, initially a six-bed hospital, was not createdby any religious institution but was a municipal hospital created by a secular, non-religious government. [2] The city was filling a gap left by the lazy religious institutions who were apparently failing in their mission to care for the sick and ailing.

Bellevue wasn’t the first American hospital though. The first American hospital was created as a result of a business venture. Master Jacob Hendrickszen Varrevanger, surgeon to the Dutch West India Company, created the first hospital in the same region. New York wasn’t in existence at this time; the area was referred to as New Amsterdam, and the year was 1658. [3]

The religious weren’t in any rush to create any institutions for public welfare. Ben Franklin, inventor, ambassador to France and Founding Father managed to find more time than the entire American religious industry to develop the first fire department, public library, and even another hospital (founded in 1751). [4]

The first university was created in Franklin’s town of Philadelphia as well. America’s first university was not religious either. Rather than being another center for educating clergy as in old European universities, this university (University of Pennsylvania, established in 1751) would train students for careers in business and public service. [5] Religious missionaries were apparently too busy caring for people’s afterlives rather than their lives on Earth.

Surely after 200 years of America’s signing of the Constitution the religious industry has developed a system of hospitals throughout the United States. In a sense they have. Hundreds of hospitals bearing a connection to some religious institutions dot the American landscape. The largest and best known of these is the Catholic hospital system. Surely a hospital with a Catholic affiliation must mean the hospital is truly a religious hospital founded and financed by the Catholic Church. Alas, even this is not the case; Catholic hospitals are merely public hospitals with a Catholic label and fewer health services.

In America, as of 1999, 13% of all hospitals were religious (totaling 18% of all hospital beds); that’s 604 out of 4,573 hospitals. [6] Despite the presence of organized religion in America, the Church has managed to scrape together only a few hospitals. Of these 604 hospitals many are a product of mergers with public, non-sectarian hospitals. Not all of these 604 hospitals are Catholic; many are Baptist, Methodist, Shriner (Masonic), Jewish, etc.

Despite the religious label, these so-called religious hospitals are more public than public hospitals. Religious hospitals get 36% of all their revenue from Medicare; public hospitals get only 27%. In addition to that 36% of public funding they get 12% of their funding from Medicaid. Of the remaining 44% of funding, 31% comes from county appropriations, 30% comes from investments, and only 5% comes from charitable contributions (not necessarily religious). The percentage of Church funding for Church-run hospitals comes to a grand total of 0.0015 percent. [7]

The claim that the religious build hospitals gives the illusion that the religious are more charitable than the secular, non-religious. With hospitals, at least, that isn’t the case. Every hospital writes off a certain percentage of medical revenue as charitable care. The religious hospitals aren’t the least charitable of hospitals, but they’re close to it. For-profit hospitals provided, on average, only 0.8% of their gross patient revenue as charity care; religious hospitals came in with 1.9%. On the other hand the secular non-profit hospitals had 2% and the godless secular public hospitals provided 5.1%. [8]

It’s only been 200 years since America was founded, perhaps in another 200 years the religious will catch up to the secular government in providing charitable medical care. It gets worse for the religious institutions though. Religious hospitals provide fewer medical services than the secular hospitals. The Catholic hospitals, despite being publicly funded hospitals, refuse to provide certain medical services on religious grounds. Many Catholic hospitals refuse to provide infertility treatments, birth control, abortion and emergency contraception to rape victims. It is the position of the Catholic church that, “A female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault.” [9] That means it’s a woman’s responsibility to get her rapist to wear a condom.

Catholic hospitals have directives opposing informed consent to patients regarding side effects of potential harmful health care decisions as well as policies preventing euthanasia (whereby a terminally ill patient must be kept on life support despite the patient’s demands to end treatment).

