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Rather than self-assertion, Jesus requires self-denial, writes Adam Dodds.
Author Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali suggests Britain, and I would add New Zealand, is living on the moral reserves of its Christian heritage.
The values that have shaped New Zealand have to a large degree been a product of the majority of Kiwis professing Christian faith.
Christian profession is decreasing and, consequently, accepted norms of morality are also changing.
Nazir-Ali asks "How long can a nation continue to live on the reserves of its spiritual tradition?''
What happens when reserves run low and are not replenished?
Does Christian faith still have a distinctive contribution to make to contemporary New Zealand?
Our culture has variously been called the "me'' generation and the "selfie'' generation.
Ponder these names: YouTube, MySpace, and the "i'' in iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad.
Authors Twenge and Campbell argue society now reflects a narcissism epidemic.
What is narcissism?
Excessive self-admiration and excessive self-obsession.
In our culture, the dominant public ethical systems are utilitarianism and rights-based philosophies.
Utilitarianism concerns the greatest good for the greatest number, yet reflects corporate mutual self-interest for the majority while disregarding the welfare of minorities.
Rights-based philosophies make an important contribution where basic human rights are suppressed.
Their drawback is they tend to champion my rights - what I deserve - over my duties, what I ought to give to others.
The direction in both these philosophies tends to be inward, contributing to the selfie generation.
Can these ethical systems provide the rationale and impetus for selfless service in our community - even sacrifice for the nation?
Social service agencies are reporting an increased demand at food banks this winter.
What will promote the selflessness necessary to, for example, fill the food banks for those in need?
Ours is a multi-faith society where adherents to all faiths are welcome to live and get along.
Differing belief systems coexist and compete in the market of ideas.
One way to examine the practical differences between belief systems is to consider how they "cash out'' in terms of ethical living.
What difference do they make to how people live?
In ancient cultures, there was an articulation of "the silver rule'' propounded by teachers from Athenian Isocrates to Rabbi Hillel to Confucius.
This rule says, "What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others''.
A simpler variation is the first rule of the Wiccan religion: "Do no harm''.
The widespread acceptance of this "rule'' is not surprising.
A natural foundation of ethics is to extrapolate from one's own worth to that of others.
This leads to valuing others as oneself.
In contrast to "the silver rule'', scholar Michael Green contends "the Golden Rule'' is unique to Jesus.
He said: "In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.''
At first glance, this is simply a positive spin on the silver rule.
Is such a difference significant?
The demands "the silver rule'' make on a person are almost non-existent compared with Jesus' Golden Rule.
Michael Green argues: "It is one thing to say, ‘I must not harm my fellows.' It is quite another to say, ‘I must go out of my way to help them.' The first could be fulfilled by inaction, the second only by self-sacrificial love.''
The context in which Jesus taught "the Golden Rule'' is important.
Jesus had just been teaching on the generous and loving nature of God, the heavenly Father.
God is generous and loving and only gives good gifts, not bad ones.
So His followers are to display these same "family'' traits.
The Christian life is ethically not a self-help endeavour but happens in the context of relationship with God.
Jesus is saying: "Look at what God the Father is like, and imitate Him''.
Like Father, like child.
At the core of Christian faith is self-sacrificial love.
This is embodied supremely in the cross of Jesus.
Before going to his death, Jesus taught something that blows against today's prevailing cultural winds.
"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross [an instrument of execution] daily and follow me.''
A prerequisite for being a Christian is setting aside my rights.
This opposes the dominant cultural trends. Rather than self-assertion, Jesus requires self-denial.
His next words are even more challenging: "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.''
Jesus' words run against the cultural grain of the selfie generation.
Whoever loses their life (renouncing self-directed, self-centred living, choosing to yield to Jesus-directed living) will save it.
While Jesus' teaching runs against the grain of culture, it runs with the grain of the universe.
Christians believe God created human beings in God's image.
We were designed to reflect God to the rest of creation.
What is God like?
In one word - love. God the Father, Son, and Spirit give love to, and receive love from, each other.
God is "other-oriented'' love.
This is imprinted on those made in God's image - you and I.
Does Christian faith have a distinctive contribution to make to contemporary New Zealand?
Jesus said, "In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.''
This is what this selfie generation needs.
Motivated by Jesus' teaching, I know of several churches in Otago that provide food for those in need.
Jesus invites us to embrace the life of other-oriented love by embracing Jesus-directed living.
In doing so, rather than losing life, we find it.
Living thus with the grain of the universe we come alive, realising our God-created purpose.
- Dr Adam Dodds is senior pastor at Elim Christian Church, Dunedin.