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
[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.]