Meet Alexander Foster, entrepreneur and big giver. I found him through a Facebook group for altruists. Unlike some of the other folks I’ve talked to about giving away lots of money, Alexander is a Christian, and his faith motivates him to live frugally in order to donate most (everything over about $27k USD) of his income to charity. Why? I asked him.
Alicia: What do you do to make a living?
Alexander Foster: I am an entrepreneur, I build companies as big as I can and then, generally, sell them.
AR: Did you choose this in order to be able to give more money away, or did you simply choose the job you wanted?
AF: I chose this in order to be able to give more money away as a high-earning career and I also felt I would enjoy it more than banking. Part of the gamble was that while entrepreneurialism is far riskier than banking, you might make nothing, I would be far better than it, so it would be a good bet.
AR: How do you describe your faith?
AF: To me, if there is no God then I struggle to see how we have will. Without the supernatural how are we more than just deterministic atoms bouncing around. Nihilism. There is of course much more. Love, compassion and a personalisation with a God that answers prayer for starters.
AR: How has your faith motivated you to give–if it has? If not, what motivates you to give?
AF: Yes. In theory I give for love of God, not to feel good about myself. I’m sure I have very mixed motivations these days though, it’s essentially impossible to keep intentions pure, we can only do our best.
I can’t say for sure but I generally entertain the idea that if I didn’t have faith I would be a Hedonist. Because, when I really think about it, how would I get past the question “What’s the point?” ?. It’s the question that has driven more people insane than any other. I know full well how I would get past that question without faith. I would have buried my head in the sand and not thought about it! And so I don’t think I would have ever come to the conclusion that I should devote as much of my life as possible to helping others.
AR: About how much do you give of your income? How do you choose where to give?
AF: Everything above £15k p.a. [~$26-27k US per year] I give to Give Well recommended charities and to some high-impact religious organizations. There is as yet no faith version of GiveWell!
AR: Has this been a hardship for you? How has it affected your day-to-day life–do you take vacations, for instance?
AF: I take some holidays! Of course. I limit them in length and expense and still have loads of fun.
Yes, it is hard often, but honestly if you do anything for a while it becomes much easier. Your body adapts, your mind adapts. Human beings are incredibly good at adapting. People should be less worried about the long term effects having or not having stuff has on their happiness. If you can eat, avoid disease and your children can go to school, you have more than the majority of fellow humans that have ever existed. Do you really not have too much?
AR: Why do you think it’s important to give? Why do you think other Christians (and perhaps non-Christians) should give?
AF: I struggle with the idea that “not giving” is evil. When I was younger I used to totally reject the idea that we sin all the time. What the #$%@ is that? So dreaming of spaghetti bolgnese is a sin?
Later, someone asked me whether I felt we were judged on what we don’t do as heavily as on what we do do.
WOH. Mind Blown. This simple idea changes everything. If whether I buy a coffee in the morning or walk through my expensive new kitchen is considered an unnecessary resource that could easily have been spent to save dozens of lives from slow grueling suffering….. I’m #@$%@#. I am evil. Really evil. There is so much I don’t do. So much opulence and waste. How incredibly arrogant and foolish I will seem looking back on my life to have thought I was “a good guy deep down.”
As humans we of course don’t judge each other based on what we don’t do. And I can’t tell you if God does. But IF he does, that would certainly explain the whole fire, brimstone and “sending his Son to die for us” thing.