Is Selflessness Good, And Does Religion Breed Selfishness?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Gently Gazing Eyes, Jul 20, 2004.

  1. Gently Gazing Eyes

    Gently Gazing Eyes Aneristic Delusion

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    I'm in the midst of reading The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand—a massive book. It's taken me more than a week to get less than half-way into the text. In her novel, Rand's 'perfect man,' Howard Roark, represents how man should be, according to her; selfish to the point of selflessness. He refuses to give up his convictions and morals because he is sure of them, and in so doing is greatly hindered in his life, in the manner of a 'Christ-figure,' as he is called in the blurb on the back of the book. But this isn't who I want to talk about.

    The antithesis of this dogma is the character of Ellsworth Mokton Toohey, a man who is selfless to the point of uselessness. It is this man, the one who thinks for the purpose of thinking, who has caught my eye in this novel. This man believes in equality, self-abnegation, and the common good. Among one of the things he points out is that religion breeds selfishness. I will quote a few lines from the novel:

    It should be noted that, insofar as this book can have one, Ellsworth is a villian. His views are contrary to Rand's views of how life should be lived. His character represents the voice of society, taken to its logical extreme—similar to the way Jonathan Swift followed his issue to its logical extreme in suggesting that the Irish feed their babies to the rich.


    I would like to discuss this particular slant on philosopy, the idea of absolute selflessness. Is it truly selfless to insist on being selfless, presumably for the purpose of satisfying your own desire to be so? Is it pointless to do so, even if it is not self-contradictory? Many of the ideals mentioned in the excerpt can be correlated with the basic ideals taught in holy texts the world wide; and yet, most people would think they are over-extreme. Why is this?

    Obviously, Rand was likely referring to Western religions when she had her character speak of 'religion,' but I wonder. If selfishness is not the purpose of religion, what exactly is its purpose
     
  2. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    Kindest Regards, Gently Gazing Eyes!
    Since you haven't finished the book yet, I don't want to spoil it for you.


    Actually, I thought of his voice as the voice of socialism, not society. :)

    Not wanting to spoil the book, selflessness, at least according to Rand, leads to self-destruction. Think in terms of the big picture, specifically politics.

    My knee-jerk gut reaction is to disagree with Rand in this assessment. Yes, socialism and "selflessness" draws from religious tenets, but I do not think it is fair to equate the two in a wholesale manner. Yes, there are certain people who can and do abuse religious principles, but I do not think that is the majority. Especially not among those who take the time to consider the genuinely spiritual aspects of life. As for the herds of ignorant masses...well, according to Rand they can be duped into believing just about anything. I think Rand totally ignores the value of spirit, to her detriment in her philosophy.

    Ah yes, that is one of the multi-million dollar questions! This is strictly my opinion, but I think religion is an institutional means of conveying morality to a culture/society. This is an overly simplistic explanation, because there is a lot of nuance overlooked by the words, but it is a generic and relatively safe way to describe it. :D
     
  3. bananabrain

    bananabrain awkward squadnik

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    a little bit of hillel:

    b'shalom

    bananabrain
     
  4. louis

    louis New Member

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    Re: Selfishness?

     
  5. mandrill

    mandrill New Member

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    This is a very interesting discussion. I think I may have to get this book eventually:)


    I am just wondering how effective one can really be in helping anyone else before working on oneself, getting oneself to a place where one's own unmet needs are not influencing everything you do? I would think one would be more effective, more likely to take the proper action, if one was more centered, balanced in one's own life. Otherwise one's effort to 'help' someone else could just make things even worse for them, because then it becomes a matter of doing what you think is important for them, what satifies you, rather than what they might actually require. A lot of 'charitable works' seem to me more of an effort to bring blessings to the performer rather than the recipients .. and there's always going to be an element of that involved, so where is the true 'selflessness' found then?

    In Castaneda's writings it says we can only truly help our fellow man when we don't give a damn about him. That sounds rather harsh, but it goes on to discuss how our heavy concern with our fellow man is often manifest in trying to accomplish our view of what is important for him .. what he should have, how he should live .. basically forcing him into our mold rather than being truly open to him. It is only when we can learn to let him be that we are free to act in his best interest.
     
