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In the Name of God بسم الله
mac33c

Question About Religion And Selfishness

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I've been pondering the subject of selfishness and religion.

If we do something good because we know we will be rewarded for it, is this considered selfish?

Your thoughts please.

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Salams, this is something i think about sometimes also. Whether we do a good deed simply because our conscience necessitates it for us, or purely because we're desiring a reward in the afterlife (or this one) - bottom line is its better to do the good deed than not, for what ever reason. Ive long been of the opinion that there is no truely selfless act, just degree's of selfishness if you like. People seem quite averse to actions that create inconsistency within us, we feel best when we feel intergrated it seems. Although, we're also irrational creatures, as well as rational, so we can live with some cognitive dissonance unless we become consciously aware of it, then it gives a sense of conflict. Its similar to paradox of suffering being a tool for learning and expiation of sins, but also something we strive to reduce for ourselves and others. I think ultimately if we are not blocking consciousness/awareness in ourselves, we cannpt block our conscience either. So we recognise the opportunity to do a good deed and we recognise the opportunity to reduce suffering for others and the flow is to allow ourselves to do it as a natural course of events. Its like a dance in life, the one thing (suffering or an opportunity to increase goodness/virtuousness/well-being) balancing or mirroring its response (the act to relieve the suffering/help/doing a good deed). Its probably best not to think about it to much, but just feel it and accept it as the mechanics of things.

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W'salaam. That was an excellent response. Thank you. I found it particularly interesting that you related this dilemma to the one of suffering as a tool for learning. I've thought about it before too but oddly enough I've never made the connection. Perhaps as you said, cognitive dissonance is simply a necessity that we must come to terms with. And to take it even further, one could probably argue that the words we've ascribed to our understanding of things like "selfishness" and even "good" or "bad" are entirely too limiting.

Degrees of selfishness? I guess my question would be, what of someone (lets say an atheist) who sacrifices their lives to save a stranger. In the frenzy, they had no time to even think about any sort of reward they would recieve (glory or otherwise, and certainly not a reward in the afterlife because they don't believe in the afterlife). Where is the selfishness there?

And Imam Hussein's (as) sacrifice? Surely he did not become a martyr because he expected a reward in this life or the next. He knew of the great good that would come from such a sacrifice, and he knew it was necessary to preserve truth. That seems pretty selfless to me.

Edited by mac33c

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W'salaam. That was an excellent response. Thank you. I found it particularly interesting that you related this dilemma to the one of suffering as a tool for learning. I've thought about it before too but oddly enough I've never made the connection. Perhaps as you said, cognitive dissonance is simply a necessity that we must come to terms with. And to take it even further, one could probably argue that the words we've ascribed to our understanding of things like "selfishness" and even "good" or "bad" are entirely too limiting.

Degrees of selfishness? I guess my question would be, what of someone (lets say an atheist) who sacrifices their lives to save a stranger. In the frenzy, they had no time to even think about any sort of reward they would recieve (glory or otherwise, and certainly not a reward in the afterlife because they don't believe in the afterlife). Where is the selfishness there?

And Imam Hussein's (as) sacrifice? Surely he did not become a martyr because he expected a reward in this life or the next. He knew of the great good that would come from such a sacrifice, and he knew it was necessary to preserve truth. That seems pretty selfless to me.

 

I agree that these words are limiting. In the situation with the atheist, the 'selfish' element i would imagine coming into the equation would be his need to resist consciously introducing incongruity into the way he  identifies himself. So if he is very in touch with his moral sense of himself, he could experience more resistance to the thought of not acting than the one of acting. In a split second we can play out scenario's in our heads, so it could be that even though he appears to spontaneously act, there is still a thought process happening.

 I think regarding Imam Hussains(as) action, it would of been inconceivable for him to not have acted as he did, though of course he had the free will to make a choice, his level of clarity/awareness meant his actions had to necessarily follow in a sense. I think in an imam or prophets case, they have such levels of 'God consciousness' that they experience far less confusion or internal conflict over decisions than the rest of us would have, we are too sucked into the delusion and too habituated to giving in to our weaknesses.

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Again, excellent response I really appreciate it. So is it perhaps then, that we experience such cognitive dissonance because of our "ignorance" in a sense? This kind of goes hand in hand with the whole "limiting words" idea. We simply don't have the level of clarity like our Prophets and our Imams (PBUT) to fully understand the "truth"/answers to these questions. Maybe even asking the question itself is an error, due to its limiting nature.

