March 27, 2009

The Virtue of Selfishness

Last month Keith and I discussed Christian charity in the context of Rand's Objectivist philosophy that "altruism is incompatible with freedom, with capitalism, and with individual rights. One cannot combine the pursuit of happiness with the moral status of a sacrificial animal" she said.

A recent post on Dr. Helen's blog has a clip of Ayn Rand explaining selfishness to Phil Donahue: (very near the end) "If you made it yourself... then you should keep all of it. Why shouldn't you, you made it?"

The comments include a discussion of charity. Trey says, "I agree with Rand's political philosophy, but her ideas concerning charity go against my spiritual beliefs" and Laura says, "For me, and presumably for Trey, charity is a primary virtue" and "For a Christian, charity is not optional. We don't need to make other people be charitable, but we ourselves must be."

Naturally, I had to chime in.

Laura and Trey, You may not need to make other people be charitable, but the leftists in our government do. Since you consider charity to be a "primary virtue" then you cannot fault the leftists for forcing others to "be charitable" (as you said you must be.)

This is how Christian altruism enables Marxist-Leninist policies to proliferate in western governments. (If something is "virtuous" then how is a government mandate for it not also virtuous?)

Honorable mention also for Rand's slapdown of Donahue over middle eastern oil (at the very end of the clip.)

Hat tip: Cyrano via email

UPDATE - 3/30, 01:57 EDT: Posted a new comment on Dr. Helen (number 26).

Laura, I certainly don't believe that government mandated virtue is virtuous, but was making the case that "charity as virtue" is part of the leftists' justification for implementing their statist policies within a government that, as Seerak so eloquently stated it, "vested moral and political sovereignty in the individual." Or at least did so at its inception. My intent was not to "explain Christianity to Christians" but to explain how the Christian tradition of charity is leveraged by non-Christians, anti-Christians even, to further their own collectivist, egalitarian aims.

The original subject here was Rand's opinion on charity, which you quoted from her as essentially "not a moral duty or a primary virtue." But one must also be consciously aware of the distinction between charity and altruism. Charity is, as Rand said in your quote, "helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them." But when a philosophy makes a virtue of helping other people without first making these individual value judgements or worse, after first judging them unworthy of help, then charity becomes altruism. This is the type of "charity" that is practiced by governments, for everyone must be treated "fairly" and "equally" in that context. It is not merely that this charity is forced upon the givers, but that the receivers can be completely void of any redeeming value and still receive.

At the beginning of the Donahue interview Rand said she regarded altruists as "evil." In an essay on Man's Rights by Ayn Rand she wrote: "America’s inner contradiction was the altruist-collectivist ethics. Altruism is incompatible with freedom, with capitalism and with individual rights. One cannot combine the pursuit of happiness with the moral status of a sacrificial animal." This is the moral and philosophical base for her assertion at the end of the Donahue interview, "If you made it yourself... then you should keep all of it. Why shouldn't you, you made it?"

For those who have further interest, I discussed this essay on my own blog where I attempted to show how America's founding fathers unwittingly laid the foundation for the socialist future we now see our country rushing towards. See:

The 6:18 pm March 28 comment there by 'Seerak' is interesting too, and worth a read...

Obama Administration Philosophy Posted by JohnGalt at March 27, 2009 10:45 PM

I dunno JG. One can agree with the statement, "Reading Atlas Shrugged is a good thing" without also agreeing with the statement "The government should force everybody to read Atlas Shrugged", right?

Furthermore, I would propose that this is a common misunderstanding of what the word "charity" truly means. Like many words ("virtue" being the most amusing example) the meaning of the word seems to have changed substantially over the several thousand years of its use.

These days, charity is just some ostensibly kind action you would normally perform for someone you care about, save that for it to count as "charity" you cannot really have any feelings towards the recipient at all. In fact, the less self interest involved in the transaction, the more "charitable" your happen to be.

I shudder for those who think this to be a virtue. Certainly the Apostle Paul did not. Originally, charity was "the pure love of Christ." Indeed, the word used in the original Greek - "agape" - means "love." In this sense then, charity is performing actions of service for another being because you love them.

I am quite sure that Christ would condemn performing "charitable" actions for any other reason than this. After all, did he not chastise those "who appear righteous unto men, but within are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" with the “damnation of hell”?

I imagine a like judgment would be reserved for governments that pervert charity.

Posted by: T. Greer at March 28, 2009 1:58 PM

Once again, I'm late to the table on a subject where I'm actually qualified to weigh in. Hmmmph. Shame on me.

