“Overcome Our Sinful Calmness, Rouse Us With Redemptive Shame”

“Overcome Our Sinful Calmness, Rouse Us With Redemptive Shame” March 11, 2012

Remember you can vote once per day for the About.com Atheism Awards.  I’m one of five nominees for Best Atheist Blog.  More details here.

People killed by malaria aren’t less dead just because parasites aren’t moral agents

In the wake of the Kony 2012 video by Invisible Children, a friend of mine linked to a brilliant piece from GiveWell (a nonprofit that evaluates charities to tell you where your money will make the biggest difference).  In a post titled “The Biggest Killer of Invisible Children is Not Joseph Kony” they wrote:

Joseph Kony has committed atrocities that make me furious. But malaria makes me angrier. Why? Because malaria deaths really do happen just because Americans don’t care enough.

But we can stop a lot of malaria if we can just care about it more. Insecticide-treated nets drastically reduce malaria; they’ve been tested time and again; they’ve worked on a small scale and on a large scale; …[t]he same can likely be said for some other malaria control interventions. The missing ingredient in malaria control? More money – it’s that simple. And you don’t have to lobby Washington to make that happen (though you can); you can also just write a check or get your friends to do so.

Africa has many problems that are like malaria: devastating, but also preventable with donor dollars. (Another one: parasite infections.) Raising awareness of these problems would, I believe, do far more good than raising awareness of Joseph Kony.

My friend, who shared the link, decided to use the emotional hook and ubiquity of the Kony 2012 video to remind him to donate to a GiveWell-vetted charity focusing on neglected tropical disease, and I’ve followed suit.

A lot of the time, the charity pitches I encounter aren’t the charities where my money will do the most good.  I would rather give to an organization working with the homeless than an individual person, but it’s a lot harder to remember to follow up after I walk by the individual.  So I’m going to try something new to make sure I harness the charity prompts I encounter.

I’ve used Listary (a list making app for my phone) to make a countdown to $50 donations.  So every time I run into a charity ask I don’t think would be the best use of my money, I’ll check off one of these boxes, and, when I get to ‘Go!’, I’ll make a donation to GiveWell’s recommended malaria foundation.

I’ll probably have to do some fine-tuning, once I see what I can afford and how frequently I run into donation ‘pings,’ so I’ll let you know in a couple months how well this guilt-powered-hack performs.  What strategies do you guys use?


The title of this post comes from one of my favorite hymns I’ve encountered at Mass: “God, Whose Purpose is to Kindle”  It’s set to the tune of “Ode to Joy,” and I’ve excerpted lyrics below.

Thou, who still a sword delivers
rather than a placid peace:
with thy sharpened Word disturb us,
from complacency release!
Save us now from satisfaction
when we privately are free,
yet are undisturbed in spirit
by our neighbor’s misery.

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  • Emily

    I’ve just worked charity into my regular budget, which means that I’m pretty unresponsive to donation “pings” because my giving is usually planned rather than stimulated (with occasional exceptions), and I’ve chosen to commit to two specific organizations. I get one to three email and snail mail donation requests PER DAY from charities I’ve donated to in the past, so I’ve become pretty impervious to those sorts of organized appeals – if I followed your system and promised $10 to the cause of my choice every time someone asked, I’d be donating at least $100/wk! And that would be pretty awesome, except that I’m a grad student and I can’t actually do that.

    My worry, with my system, is that it makes me ignore appeals for compassion one to three times a day (when they’re from organizations, as opposed to homeless individuals on the street, at least). And that’s not good. Keep us updated on how yours works out.

  • deiseach

    Leah, you’re definitely getting to Heaven long before I am. You have a favourite hymn from the (more) modern hymnals, while I’m grumping about “Can’t they just sing Soul of my Saviour?”


  • Tim

    I love it! It’s a combo of gamification and self-tracking, or some such, to help more people than. I’m going to set up something similar on my own app.

  • A favorite hymn for lent:

    “Take up thy cross,” the Savior said,
    “If thou wouldst My disciple be;
    Deny thyself, the world forsake,
    And humbly follow after Me.”

    Take up thy cross, let not its weight
    Fill thy weak spirit with alarm;
    His strength shall bear thy spirit up,
    And brace thy heart and nerve thine arm.

    Take up thy cross, nor heed the shame,
    Nor let thy foolish pride rebel;
    Thy Lord for thee the cross endured,
    And saved thy soul from death and hell.

    Take up thy cross then in His strength,
    And calmly sin’s wild deluge brave,
    ’Twill guide thee to a better home,
    It points to glory o’er the grave.

    Take up thy cross and follow Christ,
    Nor think til death to lay it down;
    For only those who bear the cross
    May hope to wear the glorious crown.

    To Thee, great Lord, the One in Three,
    All praise forevermore ascend:
    O grant us in our home to see
    The heavenly life that knows no end.