  6. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    Kindest Regards, Mandrill!
    I am reminded of a certain defeatist argument, of "perfecting" oneself before approaching "grace," rather than realizing grace leads us in the direction of perfection. And my words fall short here, I know what I want to say but not how to say them. If one understands that the paths of religion (in the purest sense) are for the purpose of perfecting oneself, is it not futile to attempt perfection outside of "those" paths before entering them? Otherwise, a great point!

    Ultimately, I think this was an underpoint to what Rand was saying. The "selfless" acts of the antagonist were in reality (in Rand's book) a method of assuming power, a very selfish act disguised as selflessness. A subtle hypocracy, to be sure, and a frequent self-delusion among people in general (at least in western cultures).

    At least a nun performing tireless charitable works has as solace (in her mind) the reward of eternal paradise as a motivation. In the book however, heaven was not the motivator for the antagonist, power was. The nun, in my view, can be forgiven the appearance of hypocracy, whereas the power minded individual who disguises "his" purpose with the mantle of selflessness is a hypocrite of the first order, and to be avoided. TV evangelists, as a rule in my mind, are in this category.

    I haven't read Casteneda yet, his works are on my "to do" list. But this seems a basic estimation of Rand's philosophy as well, although her focus is on the individual. If you do not help yourself first, how can you reliably and realistically help others? IMHO, ultimately, you are responsible first for yourself, and then others. Rand would not agree with me on the last part of this.

    This is a very good point, I like this.

    This is a concern of mine personally. I know I was long of a mind that I had things figured out, and it was my purpose to "enlighten" the world to my view. The stark reality hit me with the events in Oklahoma City and 9-11, and a few other events like the Olympic park bombing and the murders of a couple of abortion doctors. Disagreement is inevitable between humans. Violence to resolve disagreement, at a personal or national level, is not the most desirable way to resolve conflict. As a last resort, it may become necessary, but only as a last resort. Until then, respectful disagreement and dialogue seem to me the much more preferable way of dealing with disagreement.

    In trying to mold others to my way of thinking, only to realize I may have been mistaken (or at least a little off-course), was an exercise in the realization of futility.

    People as a rule resist change.

    There was a line in a song I dearly loved, that I could not reconcile with for a long time. Now, it makes so much more sense to me. "Find your way to heaven, and I'll meet you when you get there" (Child of Vision, SuperTramp). ;) :)
     
  7. Rain of Brass Petals

    Rain of Brass Petals Solar Exalt

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    This is an interesting topic. Well, on the matter of selfishness and its nature, I'm of the Buddhist mindset which is best captured in the words of the Venerable Thubten Chodron:

    Now, what we tend to see in religions (Buddhism included) are people who, when they have some great revelation or insight, wanting to share it with the world. They are suddenly saying, "you're doing it all wrong. I've discovered the answer. Me. It's so great. I thought of it when I was doing this. I'm so great. Me, me me."

    It's not necessarily the religion, but rather the effect of the religion on the individual which sparks selfishness. Selfishness is already a natural human quality - we are very selfish when we are too young to know any better - but we grow to learn that we do not always have to be so.

    There are arguably good reasons for being both egocentric and selfless. It is also not practical to be entirely selfless, but rather to be a kind of selfless that is not fixed on the self, but is aware of it. Meaning you don't give up your food to others simply because you need to eat in order to live. This is a basic sanity.
     
  8. Sacredstar

    Sacredstar New Member

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    An excellent question.

    Everything is less good when it is not in balance. So to achieve grace in one's life both self and selflessness need to be in balance.

    The self is important because one can be selfless to the detriment of one's own good health, hence why balance is important. For instance nun's have the highest incidence of breast cancer, metaphysically this is due to them not nurturing and looking after the self.

    Need is also an important aspect because often people are selfless due to their own need to be needed and loved resulting from unmet needs in childhood. (we find this a lot in the caring professions). Hence why it is very important to truly know the self, for if we do not know the self we do not know what truly motivates us to do the things that we do. From my perspective it is imperative to heal root cause of need otherwise this can detrimentally effect all areas of life and life decisions. For instance people can marry someone out of need and once the need is not there anymore the relationship is over.

