Not surprisingly, he presented an outline of the basic human condition explored by philosophers for centuries; this being that all humans are characterised by selfishness. His spin on selfishness, understood this condition to exist as a survival mechanism.
Now, maybe I have been living under a rock…in fact that is highly possible because until a month ago I still hadn't seen 'The Matrix', to this day I still haven't seen any of 'The Lord Of The Rings' movies, nor do I the faintest idea of what 'Dr. Who' is about or who won the latest season of Big Brother.
So, not surprisingly other than the occasional mention in my high school science class I had not heard much about Dawkins until 4 weeks ago. Sometimes I think I need to get out more…
Now, I might be getting into dangerous territory but I actually agreed with a point Dawkins makes - that we are all selfish.
In case you are a bit like me and have spent a lot of time living under a rock, this may indeed be the first time that you have ever realised this, you know, intellectually and on paper…so, surprise, I guess. I personally can debate until the cows come home and don't actually agree with any of Dawkins' theories on evolutionism, but I think this one point is a legitimate claim.
The Good Samaritan Experiment (1973).
Consider the following psychological study that supports this...
Psychologists John Darley and C. Daniel Batson conducted 'The Good Samaritan Experiment' in 1973 to test the hypothesis that religion has an effect on helpful behaviour.
To conduct this research they gathered a participant pool of bible college students. Half of the participants were given the task of preaching on the parable of the Good Samaritan; whilst the other half of the participants were given the task of preaching about job opportunities in a bible college.
The participants were then given various times that they had to preach so that some were in a hurry and others were not. Then, on the way to the building where they were to preach their sermon each participant was required to pass by a person who was slumped over in a walkway and looked like they were in need of help.
The findings of the study revealed that those participants who were preaching on the Good Samaritan did not stop any more than those who were speaking on job opportunities. Rather, what made the difference was how much of a hurry the participants were in when they passed the person who looked like they were in need of help. The results showed that only 10% of those who were in a hurry stopped to help, including those who were preaching about stopping.
As such, this study revealed the hypocrisy and selfishness ingrained in our humanity and demonstrated how much easier it is to talk about being selfless than it is to actually act selflessly.
Although I don't agree with his theories on evolutionism, I acknowledge that Dawkins is onto something here: we are all selfish; and in fact are all born this way. We all come from the fallen seed of Adam (and Eve) who chose to separate himself from God by eating the fruit God had forbidden him to eat in the Garden of Eden. With his actions came specific consequences, one being that all humanity to follow, was riddled with the curse of sin from birth. As a result, metaphorically speaking, our relational cord with God had been broken and instead wrapped around ourselves as we became riddled with selfishness.
In response, in his restorative work to rebuild our relationship with God, Jesus called us to be counter-cultural. He called us to live selflessly, against our natural tendencies and the grains of the selfish cultures adopted by humans.
Interestingly selfishness is concerned with self preservation and as such predisposes us with an innate tendency to protect life, especially those who are more closely related to our specific gene pool. However, Jesus blatantly said as recorded in Matthew chapter 10 verse 39 "Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it." Living selflessly and focused first on God, then others and then ourselves is what Jesus instructed us to do.
He further elaborated on this concept of selflessness in Matthew chapter 25 verses 31 to 46 where He highlighted that whatever selfless acts we do for those in need, we are actually doing for God. Matthew chapter 25 verse 40 says "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.""
What does this mean? That when we come into relationship with God our actions should be shaped out of our selfless response to him in love; and as such we should find ourselves serving those around us selflessly.
Wow! Doesn't that just go against our natural grains? We were never meant to be selfish and so when Jesus came to heal and restore humanity, through his actions and teaching he shifted our focus onto what really matters. And interestingly when you think about it, if everyone acted selflessly would this not build humanity, further and protect ourselves more than if we were to act selfishly anyway?? Ingenious.
However, whilst it logically makes sense it doesn't render it an easy thing to do. It is difficult to act selflessly at the best of times, never mind if we are already stressed, experiencing pain or setting out to achieve certain goals or meet expectations. It is our human nature to justify our selfishness. But Jesus calls us apart from this.
Consider the following
We will never start thinking selflessly when we feel like we are 'ready' to, because we will never be 'ready' whilst we are susceptible to the basic conditions of humanity. The same way in that we don't start going to church because we are 'perfect' and that Jesus didn't come to heal those who were already 'well'.
In light of this realisation I am confronted with the question of how I react in everyday situations and circumstances. Do I respond to the world around me in selfishness or do I follow the example of Jesus and let my focus be outside of myself?
I encourage you to ask the same question. In what ways can you start living selflessly today?
I pray and trust that God gives you the strength to highlight areas in your life where you are living selfishly as He has done for me and helps you to find the strength and ability to approach life in selfless and loving submission to Him.
Charlotte (Charley) works in youth ministry and is studying a Bachelor of Theology at a bible college in Melbourne. Charley enjoys writing children's stories, playing guitar and dreaming the impossible.
Charley Goiris' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/charley-goiris.html