Is there a difference between a life centered on God and a life centered on others? They seem synonymous. Look at Mother Teresa. She represented a godly life through her focus on the needs of others.
At Brown University, I studied the Middle Ages. Amidst the violence and disease that caused me to prefer calling this period the “Dark Ages,” I found the behavior of the monks refreshing. When they left their cloistered habitat to participate in the lives of the people, they went about the work of another kingdom. The monks’ inventions, scholarship, art, and building of hospitals renewed society and improved lives.
So often, I see in myself and others the loud and clumsy proclamation of the way things should be, a kind of evangelism or proselytizing, whether it’s Objectivism or Christianity. In contrast, the monks were busy doing excellent work. If anything, they were earning the right to be heard. But, even without being heard, the Gospel was being proclaimed in what people saw.
When it comes to the sacrificial life, there is a subtle but crucial difference between the motivation of self-interest and a God-centered motivation. I am implying that sacrifice has a place in Objectivism because I am using a more broadly recognized definition than Ayn Rand uses. According to the common definition, sacrifice is not subjecting a greater value to a lesser. It’s making the often difficult choice to forego a good value for a great one. In the case of the monks, they were putting their own lives (of great value to themselves) at the disposal of God (a much greater value). God, in turn, directs his work for the benefit of those whom he loves. At face value, the monks are putting others before themselves and this looks like Altruism. Whereas the motivation of Altruism is its own end, the monks’ end is glorifying God.