Altruism is not the equivalent of helping friends, or general benevolence to strangers. Altruism is putting the interests of others first, before your own. It is harming yourself and your life so that others may be better off (allegedly.) It is giving of yourself to others when it is against your long-term interests (mental and physical) to do so.
Christianity manifestly preaches this self-sacrifice for others–this altruism–with respect to one’s own interests in the real world:
“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” –Jesus (Matthew 5:39-44)
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” –Jesus (Matthew 19:21)
“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ…” –Paul (Philippians 3:8-9)
“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.'” –Paul (Romans 15:1-3)
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” –Paul (Romans 8:16-18)
“We must give until it hurts. For love to be true it has to hurt. It hurt Jesus to love us; it hurt God to love us because He had to give. He gave His Son. This is the meaning of true love, to give until it hurts.” –Mother Teresa
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. –Paul (2 Timothy 2:3-4)
Now listen to this segment of “The Jesus Christ Show” from KFI AM 640 in the Los Angeles area. The host is Neil Saavedra, who role-plays as Jesus Christ and takes calls from people seeking advice. Pay special attention to the caller’s rationale for not calling the police on his physically abusive girlfriend:
It would ruin her life! Tom is willing to sacrifice so that she doesn’t have her life ruined by going to prison.
Notice that during this call, “Jesus” acts purely as a secular counselor. He doesn’t speak of “perseverance in the face of persecution,” he doesn’t speak of “glorying in one’s sufferings for Christ,” he doesn’t quote “turn the other cheek” from the Sermon on the Mount. Instead he speaks of the rather un-Christ-like “law of consequence.”
“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, call the police and have them arrested.”
–New Jesus (The Gospel According to Neil 5:39)
If the Bible has one message for Tom, it’s that he should suffer with Christ, and his girlfriend should be preached to and entreated to repent in the name of Christ. Where is she going to hear the message of Christ most loudly: in a secular prison system, or from her patient, Christian, unconditionally “loving” boyfriend? Real Christianity calls for his sacrifice here, and would keep him in this abusive situation.
(The sort of inconsistency displayed by “Radio Jesus” is endemic to modern Christianity. This is due to the fact that it has been pared down and compromised to fit in with a modern, Western lifestyle of worldly goal-achievement, rather than the monastic renunciation of the Middle Ages.)
Now, since I’m not a Christian or an altruist, but an egoist, I do not advocate Tom’s self-sacrifice for the sake of an immoral person who attacks him. The Bible and its moral code of self-sacrifice should be discarded, and he most certainly should call the police and have her arrested. But that’s me and Ayn Rand, not the Bible.
(Note that, just because someone can quote something from the Bible that can be interpreted in a way that would allow Tom to call the police, this does not mean that the Bible “doesn’t really mean the part about suffering for others and Christ.” All this means is that the Bible is an inconsistent collection of cultural sayings and parables. The fact that the Bible contradicts itself does not contribute to its utility as a moral guide, or its friendliness to happiness in the real world.)
Here’s a selection of other relevant New Testament quotes:
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” –Jesus (Matthew 5:31-32)
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more….To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” –Paul (1 Corinthians 10:19, 22-23)
“Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.” –Paul (Philippians 2:3)
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” –1 Peter 4:12-19
Ayn Rand offered sharply contrasting advice:
[Edit 6-27-13: Audio start time fixed.]
[Edit 7-24-15: Added a couple of lines below the link for clarification and emphasis.]
[Edit 3-26-16: Embedded video of Jesus Show segment; added last 2 images.]
The Bible (New Testament) as Evidence
Other People as Egoistic Values Versus Other People as Objects of Self-Sacrifice in Ayn Rand’s Philosophy
Atlas Shrugged, Altruism and Egoism
A Refutation of the Argument from Design
I skipped to 90:14 and did not hear a conversation with a caller. I assume there must have been a typo, and I didn’t have the patience to look for it because it would require listening to more of their nonsense LOL.
I believe that the ethics of altruism is actually one of the principal means by which women have been abused and controlled throughout history. Regarding domestic abuse, instances of men being abused in domestic violence by a female partner are exceedingly rare and they are often accompanied either by mental illness or by some wrongdoing on the part of the male partner. In nearly all cases, men abuse women. This isn’t an accident – it’s precisely because the ethic of altruism is enforced in such a way as to victimize women. This same principle plays out not only in domestic situations but in all aspects of women’s lives – there is always an expectation that women exist to serve others above themselves.
As a very politically-minded individual, my thoughts turn to some of the statements from Christian Republicans, who have indeed waged a veritable War on Women in recent years. “You were raped? How dare you claim autonomy over your body in the aftermath! We all know that women must sacrifice their own lives for that of a non-feeling fetus – that’s pro-life! And after all, you should never have spoken up about it in the first place, because you might ruin that poor young man’s life – it’s not like he’s a rapist or anything. What’s that? You want to avoid pregnancy altogether? Certainly you don’t think you have a right to buy whatever contraception you like, at whatever age you like – who said you get to decide what happens to your body anyway?”
Having not heard the caller’s conversation, I have to assume from your post that the host tells the caller to turn in the allegedly abusive girlfriend. Is it not telling that the ethic of altruism is precisely reversed when the situation involves a man as the victim?
