Selfish Love: With C.S. Lewis and Ayn Rand

love yourself in the sand

Virtue: Unselfishness vs Love

"If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive... The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love... [to be continued below]"  -C.S Lewis

What is the Christian virtue of Love? What is Love? To love is to value. When you say that you love someone, you mean that you value that person; that he or she is of value to you. "Wait" you cry, "that sounds so selfish! What about self-less love?"

"Self-less" Love?

There can be no such thing as "self-less" love because there is no such thing as a self-less value. The attempt to concoct "self-less" love would be hideous, as described in the following quote by Ayn Rand:

Selfless love would have to mean that you derive no personal pleasure or happiness from the company and the existence of the person you love, and that you are motivated only by self-sacrificial pity for that person’s need of you. I don’t have to point out to you that no one would be flattered by, nor would accept, a concept of that kind.

-Ayn Rand

"Self-less love" would say, in essence, "I haven't the slightest care in the world for you, or for your well-being. I am simply doing this because you need me, and it is my duty to fill that need." This is because to "have a care" is to value. To care for a person is to value that person -- and to value that person is to say that he or she is of value to you; to your self. The alternative is to look down your nose at others, as though they are helpless creatures in need of your service, corrupting the nature of love by turning it from a delight into a duty.

Seeking Value for Your Self

Therefore, not only do Christians need to replace Unselfishness with Love as the primary virtue, but they also need to discard from their heads (and their hearts) the idea of an ultimately "self-less" love. But in order to do that, Christians must first overcome their fear of desiring anything of value to themselves at all. The rest of the Lewis quote (continuing from the one above) will help to point in that direction:

"The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern Christians the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

-C.S. Lewis

Lewis seems to think (and I agree) that this whole obsession with self-denial, Unselfishness, and "Self-less" love which runs rampant in modern Christianity is actually no part of "the Christian faith", but rather, that it has crept in from "Kant and the Stoics". In other words, vain and insidious philosophical assumptions have crept into the modern Church (which ironically and foolishly thinks itself to be free from all philosophical assumptions!) and poisoned Christian morality, flipping it on its head.

The modern Christian decries strong desires, but Lewis argues that our desires are actually too weak. Our problem is not that we value too many things, but rather that we don't value those things that are most valuable; that we don't have strong enough values. If we valued as we ought to value; if we valued most those things that were most valuable, we would find that our actions almost automatically matched the virtuous actions outlined in New Testament teaching.

Love Thy Neighbor

"Love your neighbor" means value your neighbor. You don't value someone by superficially forcing yourself to go through the motions of what it might look like if you did value that person. You value someone by seeing (in your mind and in your heart) those things that are actually valuable about him -- and you can only do that if you value those things; if those things are valuable to you. 

If you can't see anything valuable about an immortal being, created in the image of God, designed to rule and have dominion over the universe, endowed with a mind capable of transforming history with the spark of genius (when used appropriately), fashioned to be the crown jewel of God's creation, then you've got a problem with your value system: you do not have strong enough values - likely because your values are consumed with the moral equivalent of mud-pies.

Have you ever asked yourself why modern Christians have turned the virtue of love into the very dry and unloving superficial duty to perform certain actionsThis is why. They are incapable of actual love for other people because they are incapable of actually valuing that which is valuable in other people. They can't value what they can't see; and they can't see, because their actual values (not the ones they claim to hold, but the ones that actually move them) are a junk-heap of trite and banal contradictions. And why is that? Because they are completely unconscious about their actual values. You cannot oversee, evaluate, correct and direct your values if you are not conscious of what you value. And you cannot be conscious of that about which you refuse to think. And you will not consciously think about your values if you count your values to be worthless - or evil. You will not rightly order your values if you do not value your own values.

Love Thy Self

To love is to value. Only a rationally selfish man, a man of self-esteem, is capable of love—because he is the only man capable of holding firm, consistent, uncompromising, unbetrayed values. The man who does not value himself, cannot value anything or anyone.

