Sean Edwards

The American Resurrection

The Siren’s Song: How Altruism Leads to Death

imageMost people in the modern world have been fed a constant diet of altruism. In a vague sense, we have all accepted it as a virtue. If humanity was more altruistic, the world would be a better place.

I want to argue a slightly different point…

If the world were truly altruistic, we would all be dead.

There was a time when I agonized over any money spent on myself. If someone gave me money, I wanted to give it away. If someone gave me a new iPhone, I wanted to sell it and donate the money to the poor. I believed that any money spent on myself above and beyond what I needed was selfish and, therefore, wrong.

I remember one day I had a startling realization. I saw myself 20 years in the future, agonizing over whether or not I should buy a pizza for my family. I knew my thinking was screwed up, but I didn’t know how.

I only new that I was in a prison. And, given more time, that prison would only get smaller and smaller.

I know now that prison has a name: Altruism.

And I know why it crippled me, because even though is sounds virtuous, it leads to death.

Meriam-Webster defines Altruism as such:

“1: unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others
2: behavior by an animal that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species”

Altruism looks like sacrifice for the sake of your neighbor. Altruism calls us to forego our own needs for the sake of those around us.

As a culture, we can exalt altruism as the penultimate of humanity.

But I believe Proverbs may contain a warning for us in this:

“There is a way that seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.” Proverbs 14:12

Let’s take a closer look at altruism and see where it leads…

Healthy people love themselves, meaning they highly value themselves. They work, eat, and sleep because they love their life and they want to keep living. Their love of self is what motivates them.

Altruism declares that evil comes from selfishness and greed. If people weren’t as selfish, the world would be less evil.

So far so good.

But then it goes haywire.

Altruism goes on to categorize any action done out of self-love as selfishness. Thus, good is defined as anything done for others, and evil is defined as anything done for yourself.

Many people can’t accept this in its purest form. So you will hear compromises, but what you’re really hearing is a desperate cry for life.

People will say, “Some selfish actions are necessary so that I can help others.” So, eating, buying things for yourself, and making money must be done for the sake of others. Anything done for yourself must be a means of enabling you to help your neighbor.

I’ve heard many people use the airplane/air-mask analogy to illustrate this point. When you get on an airplane, they go through a safety procedure. They say that in case of an emergency, air masks will drop from the ceiling. They then tell you to put your own mask on first so that you can then help those around you. If you can’t breathe, you won’t be of much help anyone.

Ministers will often use this analogy to describe why it is okay to spend time on yourself. If you aren’t spiritually healthy, then you won’t be able to help anyone else.

But again, this means that all your actions are done so that you can help people. Your value does not come from your sense of self, but rather how you can help others. Your “love of self” (if this can even be called love) is a means to someone else’s end.

Altruism states that you only have value so long as you are valuable to others.

People don’t usually think this through.

If your value is determined by how you can help society, what happens when you can no longer help society?

What about senior citizens?

Or the handicapped?

It could be argued that for society to be truly altruistic, seniors and handicapped people should commit suicide. They wouldn’t value themselves (because they couldn’t help anyone – and their value comes from how they can help people), so they have no reason to live.

Under altruism, I can’t love myself. It is selfish. And selfishness is evil.

Some selfish actions are necessary so long as they equip me to help others.

But once I can’t help others, I have no value.

Altruism forces you to hate yourself. And ultimately, it values death over life.

Jesus said to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Your love for self was supposed to be your standard for how you love those around you.

In order for this statement to makes sense, it requires that you love yourself!

Otherwise, if we were supposed to be altruistic, it would mean that we would have to hate our neighbors (which, I would argue, altruistic people end up doing).

Life was meant to be lived, loved, and enjoyed.

We put our masks on because we want to live.

We go to work because we want money to buy things we enjoy (material things as well as freedom to do the things we love and be with friends and family).

We help those around us because we love them and we want them in our lives.

Real love for others stems from a strong sense of self. The love of others is a natural byproduct of a love for self.

Your love for self is not a means to an end. It is an end in and of itself.

With that, I bid thee to go love yourself and life. The world will be a much better place if you do 🙂

About Sean Edwards

Sean Edwards is an author and a communication strategist. He graduated from the Western Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in history. Sean has a passion for discussing philosophy and American politics.

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4 Replies

  1. Sean,
    I found your site because your dad shared your worship post on G+. I’m a subscriber to the Bethel podcast so I found your comments interesting.

    I enjoy your comments on altruism. I think the best balance is when altruism is mixed with our selfishness. I give and do things for others because I want to see myself as a good and caring person. Or I want others to see me that way.

    Perhaps the people who kill themselves or bankrupt themselves for the sake of altruism are suffering from extreme poor self-esteem.

    I do believe some people are called by God to a life of service – missionaries, for example. But to elevate that choice above a CEO who follows God is nonsense.

    I subscribed via Feedly. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts.

    1. Sean Edwards

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Eric.

      I can definitely understand your points. I often make a distinction between our calling and the reason we were created. Most times I think people blend those two realities. We were created to enjoy life. That is evident in Genesis. But because of the fall, we have a calling to remake the world in Heaven’s image. We are born into war. But our calling is not our eternal identity. It is only our mission while we fight this war. Once the war is won, our callings won’t mean anything. It will be like soldiers returning home. We don’t live to fight. We live to live. We only fight because we must. And in that fight, some are called to sacrifice, as you said. But they do not sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice. We are doing that to build a better world. And scripture makes it clear that we will be rewarded for that. Either in this life or the one to come. So, it’s really not a sacrifice.

      Anyway, thank you again for sharing.