It is difficult to get a liberal arts degree without encountering the thought of Peter Singer, a philosopher at Princeton. Singer is perhaps most widely known for his work on animal liberation, but in pro-life circles he is known as the man who believes that the unborn are just as human as the infant in your arms… and concludes that infanticide is sometimes acceptable.
As a pro-life-every-step-of-the-way vegetarian, I was almost always more confident in dealing with Singer than my meat-eating “animal loving” pro-choice classmates. But there was one argument of Singer’s that I had to accept: it is morally wrong to enjoy excess while allowing others to suffer and die from a lack of resources. Distance is no excuse. Others might insist that distance is everything, and that we help others based on proximity and community. But as a Catholic1, I must accept that we are required to help others because of the inherent value of human life.
The inherent value of human life does not change based on whether a friend’s child is drowning in a nearby pool (yes, I must jump in and save the child, even though it will ruin my fabulous new boots) or a child I have never met is starving halfway across the world (yes, I must forgo buying the boots in order to pay for food and medicine for the child).
Which brings me to Mother Teresa. Rachel reminded me of the popular anti-abortion quote from Mother Teresa:
It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.
I knew that it was out of context to apply the quote to a situation of slightly increasing the chance of miscarriage for women in order to allow them to live with less physical pain, but I try to accept all opportunities to examine my life2.. So I considered what I have done with my body so far this year. I have eaten a lot of white flour. That is not good for growing a healthy baby, but pretty hard to feel guilty about since it was a financial necessity, and it is not likely that simply not eating would have been a better choice for preparing my body for pregnancy. The ramen was slightly less excusable given the unnecessary MSG, but it is hard to believe that such a small amount would actually have a significant impact given the fact that have-I-mentioned I am not actually pregnant?! Maybe it will sit around in my body for years and ruin everything… but that does not seem likely.
I thought some more and remembered the two times that we stopped at Taco Bell. I looked up the nutrient information for the vegetarian burrito which is my usual choice and still did not feel guilty for harming my body. But what of the money? It was slightly less than $5.00 so far this year, but totally unnecessary. I could have waited until we got home to eat some lentils and bread. And the money could have gone to provide food for someone who really needed it.
I do not in any way feel guilty for making choices with my body which may perhaps someday make me more likely to miscarry a child. I am guilty for failing to provide for real children who exist in this world right now. I do not feel guilty for taking painkillers which enable me to function normally, I am guilty of consuming more than I need rather than giving to others who are in desperate need.
I know that my standard is stricter than Singer’s and that he only insists on giving up gross luxuries. But I am pro-life and cannot believe that my comfort is worth more than another person’s survival.
I also know that I cannot hold myself to an impossibly strict standard or else I will break down and do nothing. It is okay to occasionally buy chocolate, garlic, or avocados even though they are not necessities. I also know that not everyone is called to give up their own material desires so that others may live better lives. But I am not convinced that it is okay for me to do only the minimum required by basic human morality.
These past few months have taught me how little I really need to spend to get by. And I hope to continue living with as little as possible so that we can give as much as is good. We will resume occasionally buying portobello mushrooms, but we do not need to ever return to having expensive dairy products as a regular part of our diet (and all dairy seems expensive to me unless you like pet goats). We will use the air conditioner in the hottest months of summer, but we do not need to have a large apartment or house to keep cool. We will fly or take road trips to see family, and even just to take vacations sometimes, but as we earn more we will give more rather than focusing on what we can acquire to make our lives better materially. I will buy more clothing in order to meet the basic societal expectations of others, but I will not buy things simply because it is fun or cute to have more.
I may never accomplish much, and I will never meet others’ standards for what it means to really be “pro-life” but I can at least meet my own standards of goodness. And for me that means valuing the life of the child in Zimbabwe as much as the child next door. I cannot imagine allowing the child next door to die of preventable disease so that I can eat young Thai coconuts and wear a new skirt. I understand that others will have their own standards, but this is where I fall under the influence of both Peter Singer with Mother Teresa. I hope that you’ll hold me to it.
1. My husband thinks that he can come up with a Thomist argument to counter Singer. I don’t think that he can, but if we continue to differ then we will just have to move to Mexico City. That way we will share the same view of our obligations. Nice, right?
2. While there is the significant reality that I may likely never be pregnant I still find it valuable to make choices as if pregnancy were likely at some point.
- I am thankful 4/25/2010
- Simplified and No Stress