Posts Tagged selfishness
President Obama’s recent “coming out” on the issue of same-sex marriage has led to a renewed discussion of the issue. Obama’s explanation for his “evolution” (which, in reality, is unlikely an evolution at all) is that his Christian beliefs require it:
When we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.
Now, I have no issues with the Golden Rule properly applied, but I resent that it’s come to be used not as an imperative for disinterested compassion, but as a bludgeoning tool for legitimizing particular behaviors and supporting an anything-goes moral outlook. At a fundamental level, such a view of “equal treatment” requires us to rid words of meaning and rip truth out of justice, should that particular truth be so awful as to offend so-and-so’s individual choices.
Through this understanding, the President’s refrain goes something like this: “Want to change the definition of an age-old institution? Well, if I wanted to do that, I would certainly want to be appeased.”
And there’s the biggie: I. I. I.
When the Golden Rule is contorted as such, it illuminates how much we’ve come to elevate self-satisfaction and self-affirmation in our society-wide contemplations about morality and justice. Rather than look to things like history, experience, science, or God himself (gasp), we base our actions and outlooks around what we might prefer. And alas, even when we do choose to look at the right sources—as Obama so keenly attempts with his “faith”—we tend to limit their value only insofar as it allows us to throw they’re broader purpose out the window.
The mindset is captured well in Collin Hansen’s analysis of the recent goings on, in which he sums up our current cultural outlook as follows:
- God made me this way.
- He wouldn’t deny my natural desires.
- And I don’t have to explain myself to you or anyone else.
Yet such cultural erosion is by no means epitomized or even made clearest by this frequent battle over whether homosexuality is right or wrong. The push toward homosexual marriage is just one logical step in what has been a decades-long journey down a road of obsessive me-centered self-affirmation, and it certainly won’t be the last. That we’ve come to view homosexuality as the primary issue in the larger debate is unfortunate, yet it is perhaps due to the fact that many Christians don’t seem to think there is a “larger debate.” As Hansen puts it, “The pursuit of self-fulfillment covers a multitude of adultery, divorce, and pornography in our churches. Why shouldn’t it also cover homosexuality?”
Yet there is just as big of a need to re-re-re-(re?)-emphasize the former: Why shouldn’t it also cover the rest?
When we look beyond the issue of homosexual marriage to issues of heterosexual sex, whether we’re talking pre-marital sex/contraception, pre-marital cohabitation, pornography, adultery, or whatever, we see the church becoming more and more comfortable with a version of “love” and “covenant” centered around Individual X’s abstract personal desires and less and less attached to (or interested in) the truth of the Bible and the Gospel. It should come as no surprise that Christians who are fine and dandy with sinful heterosexual lifestyles feel the need to affirm homosexual ones. By their own framework of “truth” and set beside their own moral outlook, such a move does indeed constitute “justice” and “equality.”
Thus, while the question of whether one favors homosexual marriage is indeed an important one for public debate, for the Christian in particular, such popular calls have a deeper Read the rest of this entry »
I have previously examined the ways in which sociability and strong relational bonds can impact societal health and economic prosperity. Likewise, I have persistently emphasized that spiritual transformation through Christ and subsequent obedience to God play crucial roles in strengthening such bonds.
Without recognizing and embracing such an alignment, I have argued, we will be severely impaired in identifying real value as God sees it, and will be ill-equipped to pursue our proper mission.
Yet throughout all such considerations, I have rarely (if ever) contemplated the role of the body in the spiritual and intellectual workings that drive our stewardship. This is strange, to be sure, for despite the great importance of all the other inputs to our actions, it is the body that actually does the doing.
But alas, even this basic realization does not go far enough, says Matthew Anderson, editor of Mere Orthodoxy and author of the new book, Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter To Our Faith.
For Anderson, the body is much more than some tool we use to move our spirits from here to there; it is an essential and inextricable part of what it means to be human, a truth affirmed and amplified by the reality that have we been created in the image of God. For Anderson, the connection is crucial, but has been largely ignored by an increasingly dualistic culture. For many of us, the body has become nothing more than a mere means for pleasure or a “prison for the soul.”
Yet for those of us who over-emphasize the spiritual side of man, Anderson argues that any such transformation will never be complete without a full understanding the bodies position therein:
The gift of God in Jesus Christ is a gift for and to human bodies, and as evangelicals, we need to attend carefully to the ways in which the Holy Spirit shapes our flesh. In a world where the body’s status is in question, we have an opportunity to proclaim that the God who saved our souls will also remake our bodies; that the body is nothing less than the place where God dwells on earth.
