Rational Self-Interest vs. Rational Sacrifice ?

At Brown, I studied the Middle Ages. Some call the period the “Dark Ages,” because of the violence and disease. A lot of that was perpetrated in the name of religion. In that midst of the chaos, I found the behavior of the monks refreshing. When they left their cloistered habitat to participate in the 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 hear 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 God-centeredness. If you accept a more broadly recognized definition than Ayn Rand uses, sacrifice has a place in Objectivism. 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.
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3 thoughts on “Rational Self-Interest vs. Rational Sacrifice ?

  1. I do not believe that those Dark Ages monks did good works. The behavior of the Church back then was rigid, hateful, deceitful and it lacked integrity especially when on uses Christianity as a metric. Let’s not kid ourselves, those monks were not altruistic and in fact were self serving. Too often religious people and events from the past get idealized, romanticized. The proof is in the historical record for anyone that will cease to believe what they WANT to believe. Regardless, I do agree that Christianity and Objectivity can coexist.

  2. I like Dan’s last sentence a lot. The rest of the post…Well….I’m glad this group allows people to feel free to share their opinions.

    Facts are also a popular way to convey information, and people should feel equally free to refer to facts in their posts.

    And just to be really extra fair: in this discussion group, the terms “altruism” and “self-serving” (hyphenated, by the way) have extremely particular definitions, definitions which would cause the sentence in the below post to make no sense whatsoever. But that’s okay, because being utterly unfamiliar with this group and its reference points, would be very understandable.

  3. Dan said, “I do not believe that those Dark Ages monks did good works.”
    Wait…which monks? *Any* of them? Or just some of them (or even many of them)? Are you saying that you believe most or all monks during the years of the Dark Ages behaved like the medieval Roman Catholic monks one sees behaving badly in the movies?
    Dan said, “The behavior of the Church back then was rigid, hateful, deceitful and it lacked integrity”
    Which church? The official ultra-politicized Roman Catholic church of the time, or are you including the Christian Church of Byzantium in that description as well?
    I don’t mean individual cases of individual people behaving in hateful, deceitful fashion…that happens in every organization, religious or not. I want to understand if you’re painting most monks of both the Roman Catholic
    and Eastern Christian churches with the same brush.
    If so, can you give us an idea of what put you under that impression?

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