"Do This and Live"

As mentioned in yesterday’s article, Ayn Rand was known for her views of “anti-altruism,” or what she called the virtue of selfishness. However, what Rand called “selfishness” would be more accurate if it was referred to as “self-interest.” Pure selfishness is a total ignorance of the wants or needs of others, while self-interest does not promote such egotistical notions. Leonard Read explains:

A vast majority of people in this and other countries, including many noted scholars, confuse self-interest with selfishness. The definition of selfishness? " . . . having such regard for one's own interests and advantage that the happiness and welfare of others becomes of less concern than is considered right and just." Selfish individuals range all the way from thieves to political and private power mongers. All who gain at the expense of others fall in this despicable category!

It may be simple enough to say that we don’t support “selfishness,” but what exactly do we mean instead by “self-interest”? Isn’t this just another way of saying much the same thing? Not really. According to Read, “self-interest is the motivator of creative human action. Minding one’s own business amounts to serving oneself by serving others. This is a task of a size to fit the individual—whatever his talents.” Talent is the key word here. Selfishness assumes that the individual is primary, while self-interest assumes that the individual is a necessary component. Self-interest teaches that it is not a good business decision to rip off your customers; selfishness—at least in its pure form—teaches the opposite.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus taught that the two greatest commandments were to love God with your whole being and to love your neighbor as yourself. A lawyer standing nearby thought a legal test was in order, and asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29). Jesus’ response to this test is known as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Rather than directly answering the lawyer’s question, Jesus told a story about a man who was left on the side of the road to die and the response of those who passed by. Two men—first a priest and then a Levite—ignored the man and passed by him on the other side of the road. Finally, a Samaritan (whom the Jews considered to be unclean, John 4:9) happened by and took pity on the man and brought him to an inn and paid for his care. Jesus concluded his story by asking the lawyer, “Which of these three proved to be a neighbor to the man?” When the lawyer rightly answered that it was the third man, Jesus told him to “Go and do the same.”

What is most interesting about this short passage from the New Testament is that we have both selfishness and self-interest on display. The first two men—the priest and the Levite—were acting selfishly, but the Samaritan actually acted self-interestedly. How? In this way: what would the priest and Levite have wanted others to do if they had been the ones on the roadside? Obviously they would want someone to stop and help. And yet they could not be bothered to slow down and offer so much as a comforting word to the man. Their own desires to get where they were going were more important to them than helping someone in need. Their selfishness is apparent.

But what is less apparent is the self-interest of the Samaritan. While it may be argued that he was naturally good-hearted, kind, and helpful, it should not be forgotten that Jesus was using this parable to teach about the second of the two great commandments: to love your neighbor as yourself. The Samaritan put himself in the man’s position for a moment and knew what he must do. Injured people require help and care. “Some day,” the Samaritan reasoned, “I may be in a similar situation and I would want someone to stop rather than hurry on by. Even though it is inconvenient and costly to me now, it is in my best interest to help this man, because it may very well be me the next time.” The Samaritan’s own view of self-interest motivated his compassion.

Some may say that this is a selfish way of encouraging good behavior. After all, it was “right” what the Samaritan did and “wrong” what the priest and Levite did. This is true, but notice that Jesus does not appeal to the lawyer’s sense of morality, but to his sense of justice. He was, after all, an expert in legal matters and the law does not make moral judgments based on feelings, but on fairness. The lawyer himself was indignant with the priest and Levite because of what they did, not because of their possible motivations for doing so. He was brought face-to-face with the difference between selfishness and self-interest and he easily chose the latter. And so should we. And to which Jesus would answer: “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”


  • marineh2ominer

    If the Samaritan were an American progressive of today he would pass him by and then demand that some one else be sent out to care for him at THEIR expense .

