October 6, 2007

Set the Money Ablaze

Tomorrow's Gospel repeats the dominical command to love the Lord with our entire heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. One need not be a Christian to realize that this is an impossible command. Witness this interesting article aptly titled "Ethical Masturbation." The author, Bryan McKay, wonders if a truly altruistic act is possible - if humans even have the capacity for it. All actions, whether we perceive them to be good or bad, he argues, are done because they confer some kind of benefit on the doer.

In 1971, Robert Trivers developed and published his theory of reciprocal altruism. This makes much more practical sense to me as a model for human behavior. The premise of reciprocal altrusism is that one only performs a supposedly "altruistic" act when there is a perceived - although potentially delayed - benefit to oneself. Feeling a sense of satisfaction after performing a "selfless" act may not seem like a tangible benefit, but this moral elation and sense of accomplishment carries with it a boost to one's psychological - and thusly (arguably) medical - well-being.
A recent article on lifehack.org makes the same point in a post on communication. To communicate successfully, author Scott Young argues, you have to remember that people mostly care about themselves, and that they are motivated by selfish altruism.

Which leads me to wonder about giving offerings at church. I am dismayed at the battles that sometimes take place over where offerings are "directed." People want to give, but only to this cause or that cause. Is it really an offering in that case? A true sacrifice would be to let it go, and not put stipulations on it. John Stackhouse, in his piece "Everything up in (Holy) Smoke," quotes author Mark Alan Powell: "I wonder what would happen if we collected the offering on Sunday morning, set the plates on the altar, and then tossed in a match, burning up everyone's money." We have plans for that money. People (including myself) make their livelihoods from it; while some have various idols wrapped up in what that money supports. It is easy in the church to be eager not so much to give money, but to make plans on spending it - especially if it is largely other people's money you are spending. Perhaps we should just burn it up, throw it away, give it away in a manner that doesn't benefit ourselves.

There are no altruistic acts.
There are no true offerings.

Except the self-offering of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Bring us, O Lord, to the day when your work is made complete in us, and our only interest is in You and our neighbor.

No comments: