Thursday, July 29

Unselfishness v. Love

"If you asked twenty good men to-day what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness.  But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love - You see what has happened?  A negative term has been substituted for a positive , and this is of more than philological importance.  The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point." C.S. Lewis


  • This rings all kinds-a chimes with me. In fact “unselfishness” in Lewis’s sense is the basis of fundamentalist & evangelical Christian spirituality: Jesus’ love for you is INVERSELY proportional to how much “good stuff” you have in your life, the ultimate goal being loved by Jesus INFINITELY by virtue of your correspondingly INFINITE DESTITUTION. Perverse & perverted? Yes, but that’s what I was taught & how I grew up.

    PS — Have begun work on Lyotard / science / postmodernism piece.

    • I didn’t know that, James. I’ve always taken much of what he said in a different way. I read it him when I was very very young. I don’t think I’ll dive in again. What you say rings true though. I have a neighbor who told me one day about how much help she was getting from her church. “Of course,” she said, “They’re not doing it for me. They’re doing it for Jesus.” She was rather sad, I think, would have liked to know they were helping her for herself. Great news about your next piece.

      • There is this mindset in conservative Protestantism & Catholicism that says, basically, “Medicine has to taste bad to do good”. Usually not that blatant, of course, but the tendency is usually there. The interesting thing is that, in (e.g.) the Parable of the Sheep & Goats, the “do-gooders” only see the image of Jesus in the destitute **** AFTER **** the “do-gooders” help them. I.e., at first they are helping the destitute / distressed STRICTLY AS ONE HUMAN HELPING ANOTHER, in purely “horizontal” acts of altruism with no “vertical” / theological motivational component. This is the precise opposite of the way the Sheep / Goats Parable is usually exposited.

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