The Justice of Natural Self-Love

“Whoever writes on strategy and tactics ought not in his theories to neglect the point of view of his own people.”

Colmar von der Goltz quoted in Gabriel Darrieus, War on the Sea (trans. 1908).

If a man invites you to walk a mile in his shoes, there is a very good chance that he intends to run off with your shoes while you are taking that walk.  If he invites you to see things from his point of view, there is very little chance that he intends to return the favor.  And if he invites you to “take one for the team,” you may well suppose that this is because he is gouging all he can from the team, and therefore looks forward to your sacrifice as a means to up his take.

“Selfless service” is, in other words, the pitch of con-men and bunco-artists.  As you may have observed, most men who quote John 15:13 number themselves as one of the friends for whom some other man should lay down his life in a act of love. It’s a racket, I tell you, a swindle.

I do not mean to suggest that you should, therefore, take up a life of predatory egotism.  There are good reasons to walk a mile in another man’s shoes, provided you keep an eye on the shoes that you temporarily shed. There are times when you should see things from another man’s point of view, so long as you don’t forget to return to your own point of view at the end of the day.  Taking one for the team is noble when the team is a team and not a pack of thieves.  As for John 15:13, I am inclined to view with grave suspicion anyone who draws my attention to the verse, unless he is himself the ghost of a bleeding martyr.

What, you may ask, about Matthew 10:39?  In this and several parallel verses, Jesus says:

“He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”

Doesn’t this mean that we should “live for others”?  Well, no, it actually doesn’t.  At the time, it meant that the disciples must be prepared to stop living as Jews; and in our own day it means that Christians must be prepared to stop living as heathens. Jesus is talking about metanoia, which transforms the ego and does not extinguish it.

Christianity holds that the self is sick and in need of a cure.  It does not, like Buddhism, hold that the self is the sickness.  The sickness expresses itself in selfishness, but wellness does not express itself in selflessness.  As you can see in Matthew 10:39, metanoia does not end in selflessness, but in finding a new self on the other side.

Annihilation is not a Christian virtue because Christians inhabit a fallen world of sin, and not an illusory world of maya. Aquinas tells us that this sin can arise from an “inordinate love of self,” but that we are commanded to “natural self-love” by the law of charity.  He reminds us that the commandment to love our neighbor presupposes this natural self-love, for I cannot love a man “as myself” if I do not love myself in the first place.

It is not selfish to take your own side in an argument; it is not wicked to see things from your own point of view; and there are times when charity and justice require that a dollar stay comfortably folded in the confines of your wallet.  Only con-men and bunco-artists say otherwise.

11 thoughts on “The Justice of Natural Self-Love

  1. As for John 15:13, I am inclined to view with grave suspicion anyone who draws my attention to the verse, unless he is himself the ghost of a bleeding martyr.

    It strikes me that one giant honking red flag in this arena is if another man is telling you that you should do it for him.

    Generally men who are truly part of your team, or are truly your friends, themselves don’t want you to sacrifice yourself for their benefit. That’s a core part of what being a friend is; the willingness to do this yourself rather than put your friend in that position.

    • My wife often asks me to lay down my book. I must begin to tell her, “greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his book for his wife.”

      • Here too, although most often in the childish form “wee wee.” I’d guess I last “went wee wee” around 1962.

      • Winston:

        At risk of stepping on Rhetocrates’ toes, your question made me want to think of an answer so here is an answer:

        People probably aren’t daily in life threatening situations but your time (moments of your life) and livelihood (money, effort) are consumed all the time.

        A friend sent me a quote from Fulton Sheen today: “Too many people get credit for being good, when they are only being passive. They are too often praised for being broadminded when they are so broadminded they can never make up their minds about anything.”

        Do you spend time on social media? Everything about social media is asking you to consume your time, literally lay down seconds, minutes, hours of your life, focused on someone or something else. This is passive, and isn’t inherently good. It’s not love, anyway, not in the Scriptural sense at hand.

        The John verse is true in the sense of a cat fighting a predator to save her kittens, or a man fighting off an attacker while his family escapes. It is not true that minor inconveniences can share in that great love. There are different ways little things can be enriching, but not in the John 15:13 sense.

  2. And if he invites you to “take one for the team,” you may well suppose that this is because he is gouging all he can from the team, and therefore looks forward to your sacrifice as a means to up his take.

    As my eldest son has been known to answer in such a case, “what team?” By which he doesn’t mean to say that there is “no team to take one for,” at least to someone or other’s overactive imagination, but that he rejects being denominated a member of that imaginary “team” he is involuntarily counted one of in the first place.

    Aa for ‘walking a mile’ in another man’s shoes, best to, in such a case, ‘take up one’s own shoes’ to carry with during the walk.

  3. Pingback: The Justice of Natural Self-Love | Reaction Times

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