Have you heard of “Effective Altruism”? It is something I came across a while ago when it was mentioned in a podcast I was listening to. I am no expert in the subject, but my understanding of it is this. Effective Altruism, or EA for short, is about ensuring that any giving or altruistic work you do is effective. This means that when we give to a charity say, we have a good idea of what that charity will do with it and what impact that gift will have.
As a simple example, let’s say you have £100 or $100 to give. Charity A will use the money and this will result in 5 lives being saved, whereas charity B is less effective and only 3 lives are saved. EA would argue that we ought to put our money into charity A as more lives are positively affected. Sounds sensible enough, but life is rarely so straightforward!
Taking it a step further, some hold the view that we ought not just give our money to the most effective charities or organisations, but that we should also look long and hard at the money we spend in daily life and ask if it better deployed to help others. Peter Singer, in his book “The Life You Can Save” (which is available in podcast form and free to download) makes this case. He gives an illustration (and don’t quote me in case I make a mistake) where you are wearing a new suit and walk through the park. In the park, there is a pond, and you see a toddler drowning in it. Do you ruin your suit to save the toddler? Of course, everyone says yes, it is the morally right thing to do and beyond that, you would be downright wicked to just walk on by!
Yet, Singer argues, we all do this on a daily basis. We may not walk by a pond with a drowning child in, but in our modern world there are children suffering and dying every day, and a tiny sum of money could change that. The example of malaria nets is used, costing only a few pounds or dollars, yet they can save lives effectively. When we buy expensive or luxurious items, could that money be better spent on nets or medicine or something else that would save a child?
I recommend reading the book, and it is a challenging read. I am not saying I agree 100% with all of the arguments it makes, but it should cause us to ask ourselves hard questions like “Do I need a third TV in my house, or should I give that money to an effective charity?”
A number of EA organisations have evolved, including one called “Give Well” which seeks to find the most effective charitable organisations so you can be sure your money is making a tangible difference. Many sign up to pledges, offering to give 10% or more of their income, believing it to be the morally right thing to do. I am not advocating for this nor the organisations themselves, but encourage you to make up your own mind. I would exercise some caution however, as many of these organisations have “funds” which you can give to and they decide where best to deploy them. This is extremely effective and no bad idea at all, except you lose some control of the donation you give and it could be used to fund a project you do not support. You can give to the organisations directly, rather than the grouped funds, but if giving to the latter, do ask yourself if you agree with all of the projects included.
This is all very interesting, you might be thinking, but what does it have to do with the Bible or our Christian faith? Clearly, the Bible does encourage us to give and so there are links and lessons to be learned. For example, we will all stand before God one day and have to give an account. If I’ve spent all of my money on Netflix, games consoles, hobbies, food and drink etc and have given little to those in need, I do not suppose I will be commended for that.
EA is clearly a selfless ambition. All of us, using our money to help those in need, is no bad thing. Some branches of EA look ahead to future generations and ask if their giving today will benefit humans of tomorrow. Again, it is difficult to argue that this is not a good thing – generally speaking.
One of the issues I have with EA is that it takes a rather earthly perspective. What I mean is this; while charity A may save 5 lives and charity B only 3, what impact do either of them have on those lives for eternity? If charity B preaches the Gospel to them, and all three accept Jesus as Lord, then the equation suddenly comes up with a somewhat different answer.
Instead of Effective Altruism, we should be considering Eternal Altruism.
Instead of #EffectiveAltruism #EA, we should consider #Eternal Altruism #genorosityTweet
Taking an eternal perspective changes the sum drastically. Giving to a church may result in fewer lives saved on Earth, yet if many of them accept salvation found in Jesus, it is no ineffective use of funds.
This spurs a whole host of questions. How do you measure the effectiveness of a church or ministry? Is it measured by how many people attend, or how many come forward at an altar call, or some other metric? Is it right to assess the success of a ministry by how many people accept Jesus, or just on how many hear the Good News? As you can in these few simple questions, it is not easy to unravel.
I am called to preach the Gospel, and if I do that faithfully, then I have done my job. I will not be judged on how successful I am, based on page views, salvations or book sales. If I were asking for money (which I’m not!), would that be an effective ministry to give to?
There must, of course, be success criteria or ways and means of judging if a church or ministry is effective in what it is doing. Those metrics will differ greatly from the way in which you would measure a business or secular charity. We ought to be able to see a difference between a “good” church or ministry, and a “bad” one. For example, if a church is not teaching the Bible or the whole counsel of God, then we should not give to it.
Giving is ultimately a very personal matter. I am particularly keen to support charities who help people with sight loss, simply because I have problems with my sight. No doubt you have experiences which draw you towards particular organisations too. The homeless shelter near where you live may not be the most effective” charity in the world, but being able to make a personal connection to it is also important.
Giving into God’s kingdom is important. Giving is every bit as critical to our Christian walk as is prayer and Bible study. If you can go without some luxury in order that you can give to God’s mission, then that is a sacrifice worth making. Does that mean you cannot have any “luxuries” of any kind and should instead give all of your disposable income away? Some do, and some do not. Only you can decide with the leading of the Holy Spirit what you can live without and where to direct your giving. I have bought things in the past that I later regretted, and in hindsight wished I had saved the money and given it to a worthy cause. God’s Creation is there for us to enjoy too, and not every luxury is sinful. There is a balance to be had. The balance for me, in accordance with God’s leading, may be different to the balance for you.
One man I read of no longer buys beer or soft drinks, and instead enjoys the water from his tap. Another no longer buys their coffee from the store, and instead makes it at home for a fraction of the price.
One family might need two cars to live their life, whereas another may see a second car as an unnecessary luxury. I am certain you can think of your own examples.
Does this challenge you? Are there ways in which you can increase your giving, and to do so to make an eternal impact?
I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.Luke 16:9 NIV
I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Luke 16P9 #Bible #JesusTweet
I welcome your thoughts on this, so do comment below.
Have a great day!
4 thoughts on “Eternal Altruism”
“Instead of Effective Altruism, we should be considering Eternal Altruism.”
Yes, yes. Plus, the struggling charity may well need more money so it can become less ineffective.
Common sense based giving has many issues for us as Christians where we need Godsense far more than common sense.
Common Sense makes sense! But Godsense rarely does in the moment…it’s only later we see why God desired one action over another
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Well said Andy B, you beat me to the point I would have made, but you said it so well brother! 😉
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Love this discussion; love how you you took it to the next level of Eternal Altruism. Thought this was very good about metrics for ministry, and also Christian liberty where each person’s help and giving will be different. Very good Andy!
This was an interesting read Andy, after all we all want to be good stewards of what gifts God our Father gives us charge of. But we must never lose sight that we are dealing in eternal reality rather than worldly reality; thus sometimes we may not see the harvest but must simply trust Him to bring it in His perfect timing.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.
— 1 Corinthians 3:6-7
For in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’
— John 4:37