Thoughts on Effective Altruism and Christianity
By Afia Addei
When I first heard of Effective Altruism, I became quite curious. This is because it was the first time I had heard of a group of people doing good in the objective sense. I came from a background where people were the most altruistic when they felt moved, leading to a lot of charity organizations appealing to people’s emotions not their minds. As a Christian, doing good is one of the things we’re called to do. We have Bible verses talking about how human beings were created for good works and how we’re not to ‘grow weary of doing good’ (Ephesians 2:10, Galatians 6:9).
God created animals for us to eat… right?
Unlike religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism which encourage vegetarianism and/or veganism, Christianity does not occupy a very clear stance on animal rights. I have met a few Christians who are vegan and felt moved by God to pursue that path, but a majority of us are meat eaters.
One moral argument for animal rights that I find quite interesting is the fact that animals share human characteristics. The quote by Jeremy Bentham asking, “Can they suffer?” is the dealbreaker for many. Doesn’t this mean Christianity is an evil religion then, permitting us to promote the suffering of animals?
Well, there isn’t a clear answer on this, so I’ll discuss an instance from the Bible. According to the account of human creation, human beings were given dominion over all living things on earth, including animals (Genesis 1:28). However, at first, humans were told to reign over them (not necessarily eat them). God explicitly told humans that plants were given to them for food. This command changed to include animals after God wiped away the earth with a flood, probably because there was a shortage of plants then (Genesis 9). God told human beings that animals can also be their food, but He put a fear of humans into animals, so that they can escape and protect themselves. This shows that even though He loved humans, to some extent, He also loved animals.
The bottomline is, even though animals were given to us for our use, human beings still have the responsibility of protecting them, just as a parent has the responsibility of taking care of his/her children (maybe this may not be the best analogy since parents do not eat their kids). Christians believe that protecting animals and using them for our needs are not mutually exclusive; we must be able to find a balance (Check out this blog post for more insight about this https://www.gotquestions.org/animal-rights.html).
A Christian’s case for longtermism
I personally feel longtermism is one of the most controversial issues both inside and outside the EA community. Why care for future generations when the present generation is struggling? Why can’t we just focus on making today better, which will by extension make tomorrow better? When you’re a Christian, these questions multiply a hundredfold and include questions on whether we’re actually in the end times as the Bible says or we should believe what longtermists are saying and accept the fact that we may not be the very last generation, but actually one of the first.
I used to be confused about this as well. In my country (which is almost 80% Christian), literally everyone believes that we’re going to be the last generation to walk the earth. I came to Hong Kong with this belief, and all of a sudden, I hear a bunch of people saying that not only are we not the last generation, but it’s probable that many more generations will come after us, and I’m thrown off. However, the more I think about it, the more probable it seems.
My pastor once said, the time after Jesus’ death and resurrection all the way to His second coming is known as the end times. This implies that the end times can range from 1000 to 2 billion years and beyond. So the end times that my countrymen are talking about may probably not be the end of the 21st century. After all, people thought the world will end in 2020 — 3 years later, the world is still running.
So why should Christians care about the future generations? We should care because we owe it to them. If we believe that God loves everyone regardless of race, language, age, etc, why can’t we believe that God loves people regardless of the generation in which they are born? Just as we are called to do good and love others as we love ourselves, doesn’t this apply to future people too? I believe that being intentional about how our actions today will affect future generations, something that should concern every Chrisitan. This applies not only to macro-level government policies, but also to micro-level behaviours like what we eat, or where we buy our clothes.
It is not morally right to believe that Christ will come in a few years so climate change doesn’t matter. Whether He comes or not, we are called to be custodians of the earth, keeping it inhabitable for future generations out of the love we have for them.
The thoughts I shared in this blog post are my own, meaning that not every Christian may share the same views as mine. There are hundreds of denominations in Christianity, each having their own interpretation of the Bible, suggesting that not all of us may think the same way about the views expressed in this blog post.