Monday, November 8, 2004

Altruism exists

I've been reseaching for the 'altruism doesn't exist, discuss' exam question, and I think the answer I'd give is 'it exists, but the extent of it is mediated by certain factors', and then use the theories to elaborate on the conditions when altruism's more/less likely to be displayed. Interestingly, the Parable of the Good Samaritan is mentioned in the textbook.
A lawyer wants to test Jesus, so he asks, "Sir, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus says, "What is written in the law? How do you read?" And the legal eagle says, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself." Jesus agrees, "You have answered right; do this, and you will live." And the legal guy, apparently thinking he's done all of these things, probes further, "And who exactly is my neighbour? The guy living next door, perhaps?" But Jesus doesn't answer the lawyer but tells a story instead. I shall paraphase in more contemporary, stereotypical, but quite accurate analogies. A man was going from Singapore to Johor Bahru, and he fell among some robbers who stripped him and robbed him and left, leaving him to die. Now by chance, a senior pastor of a nearby church walked past and saw the half-dead man, but he decided to pass by on the other side. Another reverend happened to walk by a while later. Again, he chose to ignore the dying man for some reason. But then, a Bangladeshi foreign worker passed by and had compassion for this man. He went to him, bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He then brought him to a nearby motel, and took care of him. Next morning, he told the front desk clerk, "Take care of him, I'll repay you when I get back." Then Jesus asks, "Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers?" The lawyer says, "The one who showed mercy on him." And Jesus replies him, "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10:25-37)
Altruism, the kind that is motivated by empathy and compassion, is indeed possible. It's very difficult in reality, though. Optional reading for today: Taking back Christianity


JulAngel said...

I just wrote an essay on Altruism this sem for psych got it back and its a gd grade alright, I think altruism does exist but very rarely are people truly altruistic, there was an example given in our lectures that four christians were giving up their life jackets to others who were also on a sinking boat, that to me is altruism. However my tutor argues that this is not cos she said that they could be doing this to gain pride and self satisfation, then wat is altruism, its a hard quesiton to answer, however I believe that even if people were altruistic its hard for themselves to know if they are altruistic or not. cos altruism as I argued in my essay is unconscious to the individuals themself!

i hope this will get u thinking more. hehe
good luck in your exam!

p.s. I've heard of that story u quoted, we actually did a play at church based on it.. I was bad, me cant act damn it!!!

Anonymous said...

i don't quite agree with your analogy.


JulAngel said...

Are you talking to me??

Anonymous said...

no dearie :)

am refering to jeff's analogy.

jeffyen said...

The lawyer is, well, a legal eagle who's very familiar with the Law of Moses. He's also very clever, for he quotes the verses from two different places (Deu 6:4-9; Lev 19:18). It's funny that the lawyer seems to say, "oh come one, give me a break, what is the minimum I need to do? Who is this neighbour that I need to love?" A children's Bible I read paraphrased it as 'I just don't want to love ANY KIND of neighbour!' Well obviously Jesus knows what the lawyer is thinking of, so He doesn't answer his question straightaway.

Next comes the priest, a person who devotes his life to serve God and his people. I made a mistake with the Levite. He's actually a priest's assistant. Well, it makes sense. Since the senior pastor doesn't want to help the wounded guy, why should he bother? The Samaritan is someone who doesn't share the same religion as the Jews. He's also an outcast, a half-breed, of a lower socio-economic class, and considered unclean, and discriminated by the elite religious establishment.

I wonder why Jesus uses the Samaritan as the hero here. Is it to emphasize the point that the artificial barriers we set up ourselves is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things? Maybe Jesus is trying to say it doesn't matter how clever you are, what your job is, what your social-economic status is, what your SAT scores are like, what your religion is, what your income is, an act of love triumphs over these concepts...

Anonymous said...


Thanks for taking the time to reply in spite of you busy exam schedule.
The main reason why I disagreed with your analogy is because you have discounted the pastor. (The feeling is like slapping Christians like me. Sorry for the vivid description)
Anyway I agreed with you that in the bible, it’s written clearly PRIEST.
However, we have little evidence to confirm that “this guy who devotes his life to serve God” recognize Jesus as God.
But that’s not my main point.
When you used “senior pastor” in your analogy, the feeling I get is it’ll stumble non-believers, again fueling your mindset that “as long as I’m good”, I can enter the kingdom of God, regardless if I’m a Christian or not.
The only thing God request of us is to listen, obey Him and recognize He is God.
However, there are many out there who claimed they know God but refused to acknowledge Him and His Truth. (Think Children of Abraham story (John 8:31 - 47))
Anyway, I don’t think Jesus used this parable to TELL people it does not really matter if you’re a Christian or not for as long as you have LOVE, it’s all that matters.
Love is important, I agreed but in this case before we learn to love others, we must LOVE God Himself first and know His language/Truth.
From there we will be able to love others and not the other way round. (i.e. Choose to Love Man first, then try to fit God into the picture.)


jeffyen said...

That's not what I'm implying, actually. I think the characterisation of the first guy as a priest represents someone in authority, who should know have known better. It doesn't mean that all priests/pastors would behave in that way, obviously. It's just an imagery that Jesus uses to emphasize the self-righteousness of some who should supposedly help others out; that's probably why pharisees/teachers of the Law are used in quite a few parables. :)

jeffyen said...

>>>however I believe that even if people were altruistic its hard for themselves to know if they are altruistic or not. cos altruism as I argued in my essay is unconscious to the individuals themself!

I think you might have a point here. Although personally I don't have a problem with feeling happy when i help someone out, Jesus puts it this way; when you wanna help out someone, keep it a secret, don't release any press statement, and let no one else know. Better yet, don't even let yourself know! When you give alms, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. (Matthew 6:3).

So perhaps it's unconscious after all...