TG, I agree with your proposition on the drift in the meaning of the word "charity," including your use of the word "agape" from the Greek - which was translated with the Latin "caritas" in the Vulgate, and became "charity" in the King James to distinguish it from the feelings-based affection that "love" would imply. Most modern translations use "love." C.S. Lewis' "The Four Loves" would be useful here. The word's use as "giving money" is a more recent usage than most would know.

Within Christianity, giving ought never be an act of obligation - after all, if it's an obligation, then it is not voluntary, and if not voluntary, then it's no good. That quote JG cites - "For a Christian, charity is not optional" - makes no rational sense, does it? If the act is not optional, but is mandatory, then it's not charity, but sort of a divine taxation. Yes?

Since Sunday is coming, allow me to drop an odd thought. If you all happen to have a Bible around somewhere, visit the fifth chapter of Acts, the first eleven verses, for the incident of Ananias and Sapphira. A man, Ananias, sold a piece of land and donated a part of it to feed the church, keeping the rest for himself - but pretended he was donating the entire proceeds. Peter's rebuke in verse four is critical: "While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?"

In terms our modern ears would appreciate, what Peter was saying was "You were never under any obligation to give any part of your property. While you owned the land, your ownership was legitimate and respected; after you sold it, the money with yours to do with as you see fit." Neither God nor the church leadership ever laid any burden on him and his wife to pony up a dime. Fancy that!

If that's the only sermon you have to endure this weekend, count yourselves blessed. Perhaps one day, I'll regale you with a few instances where there, in fact, is a command to be selfish - and I'll bet a nickel you can't find them.

See? There's a benefit to having a Shepherd Book along for the ride after all.

Posted by: Keith at March 28, 2009 3:57 PM

Clarification: When I wrote: "(If something is "virtuous" then how is a government mandate for it not also virtuous?)" it was meant to be rhetorical. I used it as a one sentence version of the argument that leftists would make to justify government force in the name of a "virtue."

I certainly don't agree with that notion, but meant to illustrate that when Christians themselves go to the leftists and say, "you can't make people do that against their will" that part of their rebuttal will be, "why not, since charity is such a good thing? More of it is even better!"

TG is obviously not the only one to misinterpret me (so clearly I was not clear enough) - Laura back on Dr. Helen's blog read me the same way. Interesting stuff back over there. I need to (as I expected) go back and engage - soon. Alas, chores come first.

Posted by: johngalt at March 29, 2009 1:42 PM

@JG: Sorry to misinterpret your words. I appreciate you clarifying what you meant on this point.

@Threesource Admins in general: Dagny asked a question on the post half way down the page from here that is relevant to this post but is a side-point to the political-axis discussion being had down there. As I do not want to distract from that discussion, I shall post my answer to it here. If this is inappropriate, feel free to delete this post.

Dagny writes, "Keith states that Christianity is based on, "a well-informed, evidence-based faith." Please, Keith, can you explain what that means? My understanding is that the main definition of faith in religious terms is, belief WITHOUT evidence."

I would suggest that once again we have a case where the passage of time has created a word that in now the opposite of its original meaning. One says "I have faith that he will pull his life together" or "I have faith in the American people's ability to meet the challenges of the world", the implication being that you are stating what you want to be true but is in no way self evident.

This is not faith, in its original sense. Found in the first verse of eleventh chapter of Hebrews is the correct definition: "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

Thus, having faith does not mean believing in something despite evidence to the contrary- it means having accepted evidence that is so strong no other belief could be possible.

I can illuminate on the nature of this evidence if you wish. (I imagine Keith will come along and with his preachery way of writing things explain it better than I can, as he usually does.) For the moment, my time pressed self will yield up these words from the book of Matthew:

"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened

---Note to admins: Delete the preceding post. I html'd it wierd and my name is missing.---

Posted by: T. Greer at March 29, 2009 4:28 PM

Dagny's gone to bed so I'll take the liberty of asking you what observable evidence there can be which justifies belief in the unknowable?

By "observable" I mean objectively so, i.e. it's always there, every time, and can be seen by any observer (and not just Pons and Fleischmann.)

The phrase "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" says to me that faith is a substitute for the assurance or the evidence.

Posted by: johngalt at March 30, 2009 2:17 AM

JohnGalt and All: My apologies - as you can probably imagine, Sunday is a a busy workday for me, and I didn't have the opportunity to come back and participate in the conversation.

Out of respect for you, my gracious hosts, I'm going to not postjack ThreeSources and turn this into a theology blog. Instead, I'm going to invite you all to let me shift the venue for the faith part on this topic over to my turf here:

I hope y'all will forgive me the presumption, but I have taken the liberty of dedicating the thread to Dagny and JohnGalt, owing to it being their comments on this post and the "Twice As Many Now Believe.." post that prompted mine. The red carpet has been rolled out...

Posted by: Keith at March 30, 2009 5:37 PM | What do you think? [6]