I say that I embrace “selfishness.” Selfishness, as it is understood today, does not align with my Christian beliefs. We, as Christians, are called to be self-less, but not in the same way that selflessness is used today.
At the heart of the Christian faith, as I understand it and try to live it, is the self-determination of the individual. The individual comes to Christ. The individual faces the consequences of their decisions, alone, not the collective.
There is no ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” in my understanding of the Faith, though many have used the name of Christ to justify (I’d say erroneously, and in many cases outright deceptively) such anti-individual, anti-human, anti-Christ thinking.
I use the word “selfish” almost like a shock word to counter the current cultural acceptance of “altruism” and “selflessness,” which is almost always tied to some collective identity, an identity that draws its legitimacy not from its actual worth to your life but from the very idea of altruism.
JFK said “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what YOU can do for your country.” Bull. If the country exists for me to serve it, then why do I need to serve it, outside of the existence of this “noble” lie called selflessness?
We who believe in Christ are servants of Christ. We willingly make ourselves slaves to Christ, but in our bondage we are free, in our service we are served. We worship God, and in lifting Him up, we ourselves are drawn to become more like Him.
We grow in our love for Christ through our individual relationship with Him. We find in His ways, in loving Him, in worshiping Him, that OUR interests are served, that WE become more what we wanted to be.
We walk in peace and certainty, even as arrows are flung our way. We walk in grace and love even if others around us hate us. We experience, physically and spiritually, the rewards of submitting, in love, to Christ.
This, to me, is “selfish.” Would I love Christ, would I submit to Christ if I did not experience the joy, the benefit, of walking in His way? I wouldn’t. I couldn’t, because if I didn’t experience His love and His grace in my life in tangible ways, then He would not be who He said He was in scripture.
If God’s love does not benefit the one who authentically loves God, then the only reason to follow God is because that’s “just what we do,” which is what I think largely happens when Faith becomes an institution rather than an emergent expression of individuals coming to love Christ freely.
There are many people, through the ages, who came to Christ through a collective, and not through a one-on-one relation to Christ, who rejected the benefits of Christ and focused only on the sacrifice for Christ, who adopted a collectivist salvation thought process rather than an individual one.
They helped, in large part, create the “noble” lie of selflessness and altruism, the unquestioning sacrifice of yourself for the larger group, whether it be your nation, your state, your faith group, etc.
“Selfishness,” as I am using it, means self-awareness, means owning why you believe what you believe, why you support this or that action, why you take this or that action. It means coming to terms with understanding who you are and what you prefer.
I believe, and I realize MOST of the people I associate with in the “Liberty” community would disagree with this, that the only truth is in Christ, the most authentic relationship is between the individual who loves God and God Himself. I believe that without an external “governor,” that all morality, that all value is always subjective. So far, I’ve yet to find an objective foundation for value or morality, outside of, for me, Christ.
This does not mean to say that I believe people who don’t love Christ are not capable of being “moral” or being “good.” I have friends who reject Christ whom I consider to be good, “moral” people that have high standing with me and have demonstrated real character. I trust many of these friends far more than I do a fair number of my Christian friends.
That said, I believe that, outside of the Faith, my ultimate standing and value to others is based on my demonstrated benefit to them in advancing their preferences. Their ultimate standing and value to me, outside of what comes through my faith, is born from the same foundation.
People who prefer a starting point of self-direction for the individual are the only people, within that parameter, that I can trust, that I can walk with in “Liberty” (extending the space for individuals to be able to say yes or no of their own free will). All other people, within that parameter, will find reasons to “justify” attempting to reduce my space, my liberty because, in so doing, it advances their preferences.
In this exchange, the only standards between us is the reality of power, their power to coerce me, to limit my space of liberty, at not too high a cost to themselves, and my power to either raise that cost to a prohibitive level or negate it altogether.