Please recall that Rand discussed the partnership of the Witch-Doctor and Attila. Throughout history, the Witch-Doctor and Attila have been – wait for it – men. Guess who remains in the crossfire? Women. Altruism is a tool by which men have asserted control over the lives of women, and the Christian religion (enforced by political regimes now and throughout the past 2000 years) is a tremendous part of that misogynist system.
I think that Objectivism and feminism have much to gain from each other. A feminist reading of Obectivism allows us to critically understand what liberation might look like, how statism has legitimated the day-to-day abuses of women and all who challenge our destructive gender paradigms, etc. An Objectivist reading of feminism allows us to observe how feminists have identified and denounced violence against women yet have not abandoned by the stale ethics that perpetuates this abuse, etc. Especially considering that Rand herself was a misogynist who romanticized rape based on a sickeningly self-contradicting definition of women, it is imperative that these two intellectual traditions approach each other critically in order to make sense of who we are as humans, what humanity ought to be like, and how gender could and should be a part of that understanding.
Thank you for sparking this discussion! Please keep up the great posts.
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Now where exactly does first commenter get the notion that Rand was a “misogynist who romanticized rape based on a sickeningly self-contradicting definition of women”? Take a look at Berstein’s interpretation of the scene: Understanding the “Rape” Scene in The Fountainhead, by Andrew Bernstein
[Moderator Edit: Link shortened.]
From her statements and her literature. You might consider reading them sometime.
Your claim about Ayn Rand is demonstrably false and it is an oft-refuted falsehood.
Apparently, you are unaware Ayn Rand was a woman and your pretentious response to Orion stupidly assumes he hasn’t read the Fountainhead.
Christianity by no means advocates subjection to domestic abuse. “Turning the other cheek” is in reference to insults. I can love my enemy but still stand up for myself and protect those I love. The scriptural moral laws make quite clear that justice must be upheld by all, that tyrants are to be resisted, and those who violate the life, property, and liberty of others forfeit their own. An extensive study of the divorce laws in the Bible are in actuality designed to protect a wronged spouse from the other. (There is a great deal of confusion on the topic in the Christian arena due to sloppy translations of the Greek and Hebrew words meaning “put away” and “divorce”.)
Another thought: “Putting others before self” doesn’t mean submitting to abuse of any kind. Christians should be seeking the salvation of everyone in our lives. If we just let someone travel down the self-destructive path of inflicting abuse, we’re hardly doing them any favors. We’re only reinforcing practices that hurt us, hurt the abuser in the long term, and could be used to inflict harm on other people. Speaking up and pushing back, by this logic, not only becomes something Christians are allowed to do, but even something they are OBLIGATED to do. This could he not only abuse from a spouse, but from casual companions, the State, bosses, or anyone else. It also means we’re obligated to stand up for others who are subject to mistreatment.
Christianity’s “altruism” is summed up as “love your neighbor as yourself”. If I don’t love myself enough to defend myself or seek my own betterment, then I logically won’t love others enough to help others as best I can.
The Christian god sadistically demanded that one of his creations sacrifice his son to him, then claimed it was a test of character.
No self-respecting, peaceful, rational individual would even fathom such a revolting idea. Only an altruist would.
Christianity is a filthy, violent, irrational set of barbaric superstitions. Altruism is its highest ideal. Please do not ever bother to defend such a disgusting, anti-human institution again.
Tiffany, I am truly sorry that you’ve acquired such a very low opinion of Christianity, yet at the same time I can in many ways understand. The way Christ has been used as the reason behind many, many atrocious things in history has turned a host of people against Him. Acts perpetrated by pseudo-Christians, such as the Inquisition, molestations by Catholic priests, and the vitriol spewed by Westboro Baptists are indeed revolting. As has been said, the greatest enemy of Christ are often those calling themselves by His name.
I earnestly urge you to not look upon Christianity itself in the same light as you obviously do its self-proclaimed adherents. Assuming you are an atheist (and forgive me if I’m wrong), would you consider it just for me to assume that all atheists are murderers and thieves, simply because of the predations of the atheistic regimes of Communist Russia and China or Nazi Germany? I doubt it. In fact, I can tell by your above comment that you have a deep sense of justice that feels violated by the presumptions and misrepresentations committed by those falsely calling themselves “Christians”, so I know you are as revolted as I am by any case of mass murder or authoritarian tyranny.
One word in regards to the story of Abraham and Isaac. You seem to have forgotten that, rather than allowing the sacrifice to go through, God intervened and stayed Abraham’s hand. In fact, He quite plainly states later in Scripture that human sacrifice is an abomination to him. He cursed and destroyed the inhabitants of Canaan precisely because they had become entrenched in a bloody society that sacrificed human beings to their false gods. It would seem by this that you have far more in common with the Christian God than you realize! 🙂
Please don’t judge Christ by the people who commit atrocities in His name. Rather, judge the people by Christ.
I hope I haven’t further offended you with anything I’ve just said. I only wanted to demonstrate that there is something you may have missed in your analysis of Christ and urge you to explore a little more deeply.
“Christianity is a filthy, violent, irrational set of barbaric superstitions. Altruism is its highest ideal. Please do not ever bother to defend such a disgusting, anti-human institution again.”
Well said! 🙂