Can a homeless man's rudimentary "test" prove which religion "cares the most about the homeless?" That's the anecdotal assertion of a man photographed recently as he conducted his own mini sociology experiment on a city sidewalk.
In the picture, which has since gone viral on Reddit and Imgur, the man, who appears to be homeless or transient, is sitting on a sidewalk and holding a sign that reads, "Which religion cares the most about the homeless?" Arranged in front of him are eight small, plastic bowls and a hat, each labeled with different religions and filled with varying amounts of change. Although we can't say for sure how much money is shown in the photo, the bowls labeled "atheist" and "agnostic" seem to be the fullest.
According to Reddit user Ventachinkway, who posted the picture Monday to the r/atheism subreddit, the man in the photo claimed the "atheists are winning" when the picture was taken. Ventachinkway also said the man was sitting in downtown Austin, Texas.
While this experiment is an amusing one, the question of whether or not to give money to homeless people is a complicated one that transcends religious affiliations.
The question became a national discussion, however, when Officer Larry DePrimo of the New York City Police Department was photographed buying a pair of boots for a barefoot man in New York City last winter. The picture went viral, but reporters later discovered the barefoot man was neither homeless nor particularly gracious about the publicity.
Religious experts were themselves unable to come to a consensus on the homeless question when asked by The Huffington Post's own Senior Religion Editor Paul Raushenbush. Eric Gregory, a religion professor at Princeton University, noted that the Bible's parable of the "The Good Samaritan" doesn't account for a person who is poor but not necessarily deserving of charity.
"The Good Samaritan didn't stop and ask the man on the side of the road 'how did this happen,'" Gregory told HuffPost at the time. "He responded to an immediate need."
Easier to quantify, perhaps, is how Americans' generosity compares based on socioeconomic, rather than religious, factors. In 2012, the Chronicle of Philanthropy published a survey comparing the generosity rates of taxpayers earning $50,000 or more in 2008. Among the Chronicle's conclusions: The richest Americans are not always the most generous givers; red states are more generous than blue states; tax incentives promote charitable donations.