Selflessness and Pride

Algot Henge is the former director of coordinated strategy at WeDesign Marketing and is now an independent educational consultant and speaker on coordinating design. She contributes thought-provoking insights across the blogosphere. She loves reading, debating, and witty rapartee. You can also follow her on Twitter.

This letter came in…

I felt compelled to share some of her insights about selfishness and pride, as it relates to Ayn Rand and Jesus. Insights from Skye:

I’m at college, so when I am home I still go to church. At the last Wesleyan service we went to the message was about selfishness and pride verses the beatitude meekness. The example used was the story about Jesus before Pontius Pilate, saying that Jesus was displaying selflessness because he was following God’s will, and Pilate was proud. The illustration was being used to support the idea of meekness, but if the story was taken by itself and a moral extrapolated, I think it would be Objectivist. I can’t help thinking about the amazing amount of *self*-control it would have taken Jesus to choose to be in that situation. I never think of Jesus as weak, always as a sort of Galt (the best Christ-allusion ever written by accident). And Pilate’s action is a perfect example of Ayn’s selflessness. Remember, “I wash my hands of this”? He was acting against his own consciousness, betraying his own judgment and allowing a crowd of people to decide for him when the responsibility was his. Selflessness is what he was guilty of! A prideful person could have stood alone against a mob.

I agree, and I appreciate the way Skye superimposes Ayn Rand’s philosophy on top of Pilate’s actions. Pilate was clearly subjugating a higher value (Jesus’s life) to a lower value (the crowd’s approval/demands). Rand calls that the “vice of sacrifice or selflessness.”
Making this comparison, as Skye did, brings up a general issue. The terms that Rand uses have very different meaning from Christianity. That further confuses the comparison. Mortimer Adler (one of my favorite contemporary philosophers) makes a big deal out of “coming to terms,” where anyone in a conversation must begin by agreeing on the meaning of words. Since we’re talking about ideas, we need to be sure that we’re talking about the same ideas when we use words. Some words that mean something different in a respectively Christian and Objectivist context are sacrifice, altruism, selflessness, selfishness, spiritual, soul, universe, mysticism. These are just off the top of my head. I’m sure there are more, and I’m eager to hear them, along with the definitions that you think are more fitting.

What do you think about sacrifice?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

6 thoughts on “Selflessness and Pride

  1. Problems with the translation of the bible is another whole dimension to wording differences. One thing I left out was that the sermon started out really well by giving the Greek meaning of the word meekness, which is very different from the way we generally think of it. Apparently that word was used in 3 different contexts- doctors and seamen were 2 people who used it, I can’t remember the 3rd, but the common theme was something like power held at bay. That definition makes more sense in relation to Jesus for sure, and greatly improves its meaning as a beatitude. (Of course, after giving the correct definition the guy went on to use the more common one for the rest of what he had to say… oh well, the thought was there.)

  2. As I read the final chapters of the book, I felt that I was seeing Christ in a new way, but that it was the way I had been struggling to see him all along, so many things clicked into place in
    those few pages, that it’s going to take me a while to process them
    all. Word meaning is definitely an impediment to discussing Objectivism with other Christians. “Isn’t sacrifice central to
    Christianity?” I wondered, while reading about the virtue of
    selfishness. Then I checked my premises. Our common usage of
    “sacrifice” denotes complete immolation- self destruction with no
    personal gain, as Rand suggests, but this concept does not mesh with
    the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Christ came seeking a
    value- the hearts and minds of his creation. Galt willingly reentered
    the outside world, enduring undeserved torture, because the
    possibility of Dagny freely choosing to return with him was a value he considered worth the pain. To Rand, this is not sacrifice, but selfishness. To the Christian, it is the mission of Christ.
    As I mentioned, I am new to this and have a lot to work through, I
    hope I haven’t already butchered something.

    Looking forward to the journey.

  3. Jesus has aspects of Rand’s Galt, but the whole idea of “deny yourself” doesn’t work for that comparison. Doesn’t equate.

  4. I regret the compulsion to say this….BUT….. isn’t it spelled “Pilate”, not “Pilot”? The misspelling of such a central and definitive name is an unfortunate distraction, and ultimately underminines an otherwise intriguing and thought-provoking argument…(Sorry, if this seems “off-topic”, or tangential- I feel the gist of the discussion worthy of a well-meaning correction for the sake of contextual accuracy.)

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