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April 1, 2014

by guest blogger Tyler John, senior philosophy major

In a recent Cedarville University chapel message, Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler spoke at length about human dignity. He rightly criticized Princeton ethicist Peter Singer, for saying that some pigs should have more rights than some human infants. This of course raises serious objections from a Christian viewpoint. But maybe there is something Dr. Singer can teach us, or at least remind us of.

In his book The Life You Can Save, he argues that if we fail to donate money to the poor, we do something morally wrong. He makes an argument on the basis of a thought experiment:

On your way to work, you pass a small pond. As you get closer, you see that there is a very young child, just a toddler, who is flailing about, unable to stay upright or walk out of the pond. The child is unable to keep his head above the water for more than a few seconds at a time. If you don’t wade in and pull him out, he seems likely to drown. Wading in is easy and safe, but you will ruin the new shoes you bought only a few days ago, and get your suit wet and muddy. What should you do?

From here, Singer argues that many of us are in this actual situation every day. We are able to donate money to save dying children if we simply give up a nice pair of shoes or a luxury car or something else we might want. Consequently, we ought to give up these things for the sake of others.

It seems striking how atheist Peter Singer’s argument resonates with two ancient concepts from the Christian tradition: the Tithe, and the Good Samaritan. In this case, Singer asks us to do just what Jesus asks us to do. We should stop to help the poor, offering up a portion of our income so that others might live.


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