Anderson proceeds to tackle a number of issues through this approach, from tattoos to homosexuality to death (and beyond), yet throughout each revealing insight, my mind consistently flashed back to his chapter on how our bodies more simply relate to the other (Chapter 4). It’s easy to understand how an appropriate body-faith orientation might improve our marriages or our churches, but what about our larger socio-economic engagement and overarching earthly stewardship?
“We are social even in the womb,” says Anderson, and that sociability “is inextricable from the structure of our bodies.”
When we score a goal, we like to bump chests and give high-fives, the act of which is sometimes followed by hazardous, celebratory dives into a large piles of teammates. When socializing with friends and family, we often prefer to do so over a cup of coffee or a meal, sharing in the most basic bodily necessities as we relate to each other, pour out our hearts, and foster social bonds. These shared bodily pleasures and activities “not only curb our loneliness,” says Anderson, but are “a manifestation of our gratitude for the goodness of the created order that God has placed in us.”
Yet, as is the fundamental premise of the book, Anderson believes the distortion of the body’s place in such interactions has by and large distorted God’s created order in the process. Thanks to the rise of a self-absorbed, short-sighted, and materialistic culture, the social ties necessary for a healthy and flourishing society have largely vanished, and our views of the human body have corresponded accordingly. No longer are our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit, but rather, we have perverted them into serving as temples unto ourselves.
As Anderson explains:
In our late-modern world, the body’s basic dependency upon the world for both its sustenance and its pleasures has been distorted to the extent that what we consume has become central to our identity as persons. What we wear, what we eat (or don’t eat), what we endorse—these become the means by which we construct ourselves…
….In a consumerist society, the world is flattened out as everything becomes an instrument for the individual’s well-being. Things only have value when a consumer desires them, which means that there is no order of goods to which our desires should confirm.
At the root of this, then, is a sort of “degraded” individualism, as Anderson calls it — the type of misaligned, atomic hedonism that submits to no authority other than its humanistic God of Autonomy. Edmund Burke railed against such an approach back when we Read the rest of this entry »
Individualism is constantly misunderstood, which is a big reason I started this blog. To value the individual, we are told, is to disdain community.
LearnLiberty recently released a video to dispel this myth, and this week at Common Sense Concept, I provide some additional commentary. The thesis: Properly understood individualism is what makes community possible.
Watch the video here: (my comments here)
After building on Dr. Skoble’s critique of communitarianism, I examine some popular concerns over “atomic individualism,” setting forth what I believe to be the real issue: “Real individualism results in atomic communities, not isolated hermitdom, and this is what the control freaks are worried about.”
Given that many Christians seem lost on the nasty implications of communitarianism, I thought it might be a good time to connect the dots:
For the admirers of utopian scheming, the big impressive tower will never be constructed if the project is left to free individuals pursuing their petty mutual ends. Heaven on earth will never be achieved if Read the rest of this entry »
David and Victoria Beckham recently had a baby — their fourth, to be exact — and although I’m not typically one for celebrity news, The Observer ran an article condemning the couple as “irresponsible” and “selfish” for their excessive family building. Have these people ever watched TLC?
The article illuminates a primary feature of progressivism commonly critiqued on this blog: Without proper “guidance” from an all-knowing Computer State, humanity is a virus.
This week at Ethika Politika, I write in their defense, spending much of my time summarizing the morbid views of such misanthropes:
Such claims are not new. Indeed, they have been around for as long as we’ve managed to doubt our own value, promise, and potential (I’m looking at you, Mr. Caveman), as well as that of others (and you, Peter Singer.)
For Thomas Malthus, the eighteenth-century scholar and notoriously wrong “population expert,” humans were(/are) dead-set on creating the same world that Mr. Ross fears — one with too many bodies, not enough food, and an existence “condemned to a perpetual oscillation between happiness and misery.” Tough luck.
For Paul Ehrlich, the more recent and more embarrassingly wrong “scholar” of population doom, humans are a “cancer” that, without forceful (er, “enlightened”) population control, will naturally tend toward catastrophe and mass starvation. If left to our own devices — via petty ole “freedom,” of course — we unruly beasts will feast and gorge and reproduce ourselves into an oblivion. For Ehrlich, the bulk of humanity can only be saved (or “sustained”) if we initiate targeted starvation, abortion, and sterilization of the unenlightened. These hapless folks — the chosen ones — must pay the price for humanity’s ultimate transgression: existence.