So who do I walk with? I walk with Christians who have come to Christ through an individual relationship and not a collectivist assumptions, who understand that loving Christ brings great personal benefit, that following His ways, becoming more like Him serves your own “self-interest.” These are the Christians who will not wield the magistrate’s sword to force you to love their God or practice their “righteousness.”
I walk with individuals, whatever their existential understanding of the world is (Atheist, Muslim, etc) who embrace their “selfishness,” who are first aware of their preferences and why they pursue or support this idea, this action, over other ideas, other actions, and second have articulated and demonstrated a preference for group emergence from a starting point, an assumption of self-direction for the individual.
“Selfishness,” in the sense of self-direction, owning your thoughts, your actions, embracing and being aware of how such thoughts and actions benefit the fulfilment of your preferences, is far more authentic, far more trustworthy than selflessness, blindly sacrificing yourself for a collective because the act, in and of itself, makes you a “good” person, a “noble” person.
Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for yourself. Own that responsibility and seek out others to do the same. It will be a world of “selfish” people rooted in the starting point of the self-directed individual that will bring an end to the coercive enterprises around us as we know them, for ALL of these coercive enterprises, states, derive a significant measure of legitimacy from the “noble” lie of selflessness, altruism, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
Lastly, I want to add that THROUGH owning my “selfishness,” I have come to realize why Christ says, “Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down his life for another.” No, this is not teaching us to blindly, ritualistically, lay down our lives for others. It is teaching us that as we grow in our love for Christ, as His love becomes actualized in our lives, that benefit will outweigh the preservation of your own life to sacrifice for the preservation of another life.
Obviously, I have never laid down my life for another, but I have made what would look like to others sacrifices for others, be it money, time, safety, etc. I did so, and continue to do so, not because I am altruistic, I am not, but because I am “selfish.” When you serve others through Christ’s love, you receive far more than you gave.
In giving, I received exactly what I wanted to receive. MY preferences were fulfilled. MY needs were met. When Christ fed the thousands with a few loaves of bread and fish, He illustrated this phenomenon of serving that, in my belief system, He designed. We have little, in actuality, to give anyone, but somehow that little we have can impact people far greater than what was given. At the end of those miracles, the disciples collected the remaining bread and fish and found they had far more left for themselves than they initially gave. So too it is with giving.
I own that reality. I embrace the self-serving parts of that reality. I own the reality that living in Christ’s loves serves my best interests. Becoming more like Christ, who Himself said He came to earth to serve, is in my personal best interest. My pursuit of Christ is selfish, just as my pursuit of Liberty is selfish. I understand the ways in which Christ and Liberty further enable me to fulfil the preferences in my life.
In the strictest sense of the word, selfishness is not good, it is not godly. By the letter of the word selfish, I must reject it, but by the spirit of self-interest, I must embrace it, and I will continue to use the word so long as I find it useful to start conversations that lead to the more nuanced point I am making by using the word selfish.
I reject blind obedience to anyone or anything. I do not blindly follow God, for His truth, His ways have been justified in my life through my experiences living them out. The PROOF of His truth is laid bare in my LIVING His Truth.
The culture of today has taken self-awareness, self-actualization and condemned it under the increasingly expanding definition of a now-demonized word, selfishness. The culture of today has taken selflessness, altruism and used it to browbeat others into a collectivist, blind submission, blind obedience to entities that have not demonstrated their legitimacy or their benefit to anyone but a select few, who designed it to do just what it does, serve them, and enable them to trick you to serving them, with no real benefit to yourself.
THIS is why I will continue to use the word selfish, why I will continue to reject words like altruism and selflessness.
In Christ, my selfishness might look like selflessness. In Christ, my self-interest might look like altruism, but I UNDERSTAND, I have ACTUALIZED the truth of Christ by understanding how His way, which, to the outsider looking in, appears to be blind obedience, unquestioning slavery, submission to God, is actually the most selfish choice I could make in my life.
I prefer to be like Christ because it personally, directly benefits me and meets my preferences more fully than any other way.