Friday, May 25, 2012

"The Life You Can Save," We Sing of Thee

We have begun reading Peter Singer's excellent and challenging book, The Life You Can Save.  It is the first book we've read that will be pressing us to DO something about what we read  . . . sign the Pledge at the front of the book.  Singer has been called by The New Yorker "the most influential living philosopher," and while I can't verify that that claim, he is surely providing good fodder for our discussion.

Thus far Singer has documented what we suspected:  that the wealth of the developed world is way more than the rest of the world -- the newly-minted Facebook millionaires/billionaires would be another example of the kind of resources are floating around out there!  That is, we in this country (many if not most of us) have money that could address the sources of poverty. 

And he has raised and objected to common objections of folk who argue against helping the desperately poor of the world.  

The very good question that follows;  Why don't we (you, I, and especially people richer than me!) give more than we do?  And Singer lists six weaknesses of our race -- things we probably know, but he has some psychological experiments that confirm and illustrate them.  One of those characteristics -- that we respond to emotional appeals more than to factual,rational appeals -- is especially frustrating to folks who fancy ourselves to be smart people.  On page 61 Singer says, "But of course concluding [rationally, I add] that others' needs should count as much as our own is not the same as feeling it, and that is the core of the problem of why we do not respond to the needs of the world's poorest people as we would respond to someone in need of rescue right in front of us."

Christian faith, based on the teachings of Jesus and the prophets (like Amos) before him, has since the beginning been urging its adherents to care for the poor, to give generously to those in need.  Sometimes Christians have done that, and a lot of times we haven't.  Faith adds to Singer's logic about the issue two things:  First a sense of "command" -- from God, no less.  The Great Commandment is that we love God, and our neighbor as ourself.  And Jesus commands things like giving to beggars, and giving all we have to the poor.   The second element faith offers to the task of alleviating poverty is emotional:  If God has loved us so much as to give himself for us -- Jesus' dying for us -- then surely we can love others.  That is, if one can feel God's love for us, then we are motivated (compelled, said St. Paul), to care for others.  And that care would of course include care of the poor, and helping them have the basic things of life.

Does God's command (that we care for the poor, and share all we have with those in need) and God's love (compelling us to love others) do the job of getting us to give more?   Discuss among yourselves!