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No it wont be considered selfish because of your intentions is to please Allah and seek His pleasure, and that consequently would produce the reward you are after.

 

in addition to that, if your intention is solely to seek reward without really emphasizing that you want to pleasure Allah, the principle is the same. rewards are intangible, i.e. you cant see the book where all your deeds are recorded or know the future and what Allah is going to reward you for, so it still comes back to having strong faith in Allah for you to seek his rewards, because both Allah and His rewards are intangible in nature, and only through strong faith are you able to think like that and have such intentions, so it wouldn't be selfish.

 

An example would be your parents, you always strive to please them and make them happy, and you know through that you will be rewarded by something they buy for you or as simple as praising you.  and so you still put in the effort to study and do what they ask you to do so they are happy and in turn reward you. same idea, that you seeking the pleasure of someone so you gain a reward doesnt change the fact that you are still seeking their pleasure initially, does that make sense?

 

It is also a scientific principle that humans (and animals as well) are encouraged by positive reinforcement (i.e. a reward), you do something, you get rewarded for it, you will more likely do it again. an example again, when you were a child and your parents hit you for doing something bad, that negative reinforcement made sure that you will not repeat that action again (unless you were like those insanely naughty children :P). but if your parents praised you and gave you a lolly then you are more likely to do that action again.

 

So in conclusion, no it is not selfish to think that because even Allah mentions in the Qur'an several times, do good so you can be rewarded by paradise etc.

 

hope that helps :)

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Imam As-Sadiq [as] said about the meaning of worship: “Worship is of three kinds: some people worship Allah, because they fear Him – so it is the worship of slaves; and a group worships Allah, Blessed and High is He, to seek reward – so it is the worship of hirelings; and a group worships Allah, Mighty and Great is He, because of (His) love – and this is the worship of the free, and it is the most excellent worship.” (al-Kafi)

 

Imam Ali [as] said: Verily, some people worshipped Allah being desirous (Of His reward) – so this is the worship of traders; and some people worshipped Allah fearing (His punishment) – so it is the worship of slaves, and a group worshipped Allah in gratitude (to Him) so this is the worship of the free. (Nahju ‘I-balaghah)

 

Imam as-Sadiq [as] said: ‘Verily people worship Allah in three ways: One group worships Him in desire of His reward, and it is the worship of covetous ones, and it is greed; and others Worship Him in dread of the Fire, and it is the worship of slaves, and it is fear; but I worship Him in His love - Mighty and Great is He and this is the worship of noble ones. (It is) because Allah has said: and they shall be secure from terror on that days (27: 89); and He has said, Say: ‘If You love Allah, then follow me, Allah will love you. . .’ (3:31). Therefore, whosoever is loved by Allah, he shall be among the secure ones; and it is a hidden position, cannot touch it save the purified ones.” (al-Ilal, al-Majalis and al-Khisal)

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Again, excellent response I really appreciate it. So is it perhaps then, that we experience such cognitive dissonance because of our "ignorance" in a sense? This kind of goes hand in hand with the whole "limiting words" idea. We simply don't have the level of clarity like our Prophets and our Imams (PBUT) to fully understand the "truth"/answers to these questions. Maybe even asking the question itself is an error, due to its limiting nature.

 

Yes, i think the confusion comes from being out of alignment with Allah, with His reality. Although to some extent this is necessary for most of us is seems - part of a process. Like, babies are in alignment with Allah, they experience reality and consciousness without confusion, they arent creating concepts and limiting the world with words. But babies gradually come to identify themselves and separate themselves from environment and others and create a past and a future for themselves. This identifying process is where the ego kicks in. It is obviously necessary and useful, but because we become aware of ourselves in a social way, it creates things like arrogance and also its opposite. So this is where sinful traits and virtuous traits seem to kick in and compete inside us.

 

BTW, i didnt mean to downplay peoples virtuous actions in my previous posts. Maybe instead of talking about levels of selfishness, or self regard, it could be levels of altruism - change the emphasis. This is the best of what makes us human and gives a hell of a lot of quality - meaning and purpose - to life.

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Our conscience makes us do good. I dont think one does good purely for rewards. We where brought up and taugh this is good and thats bad. There is like a voice/ feeling you get when you do wrong or right. But I dont think many people think oh if I do good I will get rewareded but rather there doing it because its morally the right action to do.

