Tyranny of The Selfish

What is the opposite of rules and authority?  Many of us would be tempted to pick freedom.  But after some reflection, I do not believe that is the case.  The alternative to rule is not freedom but the unconstitutional (and often unconscious) tyranny of the most selfish member, as CS Lewis once pointed out. [1]

Let me provide an example: for several years, I hosted an open spirituality forum at a local pub.  When I began, I had no idea how to moderate discussions, and at times, the conversation would decline into several simultaneous heated arguments.  After a few chaotic meetings, somebody joined us who had decades of experience in facilitating groups and he coached me in how to do so.

I would then bring a Beanie Baby with me and strictly enforce that whoever is holding the little stuffed animal is the one speaking, all others should be listening.  It took a few weeks to break our old habits, but people quickly came to respect my “authority” as the group leader and conversation moderator, and they found that the rules of this new format provided freedom in holding edifying discourse.  Seven years later, this group is still holding discussions.

There were some who found that the group was no longer a good match for them, that they could not dominate the conversation and other people.  To them, the group felt too restrictive and no longer free, so they left.

My point here is that having rules and a person in authority helped to promote an environment that was conducive to deep dialogue.  Those who truly desired free conversation found they were protected from the tyranny of the more selfish members by the rules I set in place.

This truth can be seen across cultures and society: rules, laws, and authority protect the weaker from oppression.  Granted, it can easily be abused when taken to extremes, but all of this is a result of the fall of mankind into sin.  Sin has created within many of us an ego that desires to rule in one way or another, sometimes subtly, other times not so.

TYRANNY WITHIN

However, society and politics are not the focus of my reflection.  It was the state of my own soul that caused me to reflect on CS Lewis’ words regarding the tyranny of the selfish.

Within me, there is unrest due to sin.  My spirit is willing to serve the Lord with all eagerness, but my long-ingrained habits and sinful tendencies are not.  My flesh is weak in spiritual things, but exceedingly strong in controlling me.

The stronger parts of me that desire fleshly pleasures and a fulfilled ego frequently oppress my spirit.  Were it not for the commandments of the Gospel, I would be a terrible hedonist.  But the commandments keep my flesh and ego in check, at least to some degree.  Sinful passions stir up within me, but the Gospel commandments keep me free from an absolute tyranny of the stronger members within me.

I have served these passions in the past and found them to be miserable masters.  When God led me into Orthodoxy, and I began to experience spiritual authority, the old self began wriggling inside quite uncomfortably.  However, I found that through obedience to spiritual authority and the commandments of the Church, the bond of oppression that sin held over me began to loosen.

I am far from free, and I follow the commandments quite imperfectly, but when I do abide by the rules, I find true spiritual freedom.

So, we are faced with a contradiction to our faulty human logic: to find freedom we must submit to God’s authority and commandments.  In so doing, we begin to experience freedom from the tyranny of the selfish members within us.

Glory to God for revealing the path to freedom!


[1] “The Sermon and The Lunch,” a short essay by CS Lewis.

Photo credit: Serbian photographer Jovana Rikalo

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Jeremiah

Growing up in non-denominational churches, I became weary of many practices in the church. I decided it was time to find a church that enabled me to grow in my faith and talents, but that was also theologically deep. I was drawn to the Eastern Orthodox Church for several reasons. Check out my blog which details my journey into this ancient faith.

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