A Question of Selflessness

Discuss philosophical questions regarding theism (and atheism), and discuss religion as it relates to philosophy. This includes any philosophical discussions that happen to be about god, gods, or a 'higher power' or the belief of them. This also generally includes philosophical topics about organized or ritualistic mysticism or about organized, common or ritualistic beliefs in the existence of supernatural phenomenon.

A Question of Selflessness

Post Number:#1  Postby Ryveit » April 10th, 2017, 10:04 am

I am not a religious person, and do not belong to any formal religion. But i do enjoy discussing religion in a philosophical sense. I have a question that I think about often.
Out of all of the hundreds of religions that exist around the world, there are dramatic differences in what is expected out of the follower. But all religions, at least the major ones, have one ideal in common. Be good to other people and good things will happen to you. Using Christianity as an example; love thy neighbor, take care of your family, be charitable, etc.
A person who lives by these ideals, is considered a good person, or a selfless person. A selfless person can be defined as, someone who does things for other people with no expectation of reward.

But i believe that religion contradicts the idea of selflessness. Religion says be good to other people and you will go to heaven (or other religious equivalents to heaven). Think about that, if a person does all of these good things while on Earth, they get to live eternity in paradise. But to be selfless means to expect no reward. Religion says do these things and here's your reward. Are religious people selfless or selfish?

We could even take it a step further. Do good things and you will be rewarded (heaven), but do bad things and you will be punished (hell). So not only are you being rewarded for doing good things, but you are also being threatened that if you don't do these good things you will pay for it. This could also bring up the question; Are religious people being forced to do good things just so that they don't go to hell? Or do people genuinely want to help others regardless of whether they go to heaven or hell?
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A Question of Selflessness



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Re: A Question of Selflessness

Post Number:#2  Postby Steve3007 » April 10th, 2017, 11:04 am

I think a lot of Christians, at least, would claim that it's not a question of reward and punishment. It's a question of personal choice. Since God is the ultimate abstract representation of "The Good", if you choose to do good things then you are choosing to move towards that ideal. Being "in heaven" with God is not so much a reward as simply the inevitable end result of the choices you've made in your life. Or something like that.
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Re: A Question of Selflessness

Post Number:#3  Postby RuleOnu » April 10th, 2017, 12:35 pm

First, it seems you don't understand Christianity very well. I find it telling that you'd use Christianity as an example then proceed to lump Christianity in with other religions. Take islam, for example, whose adherents do good deeds in order to increase their "hasanat", points, or credits, for entry into islam heaven. A muslame can also do good deeds to mitigate the effects of bad deeds. No such structure exists in Christianity. While Christianity expresses a moral code, the Christians goal, according to God's Word, tenets and principles is righteousness in the eyes of God, through acceptance of Christ and seeking redemption and salvation.
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In a certain respect you are correct, as islam shows, but wrong with respects to Christianity.
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What you're expressing is the Euthyphro delemma, or Devine command theory, which I won't get into here, except to say that if there's some moral trade off in the form of good versus bad deeds for entry to Heaven then atheist/rejectionist and non-believers have just as much a "right" to Heaven as Christian believers.
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Re: A Question of Selflessness

Post Number:#4  Postby Fooloso4 » April 10th, 2017, 2:31 pm

RuleOnu:

First, it seems you don't understand Christianity very well. I find it telling that you'd use Christianity as an example then proceed to lump Christianity in with other religions.


First, I caution against making claims about what others do not understand based on a statement intended to find a common theme in different religions. With that goal in mind, it is to be expected that Ryveit lump Christianity together with other religions, especially after noting that there are “dramatic differences” between religions.

In a certain respect you are correct, as islam shows, but wrong with respects to Christianity.



But there are many Christians who do believe that one is rewarded for good deeds. This may be at odds with your understanding of Christianity but that does not mean that Ryveit is wrong for identifying this as a Christian belief.

What you're expressing is the Euthyphro delemma, or Devine command theory, which I won't get into here, except to say that if there's some moral trade off in the form of good versus bad deeds for entry to Heaven then atheist/rejectionist and non-believers have just as much a "right" to Heaven as Christian believers.


Divine command theory has nothing to do with entry to Heaven. In the dialogue the question Socrates poses to Euthyphro is whether something is pious because the gods love it or if the love it because it is pious. Socrates then shifts to the question of justice - it something just because the gods love it or do they love it because it is just. Divine command theory asks whether something is morally right or good because God commands it or does God command it because it is morally good.
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Re: A Question of Selflessness

Post Number:#5  Postby Ryveit » April 10th, 2017, 10:34 pm

I agree Fooloso4 that making assumptions such as questioning my understanding of Christianity is not beneficial to the argument.

RuleOnu, it would seem that you are very knowledgeable about the subject of religious beliefs. I never claimed to be knowledgeable of Christianity, in fact I stated the opposite. My original argument does not include any detailed beliefs of any specific Religion. This argument is about the idea of selflessness and its relation to Religion. I used Christianity as a general example in order to clarify what i meant by doing good things. I purposefully did not go into detail about what exactly is believed by the Christian Religion. I did choose Christianity because I did go to Sunday School when I was a kid, which is really the only foundation of Religious education that I have. I do remember the lecturers in Sunday School referring to heaven as a reward and referring to hell as a punishment.

Steve3007, I believe that whether or not heaven would be considered a reward or inevitable is an idea that is open to interpretation. That would be an interesting Philosophical discussion.

A follow up to my original argument:

This is a "what if" question. RuleOnu, i hate to continue using Christianity as my primary example, but as I stated, I don't have any background in any other Religion. What if the bible said that everyone goes to heaven no matter what you did in life. You could have murdered 100 people or you could have saved 100 people from death. Either way you go to heaven. Whether you repent your sins or not doesn't matter. Do you think that there would still be good people in the world or would everyone just just look out for themselves?

I believe that any person that would still help others and be a good person would be a truly selfless person. In this circumstance there is no punishment and without punishment then there is no reward.
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Re: A Question of Selflessness

Post Number:#6  Postby Rederic » April 12th, 2017, 10:46 am

I don't believe that pure altruism exists. If a calculation is made before an action, no matter how small, then it's not selfless.
There was a time when religion ruled the world, it was called the Dark Ages. - Ruth Green.
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Re: A Question of Selflessness

Post Number:#7  Postby Lone Wolf » April 12th, 2017, 11:01 pm

Selflessness is an interesting concept and one that is very hard to achieve on this planet. For example, all of my charitable donations are made anonymously so I have no expectation of a return. However in my personal relations with family and friends, I find myself putting expectations on others when I have done them a favor or given them some benefit. I do agree with you that the Christian religion, in particular, promises a reward for having faith in an unseen god. Having been raised Southern Baptist and later joining the Lutherans, I know more about this religion than others although I have read about all the major religions in the world. I also do not practice or even recognize the validity of any organized religion although I believe in something beyond my ability to comprehend that most religions call god. I don't know what that something is or have any concept of its emotions beyond a certainty that it loves me.
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Re: A Question of Selflessness

Post Number:#8  Postby Zombocalypse » April 12th, 2017, 11:26 pm

Ryveit wrote:I am not a religious person, and do not belong to any formal religion. But i do enjoy discussing religion in a philosophical sense. I have a question that I think about often.
Out of all of the hundreds of religions that exist around the world, there are dramatic differences in what is expected out of the follower. But all religions, at least the major ones, have one ideal in common. Be good to other people and good things will happen to you. Using Christianity as an example; love thy neighbor, take care of your family, be charitable, etc.
A person who lives by these ideals, is considered a good person, or a selfless person. A selfless person can be defined as, someone who does things for other people with no expectation of reward.

But i believe that religion contradicts the idea of selflessness. Religion says be good to other people and you will go to heaven (or other religious equivalents to heaven). Think about that, if a person does all of these good things while on Earth, they get to live eternity in paradise. But to be selfless means to expect no reward. Religion says do these things and here's your reward. Are religious people selfless or selfish?

We could even take it a step further. Do good things and you will be rewarded (heaven), but do bad things and you will be punished (hell). So not only are you being rewarded for doing good things, but you are also being threatened that if you don't do these good things you will pay for it. This could also bring up the question; Are religious people being forced to do good things just so that they don't go to hell? Or do people genuinely want to help others regardless of whether they go to heaven or hell?




I think you ask some very good questions, and I commend you for that.

I am of the belief that there's truly no such thing as a completely selfless act. We are all selfish, including God. But at the same time, our mechanism of selfishness, at the advanced level, is beneficial to all of humanity. I believe in what Socrates said when he said that virtue is knowledge. The wiser and smarter we are, the less we become evil. With wisdom and intellect comes the realization of the necessity to cooperate with others in order to live a peaceful and fulfilling life. Therefore, a wise and smart man will function better in society and generally be a more morally upright person. Deep down at the very pits of his heart, he's only thinking about his own profit, but he's doing it in a way that benefits others, because he is wise.
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Re: A Question of Selflessness

Post Number:#9  Postby -1- » April 12th, 2017, 11:27 pm

Some of the major religions dictate its followers to burn heretics alive at the stake. Is that what you meant by selflessness?

Or that... ize, that you should take a boat to Jerusalem and kill everyone in sight there?

Or... what now... that if someone does not believe what you believe, then you have the right, the duty, and the obligation to behead them in public?

If women show their ankle's skin, then they must be severely beaten by baseball bats?\

If anyone is shown to have committed adultery then they shall be stoned to death?

If they are accused and found guilty of theft, their hand must be cut off in public?

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These things are commanded by religious beliefs, and yet they are not compassionate, loving acts of kindness. I reject your original proposition as factually wrong.
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Re: A Question of Selflessness

Post Number:#10  Postby LuckyR » May 4th, 2017, 11:50 am

Ryveit wrote:I am not a religious person, and do not belong to any formal religion. But i do enjoy discussing religion in a philosophical sense. I have a question that I think about often.
Out of all of the hundreds of religions that exist around the world, there are dramatic differences in what is expected out of the follower. But all religions, at least the major ones, have one ideal in common. Be good to other people and good things will happen to you. Using Christianity as an example; love thy neighbor, take care of your family, be charitable, etc.
A person who lives by these ideals, is considered a good person, or a selfless person. A selfless person can be defined as, someone who does things for other people with no expectation of reward.

But i believe that religion contradicts the idea of selflessness. Religion says be good to other people and you will go to heaven (or other religious equivalents to heaven). Think about that, if a person does all of these good things while on Earth, they get to live eternity in paradise. But to be selfless means to expect no reward. Religion says do these things and here's your reward. Are religious people selfless or selfish?

We could even take it a step further. Do good things and you will be rewarded (heaven), but do bad things and you will be punished (hell). So not only are you being rewarded for doing good things, but you are also being threatened that if you don't do these good things you will pay for it. This could also bring up the question; Are religious people being forced to do good things just so that they don't go to hell? Or do people genuinely want to help others regardless of whether they go to heaven or hell?


I understand your conundrum, but it all makes sense if you view the religious tenets from the perspective of their inventors, not their latter day use in an era of universal acceptance.

Back in antiquity (when the concept of religion was invented), there were tremendous economic and power differentials between classes, much more than there are now (though we are heading back in that direction). Of course leadership can use their power to keep the rabble at bay, but it is much more elegant and successful to convince the rabble that they should not overthrow their overlords. Instead behave in a docile and cooperative manner and Shazam, you are going to be rewarded in the Afterlife, no need to cause trouble for the Power Structure here on planet earth, right now. Everyone is happy (though only a small subset gets the goodies).
"As usual... it depends."
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