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Love and Altruism Prove Opposite

Ugh, here's my obligatory gift.

Walter Hudson


April 9, 2014 - 3:00 pm
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Sunday, I offered the provocative theological claim that Altruism Has No Place in Christianity. I referenced the biblical teaching of pastor and theologian John Piper, who advances a notion of Christian hedonism summed up in the declaration that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

My colleague Susan L.M. Goldberg approached my claim with reservations. She concluded:

The question of whether or not altruism holds a place in religious life is dependent upon how one defines the structure of their faith: as a business arrangement or a personal relationship. The argument Walter poses is a good one in terms of the welfare state in America. I agree with him that socialist policies should not be promoted as altruistic acts of a benevolent big government. As far as altruism goes in relation to faith, I also agree that God prepares an individual for His purpose in their life and rewards them for their faith. I do, however, question Walter’s contextualizing our personal relationship with God into a business transaction. Before we hasten to view our personal faith in that light, we should bear in mind that the failure of the welfare state was preceded by the transformation of our houses of worship into social halls dedicated to fulfilling our own very non-altruistic needs.

Susan makes a distinction which I reject. Whether business or personal in nature, all relationships prove transactional. Certainly it is possible for people to act altruistically in their relationships. But altruism proves the exception to the transactional rule, and undermines the relational bond.

In my previous piece, I cited the example of a husband buying a bouquet of his wife’s favorite flower with money he would rather spend on something else. That’s altruism, doing something for someone else at the expense of your values. Not only would the husband harbor bitterness from his sacrifice. If his wife learned how he felt about the purchase, she would despise him for it. Why?

We have heard it said that “it’s the thought that counts” when gifts are given. What thought are we referring to? In the case of a bouquet bought for a wife, the thought might be, “I love you and want you to have this symbol of my affection far more than I want the money and time it took to acquire it.” In other words, the wife wants the husband to feel satisfied by her enjoyment of the flowers he bought. It’s transactional. Everyone is better off.

The same applies in our personal relationship to God. 2 Corinthians 9:7 reads:

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

If God wanted altruistic worshipers, He would not care whether they were reluctant or not.

Walter Hudson advocates for individual rights, serving on the board of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Minnesota, and as president of the Minority Liberty Alliance. He hosts a daily podcast entitled Fightin Words, proudly hosted on Twin Cities Newstalk Podcast Network. Walter is a city council member in Albertville, MN. Follow his work via Twitter and Facebook.

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All Comments   (8)
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"That’s altruism, doing something for someone else at the expense of your values."

No, that is not altruism.

Altruism is a value.

To do something at the expense of it means to engage in a purely transactional exchange rather than a purely charitable offering.

Your entire presentation on altruism is based on twisting the term until is unrecognizable, then savaging your strawman. And strawman is all that it can be, as you have already defined the act of altruism into an impossibility:

"Whether business or personal in nature, all relationships prove transactional. Certainly it is possible for people to act altruistically in their relationships."

Well, no, it is not.
If everything is, by your definition, absolutely transactional, then it is functionally impossible to ever act otherwise.
At most you can accuse people of making stupid transactions that produce negative value for all parties involved, but that does not make such actions altruistic. Well, until you turn the word over to Humpty Dumpty.

If you do not want to be charitable then do not be charitable.
There is no need to blame Christianity (and by ultimate extension Judaism, which is also quite clear on the relevance and relationships in charity), for your choice to not be charitable.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
You are not approaching this logically. You are the one with the straw man.

Altruism might be a value, but it is specifically expressed as a behavior. You can "feel" altruistic all you want, but no objective observer would call you altruistic without an act proving it.

So, as Walter says, one values many things. I value my time. I also value the affection of my wife. Based on how much I value each, I may choose to value my time less than my wife's affection, and bring her flowers.

I might also choose to value "helping another" more than my own time spent on my own selfish desires. I will trade my time, or money - which is a direct commodity measure of my time - for food or shelter for someone with less fortune than myself. This is a transaction in every sense.

All things are economics. All things are politics. Whenever you have 2 or more humans involved, both concepts are always at play.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
What you call a strawman is actually a recognized definition which has been written on extensively. My assertion is a defense of Christianity, not an attack. To promote altruism is, as John Piper points out, antithetical to everything Christ represents. I suggest you read the links provided and research other material on the subject before dismissing these points out of hand.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Just because someone else uses the same strawman in now way makes it something else.

