Posts tagged with: self love

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Thursday, November 7, 2013

If you’ve raised multiple children, you’ve dealt with sibling bickering, particularly if said children are close in age. With a three-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl, both just 13 months apart, our family has suddenly reached a stage where sibling play can be either wholly endearing or down-right frightening. Alas, just as quickly as human love learns to bubble up and reach out, human sin seeks to stifle and disrupt it. If that’s too heavy for you, “kids will be kids.”

twotoddlersfightingThe areas of contention vary, but most of it comes down to that age-old challenge of sharing, or, as others might frame it, the classic economic problem of scarcity. There is only one fire truck, one soccer ball, and one Buzz Lightyear, even when, in reality, there may be two or three or four. If Toddler X wants to play with Toy Z, no matter how many alluring gizmos and gadgets sit idly by, Toddler Y will all of a sudden long for Toy Z as well. Did I mention the Fall of Man?

My wife and I have done our best to teach proper behavior, maintain order, wield discipline accordingly, and love and hug and encourage along the way. When it comes to sharing, it’s no different. We promote generosity, emphasize patience, teach to inquire politely about the prospects of “collaborative consumption,” seize items when peace is rendered impossible, enforce property rights and ownership where fair and applicable, and so on.

Yet, as any parent knows, toddlerhood is characteristically suited to making a mockery of one’s parenting philosophy, whatever it may be. Just when you think you’ve trained your child to sit quietly when silence is appropriate — teaching manners, establishing authority, setting boundaries, padding the circumstances with (sugary) incentives, etc. — junior will kindly decide that he’d rather forget about all that and shout something about lavatories or Dad’s big bald head. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Thursday, January 10, 2013

I recently discussed the importance of aligning ourselves to God before getting too carried away with our own plans for economic restoration. We should instead seek to supplant the personal for the divine, embracing a transcendent framework through which we can pursue what we already recognize to be transcendent ends.

This is particularly difficult in a society that persistently glorifies a misguided conception of the self, and it’s not much better in broader Christian culture, where an increasing number of pastors promote a brand of self-help largely indistinguishable from that of the gurus gracing Oprah’s sofa.

In a fascinating article on the various philosophies driving today’s “self-help” movement(s), Kathryn Schulz helps outline the competition. Schulz, whose book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, is a fun romp of a read, would likely reject my proposed orientation for Christians, yet she does point to it —albeit a bit inaccurately—even giving slight credence to its results:

In self-help programs that draw on religious or spiritual practices, the locus of control is largely externalized; the real power belongs to God (or a supreme being, a universal consciousness—whatever you care to call it). But these programs also posit a part of the self that is receptive to or one with that external force: an internal fragment of the divine that can triumph over human weakness.

This is pretty much the oldest kind of dualism in the book: your sacred soul against your mortal flesh. You can see it at work in 12-step programs, where addicts begin by admitting they are powerless to control their addiction and then make “a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.” But think about that for a moment: How do recovering addicts simultaneously exercise and abdicate their right to make decisions? How do they choose to let a higher power do the choosing—not just once but every time temptation comes along? Twelve-step programs are reputed to be one of the more effective ways to treat addiction, yet how their followers pull off this sleight-of-self remains a mystery. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The relation of the creation account and the narrative of the flood in Genesis is a complex one. One of these linkages comes in the similarities of the mandates set forth by God in both accounts.

The sixteenth-century reformer Wolfgang Musculus identifies three mandates in the creation account (in addition to the specific prescription regarding the tree of life). The first of these is the procreation mandate: “Be fruitful and increase in number.” The second is the dominion mandate, flowing from the first: “fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” The third mandate relates to sustenance of life: “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”

Musculus notes that each of these elements are reiterated in the flood account. God says to Noah, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” He also says, “The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands.” And finally God says, “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”

In this recapitulation the procreation mandate seems unchanged. The dominion mandate seems to be marked now by a relationship of antipathy, characterized “fear and dread” rather than benevolence. And thirdly, God expands the provision of human sustenance beyond plants to include eating of animals.

I’d like to focus on this third point, while noting that the change of the relationship noted in the second point is no doubt related to the inclusion of animals as fit for human consumption. Animals would have reason to fear being eaten now, for instance.