Catholic hospitals aren’t alone in promoting their religion in the medical field. Mormon hospitals will refuse sterilization to women who have had less than five children or are younger than 40 years of age. Seventh-day Adventist hospitals won’t serve meat or caffinated beverages in their cafeterias. Southern Baptist hospitals won’t provide abortion services. [10]

Robert Ingersoll’s response to the question, “What hospitals have Atheists built?” is surprisingly relevant over a hundred years later. Despite European Christians being on the American continent for hundreds of years, they have been lacking in providing the medical charity they are credited for. The answer to the question “How many American hospitals have Atheists built?” is “All of them.”

Of the 13% of religious hospitals, all of them are maintained by public funds. Those public funds are not paid for exclusively by the religious, they certainly aren’t supported by American churches. If the religious hospitals were to be truly religious and separated from secular governmental subsidies they would collapse. The question that the Christian apologist should be asked is, “Where are all the truly religious hospitals?” Slapping a Catholic or Methodist label upon a hospital wall isn’t sufficient enough to create a truly independent, private religious hospital free from Atheist support.


 Ingersoll, Robert G., The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, Louisville, Bank of Wisdom.

 Knights, Edwin M., “Bellevue Hospital,” History Magazine, Dec./Jan. 2000.


 Uttley, L. J, “No strings attached: Public funding of religiously-sponsored hospitals in the United States,” Mergerwatch, 2002, p.10.

 Ibid, p.13-15.

 Ibid, p. 18-19.

 Ibid, p. 23.

 Ibid, p. 24-25.



9 thoughts on “How Many Hospitals Have Christians Built?

  1. I saw a comment of yours at Atheist Ethicist, so I became interested in your blog. I am a Christian, and have a genuine respect for believers of all stripes, including atheists. You can believe whatever you like, but I’ll offer a couple of points on this article that may perhaps raise a question to the writers’ intellectually honesty.

    First, the article clearly goes out of their way to ignore history. From Encyclopedia Brittanica:

    “It can be said, however, that the modern concept of a hospital dates from ad 331 when Constantine, having been converted to Christianity, abolished all pagan hospitals and thus created the opportunity for a new start. Until that time disease had isolated the sufferer from the community. The Christian tradition emphasized the close relationship of the sufferer to his fellow man, upon whom rested the obligation for care. Illness thus became a matter for the Christian church.”

    The hospital as it exists today remains a reflection of a uniquely Christian model. Other religions and governments have adopted and expanded on the Christian model, to be sure.

    To America: As for Bellevue, the article fails to mention that is was part of a prison and served inmates. And if Varrevanger’s hospital is a fact, do we know his religious affiliation? (see footnote on p.8 @

    Pennsylvania Hospital is perhaps the more legitimate “first public hospital” in America, and in addition to Franklin, it was founded by Thomas Bond – a Quaker.

    Now, the point that atheists “build” all hospitals because atheists pay taxes is amusing. I guess that means atheists support everything their tax dollars go to, then. I would hope you agree that paying taxes is not charity, but an act done out of threat of force, so in effect taxes stop being our money the moment it is handed over to government. In any event, the question was about building, not maintaining churches. And furthermore, “maintained by public funds” mostly means reimbursement of care by medicare or medicaid insurance programs.

    All that aside, the question asking how many churches have atheists built, when posed by Christians, is silly and stupid. Atheists and agnostics, along with Christians and other believers, give millions of dollars each year to charities such as United Way and American Red Cross that provide critical health care. Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and atheist medical practitioners save lives everyday, and the physical structure in which they do it is mostly irrelevant.

    A Christian that would ask such a question is not acting with love, humility, or grace. At the same time, if atheists are to stake their position on their ability to find truth through reason alone, they should do better than to accept writings so severely flawed in their representation of facts and biased in intent.

    Posted by Justus | February 15, 2009, 5:01 am
  2. Wow! This is some useful ammunition. One quibble, you need numbers next to your references. One criticism, your data largely comes from one source and it’s from 2002. Is there any up-to-date data? Was this the only study performed? Is this potentially an outlier. I haven’t read the source, so perhaps these answers are in there. However, it’d be nice if you gave a time frame to the statistics provided. Are these from one year, averages over ten, etc.?

    Posted by cseskeptic | February 15, 2009, 5:33 pm
  3. BTW, this is MKandefer. I’m thinking of writing a blog about skepticism and its relation to computer science. Hence the name. =D

    Posted by cseskeptic | February 15, 2009, 5:34 pm
  4. “All that aside, the question asking how many churches have atheists built, when posed by Christians, is silly and stupid. Atheists and agnostics, along with Christians and other believers, give millions of dollars each year to charities such as United Way and American Red Cross that provide critical health care. Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and atheist medical practitioners save lives everyday, and the physical which they do it is mostly irrelevant. A Christian that would ask such a question is not acting with love, humility, or grace. ”
    I don’t agree with that at all. Anyone asking that is simply making a point. To start with, only about 1.3 percent of the US population are Atheists so their impact is small regardless. But, the point is that Atheists DO NOT get together in the name of Atheism to build hospitals, schools, etc. But Christians do come together in the name of Christ to do these things. This is easily proven. And even when the government is responsible the building of a hospital, school, etc., the chances are that most, if not all, of the government officials involved are not Atheists and most likely Christian or Jewish. Furthermore …
    ABC News reported the following:
    “ …the single biggest predictor of whether someone will be charitable is their religious participation.
    Religious people are more likely to give to charity, and when they give, they give more money: four times as much. And Arthur Brooks told me that giving goes beyond their own religious organization:
    “Actually, the truth is that they’re giving to more than their churches,” he says. “The religious Americans are more likely to give to every kind of cause and charity, including explicitly non-religious charities.”
    Other research shows that religious people:
    Are 25 percentage points more likely than secularists to donate money (91 percent to 66 percent)
    Are 23 points more likely to volunteer time (67 percent to 44 percent)..
    It should also be pointed out that:
    Christians give $532 to non religious charities each year while Atheists $467 to non religious charities each year.
    Christians give more blood than atheists.

    Christians are more likely to help the ‘homeless’ with food or money.

    Christians are more likely to return excess change to a cashier.

    Red states(conservative) give away more money than blue states(liberal) despite lower incomes
    And, among those who attend worship services regularly, 92 percent of Protestants give charitably, compared with 91 percent of Catholics, 91 percent of Jews, and 89 percent from other religions.
    .There is nothing wrong with pointing this out. It’s the truth and is needed to counter the lies told by those who don’t know God. Non-believers who may be seeking need to know the truth. Believers need to know this so they won’t be misled and can appreciate even more the fact that Jesus came to this earth.
    Christians do these things out of a sense of gratitude to God for saving them and as a form of obedience to God’s commandment to love our neighbor. Atheists have no such gratitude or commands to obey. They make up their own rules and since all humans have a sinful nature this doesn’t work out well. I agree that their have been atrocities committed in the name of Christ but they were done in spite of the teachings of Christianity. And whatever Christians have done doesn’t even close to what Atheists like Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Fidel Castro, Pol Pot, and Robert Mugabe have done who together were responsible for the murder and enslavement of almost 200 million people. Hitler, who murdered 13 million people, including 6 million because they were Jewish, was a pagan who claimed Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Germanic soldier. One of Stalin’s first acts when he took power was to close 48,000 churches. Like all Atheists, he hated the truth and wanted no competition for the minds of the people from a God.
    This all makes sense when you consider that if one doesn’t believe in a creator then he believes that humans are no different than dogs or plant life. According to Evolution, after the Big Bang, some of the nothing that blew up happened to form people while some of the rest ended up as fish, birds or trees. Therefore, what makes killing a person any different than killing a bug? Whatever your answer, it’s something you created and are therefore free to change it when it benefits you.

    Posted by Eddie Buchanan | September 4, 2010, 4:42 pm
  5. Eddie Buchanan: have you drilled a bit further into the statistics about charitable giving? I’ve seen these numbers mentioned before, but it appears that most of the giving from strongly Christian groups goes to their own church, not to groups they don’t directly affiliate with. That could be argued to be in response to being told you’ll sin if you don’t.