    • http://yahoo.com/ Lou J Apa

      AMEN...and...AMEN....and to those who do not care for their brothers, or legislate against them hatefully, God will not care for them at the Judgment.....lja/JMJ

  • stoobee

    Matthew 22:39 (NIV)
    And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'

    If one's self-interest is to be rewarded for loving God, then loving your neighbor must be just like it. But the reward must COME from God, not man, and to obtain it, one must have faith in Him. When we love God, we do it invisibly. After all, God is Spirit. But to love your neighbor as yourself implies a visible love---tangible evidence you love God.The Good Samaritan was practicing loving God because he visibly showed evidence of it by loving his neighbor as himself. I do not believe the definition of man's self-interest applies to this parable unless the reward he was seeking came from men.

  • pszaffuto

    A good way to explain this value, and it is interest that this example has been written out for us for almost 2000 years

  • darkcyder

    Yes, Ayn Rand had it all wrong, and if you read her books she blathers on endlessly about it. Furthermore, she has her main character sleep with every guy she runs across in the book. Not quite what I'd consider moral, and yet we are supposed to hold her up as the hero. More selfishness on display. (what do I feel like doing at this moment- I should do it, no matter the harm to others). Remember at the root of Self-Ish-Ness is S-I-N. That's God's judgment, not mine.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jaime.cancio.7 Jaime Cancio

    Hey let's lighten up a bit. I can be, and have been, cruel, calculating, and downright mean spirited and have done some really nasty things to some really nasty people but always only when provoked, the victim of crime, or under threat of bodily harm or possible death; doesn't mean I am not a good hearted person and kind to others as evidenced by the people who actually know me and have had interaction with me. It is all about survival and being highly adaptive to the human condition. One thing I have learned and learned the hard way, the look upon the face of my attacker when he realizes he is going to lose - in that I am not repsonsible to him/her that they don't know I am better trained and oh so willing to do them harm if they attempt to harm me. This in the face I am a trusted individual in the face of my community and the people I interact with. I like to say as is heard; I refuse to be a victim and will do grievous harm to anyone attempting to do me harm. This I have done several times in my life and imagine someone going against a person physically fit, 6 foot 4 inches tall and well versed in many forms of self defense and aggressive threat reaction; if they are willing to attack me ask yourself how do you think you would fare? What I do, what I have done, works for me and I have every bit a clear lack of guilt. I am so sick and tired seeing the innocent victims of crimes - knowing our so called justice system has failed us.

  • GJ

    Eric, the overall points trying to be made here are good, but this is not an easy subject and needs a carful and fair treatment. A reference or link to Leonard Reads work that the quotes come from would be very helpful. Reading this, and the commits, reminds me that every new generation is eager to prove it is smarter, superior, and more moral than those that went before them. After all, it’s hard work, and takes time to understand the ideas and concepts of others in the context in which they lived, walking in their shoes, and expressed in the language of their understanding. So instead we just put forth our new meanings, and our new moralities, and our new rationalities, and then claim superiority by standing on, and condemning, the dead bodies of those that can no longer defend themselves. Were these past generations and individuals not also Gods children and someone’s neighbor that He commanded us to love as yourself? Some of your readers don't seem to think so.

    Yes, Ayn Rand did not find and know God in her lifetime. And yes she was mortal and could be just as much in error as the rest of us. And that may all be fair game. I appreaciat you making the point that Rands use of "selfishness" would have been better taken as self-interest. But in general many people use this “selfishness” argument aginst her which is not at all fair given the effort she made to be clear on this point. English was not her first language, but she did work hard to choose her words carefully and explain them. And even if we “the living” do not use words quite the same way today, the least we can do is not ignore her extra effort to clear, especially on this point. Just read the 5 page introduction to the “virtue of selfishness” and then read her works in the way she meant them, not in the why that is now convenient to portray them as a new victory over evil. Leonard Read's words were correct if one wants to join the two concepts of “self-interest” and “immoral” together in the meaning of “selfishness” as we continue to do today. But it was this dual meaning that Rand explicitly protested, and she made it perfectly clear that she used the word “selfishness” as self-interest and not “greed” or some other word that implied the immorality that people are so fond of condemning her for.

