I was following links today and came across a claim by atheist Brent Rasmussen that altruism is ultimately just what some people do to feed their self-worth. I’ve encountered similar cynicism before. One can search Google with “altruism” and various other words. It’s easy to find others making a similar claim, though never with data in my experience, despite the large numbers of people who help others in need. Instead it’s always an argument based on the meaning of “selfish” to the person making the argument. I’ve written before about my high school teacher who did that many years ago.
The answer to this is not that hard to understand. People can indeed choose to be selfless. Whatever selfishness there is in making a choice doesn’t make the whole behavior selfish. The only way to deny that is to engage in black and white thinking. Maybe that’s hard for high school students to see through, but adults who do it strike me as trying to excuse their sociopathy, from my high school teacher on. That’s not because they like black and white thinking. It’s what they’re doing in denying the concept of altruism in the first place, being subversive, justifying their own selfishness as the only thing that’s real.
Of course not everyone is so honest about their sociopathy. Conservatives make many excuses why it’s OK to neglect the needy. They say the needy should help themselves. They make up simplicities about how the homeless are mostly mentally ill who choose to be homeless as they choose not to take their pills or how anyone can get a job if they just choose to. Those Bible-believing Christians who therefore should be following Matthew 25: 31-46 find that their God instead wants them to evangelize, fight against abortion or work on themselves personally. There are lots of excuses not to help the needy. My fellow liberals often find some excuses, too.
But not the people I know who help the needy. How many would I say are volunteers this way for the sake of their ego? There are none that I can tell. Yet sociopaths argue otherwise. Brent Rasmussen insisted I must be a liar for claiming there is such a thing as altruism that is an expression of love, not selfishness. There is something in me that wants to feel sorry for people who know so little of love that they claim everything in life is selfish. Yet there is something else, the anger I often feel on behalf of my clients for their suffering and on behalf of myself that just to talk about something basic like love in this world is so difficult. Some people really don’t know love exists. Some people don’t know there is a God who is love. Some people who think there is a God have no idea what love is, just rules, power, and inexplicable mystery.
There is love. There is more to life than just selfishness. I embrace that through God, but if someone can find the same thing in a different way, as Bertrand Russell did for one, I would think that’s a step in the right direction. To say no, there is only ego and selfishness, those are fighting words. That’s the enemy. That’s hatred, indifference and falseness all wrapped into one, the things that make life difficult for all of us.
I feel anger at such hurtful things, but they are too big for me. They may even be too big for God. Maybe the only reasonable way for any of us is to turn our backs on such ignorance and arrogance and embrace love and truth where it exists, not where it is absent. Everyone dies eventually. Love may die, too, or it may survive those who deny it, whether that’s complete denial or trivializing love as being something no different than chocolate. Either way I find it better to live with love than with sociopaths. Sociopaths are everywhere, but not everyone is a sociopath. Thank God.