After many hours of thought, this question came up: Don’t those who do good deserve to be rewarded? Especially those people that have a selfless concern for the welfare of others (which is called altruism). Does true altruism even exists…can people really be “selfless” when helping someone? Does anyone do anything because it’s right? Or because it’s good? Or do people simply do things because there is a profit?
Even Christianity has co-opted this view. The dominant Christian world-view for hundreds of years is a story that is familiar to many of us (and I know that I am oversimplifying this)…”do the right things on Earth so that you may have great rewards in heaven.” It is, simply enough, “profit motive” and takes out the fact that we cannot “do” anything to earn our way to heaven (because it is by grace that we are saved). But, by being obedient to the God of the Universe, He calls us to do or not do certain things, and we follow Him in this out of love and respect, right?
The “profit” that we receive when “do” something good is usually not money or anything temporal. It is far removed and a bit ethereal, but it exists, nonetheless. So, with the song (written by John Lennon) in my mind, I will for a moment “Imagine there’s no Heaven” for the sake of conversation.
What if “profit motive” is utterly removed from the conversation? What if God were to intervene today and tell us that there is absolutely no Heaven, and then when we die…we just die? What if God were to then say that everything that Jesus told us about the way we live is still true, and that God still fully expects us to live that way?
How would we react to that?
It’s sort of the reverse of Plato’s “Ring of Gyges” story (if you could do evil without the threat of punishment, would you?). If you were expected to do good selflessly without the possibility of reward, would you? Would I? Would anyone?
That’s an EXTREMELY fascinating question…and has been plaguing my mind today. Sometimes questions reveal more than the answers, but I’m not sure what this one reveals. Is it a flaw in the system? Is it a flaw with human nature? Are we so weak that we must be constantly tempted by carrots dangled on strings? Is it just a means to an end because we’re all idiots that need shiny things to make us do any good? Does that reduce faith to ridiculousness? Some well-designed method of control to get people to act as they should act?
What if Lennon is right? What if there were no heaven? How would people act? Would we basically be good? Would we protect each other and the Earth because we know that this is the only shot we have? Or would we be greedy bastards who would take down the whole ship?
If the promise of Heaven is enough to make people act better than they would act without such a promise, is it justified? Do the ends justify the means? How would I act? Would I be basically good? Would I care for other people and the Earth, or would I be one of the selfish bastards?
So, my question is…in all our attempts to be “better” or “good” to people, are they all truly selfless acts? Because, if it was selfless we wouldn’t be so concerned about the outcome by saying “why bother”, but be rejoicing that we had an opportunity to serve one of God’s children. If we were using His strength and wisdom to help others…rather than using our own strength and knowledge…we wouldn’t be feeling as though we’re failing over and over again.
I am learning (just this week) that Christians tend to believe that “selflessness” is the ultimate thing to pursue in life…when I believe that “charity” is really what Christ was after. Because “giving to those in need” is not just reserved for the homeless or the sick…because everyone could use a hug, a word of encouragement, or a helping hand.
(Note to self: You might want to read CS Lewis’ “The Four Loves”…it might bring some perspective on this issue.)