    Funny you should mention Mugabe and Hitler as atheists, even though they were Roman Catholic. And did the communists do what they did because they were atheist, or did they do it because they had a new economic religion that was so feeble that no competition was allowed?

    Oh, and nice summary of cargo cult science at the end.

    Posted by ginckgo | October 13, 2010, 10:53 pm
  6. Alright, this is for that Buchanan assbag. By your numbers:
    1. Christians, with a BIBLICAL MANDATE to be charitable are a whopping $60 bucks a year more hospitable to charities than atheists. I am excluding the money donated to your church or the related floppy organs of the Christian religion, as it seems that giving money to spread your opinion doesn’t count as charity.
    2. The volunteer time also goes away when you figure out the time they spent volunteering for their own facilities.
    3. You guys are 1 percent more likely to donate charitably than the Jews you’ve been calling stingy and persecuting for roughly, 1500 years. Fancy.

    In addition, on the hospital front:
    You claim less than 2% of the population are atheists. That sounds about right in America. However, 35% of doctors are atheists. So we’re 17 times over-represented, more likely individually to actually be the one saving someone’s life in that hospital, and according to research, those atheist doctors are more likely to treat a poor patient regardless of insurance status. So no, we don’t need to get together and build hospitals, we’re the goddamned reason they work in the first place.

    Side note: long before Hitler (Christian) there were many, many other Christians slicing their merry way through swaths of Jews. And before you even bring up the Stalin numbers, let me mention the 95% of the Indians in Central and South America killed in the name of Christian expansion. See Father Bartolemew de las Casas first hand account (A good Christian– the sort that tells other Christians they should act like Christ instead of shitting all over him in an orgy of mental masturbation), should you get the time to read something that denies this Christian charity myth you cling to.

    The misunderstandings of several fields of science that dripped from your doughy brain at the end of that wall of misinformed text aren’t even worth correcting.

    Posted by Onelittleword | November 30, 2010, 8:04 am
  7. I know this is a necropost but I laughed at how arrogant and angry (possibly due to insecurities) the apparent atheist responses are compared to calm and collected Christian supporters. Arrogance and true intelligence usually don’t go hand in hand.

    I predict that “ONELITTLEWORLD” came from an abusive family that made him go to a catholic church where he was “touched”. Not in a good way. Hence his hatred of anything relating to a higher power. I notice similar patterns with many atheists I personally know. Its a result of deep seated emotional issues, not a result of using logic as many claim.

    As far as 35 percent of doctors being atheists, I seem have found a conflicting source of information that seems credible. The numbers are quite different. Check it out for yourself (

    If anyone reads this (which I doubt they will, I’m bored) please note that MOST Christians genuinely want to help people with no motive other than its the right thing to do and its what Jesus taught them to do.

    Posted by Bick | April 18, 2012, 12:53 am
  8. You and the atheists who endorse the idea that Christians did not invent true hospitals are totally wrong and could not be further from the truth. While the pagans and other unbelievers had temple based centers to care for some sick and wounded people, there was NO fundamental REASON for it. They did this for their own personal satisfaction and they were all evolutionists of a sort. They believed humans were just pawns. The Spartans for example would murder disabled or mutated children or children who were not considered strong: Eugenics. Roman law allowed the Roman man to murder his own unwanted children. Even atheist anthropologists have discovered that human sacrifice and cannibalism were commonly practiced around the world in almost every pagan culture. It was only the Israel and Christian based societies that had true compassion and security for people.

    Furthermore. modern science and medicine were founded by Christians and Jews mostly. People like Faraday, Maxwell, Pasteur, Sammuelweis, Lister, etc were Jews and Christians. The societies like India that turn out doctors are still borrowing from a Judeo Christian worldview whether they admit it or not.

    Posted by Mushet | August 26, 2013, 9:44 am


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