There’s been a great deal of reflection on the meaning of God’s adjustment of the creation mandate to include animals as the source of human food. Some commentators have focused on the need for the new human family to have ready sources of protein and nutrients that might not otherwise be available in the post-diluvian world. Related to this, if it’s true, as many vegetarians would have us believe that eating meat is unhealthy, it may be a way for God to ensure that the human lifespan would be limited: “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

As I’ve noted in another context, the expansion of the food mandate to include animals is a reflection of the comprehensive corruption of the Fall. Sin has marred the created harmony of the relationship between humans and animals.

Here, however, I’d like to speculate on another aspect of the extension of this mandate to include animals. Given the nature of fallen humankind, focused on inordinate and idolatrous self-love (cor curvum se, as Anselm puts it), God may be testifying to the fallen-ness of the human/animal relationship and simultaneously providing incentive for fallen humanity to take an active and interested role in stewardship of the animal kingdom.

By linking human survival to dependence on animals for food, God has set in place a relationship that will tend to mirror, if even in a fallen and imperfect way, the original responsibility of human beings to exercise stewardship and dominion over the created order. Human beings now have a basic motivation from self-interest from survival to economic prosperity to “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

As many economic observers have noted, a key way to ensure survival of a species is to commodify that species for human consumption in one form or another. There is no lack of cows in America primarily because there is an economic motivation for farmers to keep sustainable herds to meet consumer demand.

There is of course no guarantee that unbounded greed and short-sightedness will short-circuit the economically-savvy self-interest that manifests itself in sustaining a reliable and long-term source of animal products. For a case in point, see Eric Dolin’s new book, Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America (interviews here and here, reviewed here). While the whaling industry provided foundational means for economic development in colonial New England, it was a lack of perspective that allowed these populations to be hunted near extinction (see the case of the right whale, for instance).

The key here is note that enlightened self-interest, as opposed to base and short-sighted greed, manifests itself in an impulse to protect sustainable sources of animal products. In this way economic development and the protection of species are not in fundamental opposition, as so many environmentalists have construed laws like the Endangered Species Act.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, January 5, 2007

Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in California, has a new blog, Mouw’s Musings, and has taken notice of Sam Gregg’s recent Acton Commentary, “Self Interest, Rightly Understood.”

Giving Gregg credit for making “an important point” with which he largely agrees, Mouw goes on to say: “At the same time this also seems to me to be true. People who are not motivated by an intentional desire to promote the common good often do not in fact promote the common good. And people who do aim to promote the common good often do succeed in doing so.”

Thus, because of this second reality, Mouw concludes that there is “a need for discernment on the part of Christians in evaluating various hard-line economic philosophies.” With that point, I heartily agree.

It seems to me, however, that in some ways the point that Mouw engages, that “as individuals pursue profit” there are all sorts of unintended positive consequences, is a rather small claim that does not itself deny Mouw’s second observation. Gregg himself, in fact, writes in the immediately following line, “None of this means that commercial society does not afford opportunities for people to act altruistically.”

It is a valid point for both Mouw and Gregg to make that there is a higher good than pursuit of mere self-interest and one that is consonant with the Christian tradition. That being said, Gregg is concerned making both a more limited and more pointed claim: the good resulting from the secondary virtue of self-interest is still good, and it is even good that is essential for common flourishing.

There shouldn’t be anything controversial about such a claim, especially since it has been held by so many Christian theologians, not least of which is Jonathan Edwards, who distinguished between primary and secondary virtue.

In his treatise on True Virtue, Edwards writes that self-love “is far from being useless in the world” and “exceeding necessary to society, besides its directly and greatly seeking the good of one.” He even says that self-love can be manifest as a sort of “‘negative’ moral goodness,” or “the negation or absence of true moral evil.”

Being that Edwards is concerned to explore the nature of true virtue, rather than this “negative moral goodness,” he doesn’t spend a lot of time examining the implications and social effects of self-love, and that is entirely understandable.

On that score, Edwards’ concern is more like Mouw’s in that he is seeking to describe the highest good. By comparison with Christian benevolence, the virtuous character of secondary or civil good doesn’t match up. Thus, concludes Edwards, “no affection limited to any private system, not dependent on, nor subordinate to Being in general can be of the nature of true virtue.”

But Gregg’s task is different and more limited than either Mouw’s or Edwards’ concern. Gregg is looking primarily at the civic good that self-interest promotes. And its important to realize that neither claim is necessarily inconsistent with the other.