Though I'm no longer a believer and do not regard the Bible as authoritative for our lives (many Christians apparently don't either, judging from their wholesale rejection or explaining away of Jesus' teachings on wealth), and I don't think the radical redistribution of wealth called for in 2 Corinthians 8:3-15 is practical, I still carry a bit of an egalitarian streak from my believing days (or is it just a soft spot in my nature?). After all, if I'm better off financially than a desert-dwelling Nigerien, do I deserve all the credit for what I possess? Did I choose the specific family and culture into which I was born, with all its material and intellectual advantages; did I choose the particular combination of DNA and training I was bequeathed by my parents, allowing for sufficient intelligence to succeed in school and enough determination to find and keep gainful employment in a nation that offers the kind of employment I enjoy? Was I more deserving than an uneducated African child of an excellent gradeschool education, which then allowed me to go on to college and study computer science and later pursue a career in software development? No, no, no, and no! Does a Somali infant deserve to die at her mother's dry breast? Does an inner-city Los Angeles gang member deserve to have grown up without a role model or an education, surrounded by crime, with hardly a choice but to be pressed into a gang? No and no. It's the recognition that "there but for dumb luck go I" that preserves my egalitarian streak, my soft spot for those less fortunate than I am, and a twinge of guilt when I spend more on a one-week cruise than what many in the world spend in a year or three. Especially after listening to humanist ethicist Peter Singer pontificate on just how bad world poverty is and just how many children die per day (26,000) while so many of us live in relative luxury.
I know, I know, there are so many difficult questions that could be raised about our moral responsibility in alleviating human poverty--most importantly, how much is enough before we can say we've done our part? Can I legitimately enjoy a Starbucks latte now and then, even if it costs enough to feed a child for a couple of weeks? Is this something we as individuals should be responsible for (something we as a nation haven't frankly done well at, no matter how generous we think we are), or should we all be taxed so the UN can take care of the starving children in Africa as this comment in response to Singer's interview advocates? What about all those corrupt governments that intercept the aid money and buy arms instead? Aren't we just throwing money down the toilet?
Despite all these questions, I have to believe we as individuals and as relatively wealthy nations and as coalitions of nations could do more to make the world a better place. It's to the advantage of us all for the inequalities to be reduced; why, after all, do you think we in the United States and in many other developed countries have such a problem with illegal immigration? I'm not in the least advocating communism or any sort of forced income caps--these approaches have been tried and have failed. But accepting the status quo, just because the alternatives are full of problems and difficulties, doesn't mean that turning a blind eye to the 26,000 children who starve each day is any less problematic or difficult.
As an alternative to waiting for a perfect solution, I would like to recommend to my readers who can afford it to consider giving a little or a lot to the following nonreligious charitable organizations: PATH, Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, and Foundation Beyond Belief. And if you're religious, consider World Vision or Hagar International. In the long run, though, I'm with the commentator who responded to Singer's interview: it's going to take banding together in coalitions of nations, taxing us modestly (it really wouldn't be that big of sacrifice if everyone participated), and putting together a concerted plan to end starvation around the world. We just aren't doing our job as individuals, nor do I expect we ever will, given our mistaken propensity to think we somehow deserve all that we earn thanks to our own efforts and free will (efforts and free will that we think anyone else in the world could exercise to gain what we have, if only they would just do it!).