Selfish Altruism

By Christopher Myers

Written 24 April – 8 June 2020


Link to 2000 Years Later Foreword: https://aquilitz.com/2000-years-later-series-a-foreword/

Link to Part 1, The Church: https://aquilitz.com/what-was-the-church-supposed-to-be/

Link to Part 3, Submission: https://aquilitz.com/christian-submission/

Link to Part 4, Pride and Anger: https://aquilitz.com/pride-and-anger/

Link to Part 5, Attitude: (Coming Soon on March 26th)


Sacrifices are some of the simplest acts of kindness and appreciation that an individual can offer, but the act of giving is one of the most overlooked and misunderstood by Church congregants. Throughout the following paragraphs, I’ll detail exactly what the original purpose of giving is, as well as how today’s culture has twisted the intention of sacrifice. Finally, I’ll detail how Christian sacrifices should truly be made in today’s environment.

A sacrifice, first and foremost, is a different act than a tithe. The original tithe (per Leviticus 27:30-33, Deuteronomy 14:22-29, and Numbers 18:21-29) was set up in order to fund the Levites (the Jewish priests), Feast Days celebrations, and the poor – specifically widows and orphans. It was a portion of the ceremonial law, which Jesus and His disciples explained were no longer required (per Matthew 15:2-20, Romans 3:30-31, and Romans 13:8-10). Arguably, the tithe was a tax used to support the theocratic (religious-based) government of Israel. This would be similar in many respects to today’s government taxes, which are used to provide basic public services while also supporting those in need. I believe that the tithe is a separate act from sacrifice, although both could plausibly be called ‘giving’ (I also believe that although there is no mandatory requirement to tithe, we should do so with a goal of a minimum of ten percent).

The act of sacrifice is the destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else.1 As Luke 6:35-36 and 2 Corinthians 9: 6-8 state, sacrifice is accomplished for two reasons: as an act of trust in the Lord so that even greater rewards might be received, and/or an act of worship with no gain expected in return. These explanations define sacrifices in their purest forms, but I believe that the idea behind the act of sacrifice has been twisted in our 21st century society.

Altruism tends to be associated with both selfless action and love for one another. Both of these are heavily associated with Christian culture. Altruism is defined as unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others.2 Ironically, both Christian and secular culture appear to leaning toward acts of selfish altruism, which I define as acts supporting others with the expectation of emotional or physical reward in return. Many psychologists today actually argue that true altruism doesn’t exist, with all altruistic behavior directly associated with self-interests, most often pride and personal satisfaction.3 Studies show that giving to others literally increases temporary happiness in those offering the sacrifice.4 This idea reverberates in churches and throughout philanthropic organizations, where viewers hear the words “give yourself a pat on the back” and “you should feel proud of your contributions.” Many times, Christian Organizations appear no different than secular commercials, informing their viewers that they are good for having donated, which is not necessarily true (and contrary to popular belief, karma is not a Christian principle).

The idea of tying pride to sacrifice is a dangerous and unbiblical one. Jesus and His apostles regularly refuted prideful actions, and Jesus says directly in Luke 18:14 that those who exalt themselves will be humbled. The most regularly twisted preaching of sacrifice is the prosperity gospel, where preachers claim that through giving and sacrifice, God is guaranteed to provide the giver with health, material items, and special access in heaven. The prosperity gospel runs directly contrary to Jesus’s words in Matthew 24:9, where he states that all of His followers will suffer arrests, persecution, and death. This is echoed in 2 Timothy 3:12 as well as James 1:2-4. There is no promise that sacrifice will ward off death and disease, and it ultimately has no effect on salvation, as Romans 3:30-31 states that salvation is available through faith alone. Why, then, is such a twisted view of sacrifice being preached to the masses?

As was noted earlier, sacrifices are made either as a form of worship or in order to receive something greater at a later time. The prosperity gospel states that God will fulfill physical and psychological needs based on how much an individual sacrifices. This preaching is often offered to the same low-income groups that gambling affects, and gambling offers a similar promise to the prosperity gospel (as both offer a chance for immediate gain).5 These ideologies encourage materialism while eliminating the basis for sacrifice (as any loss is treated as planting a seed that will pay dividends later, instead of as a true sacrifice). This warped idea of altruism is exacerbated in secular society, especially in the world of celebrity. Maslow’s Hierarchy is referenced most often when needs and desires are discussed, and selfish altruism absolves a variety of psychological desires in today’s culture.6 In this sense, viewers and congregants are informed that they will feel better about themselves for offering a sacrifice – they will be (psychologically) fulfilled. Altruism has been transformed into a kind of personal therapy, which is why I believe selfish altruism is a more appropriate definition for what is taking place.

