Specifically, in response to my call to readers to contribute to prosecuting a case of anti-atheist bigotry, Doug S. mentioned that one’s resources can be better spent saving a life in Africa. Specifically:
Well, I donated $25. I don't know if that made much of a difference. Considering that I could probably save the life of a random stranger in Africa for $1,000 by donating to Population Services International, I don't know if making a donation to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is a good use of my money.
I will wager that, if Doug S. were to review his finances for any given month, he would be able to find a large number of examples in which he spent $25, but where it did not go to saving a life in Africa. Nor did it go to fighting anti-atheist bigotry in America. Instead, it went to some substantially trivial form of personal entertainment, perhaps – like a movie, or tickets to a ball game, or a meal in a restaurant.
This is no criticism of Doug S. I do the same thing. While I devote a significant amount of time to my job and this blog, I can sometimes be seen as a hobbit battling pixilated evil in the land of Middle Earth in the game, "Lord of the Rings Online". Certainly, this time pales in moral significance not only against the saving of a life in Africa, but in fighting anti-atheist bigotry in America.
Even in a crisis situation - say, an airplane crash on an island - the most important task (assuming a hospitable climate) is to find fresh water. This does not imply that the survivors should put 100 percent of their effort into finding fresh water. Others can look for food - cook - and do other chores. Even those looking for fresh water can take a break from time to time.
When I suggest that a reader make a contribution to some effort – whether it is by contacting the Military Religious Freedom Foundation about prosecuting a case of anti-atheist bigotry, or to write a letter to Dear Abbey, or to speak up against the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Motto, I am not asking them to take those resources away from projects like saving a life in Africa. I am asking them to take those resources away from such things as going to a sporting event, watching a sitcom, going to a movie, or eating out at an expensive restaurant.
It is reasonable ask whether morality grants you any free time to do the things that you like to do, like play a computer game or read a book. In fact, it does, in a tricky sort of way. At least, if desire utilitarianism is correct, what we aim at is people who enjoy doing that which tends to fulfill the desires of others, and is inhibited from doing that which thwarts the desires of others. Morality is perfectly consistent with giving a good person every opportunity to do what he enjoys – because what he enjoys is beneficial to others. Moral behavior, for such people, is not a chore. It's a hobby.
The rest of us, with less good desires (with desires fulfilled by actions that do not fulfill other desires) sometimes find that doing the right thing is more of a struggle. There is room for a little bit of improvement – for taking resources devoted to some project that fulfills desires that do not tend to fulfill the desires of others, and devoting them to something that does.