How Much is Enough?

Apr 23rd 2010

I’ve been thinking about the kids in Myanmar this week.  Not sure why, just am…  orphanage-kids

Peter Singer — a controversial Princeton philosopher poses this question, “If you are walking by a pond and you see a child drowning, do you save her? What if it means ruining a very fancy pair of Italian shoes?”

Peter Unger takes it a step farther when he tells the story of Bob. Bob is a car nut. His prize possession is a vintage Bugatti roadster. It’s his prize not only because he is passionate about cars, but also because this Bugatti is Bob’s retirement plan.  One day, while out walking, Bob sees a train bearing down on a toddler who has wandered on to the tracks. Bob can save the child by throwing a switch and diverting the train onto a side rail.  But parked on that side rail is Bob’s beloved Bugatti — the funding source of his retirement years.  If he throws the switch and saves the child, his car will be crushed. The kid or the car: which to choose?

Well of course I would sacrifice the shoes to save a drowning child, and though I might have to fight through a split-second moment of indecision, I am confident that I would throw the switch and give my car/retirement fund in exchange for the life of the child on the tracks.  In fact wouldn’t we judge as an immoral monster…anyone who would choose Italian shoes or Bugatti roadsters over the life of a child?

If that’s true… what is the difference between the child on the tracks and one of the 24,000 children under the age of five who died today… from preventable poverty conditions?  Does proximity alone make me responsible for saving a life…that I can save?  How many must I save?   Or does knowledge alone put me on the scene?  Am I less responsible if I am not the only one who “can” save the child?

I am sitting here in a hotel in Orlando.  I’m on the leadership team for our conference of churches and this week is our quarterly meeting.  My plane ticket cost $400.  I’m sure the room I’m in will cost at least $300.  Last night I had room service for dinner, a hamburger, onion soup and a desert.  It cost $30.  $730 will keep three children in Myanmar alive for a year.

I enjoy reading books on my Kindle will I listen to music on my ipod — Kindle + ipod + head phones + book + music = 3 more children for a year.

I love my jeep.  It isn’t extravagant.  It has over 150,000 miles on it.  It’s about 15 years old.  The soft top has holes, the body has rust, but I love driving my jeep.  I paid $3000 for my jeep — would I throw the switch that would destroy my jeep if it meant saving one life?  Without a moment’s hesitation…yes!   So why do I still have it?

It seems like the appropriate questions are “How much is enough?”  AND  “How many is enough?”  How much stuff do I need and how many people should I save?

I don’t have an answer for either question, for you or for me.  But it seems like we should at least wrestle with the questions.   As I wrestle, I’m going to be raising about $6000 to buy a flock of chickens for the orphanages in Myanmar.  A $6000 flock will provide eggs, meat, and income for quite some time.