In the Name of Good

November 25, 2009 § 12 Comments

I made a tweet this morning, based on this news story I read in The Daily Press about a group of students at Bethel Christian School who: “took part in a variety of projects, including writing letters and sending care packages to troops in Iraq, assembling food boxes and grooming kits for the Peninsula Rescue Mission, cleaning up Bluebird Gap Farm, completing household chores for elderly neighbors and sharing musical talents at Sunrise House and Morningside Assisted Living Centers, and at the Gardens at Warwick Forest Nursing Home.”

These activities, in and of themselves, are quite noble humanitarian acts, and are worthy of praise. There are not enough people out there willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Especially when the deeds are done for no other reason than selfless kindness.

Oh, did I say selfless? I read on:

“We were trying to emphasize the principle of service, giving something and not just receiving,” said Robert Brinkley, principal at the school. “Here at the school, we always say we should provide service to God and our fellow man, so this project fit nicely with our philosophy.”

OK then, the reasons they did it, were in this order: “God and our fellow man”.

Not really selfless then is it? These acts of kindness are actually done for 2 self-serving reasons:

  • By appeasing God, they are assuring their place in Heaven alongside his throne
  • If they don’t appease god, they will be thrown into the  firey pits of Hell for all eternity

Religious folks such as these are held to ransom by their own self-serving interests. By doing it for “God” they hope to appease him and be forgiven of sin and saved from Damnation. There’s a motive behind their kindness that is comes first and goes before their acts of kindness. Does their motive undermine their kindness, or is kindness and the act of giving of oneself  good no matter why it is done?

I was later pointed to this article called Selfish Selflessness from a blog called Philosophy, et cetera which proposes that no act of kindness is done without a certain level of selfishness, whether it be in the form of an ego boost, or to fulfill a desire to convince oneself that they are a good person. I tend to agree with this article, and therefore am suggesting that people cannot do anything without a certain amount of self-interest. This is human nature. But there’s self interest because of being human, and there’s self serving endeavours with the intended outcome to be completely selfish.

Given then, that an action cannot be made without a certain sense of self interest, does the level of self interest or kind of self interest affect the action itself? Is an action of kindness any less ‘true’ if the end aim is to help oneself, or in the case above, to appease one’s God? Do the motives of an act of kindness wither validate the act, or lessen it, depending on the motives in play?

Does the threat of retribution and the promise of salvation sour the intention of the action when doing acts of kindness?

Please discuss below, I want to know your thoughts.


In related reading:

– American Humanist Society’s Christmas Billboard at Friendly Atheist “Be Good For Goodness’ Sake”


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§ 12 Responses to In the Name of Good

  • landonspringer says:

    Sure. There’s always an intrinsic benefit for doing something good: feeling like you have a purpose, feeling like you’re making God happy, feeling like others should remember you fondly, feeling like you “deserve” heaven… The list is virtually endless.

    The next question, then, is whether it’s not worth doing simply because there’s always a selfish intrinsic benefit. A selfish right seems like it would trump a selfless wrong every time.

  • JoJo says:

    For many religious people doing otherwise selfless deeds, God is no more than a middleman in the ‘ego boost’ category. An atheist does good, gets a boost from the confirmation of his perception he is generally a good sort. Christian gets a boos from the thought God sees him as good. Atheist is more honest about the situation as he claims no imaginary external endorsement, but it doesn’t detract from the Christaon’s kind act. BUT there is another type of Religious chariy. The type that carries an agenda that promotes the religion. It usually carries this agenda to the most disadvantaged and vulneable and it has conversion as it’s aim. That is not kindness for kindness’ sake, it is certainly not unconditional and it is where religion does a great deal of harm. You only need look at the link between Christian aid in Africa and misinformation, condom bans and the spread of AIDS. the refusal of the IS to fund sex education charities or clinics that give advice on abortion. ‘Kindness’ as carrot, stuck or both is not kindness. It is a tool of oppression.

