I had a rather bizarre claim levelled at me today, that the majority of the top twenty richest people in the world were atheist. I thought this sounded like bullshit, so me being me, I checked.
Now, atheism is correlated with intelligence and education, so you would expect the number of atheists to be higher amongst the most successful people in the world. Of course, wealth isn’t entirely analogous to talent, since a lot of it is inherited or ‘old money’, but still with a (rough) world figure of 15% atheistic you might expect two or more of the top 20 to be atheists.
1. Carlos Slim Helu – Christian
2. Bill Gates – Atheist
3. Amancio Ortega – Christian
4. Warren Buffet – Agnostic
5. Larry Ellison – Agnostic Jew
6. Charles Koch – Christian
7. David Koch – Christian
8. Li Ka-Shing – Buddhist
9. Liliane Bettincourt – Jewish (by marriage)
10. Bernard Arnault – Catholic
11. Christy Walton – Christian
12. Stefan Persson – Christian
13. Michael Bloomberg – Jewish
14. Jim Walton – Unknown
15. Sheldon Adelson – Jewish
16. Alice Walton – Christian
17. S. Robson Walton – Christian
18. Karl Albrecht – Christian
19. Jeff Bezos – Christian
20. Larry Page – Atheist
If we count agnostics, that only 4/20, nowhere near 17/20 and of those I know Gates and Buffet have been extremely philanthropic via the Gates foundation, tackling genuine global issues of poverty, starvation and disease. While checking on the religions of the others in this list I found little outside religious donations, Christian summer camps and the like.
In short, religion seems to be no particular guide to someone’s charitable status or generosity and if you are religious, much of your effort seems to be diverted into the pockets of religion and perpetuating that faith.