Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Bible and Peter Singer

I've always been rather fond of this Biblical self-contradiction because it features the words of Jesus himself, and in my old family Bible, the dueling passages appear on the very same page. Does Jesus want his followers to do good deeds in public or in private? Take it away, Jesus:

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:14-16)
And just a few brief passages later:
"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men." (Matthew 6:1-2)
Jesus could not have been more clear, in a sense: follow me, because I have all the answers you seek. All the answers. In another, truer, more straightforward sense, Jesus presents us with a tangled knot and proceeds to pull harder on all the available threads. Neat!

Peter Singer is no god and doesn't claim to be, but he cites psychological research and sides with the 'let your light shine' view of the matter:
A substantial body of current psychological research points against Jesus' advice [that would be the advice in Matthew 5:14, shortly before Jesus changed his all-knowing mind and declared Matthew 6:1]. One of the most significant factors determining whether people give to charity is their beliefs about what others are doing. Those who make it known that they give to charity increase the likelihood that others will do the same.
So it's not only bragging to note that I recently donated some money to the Red Cross for their flood relief efforts and other good work. Not only bragging.

1 comment:

mikesdak said...

It's been repeatedly said that you can find Biblical support for both sides of almost anything. At least here you don't have to do too much searching.