Saturday, February 27, 2010

Do You Give?

Not giving to help reduce extreme poverty is morally indefensible. It's like watching while a child drowns in a lake, when you could have helped.

In this very practical work of philosophy, Peter Singer convinces us that it is a moral imperative to give to help end world hunger. He then also helps us think through which organizations are the best recipients of our giving, how much as a percentage of our income we should give. He does the math, thinks through the issues, and is convincing on all levels.

In The Life You Can Save, Singer makes the irrefutable argument that giving will make a huge difference in the lives of others, without diminishing the quality of our own.

He has also created a companion web site where you can make a pledge at a level that for probably most readers of this blog, is at least 1% of your income, getting closer to 5% as your income approaches 105 000 USD.

He writes, "Will you do your part to save the lives of people living in extreme poverty? In The Life You Can Save, I suggest a new public standard for a minimum that we should expect people to give. By pledging to donate the percentage of your annual income that meets the standard, you will be making a difference to the poor. But that’s not all: you will also be helping to change the public standard of what is involved in living an ethical life in a world that contains both great affluence and extreme poverty."

We have taken the pledge, although I admit that we were already achieving this level before taking the pledge. We give approximately 5% of our income to agencies that bring relief to the extremely poor. Most of our gifts in this area go to Lutheran World Relief, a relief agency we're proud to be sponsors of. Another significant portion goes to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

Although Singer covers a lot of ground in his book, there is one section that has been especially weighing on my mind recently. He notes that although Americans as a whole are fairly generous (compared to the rest of the world) with their voluntary donations, giving on average just over 2% of their wealth away each year, actually many of us give a significant portion of that wealth away to organizations that benefit the already wealthy rather than the poor. So, for example, donations to art museums, theatres, etc. And of course, even our donations to our church fall into this category, because most of what we donate to church helps pay the salary of staff members and meet the expenses of maintaining the church building, rather than directly helping the extremely poor. And since most members of our churches are wealthy (by Singer's standard almost all of us in America are extremely wealthy when compared to the world population) our charity benefits ourselves.

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