The HPedia: Selfishness argument

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This is a proposed label for a common objection leveled against naturalistic ritual by some hard theists.  It criticizes naturalists for being “only in it for themselves”, “only concerned with what they get out of it”, etc.

To understand the argument, one must see it from a hard theistic point of view: deities being real, ritual is primarily for deities.  Focusing only on the benefits for oneself neglects the other.

The force of the argument relies on shaming the target for what is implied as selfish behavior.

Outside a hard theistic point of view, the argument quickly falls apart: if deities are not real (in the sense that hard theists mean them to be real), then there is no other to neglect.

However, even from a hard theistic point of view, the argument does not hold up: just because the divine is (supposedly) neglected does not mean ritual can only be for the selfish interests of the individual.  Ritual often effects social benefits by bonding groups together and orienting individuals toward enhanced social cooperation.  Further, it often motivates the individual to action toward environmental, humanitarian, or community goals.  Finally, it often develops the moral character of the individual toward increased empathy, compassion, humility, love, and other prosocial traits.  None of these effects can rightly be characterized as selfish, as they all extend benefit well beyond his or her narrow self interest.

For more on this issue, see the article Why do ritual as a Naturalistic Pagan?

Check out other entries in our HPedia.

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