I took the Giving What We Can pledge because I am a Christian. Giving at least 10% of my income to the charities most effectively helping those in need is a crucial part of loving my neighbour as myself. But why did I need to take the pledge itself? It is of course possible to give 10% without having signed a pledge – people have been doing it for thousands of years. I chose to publicly take the Giving What We Can pledge to demonstrate my commitment to giving, and to thinking carefully about charity effectiveness. I hope my pledge will inspire others to give more. It certainly inspires me on the many occasions when giving money away is difficult.
It is three and a half years since I signed the pledge, but I still remember that moment as a wonderful step closer to God. Taking a public pledge was even more powerful than simply giving year on year. Furthermore, after taking the pledge I joined a community of people dedicated to evidence based generosity – the Giving What We Can Community has been a tremendous source of support and friendship, and well as debate and discussion. I would highly recommend the Giving what We Can pledge to anyone who wants to give their money away to the poor.
Believing in God has not always been easy for me. But one thing has always drawn me irresistibly to the Christian life: I have always had a strong and deep longing for justice – and nowhere have I found a better place for living this out than in the stories of the bible and the community of the church. I hate to see how beautiful sisters and brothers of mine are held back by poverty. And I love to see how they can use their gifts and ambitions to create flourishing communities and give praise to their creator. Without Christianity, my yearning for justice was free-floating. With Christanity, it has a home. This brought me back to God.
Of course, I was wondering what my own part in bringing justice to this aching planet might be? As a guy of the 21st century with an average Swiss income, I belong to the top 1% of the global income scale. Thus, even donating a small fraction of my income can provide amazingly many people with the necessary resources to work their way out of poverty. This is incredible. And beautiful. Besides my family and the music of Leonard Cohen, I know nothing more beautiful. Currently, I keep 90% of my salary and donate the rest. I hope to increase the donated fraction in the future or to earn more so as to give more.
When I discovered effective altruism, I knew: this is it. Particularly, the effectiveness bit seemed like a game-changer to me: If I radically exploit the available evidence about how best to help others, then I can multiply the effect of my actions. By putting open-mindedness and reason to the service of my longing for justice, I can help liberate many more people from oppression. It’s like a magic wand! I would feel guilty and cold-hearted not to make use of this insight. After some years of immersing myself in this kind of effective altruism thinking, it almost seems like a wasteful luxury – or even arrogant self-centredness – to donate where it “feels good” rather than to donate where others benefit the most
We are commanded to act with both love and wisdom. I was reading C.S. Lewis a long time ago and he spoke several times of doing good wisely and altruistically. He quoted “don’t let your left hand know what your right hand does” as not only instructing us not to give for the wrong reasons (praise, vanity) but also instructing us to give for the right reasons. To do good. If someone made a good investment we might call them wise, a terrible investment, a fool. God calls each of us to do everything we can to make this world a better place, and that includes being wise with our charitable investments.