I’m unsure as to how unconventional my view of altruism is among Christians but, for me, when I logically attempt to derive a conclusion as to whether the phenomenon truly exists, I only ever come to one answer. I should be clear that when I talk about altruism here, I am referring to the idea of complete selflessness; an ability to ultimately and definitively put someone else’s needs above one’s own.
We’ve all told that little white lie occasionally, perhaps our friend looks “absolutely wonderful” with their new life-sized tattoo of a cat’s head on the back of their neck. Or your mother has a “simply beautiful” singing voice when really it takes every ounce of self control not to cover your ears and run – we are just trying to be polite. Unfortunately, we undeniably live in a world where we can’t just go around saying what we think, we often have some fairly hurtful opinions that our minds do not hesitate to put into the clearest of words. Even the least intelligent of people seem incredibly practised in their use of imagery when talking about the new haircut of “that idiot over there;” it can be anything from a ‘dirty mop’ to a ‘dead cat.’ So, quite reasonably it seems, we are prevented from saying exactly what is on our minds.
If someone does something that is perceived as wrong then they tend to be punished. In the case of children, this punishment is usually administered as a form of discipline, teaching the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. They aren’t punished because of the thing that they did wrong, but because they are being shaped and moulded into the person that their carer wants them to be; it’s an act of love, or at least it should be. Most legal systems work on slightly different principles – their punishments are based on retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation.
Too often in this world, people are judged by their desires. It’s easy to criticise something that you can’t relate to and makes very little sense to you, particularly if it appears to damage people’s lives. Heavy smokers, sadomasochists and drug addicts are just some of the people that fall into this broad category. The majority of people in the Western world struggle to comprehend why anyone would participate in recreational drug use or sadomasochism and so the people that do are stereotyped, just as all minorities, whether that’s sexual preference, religious belief, ethnicity or anything else for that matter.
Role models are an important part of a child’s development, there’s no doubt about it, kids are influenced by the behaviour of the people in authority over them and the people they like. Traditionally, the main role model for a child is their father, for a boy, and mother, for a girl. Parents should behave how they want their children to behave in future, as they are constantly being scrutinised by their offspring, who are desperately trying to form a view of how the land lies – of what’s acceptable and what’s not. You don’t see a father swearing in front of their four-year-old son because that father doesn’t want to endorse this sort of behaviour. Equally, you’ll find that parents try to be polite in front of their children regardless of their mood. Even in adulthood, people are highly influenced by their peers – we have a natural instinct to avoid offending the people closest to us in order to maintain relationships.
Success is an interesting concept to consider because it’s definition is hyper-variable from person to person. My copy of The New Oxford Dictionary of English defines it as:
“The accomplishment of an aim or purpose”
You may be surprised as to how general that definition is. Of course, when we talk about success in general we are talking about the success of one’s life; how satisfied we are with the accomplishment of our own personal goals. These vary from person to person from happiness to love, sex, money, power, changing the world, having kids, marriage, having material published in their name – the list is endless. But is there a right or wrong answer?
People make snap judgments about almost everything, it’s a perfectly logical natural instinct that prevents you from coming into contact with the same bad thing twice and, equally, leads you to do something pleasurable again and again until you lose interest. I am of course making an overgeneralisation and oversimplification of something that’s influenced by a number of other factors but the principle remains. I know this because I do it myself all the time, we just can’t help it. A good way of testing this point on unsuspecting individuals, provided they are in a talkative mood, is to ask them about their recent holiday destinations, provided they’ve recently been on holiday. You’ll find people saying things like “Oh yes! ‘insert-country-here’ is a lovely country, beautiful scenery, the food’s not too great though,” despite having visited the capital city for just four days, eating at the hotel restaurant every night and visiting two museums and a temple.
There are a variety of different faiths in this world that share the opinion that there is only that faith that can save you from condemnation. Of these faiths, a proportion actively try to convert people to their own belief in order to save them from suffering. This tends to be for one of two reasons:
- They believe they are commanded by the laws of their religion to spread the word and change people’s way of thinking.
- They feel genuine empathy for the people around them and wish to save them out of pity for their damnation.
I don’t know about you, but I personally have no qualms about these reasons; they seem perfectly acceptable and respectable reasons to share a belief. In fact, in any other context it would be considered immoral and downright evil not to share the knowledge of something that could save one’s life. Try to remember this next time you feel like someone is “shoving a belief down your throat” – they are doing it to save you.
If you’ve seen any of my blog posts before you’ll have noticed that my interests ultimately lie in ‘the big picture’; I’m fascinated by things that can never be fully explained, confirmed nor denied. I thought I’d use this post to explore some of the reasons why I think it’s important to consider things that many people dismiss because of their woolly, impossible-to-prove nature.
So, philosophy in my edition of The New Oxford Dictionary of English philosophy is defined as thus:
“The study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence…”
What could be more interesting than thinking about the very foundations of our existence, than forming opinions on the meaning of life, what everything comes down to? The word comes from the Ancient Greek word ‘philosophia’ meaning ‘love of wisdom’ and, to me, there is a clear reason why the Greeks considered such a discipline as wisdom.
As I explained in my “About” post, I used to be a nihilist. To recap, nihilists believe that a person’s consciousness ceases to exist in their death. It all comes down to nothing. To me, this seemed like the only logical conclusion an atheist could come to; in the absence of a supernatural world, death is the absolute conclusion of human life and it is reduced to nothing. Hence, the word nihilism is derived from the Latin, ‘nihil’ meaning ‘nothing’ or ‘zero’.
I think you’d be surprised how many people are nihilists without knowing it. In my experience it is incredibly common to come across an atheist that believes that it is absolutely ‘the end’ when you die. These people tend to be the most emphatic in their arguments against religion and often profess to know a lot about science. Very few nihilists, however, wholeheartedly live by the principles of their faith.
You may be taken aback, or perhaps amused, by my use of the word ‘faith’ to describe a belief in nothing. But nihilism holds a faith equal to that of Christianity or Islam. There is no evidence to support the idea that death is the end, and how could there be? It’s not possible to ask the dead of their experience. It is therefore a completely faith-based belief.