Famine, Affluence, and Faith: How Singer's Ideas Align with Early Christian Teachings

In his essay "Famine, Affluence, and Morality," Peter Singer makes a strong case for our moral responsibility to those who live in great poverty and privation. No matter where they are located in the world, Singer contends that we have a responsibility to assist those in need and that we should do everything in our power to lessen their suffering. His ideas on morality are interesting to compare with early Christian morality, which also emphasize helping those in need.

The idea that other people's suffering is morally meaningful and that we have a responsibility to lessen it is one of Singer's main tenets.. He writes: "If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it" (Singer, 1972). This idea is similar to the Christian concept of compassion, which is expressed in the Bible in many places, including Matthew 25:35-40: "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

Singer's argument also emphasizes the importance of impartiality in moral decision-making. He writes: "The way in which people in relatively affluent countries react to a situation like that in Bengal cannot be justified; indeed, the whole way of looking at the problem that we have inherited from our way of life, and our institutions, makes it difficult for us to see the moral issues clearly" (Singer, 1972). This idea of impartiality is also present in Christianity, which teaches that we should love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31), and that we should not show favoritism or discrimination (James 2:1-9).

Another important aspect of Singer's argument is the idea that our duty to help those in need is not diminished by distance or nationality. He writes: "The fact that a person is physically distant from us, and not a member of our family or country, does not mean that we can justifiably ignore their needs" (Singer, 1972). This idea is similar to the Christian concept of the universality of love, which teaches that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, regardless of who they are or where they come from.

In summary, Peter Singer's "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" presents a compelling argument for our moral obligation to help those who are suffering from extreme poverty and deprivation. His ideas are interesting to compare with the moral teachings of early Christianity, which also emphasize the importance of compassion, impartiality, and universality in our moral decision-making. While Singer's argument is based on a secular ethical framework, it has much in common with the moral teachings of Christianity, which can provide additional support for his ideas.


Singer, P. (1972). Famine, Affluence, and Morality. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 1(3), 229-243.

The Holy Bible, New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.