Under this vision, it is only logical that disdain be dumped on those who create new life. Our procreation decisions become nothing more than strategic factors in a number game of the “enlightened”:
Such a view assumes us to be reckless monsters, hopeless without servile submission to the robotism of an all-knowing Computer State. We are movers and users and Read the rest of this entry »
Over the last few weeks, Ayn Rand has been a frequent topic on the blog (see parts 1, 2, and 3). Thus, I thought it might be beneficial to wrap things up with what I believe to be the key takeaways for Christians.
“For Christians?” you ask? Yes, for Christians.
Atheist and Objectivist William Schultz has done a great job of providing insight into the basics of Randian ethics and how they fundamentally differ from those of Christianity (see here and here). But rather than get into a deep debate over the merits and demerits of such an ethical framework (and/or it’s assumptions, conclusions, etc.), I figured I’d assess what the Christian might learn simply by examining it, assuming one retains their view of God, Christ, “objective” truth, etc. (I hope you have!)
In other words, what I believe we can learn from Rand would most certainly be rejected by Rand herself. In my own spiritual and intellectual journey, Rand has, most simply, challenged me to reconsider and build upon, though not abandon, specific features of my beliefs, and has, in turn, contributed more depth and dimension to the way I, as a Christian, view the individual and his subsequent relationship to God and man.
So, without further explanation, here’s what I think we can learn:
1. Truth matters. This may seem like a given, but today’s Christians have a tendency to elevate “love” above “truth,” as if one can exist without the other (e.g. Love Wins). Rand’s entire premise is that we must strive to discover the truth (the “objective” kind) and by doing so we will somehow achieve happiness (her highest value). For the Christian, our “objective” truth differs drastically from Rand’s. Ours is, shall we say, “super-objective” in the sense that it is supernatural. In addition, “happiness” — either our own or that of others — is not to be our highest end or “value”; the Glory of God is. In many ways, however, Rand seems more concerned with discovering, defining, promoting, and incorporating truth (itself) than Read the rest of this entry »
In a recent column for the New York Times, David Brooks does a fine job examining the overall condition of today’s rising generation(s), describing them as a lot of self-absorbed, egotistical wanderers in need of what was once known as calling.
Brooks is dead on in his explanation of why individuals should set their sights outward, onward, and upward, rather than merely inward:
Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life. A relative suffers from Alzheimer’s and a young woman feels called to help cure that disease. A young man works under a miserable boss and must develop management skills so his department can function. Another young woman finds herself confronted by an opportunity she never thought of in a job category she never imagined. This wasn’t in her plans, but this is where she can make her contribution.
Brooks places a good deal of emphasis on the value of the self to the other — how we as individuals can align our passions, courses, dreams, and inward searches properly and thus make a significant contribution to those around us. If you’re a Christian, this consists of syncing up your plans with God’s purposes, something the Apostle Paul called “pressing toward the mark.”
Brooks is also clear about the danger of what some might call “atomic” individualism, through which the self is only interested in his own (supposed) gain and thus rejects God or the other altogether:
If you sample some of the commencement addresses being broadcast on C-Span these days, you see that many graduates are told to: Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture. But, of course, this mantra misleads on nearly every front.
Yet Brooks is less clear, though still cognizant, about the value of the other to the self. Yes, he thinks our callings should be based in a specific pursuit aligned to external value. But will that process also produce value in our own lives? The closest he gets to this is in his statement about the self being “constructed gradually” by one’s calling. Toward the end of the piece, he also talks about fulfillment being “a byproduct of Read the rest of this entry »
According to a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, “a plurality of Americans believe capitalism [is] at odds with Christian values.” Among Christians in the U.S., “only 38% believe capitalism and the free market are consistent with Christian values while 46% believe the two are at odds.”
This week at Common Sense Concept, I weigh in on the results, noting first that the news is not all that surprising:
Christians are well aware that greed and selfishness are absolute sins, and we are constantly told — albeit falsely — that such sins are the very drivers of capitalism. With pro-capitalism folks like Ayn Rand affirming such myths, it’s no wonder that Christians defer to the stereotype. Such a fundamental misunderstanding comes about for a variety of reasons, but from my experience, it’s typically rooted in one or more of the following: (1) an overly simplistic and all-encompassing view of greed, (2) a materialistic view of wealth, (3) a failure to distinguish between selfishness and self-interest, and (4) a belief that God has something against material inequality.
