Recently in my Psych 101 class we discussed interpersonal relationships and aspects of it. During the lecture the instructor touched on altruism and explained three main forms of it. One form takes place with the expectation for reciprocation, another takes place to take care of kin, and another takes place just the make the altruistic individual feel good about himself. The instructor argued that there couldn’t be any true altruism by definition because all forms of giving receive some type of reward. We were operating on the definition that altruism was an act to aid another that resulted in loss without gain.
He then asked if we could think of any true altruism, and a man in the class recounted how his mother adopted nine children with special or physical needs (severe cerebral palsy, dwarfism, ect.) and claimed she attributed it to being a good Christian. One of the other students then piped up to say even that was not without gain because in Christianity good deeds were done to please God or get his favor.
After these ideas simmered for awhile it occurred to me that maybe we should redefine altruism or change our perspective on gain. When we get right down to it even God isn’t truly altruistic since the Word says “all things were created by him and for him” (Colossians 1:16)and Christ came to save sinners, though a selfless act with loss, he gained the ability to pardon us and justify us in God’s presence. He gained from his loss; a loss that is seen as the highest expression of love that one could ever convey.
Also, if you look at it honestly, altruism is not Biblical. We are told “it is more blessed to give than to receive” ( Acts 20:35), which implies we have something of more value to gain when we give to others than to receive from others. In addition to that we are told to do to others as we would have them do unto us (Luke 6:31) which infers we can expect to some degree of some reciprocity of gain as we give.
Ultimately, I believe altruism should be redefined. Maybe defining it as “an act to aid another without the expectation of gain” would be achievable; otherwise, we will not get true altruism as it is currently defined.
Just my thoughts.