-Ayn Rand

If you do not value your own life, you will not care about its trajectory or its achievements (to care is to value). Likewise, if you do not value your values, you will not take any care regarding your values, and therefore your values will never be strong, deep, and consistent; you will never be capable of valuing that which is most valuable -- whether in other people, or - more importantly - in God. Yes, you must love other people - and you absolutely must love God, but it must be love; it must be valueYou must value. And you will never be capable of it until you value that thing in you which values; until you value your self.



7 thoughts on “Selfish Love: With C.S. Lewis and Ayn Rand

  1. You seem to be lumping together valuing other individuals with placing value in the concept 'human' itself. I was wondering if you could address an inability to love others that doesn't stem from unexamined values, the Gail Wynand sentiment:

    "One can't love man without hating most of the creatures who pretend to bear his name. It's one or the other. One doesn't love God and sacrilege impartially. Except when one doesn't know that sacrilege has been committed. Because one doesn't know God."

    1. That is a very good question (and a very good quote).

      It is helpful to remember that no matter how corrupt a man has become, it does not change the fact that he is, in essence, a man; that he has the potential to be as he ought to be -- whether that potential is ever realized or not. Another way to say it is this: God's design in Man does not change, no matter how corrupt a particular man has become. We should love the design and hate the corruption.

      In fact, as your quote points out, we should hate the corruption all the more because of our love for that which it is corrupting -- because of our love of the design. The profound hatred that Gail has for 'sacrilegious' men is not the same hatred he would have for mold on a piece of bread - even though they are both instances of corruption. The depth of his hatred for those men is so prominent because of the greatness of what they could be and should be; because of their rightful potential.

      And that is what it is that we ought to love, even in the most corrupt of men: their rightful potential. Such love does not gloss over the corruption (in fact, it seethes all the more angrily against the corruption), but it does match that just hatred with a just hope - with a benevolent and stearn expectation that he ought to change, and that he could if he only wanted to; and perhaps he would, if you could offer him a reason to want to.

  2. Thank you. I rather enjoyed reading this post. It reminded me of some things that make me happy. I appreciate the effort you put into writing, and appreciate that you do it for you.

    1. Thank you. And I appreciate that you enjoy rational things that make you happy. If you haven't yet, get connected to the Facebook page and Twitter feed for The Christian Egoist so that you can (hopefully) run across such happy things more often.

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  4. While I find the rational support for objectivism very appealing, I am having difficulty finding thoroughly referenced Biblical support for your so-called "Christian Objectivism." In escribing the name of Christ, it would follow that you can rationally reconcile the tenets of Christ's teaching with the tenets of Objectivism. Apropos to the above article, you must reconcile the virtue of selfishness with the self-denial explicitly taught and demonstrated by Christ:

    Matthew 16:24-26 "Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"

    John 12:25 "He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal."

    Luke 22:42 "Father, if it be Thy will, take this cup away from me; yet not my will but Thine be done!"

    If you've already answered this objection then please direct me there. Otherwise, I anxiously await your reply!

    Thank you!

    1. The Christian Egoist

      Hello Robert,

      Thank you for your comment and your questions.
      First, I'd like to clarify that I do not call my position "Christian Objectivism". Objectivism is an actual philosophy with set beliefs (including atheism). Instead, I am here advocating Christian Egoism.

      Regarding the reconciliation with the self-denial taught in Scripture, did you read the article? Lewis' point, in particular, was that every call for self-denial is ultimately a call for self-interest, with short-term self-denial being the means to the end of ultimate self-interest. In fact, ironically, it's right there in the first two verses you cited:

      "For whosoever will SAVE his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake SHALL FIND IT. For what is a man PROFITED, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"

      "He that LOVETH his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world SHALL KEEP IT UNTO LIFE ETERNAL."

      In other words, "You want to save your life don't you? You want to profit, don't you? You want eternal life, don't you? Then do whatever is necessary to get it."

      Regarding Jesus praying "Not my will, but Thine be done," remember that it was "FOR THE JOY set before Him" that "He endured the cross" (Heb. 12:2).


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