  • Ralph says:

    In my personal philosophy, acting altruistically is the highest good, but that’s brought upon by rational egoism where a self-interest is the continuance of the human-race.

    I don’t see anything wrong with the Christians doing good for propaganda purposes or personal gain. But, my philosophy also presupposes atheism and holds rationality as another high good. So, I think they’re immoral because they’re being irrational by being theists. According to my philosophy, its a sin to spread irrationality.

  • Luke says:

    I just want to correct you on a couple things. And I’ll try do so without sounding like I’m preaching. Christians are going to heaven because they beleive in God and that Jesus was his son. That’s all that’s required. We don’t do good to ‘earn’ our way to heaven or apease an angry God or any other misconception (yes, Catholics do beleive they have to earn their way but they are way off the mark) we do good for the exact same reason you do.

    Your an athiest because you don’t beleive in God, I’m a Christian because I do and we both help out old ladies, donate to charity and do good things because we know it’s the right thing to.

    The stuff in the bible ‘love your neighbour’ and ‘help the poor’ are there as guidence on how to live a good life, not as rules that will result in ‘damnation’—as you put it—if they aren’t followed.

    I hope that clears things up

  • Cremnomaniac says:

    I’m not sure where I got it but I quote a diary entry of mine, “An act for the sake of an act, without need for recognition or reward, is truly an an of my own.”

    In this I mean that if we act from our heart and not from motives then we have acted selflessly. Even then we are rewarded with whatever self-sense we experience. I’m not sure that humans can ever be completely selfless, but I’m not sure it matters. If someone feeds a hungry child, and asks nothing in return, does their motive matter? The end result is the same, and that’s the import part.

  • Rox1SMF says:

    Abraham Lincoln said, “When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad. That is my religion.”

    It makes me feel good to help someone out in any way I can, and I don’t mind if that makes good deeds “selfish” on some level as long as a need is fulfilled or suffering alleviated. Guess it’s a win-win 🙂

  • C.S says:

    I think JoJo makes a great point about the hidden agenda of some charitable acts, especially with regard to the humanitarian efforts in Africa. Or even the recent hubbub about the Washington, D.C. Catholic Archdiocese threatening to halt their charity work if the city passes a law legalizing gay marriage (the horror!). Is there anything more disgustingly selfish than wielding your charity like the bat of a thug? “Let my religion meddle the lives of everyone else or I’ll stop helping groups of people who had nothing to do with any of this!”

    I do believe there’s a biological altruism inherent in most people, independent of spiritual belief, and that religion is just the spin some people put over it as part of a larger philosophy of life. If anyone’s interested, I just finished a pretty fascinating book that dealt with the subject of biological morality called The Age of Empathy by primatologist Frans de Waal. A very interesting examination of empathy and altruism in mammals and what it could mean for the progress of societies.

  • Madeline says:

    I believe in muscle memory. As someone who has studied serious singing technique, I believe that there is a great deal of muscle memory in the torso where emotions are felt. When someone says they are doing something good in the name of God, they feel pleasure (in the body) not only from seeing the results of their act of kindness, but also from the muscle memory associated with the rituals of religion. So the memories of church, community, etc. gives the whole experience an extra kick.

    Do you need the extra kick to perform acts of kindness? No.
    Does it further connect you to the religious rituals? Yes

    The problem is when these same engrained muscle memories tied to religious experiences later ACT to do things that are not so kind.

    • That’s an interesting take. I also believe in muscle memory but from more of a physical activity point of view. I’ve neve r thought of it from this POV before. Thank you for your input!

  • Clearly your open minded and receptive to other ideas. Many people in the online community are a little more totalitarian. keep it up ;D Of course– and I probably shouldn’t even have to say this– people are free to run their own websites as they see fit. But I get the highest value from blogs where either the author’s writing is so outstanding that the lack of comments isn’t material a combination of good writing and good comments

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