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An example would be your parents, you always strive to please them and make them happy, and you know through that you will be rewarded by something they buy for you or as simple as praising you.  and so you still put in the effort to study and do what they ask you to do so they are happy and in turn reward you. same idea, that you seeking the pleasure of someone so you gain a reward doesnt change the fact that you are still seeking their pleasure initially, does that make sense?

 

It is also a scientific principle that humans (and animals as well) are encouraged by positive reinforcement (i.e. a reward), you do something, you get rewarded for it, you will more likely do it again. an example again, when you were a child and your parents hit you for doing something bad, that negative reinforcement made sure that you will not repeat that action again (unless you were like those insanely naughty children :P). but if your parents praised you and gave you a lolly then you are more likely to do that action again.

I like the example of the parents. The love of Allah is truly discovered through the family. Another reason why Ahlul Bayt is so important to understand and study, to know how to treat your own family and see the love they had for one another.

As for the positive reinforcement point, absolutely. I don't deny the functionality of a reward based system, its certainly very powerful and important for us humans. But is there a certain point where we no longer do something for a reward? Is there any instance in our existence where we dont do something for a reward of some kind?

 

 

Imam As-Sadiq [as] said about the meaning of worship: “Worship is of three kinds: some people worship Allah, because they fear Him – so it is the worship of slaves; and a group worships Allah, Blessed and High is He, to seek reward – so it is the worship of hirelings; and a group worships Allah, Mighty and Great is He, because of (His) love – and this is the worship of the free, and it is the most excellent worship.” (al-Kafi)

I have heard this before, but I had forgotten. Truly a helpful piece of wisdom, thank you for sharing.

 

Yes, i think the confusion comes from being out of alignment with Allah, with His reality. Although to some extent this is necessary for most of us is seems - part of a process. Like, babies are in alignment with Allah, they experience reality and consciousness without confusion, they arent creating concepts and limiting the world with words. But babies gradually come to identify themselves and separate themselves from environment and others and create a past and a future for themselves. This identifying process is where the ego kicks in. It is obviously necessary and useful, but because we become aware of ourselves in a social way, it creates things like arrogance and also its opposite. So this is where sinful traits and virtuous traits seem to kick in and compete inside us.

 

BTW, i didnt mean to downplay peoples virtuous actions in my previous posts. Maybe instead of talking about levels of selfishness, or self regard, it could be levels of altruism - change the emphasis. This is the best of what makes us human and gives a hell of a lot of quality - meaning and purpose - to life.

It gives me comfort to think that these thoughts of mine are just a process, and the confusion I experience are from my inability to understand. I suppose the best we can do is just trust Allah and seek His guidance whilst obtaining more knowledge.

 

 

Our conscience makes us do good. I dont think one does good purely for rewards. We where brought up and taugh this is good and thats bad. There is like a voice/ feeling you get when you do wrong or right. But I dont think many people think oh if I do good I will get rewareded but rather there doing it because its morally the right action to do.

I agree, I also believe that our conscience (Allah's subtle guidance) is what truly leads us to do good. Its what makes us feel good about doing good. But that in itself is a reward i suppose...

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I like the example of the parents. The love of Allah is truly discovered through the family. Another reason why Ahlul Bayt is so important to understand and study, to know how to treat your own family and see the love they had for one another.

As for the positive reinforcement point, absolutely. I don't deny the functionality of a reward based system, its certainly very powerful and important for us humans. But is there a certain point where we no longer do something for a reward? Is there any instance in our existence where we dont do something for a reward of some kind?

 

 

Yea thats true, parents are important to please in order to please Allah as well.

 

yea definitely, its a biological urge that drives humans. no i think our whole existance is based on this reward system, because think about it, everything we do is for a reason, and usually a positive reason, which is basically a reward. so our whole existence revolves around that concept.

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Yea thats true, parents are important to please in order to please Allah as well.

 

yea definitely, its a biological urge that drives humans. no i think our whole existance is based on this reward system, because think about it, everything we do is for a reason, and usually a positive reason, which is basically a reward. so our whole existence revolves around that concept.

Good point, i suppose this is necessary and there is no shame in such a system. As for the parents necessary to please Allah, it would not surprise me if this is one of the reasons why the Quran puts such an emphasis on the protection of orphans, who rely on society for the kind of love and development lost by the loss of their parents.

Edited by mac33c

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