    It was mentioned above that people do not like change, this is true due to children not being taught the importance of change and how to deal with loss and process their emotions.

    I learnt that "We cannot shift the box before the box is ready to be shifted."

    But change is as natural as the seasons of nature and when people are not prepared to change, they get stuck in more ways then one. So why is change necessary and to know the self?

    By looking within we are implementing change and discovering who we are at the core of our being. Children are born givers but they learn from observation, so some do become selfish if they have observed this with their parents, friends etc.

    The heart is for giving but many people do not move their energy into their heart centres and give unconditionally. Divine Love is a combination of compassionate action and unconditional love. But it is rare to find human beings that have realised divine love in manifestation on the earth plane, due to them not knowing the true self and their true reason for being.

    So is selflessness good?

    From experience it is not healthy if is out of balance with the true self.

    Does religion breed selfishness?

    I don't feel it does because they all teach the importance of the most important spiritual virtue which is charity.

    The problem is that a majority of people only pay lip service to the teachings of religion and do not truly integrate the teachings and live it in their daily lives.

    Otherwise known as 'walking one's talk'

    Love beyond measure

    Sacredstar
     
  9. Blue

    Blue Member

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    Genetically and in every objective way, humanity is a selfish organism. That is a statement that can be evidenced via modern science and our inherent structures, through to our history as a specie.

    The morality of the 'selfless', the denial of self-interest, has been universally seen as admirable across many cultural groups, nations, and within certain religions, but what does it actually represent.

    Is it the selfless heroism of a fireman rescuing a screaming baby from a burning house? Is the self sacrifice of one person for another's life for whatever affirmed reason.
    Is it to be found in the sacrifice of a mother that leaves her dead so long as she protects her children?

    I would maintain that all these are purely moral judgements. The fireman is only doing his job as a brave person risking himself for the good of others. That is what he is paid to do, and it is what is expected of him. Is the exposure of self that saves one's comrades on a military night mission selfless, or is it determined by affective training as the thing to do for one comrades.
    Is the intuitive defence mechanism of the human female evidence for of altruism?

    The altruistic concept is one that needs close examination, and it is not just as some have said in this thread.

    Perhaps there are true examples of genuine altruistic behaviour.... any suggestions for a situation which could undoubtedly be ascribed to pure altruism? The sacrifice of Christ upon a cross, perhaps? But then, wasn't that for an ordained purpose preset by a God? he was just performing a predetermined function, wasn't He?

    You may not be attracted by the proposition, but could it not just be the case that humanity is indeed purely selfish, putting its own family, creed, nation or culture, affective nature and nurture and beliefs first before the strange and alien, following causally 'programmed' responses?

    Just something to think about! ;)
     
  10. lunamoth

    lunamoth Episcopalian

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    In this moment I think that human nature is mostly selfish in its untrained form. That is why arguments for virtue or morality based upon "natural law" leave me wondering exactly what is natural law. Natural law seems to me to be quite brutal, dog-eat-dog. I think our goal is to try to rise above "natural" toward what we think of as divine.

    I also think, in this moment, that it is very difficult on one's own to have purely selfless intentions. Really, no matter what at the bottom of the motivation at the very least a good action makes us feel good, better about ourselves and about humanity. Not that there's anything wrong with that!

    So, in this moment, I think that one good thing about religion is that it can provide a way to be less self-centered, more divine (holy). You can decide to follow a religion, or a defined ethical path for that matter, and decide that you will try to mold your actions to that path. I'm not saying that you should check your brain at the door and blindly follow some leader. But, in ritual worship and by adopting a set of laws you can free yourself from basing all your actions in your self and rise above self-centeredness, at least a little bit and at brief moments. I am starting to appreciate the liturgy of my church because I feel like I can empty myself of self when I'm following ritual, rather than scanning through my brain about all my sins and all my needs and even all my gratitude. There is a time for sharing those things with God, but there is also a time to be empty, and those are the times we are closer to our Ground of Being.
     
  11. Sacredstar

    Sacredstar New Member

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    Natural is divine

    Love beyond measure

    Sacredstar
     
  12. Sacredstar

    Sacredstar New Member

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    Dear Lunamoth

    Apologies dinner was ready!

