A Fat Man in An Age of Hunger

"MT" left this comment about yesterday's post on the fools and Haiti.

It's difficult to conceive of the pain and suffering that occurs daily throughout the world. The continent of Africa comes to mind.

So, for me, the question is: "What is my obligation as a Christian?" I want to help but I don't know what to do except give money to the church and charities (and live modestly so funds can go to these groups rather than shoes, clothes, etc. but, that's entirely subjective, right?)

In theory, I suppose I could pack up and move to Africa to become an aid worker; but, frankly I'm not willing to make that commitment. I wish I knew the answer.

MT reminds me of my own hypocrisy--I am a fat man (250lbs-plus) living in an age of hunger, when millions of people go to bed hungry and where children die each day from preventable disease.

Since I moved to the burbs two years ago and drive more than an hour each day instead of walking to work, I'm likely to get fatter.

So, MT asks, what's Christian to do?

Or how about this question. What's a Christian to do when you've got a mortgage, three kids, and a spouse who can't work right now for medical/personal reasons, and you feel you can barely keep up with your own bills, never mind have money to save the world.

Avoiding excess seems to be one answer. So a Hummer or $2,500 outfits are out.

What comes next is harder. Cutting back as much as we can. That means no trips with the kids to the Bagel store or movie rentals; hanging on to the old car until every piece falls off, and saying no as often as we can to the voice that says, "I need this."

The ethicist Peter Singer put in this way:

I can see no escape from the conclusion that each one of us with wealth surplus to his or her essential needs should be giving most of it to help people suffering from poverty so dire as to be life-threatening.

That's right: I'm saying that you shouldn't buy that new car, take that cruise, redecorate the house or get that pricey new suit. After all, a $1,000 suit could save five children's lives.

I'm not a big fan of Singer--who has argued that, among other things, disabled children ought have no value--but his 1999 essay The Singer Solution to World Poverty ought to be required reading. In fact, it'd make a helluva sermon, though likely to get a pastor fired. (Or tossed off a cliff.)

Singer--who donates large sumes of money to charities like Oxfam--sets up this hypothetical dilemna is his essay.

Bob, whose about to retire, has put most of his savings in a valuable car Singer calls a Bugatti. He knows the car will rise in value and by selling it, he can have financial security for the future.

One day Bob parks the car by a railroad siding, and goes for a walk.
Suddenly, he seen a runaway train on the track.

Looking farther down the track, he sees the small figure of a child very likely to be killed by the runaway train. He can't stop the train and the child is too far away to warn of the danger, but he can throw a switch that will divert the train down the siding where his Bugatti is parked. Then nobody will be killed -- but the train will destroy his Bugatti.

What does Bob do? He makes a moral reprehensible choice to save the car.

The child is killed. For many years to come, Bob enjoys owning his Bugatti and the financial security it represents.

Singers says, that we all face the same situation. We must choose between
" the life of an innocent child and the sacrifice of most of (our) savings."

if we value the life of a child more than going to fancy restaurants, the next time we dine out we will know that we could have done something better with our money. If that makes living a morally decent life extremely arduous, well, then that is the way things are.

If we don't do it, then we should at least know that we are failing to live a morally decent life — not because it is good to wallow in guilt but because knowing where we should be going is the first step toward heading in that direction.

I'd like to think that I am willing to live that kind of morally decent life. At least I know, as Singer says, what direction to go.


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