Sjolander Road Fellowship




Declaring the God of Unconditional Love

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the pursuit of self interest

11/1/12

 

I wonder about our societal assessment of the pursuit of self interest. If we assume that all human behaviors fall on a continuum from the very bad to the very good, where on that continuum does the pursuit of self interest lie?

 

No one would likely argue that a certain level of self interest is essential to our survival. So in that sense, one could conclude that self interest falls way over in the very good category. After all, survival is instinctively vital.

 

The real reason I raise this question is because I perceive in our political discussion that some would have us accept that the pursuit of self interest is not just minimally essential but actually noble, the mark of leadership and exemplary conduct. Under this paradigm, to be successful in the pursuit of self interest secures the admiration and even envy of one's fellowmen.

 

In this vein we have been introduced during this current political campaign to the philosophy of Ayn Rand, who is probably unknown to the vast majority of us. This philosopher and writer, according to Wikipedia, espoused ethical egoism which states that moral agents should pursue their own self interest as the best possible choice or path. One can see that this philosophy places great importance on the individual as opposed to the collective community, so it aligns generally with the conservative political agenda.

 

Now as I admitted above, self interest cannot be denigrated and ignored in any practical sense. That is not the issue under discussion here. For me the real question is this: Can we or should we view the pursuit of self interest as noble in addition to necessary. Should great success in achieving self interest be a measure of leadership potential. Should such individuals be held up as examples to be admired and cultivated.

 

To the extent that we express great respect for those who achieve a great measure of self interest, economically and otherwise, what does that say about those who fail to do so, perhaps seeking a life largely devoted to others and the common good. Where do these individuals fall on the continuum of good/bad behaviors in our societal assessment? Are they misguided, unfit, less worthy of emulation?

 

For those who claim Jesus as their role model, this is a particularly troublesome question. If Jesus had been prone to the pursuit of self interest, would we have the same Bible story? Can the one who is revered for the most profound and influential act of self sacrifice of all time be the model for the pursuit of self interest in the sense that we see promoted in our day. Wasn't the message of Jesus about unity, community, denial of self, and universal benefit?

 

It certainly seems incongruous to claim Christ religiously and then to ignore His primary example politically. Those of us who claim allegiance to Christ must deal with the apparent contradiction between our day to day pursuit of what we perceive to be good for us versus what Jesus demonstrated in His mode of living and teaching. The obvious tension between these two motivating forces should be the basis for a renewed discussion of what it means to be a Christian politically.