Wednesday, December 26, 2012
To Those Beyond Our Shores
Peter Singer’s compelling piece for the Christmas morning edition of the L.A. Times was a gift from a wise man. In “Give Where The Need is Greatest,” Singer proposes that Americans give more of their charitable donations to causes outside the U.S. Currently, 1 billion people in the world live on less than $1.25 per day and 22,000 children die every day of preventable causes (diarrhea, pneumonia, measles and malaria). Singer, a bioethicist at Princeton, offers this subtle jab to people of faith:
I’m not religious, but if I were, I would belong to a religion that told me to help the poorest rather than to give to build new churches or temples.
In the coming weeks, as people of faith & conscience debate fiscal cliff scenarios and are petitioned to make final 2012 donations to help pay mortgages on houses of worship, we ought to consider Singer’s reminder about the rest of the world. In addition, we might recall the advantages that faith leaders (the parsonage exemption) and faith communities (the income & property tax exemptions) have built into our own tax code when we make decisions about “end of the year” giving.
Of course, Singer’s comments (implicitly) are targeted to the top 2% of income-earners in the U.S. He focuses on examples like giving to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, medical research and university alumni associations. Most Americans are barely making it as prices for health care (if they even have it), food, gas and college education (if they are fortunate enough to attend) have increased over the course of 2012.
Currently, only 8 cents of every American dollar donated to charity goes to organizations working internationally and Americans give (when both government aid and private charity are added together) less than half as much as nations like Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden (in proportion to gross national income).
20 years ago, the Franciscan priest Richard Rohr spoke of the problems of a narcissistic spirituality embedded at the core of a uniquely American suburban Christianity:
I believe that the religion of the middle class was always tempted to use Scripture primarily to dispense consolation. But the World of God, like a mirror, must first confront us with ourselves. Second, it has to challenge us to live in a new way, to lead a life of authentic brotherliness and sisterliness—economically, politically, socially, and spiritually. Only after the Word of God has confronted and challenged us do we have the right to take consolation from the Word of God as well. But we’ve drawn consolation from the Bible before we changed our lives! The Christian nations are among the greediest and most intent on security of any in the world, while they maintain that Jesus is their Lord and their security.
Indeed, we suburban Americans are deeply broken and wounded by the family, economic, social and political systems that organize our world. We need salvation!! But followers of Jesus today, like the very first followers of Jesus in ancient Palestine, must own our own complicity with addictive and unjust patterns in our world and repent (metanoia: to turn back to Reality) towards creative alternatives. A generation ago, the Catholic Worker Dorothy Day paraphrased the prophetic proclamation of John the Baptist (Luke 3:8) to return surplus possessions back to their rightful owner: the most vulnerable among us. We desperately need to hear her voice today.
A billion people in the world are barely surviving largely due to conditions inaugurated in 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Ironically, most of the plundering and colonizing in the decades and centuries after were done in the name of Christ. We live in a world very much created by the legacy of these Christians. The affluenza of 1st World Christians has birthed the influenza of 3rd World poverty. Now the question is, “What will we do to repent?” The secular Singer prophetically nudges us in the right direction.