    "In this moment I think that human nature is mostly selfish in its untrained form. That is why arguments for virtue or morality based upon "natural law" leave me wondering exactly what is natural law. Natural law seems to me to be quite brutal, dog-eat-dog. I think our goal is to try to rise above "natural" toward what we think of as divine."

    Natural law is divine spiritual law which resonates with the divine self of the soul. It is first principles 'he that causes to be' GOD created the natural law of cause and effect IMV.

    "So, in this moment, I think that one good thing about religion is that it can provide a way to be less self-centered, more divine (holy)."

    Well from my perspective we could be teaching this to children from birth. When my son was a baby once every few weeks when he was crawling towards a teddy bear I would take it away and he would cry. The purpose was to teach him that he could not have everything that he wanted, when he wanted it. And it worked he never touched anything in the fridge or even took a shower without asking till age 18. No tantrums in supermarkets the understanding was given to the wise soul when he was just months old. He is now 21 totally in tune with his divine self, no religion just direct communion with the divine. As you can imagine he is not impressed with the state of the affairs of the world.


    " but there is also a time to be empty, and those are the times we are closer to our Ground of Being."

    Totally agree with you.

    Sacredstar
     
  13. Ciel

    Ciel in essence

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    Sacred Star,
    As a mother and one who has spent time assisting young lives, your care in the training of the unique individual life you birthed as your son, created heart felt sadness in its misalignment, for it is no more than a breaking of the human will. Show a child respect and respect shall be returned. Allow a child the wholeness of it's life to nurture respect for others and all things, including "teddy bears", for in young lives the wish to give is inherent, born selfless, moulded by love. And we to remember, that we show by example.
    There is a kinder way than the shedding of tears, where selflessness and enlightenment comes through the gratitude of the living of life, sharing with all in the joy of being.
     
  14. Sacredstar

    Sacredstar New Member

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    Dear Ciel

    I am sorry that you feel that way, my methods have brought great fruition and a young man that is considered to be the most balanced amongst his contemporaries. I also work as a consultant to a UK government agency helping underprivileged families with stunning results.

    My view is that every child is unique and a sacred divine being, and from birth I honoured my son as my equal, but there were fundamental things that were taught to him as a baby regarding needs and boundaries.

    So each to their own, a few tears over a teddy bear did him no harm, but children being hit in supermarkets by parents certainly does do a lot of harm and this is something that I do not condone.

    I walked into a room and parents were shouting at a child, when presenting to health and education workers, I asked them why they thought this was necessary? They could not see that there was anything wrong in what the parent was doing. My way would have been to sweep the child off the table and into my arms with love, smiles and songs.

    Shouting would not have been neccesary, so please do not judge me harshly, my methods worked for me and my son, and he is a great credit to me and the way this single parent brought him up. He is love beyond measure for other soul's and our planet.

    Love to you

    Sacredstar

    PS I can assure you that no will or spirit was broken......
     
  15. mirrorinthefog

    mirrorinthefog New Member

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    I believe ego can't be destroyed, but it can be controlled for the sake of preserving the self and the community which the self needs to survive. It's not "good" or "bad", it simply is. We can't-and shouldn't feel pressured to-condemn ourselves for being who we are. And I don't think religion tries to eliminate or promote "selfishness" (to me, selfishness implies some measure of consciousness), as much as it aims to harness the ego so that it doesn't override other faculties we require to function. Trying to eliminate it completely would be suicide.

    Meh, I'm not making sense again :eek:
     
  16. Snoopy

    Snoopy Active Member

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    A six year old boy was asked to donate blood to help his sister who had contracted a life-threatening blood disease. He asked for a few days to consider his decision, at the end of which he consented to the request. After the doctor had taken his blood, the boy asked, “When will I start to die?”


    -taken from The Experience of Meditation - ed. by Jonathan Shear.
     
  17. InLove

    InLove at peace

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    Wow. A six-year-old. No wonder I learn so much from kids. I wonder what he said when he found out he didn't have to die then....maybe he did a cartwheel? I wonder if he cried...

    Profound.

    InPeace,
    InLove
     

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