Altruism is an utmost necessity of the hour;
Re-visioning Altruism is a clarion Gospel call in times such as ours!
Altruism is an unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others. It is a social behaviour and an act that benefits others even at the expense of oneself. In the animal kingdom, the concept refers to the behaviours of animals that are not beneficial to or even harmful to themself but benefit other species. When applied to human beings, it means a quality possessed by people whose focus is on benefits for others than for themselves. The term Altruism was coined by the French philosopher Auguste Comte in the mid-Nineteenth Century. In his work on sociology and positivism, he used the term to refer to a selfless concern for the well-being of others. Etymologically, the term is derived from the French word Altruisme, which comes from autrui (other people) and the Old French word autre and the Latin root alter (other).
Altruism, deeply rooted in empathy, compassion, and selfless concern for others, has long been cherished in various philosophical and religious traditions. In religious traditions, Altruism is understood as a response to the divine call to embody and express love and compassion. The Christian theological basis for Altruism is rooted in the very concept of Imago Dei; the covenantal relationships between God and humanity; and the commandment of loving neighbour as oneself. The Hebrew Scriptures provide strong references to neighbourly love considering love as an ethical obligation towards strangers and aliens and even to the non-Jews. (Lev. 19:18 ff.) This finds its climax in Jesus’ command to love enemies and to do good to those who cannot repay. (Mt. 5: 43-48; Lk. 6: 27-36, and Lk. 14: 12-24). Jesus’ selfless love, compassionate service, and sacrificial death serve as the theological foundation for understanding and practicing Altruism.
Altruism was prevalent in the olden days in various societies. Unfortunately, Altruistic values are just an ideal of the past in our times today! A society driven by modernity-induced individualism, self-interest, self-priority, self-benefits, and individual success and achievements has abandoned its Altruistic cultures and practices. COVID-19 Pandemic indeed brought to light the Altruistic culture of benefiting others and the importance of the interconnectedness and interdependence of society to a great extent. But the reality remains the same today! Globally and locally, there are social injustices, inequality, poverty, war and conflicts all around due to the self-benefiting desires of individuals, communities and nations.
In times such as this, Altruism indeed is not an option, but an unavoidable necessity of the hour; and Re-visioning Altruism is not a mere luxurious academic reflection of the theological community, but a prophetic call for promoting social justice. It is a clarion call to make a difference towards bringing social cohesion and creating a just and compassionate community. For Altruism, in a Biblical context, is not merely an act of kindness but a willingness to sacrificially give of oneself for the benefit and betterment of others. The Biblical mandate of loving neighbour involves actively working towards addressing systemic injustices, advocating for the rights of the oppressed, and meeting the needs of the marginalized. Theo-ethically, Altruism is a moral obligation that is rooted in religious teachings of loving neighbour as oneself. It cannot be divorced from ethical considerations and the pursuit of justice. Individuals have a duty to help others, regardless of whether it benefits them personally. It is not just an individual act of kindness, but collective efforts towards social justice.
As an enlightened theological community, engaging in reflection on the theme of Re-visioning Altruism is a bold theological step in communicating the liberative Gospel of Jesus Christ towards promoting justice, peace, and sustainability of creation. By re-visioning Altruism, let us envision a life characterized by selfless service, compassion, and a commitment to the greater good, contributing to the building of a more compassionate community and just society at large.
It is hoped and prayed that the set theme will help each and every individual of Gurukul immerse themselves in a deep understanding of Altruism and internalize it for the betterment of community living. Let the re-visioned Altruism serve as a seasoned salt and illumined light to create a better community, better society and a sustainable world. May the theme Re-visioning Altruism be a beacon and guiding principle for the academic year 2023-2024.
REV. DR. SONGRAM BASUMATARY