Before my Easter posts, I was writing some posts that argued pretty strongly that the words “selfless” and “selfish” have become potentially damaging words, because of the way they are often used in our world.
But I don’t want to focus just one what I don’t like! I’d much rather focus on what’s good and beautiful. So let’s take some time looking at some values that – at first – seem very similar to the value of selflessness. I want to show why they are better and more Biblical values.
Specifically, I want to look at sacrifice and generosity. I am convinced these values are subtly and significantly different from what we mean when we talk about condemning selfishness and extolling selflessness.
How are they different?
Selfishness and selflessness are focused on a negative rather than a positive. The way the words are often used implies that the thing that’s “bad” about selfishness is not that it hurts anyone else, but that it benefits the self. And the thing that’s supposedly good about selflessness is not that it benefits anyone else, but that it detracts from the self.
I’ve quoted CS Lewis on this topic before, but I’ll do it again – this is one we should all have in our memory banks:
“If you asked twenty good men today 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 Weight of Glory)
You may think that I’m making too much of this. But I frequently see the negative effects of misunderstanding truth in this area. As a counselor, I’ve dealt frequently with hurting people who have come to pursue selflessness – rather than grace – as the path to becoming more loving. They feel guilty for thinking about themselves too much. They feel upset that they spend so much time doing things that benefit themselves. Despairing because of their inability to be more “self – less”, they punish themselves in a compulsive effort to destroy the self: indulging in all kinds of self-damaging behaviors, some of which serve no other purpose than pure self-destruction, such as cutting themselves. The logical end of such beliefs and behaviors is the total negation and annihilation of the self: Self – LESS -ness. I have great compassion for these people.
What we must realize is that this is not Christianity; it is Buddhism! “Nirvana”, the ultimate goal of Buddhism (contrary to the common understanding), was not originally a state of heavenly perfection and joy, but a state devoid of all pleasure, desire, pain, or sense of self. It is non-existence. The ultimate goal of the Buddhist is to achieve this non-existence, this self-less-ness. The ultimate goal of Buddhism is soul-suicide. Kurt Cobain was not a Buddhist, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the lead singer of a band named “Nirvana” tragically ended his own life with a shotgun.
The core value Christians try to teach when we use the words “selfless” and “selfish” is love of others. But the core value that Satan wants us to hear is hatred for the self.
This value is vastly inferior to the Biblical value of sacrifice, and is downright ugly when compared to the Biblical values of love and generosity.
Let’s take a look at those – next time.