When I left school, I spent two months in Mozambique which changed my life. It was there that I had the clearest picture painted of what a life lived fully and richly for Christ could look like. I caught a vision of a loving God and in response to His love, choosing each day to seek out and love the person in front of me. This isn’t to say that I was much good at living it out, but it captivated me nonetheless.
After arriving at Oxford, I quickly found my way into the welcoming arms of Just Love. I was struck by the scale of homelessness in Oxford and joined Just Love’s weekly outreach. I adored it. We built genuine relationships with many in the homeless community and made them sandwiches and hot drinks. We didn’t end homelessness in Oxford, but significant friendships emerged. In my stumbling sort of way, I began to live out the call that had captivated me in Mozambique: the call to stop for the one and love the person in front of me.
Just Love, as it often has a knack of doing, became increasingly significant in my university life. My attention was drawn to kinds of injustice that I hadn’t thought about much before, such as the consequences of climate change or the reality of modern slavery. As I learned more about global injustice it became increasingly clear that the calling I had chosen to follow – to stop for and love the person in front of me – could not remain geographically restricted. If God sees every tear, and if nothing goes unnoticed to him, then it shouldn’t to me either. If each of the world’s inhabitants are made in God’s image and are of such significance to Him, then the call to had to include even those I may never meet.
Yet, how could I – a mere student – act on God’s vast concern for all those who are in need? I couldn’t solve global poverty or climate change: I was barely capable of making a decent coffee for my homeless friends. What then should my response be? The only response which seemed reasonable to me, considering the world’s great need and God’s tender care, was to do all that I could to help those who suffer. Taking Romans 12 seriously meant offering up my best attempt at being a ‘living sacrifice’ even if it involved great cost. I needed to work out how I could use my talents, time and resources to love and help victims of injustice around the world.
This is when I discovered effective altruism. Effective altruism asks one simple question: how can we use our resources to help others the most? Rather than just doing what feels right, it encourages us to use evidence and careful analysis to decide how to use our time and resources.
For example, I discovered a charity called 80,000 Hours which helped me to think about how I can use my biggest ‘resource’, my career, to do as much good as possible. I took the Giving What We Can Pledge to help commit myself to give 10% of my income to effective charities, and used the charity evaluator GiveWell to learn about which charities have the most impact. More recently, a few of us from the Just Love alumni network helped to set up Effective Altruism for Christians – we’d love to see more students and graduates involved as we think through how we as Christians can use our lives to effectively pursue justice.
I am aware that effective altruism can often come across as cold and calculating, or as incredibly demanding on individuals. As Christians, we need to be constantly reminded of our ultimate identity in Christ and the freedom which comes with that. Part of living in God’s grace and provision means taking seriously the Biblical call to good stewardship, which is particularly demonstrated in the parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30). If we are humble about our limitations and honest about our continual reliance on God, I’m convinced that the effective altruism movement can add a lot to Christian social activism. At its heart, effective altruism is motivated by genuine love and compassion for those who suffer, who matter deeply to God. My desire to pursue social justice is an extension of my discipleship and worship, and effective altruism helps turn this ambition into reality.
Effective altruism provides a vehicle for practically applying powerful lessons I learned in Mozambique and while serving the homeless community in Oxford: to not only love the one in front of me, but to love as many as deeply and as impactfully as I can, even if they live on the other side of the world. I’m deeply encouraged by the prospect of how the world could be changed if a generation of those involved with Just Love started taking God’s concern for others more seriously, both by being radically generous, but also by striving to make sure that our generosity has the biggest possible positive impact. The combination of zealous compassion with careful reasoning is one of the most powerful combinations that I can think of if we want to leave the world better than we found it, and excitingly, the Just Love community seems perfectly poised to be at the very centre of this revolution in the way we do altruism.
If you’d like to hear more about effective altruism then have a read of this helpful introduction and check out some of the organisations I mentioned earlier. Equally, if you’d like to get involved in the Effective Altruism for Christians community, then you’d be so welcome! Join our Facebook group, or just drop me a message and I can link you in.
Photo: Dan Kim