The Selfish Heart of Christianity?
by J.P. Moreland
In a highly televised debate with Alan Keys, Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz took a common tack against Christianity: the claim that it’s fundamentally selfish. According to Dershowitz, Christian morality is rooted in nothing more than fear of damnation and promise of reward. It’s "the worst kind of cost/benefit analysis … more appropriate to a business school than a divinity school."
If Christian morality is rooted solely in fear of damnation and promise of reward, then Dershowitz has a point. As a matter of commonsense, it’s obvious that virtuous behavior rooted solely in self-interest isn’t really virtuous behavior. If I’m kind to the unpopular guy on campus, but only because being so benefits me, I’m not really being kind. I’m faking it for self-gain. To be truly virtuous, my own interests can’t be the primary intent of my deeds.
Let’s call the idea that I am truly virtuous when acting solely out of self-interest "egoism." Does the Christian faith — with its emphasis on punishment for bad behavior and rewards for good behavior — implicitly affirm egoism, as Dershowitz claims it does? Is Dershowitz’s argument for the selfish heart of Christianity a sound one?
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