Friday, August 09, 2013

How to end poverty

Amongst the people I follow is a guy I knew way back when I was still involved in camping with Scripture Union - Brett Fish Anderson. Today he posted a link to an article he had read years ago by Peter Singer that really challenged him on the issue of giving, and ending poverty.

Now the name Peter Singer should ring a few bells with some of you - he was the guy who really got the world thinking about vegetarianism and animal rights. Anyway, you can read Singer's article on poverty here.

As it happens, God has been raising the issue of giving with me again just recently (ever since I completed my tax return last weekend, in fact). He's been challenging me again to think about how much I give, and why I give. I was, therefore, massively challenged by Singer's article. Essentially, Singer's premise (back in 1999 when he wrote the article) was that if everyone gave $200 to an aid organisation of their choice, they could save the life of a child (pay for food and medication from age 2 to age 6, which is past the worst danger zone for children in poverty). He then argued that it would be very easy to raise this money by simply doing away with luxuries - not eating out for a month, not going to the movies every week, not buying designer clothes every month, simply doing without something for a short period of time.

Now, $200 in 1999 is roughly equivalent to R2720 today. That's a lot of money, I know. Assuming that a meal out costs R300, that is 9-10 meals. i.e. if you eat out once a month, then across the year, by simply not eating out you can save a child's life. That's a pretty profound thought, isn't it?

When I shared the link to the article on Facebook it sparked a lot of debate, about whether Singer was advocating giving out of guilt, or simply saying that it was the right thing to do, and whether the fact that he didn't seem to be a Christian made a difference to what he was saying and whether we should listen to him or not.

For me though, the issue I was left debating was how much is ENOUGH to give. At what point do we draw the line. No-one disagrees that giving is good - for the giver as much as the recipient. Certainly, God expects us to give. 'Freely you have received, freely give." Matt 10:8 "For as much as you have not done it for the least of these, you did not do it to me." Matt 25:45

But how much should we give? Is it a percentage of what we have? If so, what percentage is the 'right' one to give? 1/10th? And should that be counted before or after taxes?

This topic has been dealt with by many greater academics than I, in much greater detail and much more clearly than I can express. But one image keeps returning to me - that of the poor widow, standing at the Temple, giving her last coin to the Temple coffers. Jesus sees her, and commends her. It wasn't the value of the coin that she gave, it was the faith that she demonstrated. It was the fact that she chose to put the things of God before her own needs.

How many of us can say the same - that in our materialistic culture we are willing to sacrifice for God? Are we willing to sacrifice a new pair of jeans, or a meal out, or a box of chocolates, let alone our last anything, for His sake, to save a child? Yes, we have necessities, but is going to gym one of them? Couldn't we exercise more cheaply by running on the road, or buying a bike? Yes, we need to eat, but do we really need to buy the most expensive foods, or shop at the most expensive shops (or at Woolies)? Yes, we need to cook, but do we really need that 7 plate gas burner stove top? Yes, we need to get around, but do we really need to buy a new car, or will an older 2nd hand one suffice?

So, how much is enough to give back? I don't think there is a figure. I think that the question should rather be turned around - not, have I given enough, but, what else can I give?
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