The last weekend of August saw me on a mountain bike trip to Flumserberg. Riding the train on my own, I had the opportunity to try out podcasts again. It so turned out that the first podcast I could think of and easily access was Point of Inquiry. I ended up listening to two and a half episodes.
One of them was an interview with Peter Singer about his book The Life You Can Save: Acting Now To End World Poverty. He challenges the “western world” about its apparent apathy towards poverty.
In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Peter Singer details how twenty-six thousand children die each day of preventable diseases and poverty worldwide, and contrasts this toll with the public’s moral outrage over the blackest days in our history, such as 9/11/2001. He talks about the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth regarding the poor, and questions why most Christians today have seemed not to make ending world poverty a priority, instead focusing on issues such as abortion and homosexuality, which are not mentioned by Jesus. Singer argues that when people in affluent societies value even small luxuries more highly than saving the lives of the world’s poor, that it is morally equivalent to standing by when one could easily save someone from drowning.
He acknowledges the psychological differences, but argues for equivalence with regards to morality/ethics. (Seeing someone drowning in front of you is in your face, whereas poverty is typically on the other side of the world.)
That’s something about Europe, or America, or the developed world in general: these nations are typically quite out of touch with what real poverty looks like, or what it feels like. Cinema and TVs show images, good movies evoke emotions, but it’s a two hour experience of something “exotic”, then it’s over.
Of course, “back home” (Cape Town, Stellenbosch) most of us are probably also shockingly out of touch, considering the fact that real poverty is within walking distance there. (In Stellenbosch, it’s even within rich-folks’ walking distance: only 2km. Perspective!)
If you’re curious, go read the synopsis, or listen to the podcast. Maybe read his book (I’m considering it). Check out thelifeyoucansave.com, or GiveWell. For some ideas challenging Singer’s apparent simplification of the matter (referring the drowning-person example), there’s some debate in the comments on the Point of Inquiry site. Then come share your thoughts!
In what ways do you currently contribute to charitable causes? What other ways might you investigate in the near future? And how do you feel about the suggestion raised in the podcast, that in some ways Peter Singer, an atheist, could be considered “a better Christian than most Christians”?