Yet there is indeed something peculiar about all this. Most particularly: How do these Christians sleep at night if they are actively supporting a fundamentally un-Christian system?
Are they all homeless?
It is on this question that I focus the bulk of my critique:
Of the 46% of Christians who believe capitalism is “at odds” or “inconsistent” with Christian values, how many are themselves actively engaged in the capitalist system? Of the 61% of Americans who believe regulation is necessary to ensure “ethical” business activity, how many truly believe they need to be regulated in order to ethically trade an apple for an orange? Of the 55% of white evangelical Protestants who believe that income inequality is “one of the biggest problems in the country,” how many have a higher income than someone else? Indeed, if any of these folks are simply working in America today, aren’t they profiting from, indeed encouraging, the very capitalistic system that opposes their religious convictions?
Or, in shorter form:
Just as the anti-communism Christian should probably avoid the role of communist dictator or violent proletariat rebel, the anti-capitalism Christian should probably avoid the role of capitalist.
My guess is that most of these Christians are actually at peace with the capitalistic system as it plays out in their own personal lives, and I would wager that the disconnect has more to do with Read the rest of this entry »
More specifically, I examine the centrality of sacrifice in the Christian pursuit and the corresponding importance of grounding that sacrifice in the divine rather than the debased.
Here’s an excerpt:
We must move beyond our humanistic perceptions of generosity, pushing energetically toward a more heavenly orientation — one that is led by the Spirit rather than the flesh. As Kelly Kapic argues in his recent book, Jesus’ death on the Cross is not just a gift, but an invitation to participate in God’s unique movement of divine generosity.
To explore this point further, I look at a story in the Gospel of John in which Mary lavishes Jesus’ feet with expensive ointment. Judas scolds Mary for wasting precious resources, claiming that they would be better sacrificed on behalf of the poor.
Jesus responds with this: “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
As I argue in the post, Jesus is pointing to Judas’ fundamentally materialistic perspective of generosity — a view that sees human individuals (and their resources) as static and predictable variables to be manipulated through “generosity.”
As far as how this might contribute to our views about politics or Read the rest of this entry »
We are all well-conditioned to deride the loves of money, power, and self, but there is one form of idolatry that is far more subtle than the rest: the love of man.
This week at Common Sense Concept, I explore such idolatry through an instance in the Book of Matthew where Peter expresses loving concern regarding Jesus’ impending death.
Jesus’ response? “Get behind me, Satan!”
Here’s an excerpt:
Such a harsh response is difficult for us to understand. It seems highly unreasonable that the desire to keep a loved one away from harm — let alone death — would be labeled as satanic, particularly when that loved one is the Son of God…The problem, of course, is that Peter’s love was based on “the things of man,” and like many of us, he should have known better.
The lesson therein has to do with keeping the first commandment before shooting for the second (I have commented on this before). If we don’t, we are bound to screw things up. We must first and foremost align our love to God, which means submitting to his will with gracious obedience.
Here’s another piece:
In our earthly striving to love our neighbors and do good works, to which source is our love truly aligned? It may be easy to think that the ends of love always involve our own destruction, but what if we shift that onto someone else? To what end of submission is our love of God truly capable of achieving? Are we willing to accept the death of a loved one? This is radical, indeed.
I have previously commented on David Platt’s book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, in which I outlined a preemptive critique of his ideas based on David Brooks’ assessment.
Now that I’ve actually read the book, I have written a full review. Unfortunately, much of what I anticipated was proven to be true. Platt is far too broad in his condemnation of the American church, and his solutions are narrow-minded and sloppy.
The full review is posted over at Common Sense Concept.
Here’s an excerpt:
For Platt, American culture promotes the antithesis to radical abandonment. It relies heavily on individual ingenuity and prosperity, and thus it is automatically low on grace and generosity (in truth, the two go hand in hand). In order for the American church to reach widespread abandonment, Platt argues, it must instead strive toward extinguishing any “non-sacrificial” pursuits therein and ensure that its participants are engaging in more “acceptable” activities.
Here’s my general response to Platt’s criticisms:
Having the freedom to pursue one’s own goals can certainly be a bad thing, particularly when such dreams are merely one’s own goals. But God has intended for our hearts to be aligned to his mission. When that is the case, the society that promotes individualism becomes one that has great potential for enabling God’s plans through individuals.