And looking at those links, it is rather clear that you have altered the definition of altruism used there:
"I asked for his definition of altruism so that I could answer what he was really asking. He said, “Doing a good deed for others with no view to any reward.” I answered: that’s right, . . ."
So not only are you using a strawman, your appeal to authority to defend it is based on a redaction of that authority.

And, since it seems necessary, the original strawman is Kant's, who has employs a forced definition of altruism in the first place.
That leaves you asserting that because Kant is wrong you, or at least Piper, are somehow right, and there you have fallacy of the excluded middle.

Now if you insist on a rebuttal to that, I will cite Adam Smith:
"It is thus that man, who can subsist only in society, was fitted by nature to that situation for which he was made. All the members of human society stand in need of each others assistance, and are likewise exposed to mutual injuries. Where the necessary assistance is reciprocally afforded from love, from gratitude, from friendship, and esteem, the society flourishes and is happy. All the different members of it are bound together by the agreeable bands of love and affection, and are, as it were, drawn to one common centre of mutual good offices.

But though the necessary assistance should not be afforded from such generous and disinterested motives, though among the different members of the society there should be no mutual love and affection, the society, though less happy and agreeable, will not necessarily be dissolved. Society may subsist among different men, as among different merchants, from a sense of its utility, without any mutual love or affection; and though no man in it should owe any obligation, or be bound in gratitude to any other, it may still be upheld by a mercenary exchange of good offices according to an agreed valuation."
For a general overview:

What you will gain, in reducing everything to an exchange predicated on immediate value, is a much less happier society.
Given that Piper's whole point is a happier society, you again fail to meet the requirements of your cited authority.

As for Piper's assertions directly, he is partially right, but appears to be overlooking a critical factor.
We are informed that the first thing we must do is love the Creator with all of our hearts and all of all our souls.
From there we are to proceed to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
For Piper, there is only the promise of some putative future reward. But what if there was more? What if Smith is right, and in fact the reward is here and now, and that by upholding these we are actually, directly, and fundamentally improving our way of life in the here and now?
Now granted, that does mean that "altruism" isn't; that "charity" is always to our benefit in the long run. But that long run is within our lifespan, and thus is very much going to make us happier, which is the factor that Piper demands.
Thus by giving without the need for immediate reciprocity but on the principle of societal reciprocity we are fulfilling not merely the letter of the law (as it were), but the spirit of the law (as it were again), and thus experiencing the full benefit of both.

If the Creator had wanted mercenary followers, as you suggest, we would have been commanded to love the Creator as we expect the promises to be kept, and love our neighbors as it is to our direct and immediate benefit.
If anything is antithetical to what Jesus taught it is such a redaction.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Referencing another person's argument is not an appeal to authority. You clearly don't understand what either Piper or I are talking about. But I won't rush to accuse you of attacking a strawman.

There is nothing about egoism (altrusim's opposite) which distinguishes between short-term gain or long-term gain, physical gain or spiritual gain. Value proves subjective. If you feel as though your values have been served, and aren't a victim of fraud, they have been.

I disagree with Smith. Man can subsist outside society, and does not require assistance. Another way to frame Smith's point would be to say man requires others to feed upon. What man actually requires is production. He needs to work to create the values necessary to sustain his life. Living in society presents obvious benefits, but there exists no moral claim to the assistance of another.

The essence of loving another as yourself is transacting with them. How do you love yourself? Do you eat yourself, or do you act to produce the values needed to survive and thrive? The defining characteristic of civilization is living by production and trade rather than predation and slavery. Treating someone as you wish to be treated includes holding them to the expectations you labor under. That doesn't preclude charity, service, or love. On the contrary, it makes those virtues possible.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
BronxZionist regularly argues from appeal. Most of the time I just ignore his comments. You're spitting into the wind with that guy.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
No moral claim? Jesus explicitly tells us many times to provide that assistance. If the commandment of God doesn't provide a moral claim on you, then I fail to see how you can call yourself a Christian.

I certainly accept the idea that it is not legitimate for us to use force to extract that assistance, but the moral claim endures.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hmmm...fair point. Even in the Old Testament Moses is given God's law that should your enemy's ox go lame, you should stop to help him. Indeed there is a moral claim.

I think Walter meant there is no legal claim to help. Contextually, that makes more sense in terms of the rest of his comment.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
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