Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What's the point in doing good?

It had to happen: scientists believe they have finally found out how our brain is hardwired for altruistic acts even if they did not benefit the individual or give it any survival edge. In the Jan 21 online issue of Nature Neuroscience, the author of a new research, Scott Huettel, an associate professor of psychology at Duke University Medical Center, in Durham, N.C. had this to say:

"Perhaps altruism did not grow out of a warm-glow feeling of doing good for others, but out of the simple recognition that that thing over there is a person that has intentions and goals. And therefore, I might want to treat them like I might want them to treat myself."

Huettel and his group defined altruism as acts "that intentionally benefit another organism, incur no direct personal benefit, and sometimes bear a personal cost."

"We went into this experiment with the idea that altruism was really a function of the brain's reward systems -- altruistic people would simply find it more rewarding," he said. But instead, a whole other brain region, called the posterior superior temporal cortex (pSTC), kicked into high gear as altruism levels rose.

The pSTC is located near the back of the brain and is not focused on reward. Instead, it focuses on perceiving others' intentions and actions, Huettel said.

Be that as it may, whereever the 'altruism button' may be located in the brain, eventually we all have to choose if it is at all worthwhile to do good, whether on a personal or a larger social level. The Bible of course is more direct, saying that we were created for good works as God's workmanship, "which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Eph 2:10). Bishop of Chelmsford and Chairman of Christian Aid John Gladwin says that it's God's self-revelation that motivates us to good works and to care for God's world.

God has revealed himself in Christ and in the biblical witness to Christ, and that the truth of his self-revelation is objective in its character, absolute in its quality and universal in its application. The gospel is in fact, the authentic meta-narrative.

It is because this is God’s world, and he cared for it to the point of incarnation and crucifixion, that we are inevitably committed to work for God’s justice in the face of oppression, for God’s truth in the face of lies and deceits, for service in the face of abuse of power, for love in the face of selfishness, for cooperation in the face of destructive antagonism, and for reconciliation in the face of division and hostility.

When I have to ask what's the point in doing good, I don't know if a warm fuzzy feeling is enough to push me over the brink, to keep me going. It is more likely the fact that this is God's world, and that he gave his life for it which therefore makes every act of good a redemptive one.

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