    She also protested the notion that “self-interest” could never be a moral concept. And she attributed this to altruism having been accepted as “serving others” to the point that many see this “duty to serve” as the only way to a virtuous life. Leonard Reads words; “Minding one’s own business amounts to serving oneself by serving others” is a good example of this point, and is not something Rand would ever say. And as Rand made clear, the collectivists use this to enslave us to societies “needs”, or “the greater good”, as they say. In my opinion, she is in agreement with God on this point. He did not put us on this earth just to be slaves to each other or to be enslaved by those who exploit this concept. I highly recommend reading Rand in a fair way, in spite of her atheism, and then read the works of Frederic Bastiat, especially “Economic Harmonies” written well before Rand and just before he died in 1850. You will find a whole new way of seeing and understanding “self-interest” and Rand’s philosophies. And with this new understanding you will likely find Rand is better used on this point in a whole new way.

  • redneck63625

    If the Samaritan were an American "Progressive," he would have been the one who injured the man, picked his pockets, and then when he arrived at the next large city, decried the state of violence found upon our roads.

    He would then have successfully militated for the state to create a commission to establish a committee to study violence, and this committee of fellow "Progressives" would have selected the "Progressive" to chair it at a considerable salary.

    For the rest of his life, he would bloviate about the dangers of crime on our roads, while never actually having any impact upon the problem.

  • Doc Hudson

    Those things that we do just for ourselves have little or no lasting value. Those compassionate (self sacrificial and highly inconvenient) things that we do for our fellow man (all or any member of the human race) have lasting and even eternal value. Do this and live....

  • http://theawakenednation.ning.com/profile/KevinMKeener Snowman8wa

    "...What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
    If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
    And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
    Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
    Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
    Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
    But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?....." James 2:14-20

    Someone, I found out in a search, had "tweeted" as a quote; one of my comments, when I said that I have a problem with the beggars and panhandlers. There was no expansion on my comment, so it appears that it was taken by the indivdual as I was "heartless".
    On one hand, we Christains think of WWJD, what does the Bible say about "Charity? Seeing that we become "guilt-ridden and STOP THERE. But what does the Bible say about evil men and women that take advantage of the good? Therefore, I leave it up to the Holy Spirit, that is all I can do. If you truly feel the need to help these people, then you are being led by the Holy Spirit who knows those people are in TRUE NEED. I witnessed this example the other day, when a car stopped ahead of us and gave a man a meal they has just bought at Micky Ds; nothing major, the bag was about the size of a hamburger and small fry, the recipient was grateful. TRUTH (I have seen others throw the food back at some samaritans) however, though I have empathy for people in these situatons, we must ask "WHY" are they in this situation and DISCERN what is being presented.
    DISCERN, v.i.

    1. To see or understand the difference; to make distinction; as, to discern between good and evil, truth and falsehood.

    . James said "If a brother or sister be naked, and DESTITUTE of daily food..." Not destitute of money......CLOTHED AND FED......those are basic needs of everyone......
    However, I have no desire to help those who willingly deceive for gain........which is the majority of panhandlers; to them it is a business and they are malicious in their actions.........you may see that my choosing to ignore these individuals as unchristain behavior, that is your choice, but in the end....only God will Judge............

    Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus et Fidelis

  • Guest

    Interesting.......I've been posting on POLTICAL OUTCAST for over a year, I just posted a comment here with reference to Book of JAMES......and now it is gone.....so am I to infer that that the 1st Amendment does not apply with reference to the Author?
    Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus et Fidelis

    • http://theawakenednation.ning.com/profile/KevinMKeener Snowman8wa

      DISREGARD THIS POSTING.......for whatever reason.....slow refresh rate???.....anyway.....I humbly apologize to the accusation made.................
      Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus et Fidelis

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Abinico-Warez/100002657822528 Abinico Warez

    Ayn Rand is nothing more than a gas bag that makes rich people feel good about their evils.