Celebrity culture appears to have hijacked the idea of sacrifice as a way to increase fame and fortune as well. A variety of celebrities and businesses have turned giving into marketing opportunities. Charitable giving is seen regularly now as a recommended option – arguably more beneficial than advertising – for businesses and individuals to improve brand image.7 This has pervaded a multitude of places, including social media, daytime talk-shows, and church sermons. All now regularly showcase hosts’ and individuals’ sacrifices in video segments that prioritize emotional connection (arguably, emotional manipulation). This is done primarily to increase donations and viewership, as empathy is the primary driver of altruism.8 While this might help to increase short-term giving, I argue that it’s an unbiblical attitude and will actually harm the public perception of an organization or individual over a longer period of time. Throughout the Bible, it is states that individuals boasting about their sacrifices will be cursed and humbled for their inappropriate behavior. Among other places, it states this in Proverbs 27:14, Matthew 6:1, 2 Corinthians 11:30, and James 4:16. No matter the short-term gains, there will be long-term losses when acting with selfish altruism. How, then, can the Church encourage and showcase giving appropriately?

The Church must take care to rework how altruism is presented, so that it might regain its selfless roots. Matthew 6:1-4 is used regularly as a foundational verse for giving, and for good reason. Jesus states that gifts shouldn’t just be given in private, but that you should also hide your sacrifices from your own pride: don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. In this sense, all gifts to the Church (and frankly, anywhere else for that matter) should be anonymous. Church staff must take care to ensure that even they have no awareness of who is giving to Christian Organizations, so that all congregants might be treated equal. This way, preference cannot be given even subconsciously.

The Church must also be careful to give honor publicly through monuments or titles, lest the recipient or the Church boast about what has been given or received. Even if verbal boasting is avoided completely, the presentation of a monument to an individual (that has made sacrifices) clearly honors that individual above others in the Church – eliminating or at the very least diminishing the Church’s teachings of equality and providing support to an acts-based salvation by showcasing that congregants who offer more financially are treated better by the Church, and by extension God. All giving, whether from the Church or individual congregants, must be as private as possible. Since the beginning of time, sacrifice has been a private act – one that when made public only encourages pride, jealousy, and murder.

Individual Christians looking to offer appropriate sacrifices would do well to ensure that the Church (or any other organization) has no easy and direct way to reciprocate in response to what has been given, whether physically or emotionally. Individual Christians can sacrifice appropriately by following Matthew 6:1-4 and attempting to eliminate any thought related to their anonymous giving as soon as possible after the sacrifice is offered (self-induced amnesia, if you will). Christians should not linger on what they plan to give either, as that is another way for pride to build up and even though boasts may not have been spoken, the thought of them is a sin (See Matthew 5:28). When sacrifice is done this way, any reward provided by the Lord is that much more miraculous and powerful, with little logic left to explain a possible human reply to an individual’s generosity (helping to ensure that the glory is the Lord’s). The sacrifice of time, money, and material objects should all be treated similarly, with as much of an attempt as possible to make them acts of personal (and hidden) worship. The Church as a whole though, struggles at times to eliminate boasting from sacrifices made – after all, nearly all that the Church does is a sacrifice, or should be designed as such.

The Church has a responsibility to provide transparency and it can accomplish this without faltering into selfish altruism. By stating plainly what the Church is accomplishing (and eliminating any possible emotional manipulation that’s often perceived in video promos where checks are offered to those in need, who immediately provide a visible emotional response), any possible manipulation of the congregation as well as pride among the staff (and congregation) is minimized. If individuals or organizations that have been assisted by the Church desire to showcase what has been done, that is their prerogative, but the Church must ensure that they minimize their boasting in every way. This may run counter to culture, which states that empathy is needed in order to increase giving, but Jesus desired for the Church to be separate from culture. After all, Paul says in Romans 12:2: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

The likely first reaction to eliminating public presentations of sacrifices is one of fear – fear of losing funding and well-known congregants. But any Christian that fears in this manner would do well to remember that the Lord can accomplish anything (in fact, he is more likely to act if he can ensure that he has an opportunity to gain the glory). It would be incredibly disappointing to hear that a Christian Organization doesn’t have faith that funding will continue without video pronouncements of sacrifice. I challenge any Christian Organization worried about funding to eliminate such presentations altogether, and see how God responds. After all, as Paul says in Romans 3:30 “There is only one God, and He makes people right with Himself only by faith.” To paraphrase Philippians 4:13: Whether conquering disease and chaos or gaining Church funding through only private (unadvertised) offerings – we can do all things through faith in Christ.


References

1. Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Sacrifice. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved April 24, 2020 from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sacrifice.

2. Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Altruism. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved April 24, 2020 from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/altruism.

3. Burton, Neel. (2014) Empathy and Altruism: Are They Selfish? Retrieved from Psychology Today at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201410/empathy-and-altruism-are-they-selfish.

4. Walsh, Colleen. (2008). Money spent on others can buy happiness. Retrieved from The Harvard Gazette at https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2008/04/money-spent-on-others-can-buy-happiness/.

5. Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem. (2015). Prosperity Gospel Is War on the Poor. Retrieved from Time Magazine at https://time.com/3912366/kareem-abdul-jabbar-prosperity-gospel/.

6. McLeod, Saul. (2020). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved from Simply Psychology Today at https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html.

7. Editorial Staff. (2020). 3 Ways to Promote Your Business With Charitable Marketing. Retrieved from Business.com at https://www.business.com/articles/promote-your-business-with-charitable-marketing/.

8. Sonne, James W.H. and Gash, Don M. (2018). Psychopathy to Altruism: Neurobiology of the Selfish–Selfless Spectrum. Retrieved from Frontiers of Psychology at https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00575/full.


Full Biblical References (given below in the New Living Translation):

Leviticus 27:30-33; “One-tenth of the produce of the land, whether grain from the fields or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord and must be set apart to him as holy. If you want to buy back the Lord’s tenth of the grain or fruit, you must pay its value, plus 20 percent. Count off every tenth animal from your herds and flocks and set them apart for the Lord as holy. You may not pick and choose between good and bad animals, and you may not substitute one for another. But if you do exchange one animal for another, then both the original animal and its substitute will be considered holy and cannot be bought back.”

Numbers 18:21-29; As for the tribe of Levi, your relatives, I will compensate them for their service in the Tabernacle. Instead of an allotment of land, I will give them the tithes from the entire land of Israel.

 “From now on, no Israelites except priests or Levites may approach the Tabernacle. If they come too near, they will be judged guilty and will die. Only the Levites may serve at the Tabernacle, and they will be held responsible for any offenses against it. This is a permanent law for you, to be observed from generation to generation. The Levites will receive no allotment of land among the Israelites, because I have given them the Israelites’ tithes, which have been presented as sacred offerings to the Lord. This will be the Levites’ share. That is why I said they would receive no allotment of land among the Israelites.”

The Lord also told Moses, “Give these instructions to the Levites: When you receive from the people of Israel the tithes I have assigned as your allotment, give a tenth of the tithes you receive—a tithe of the tithe—to the Lord as a sacred offering. The Lord will consider this offering to be your harvest offering, as though it were the first grain from your own threshing floor or wine from your own winepress. You must present one-tenth of the tithe received from the Israelites as a sacred offering to the Lord. This is the Lord’s sacred portion, and you must present it to Aaron the priest. Be sure to give to the Lord the best portions of the gifts given to you.

Deuteronomy 14:22-29; “You must set aside a tithe of your crops—one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year. Bring this tithe to the designated place of worship—the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored—and eat it there in his presence. This applies to your tithes of grain, new wine, olive oil, and the firstborn males of your flocks and herds. Doing this will teach you always to fear the Lord your God.

 “Now when the Lord your God blesses you with a good harvest, the place of worship he chooses for his name to be honored might be too far for you to bring the tithe. If so, you may sell the tithe portion of your crops and herds, put the money in a pouch, and go to the place the Lord your God has chosen. When you arrive, you may use the money to buy any kind of food you want—cattle, sheep, goats, wine, or other alcoholic drink. Then feast there in the presence of the Lord your God and celebrate with your household. And do not neglect the Levites in your town, for they will receive no allotment of land among you.

“At the end of every third year, bring the entire tithe of that year’s harvest and store it in the nearest town. Give it to the Levites, who will receive no allotment of land among you, as well as to the foreigners living among you, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, so they can eat and be satisfied. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all your work.

Proverbs 27:14; A loud and cheerful greeting early in the morning will be taken as a curse!

Matthew 5:28; But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Matthew 6:1-4; “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

Matthew 6:26; “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?”

Matthew 15:2-20; “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.”

Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’”

Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “Listen,” he said, “and try to understand. It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”

Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?”

Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.”

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable that says people aren’t defiled by what they eat.”

“Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”

Matthew 24:9; ““Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers.”

Luke 6:35-36; “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.

Luke 18:14; “I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Romans 3:30-31; There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.

Romans 12:2; Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Romans 13:8-10; Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law.  For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.

2 Corinthians 9: 6-8; Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.

2 Corinthians 11:30; If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

Philippians 4:13; I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

2 Timothy 3:12; In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted

James 1:2-4; Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 4:16; Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil.

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