“The most consequential life in human history was lived 21 centuries ago in the eastern portion of the Roman Empire by a person who never traveled 100 miles from his birthplace, never held public office, never write a book, and died… in his early 30s.”
“It was reserved for Christianity to present to the world an ideal character, which through all the changes of eighteen centuries has inspired the hearts of men with an impassioned love; has shown itself capable of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments, and conditions; has been not only the highest pattern of virtue but the strongest incentive to its practice; and has exerted so deep an influence that it may be truly said that the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and to soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers and all the exhortations of moralists.”
–W. E. H. Lecky (1838-1903),
History of European Morals
One need only consider the highest Christian ethic of “Greater love hath no man” and thereafter ask oneself what conceivable secular rationale could justify the death of St. Kolbe [a Polish Franciscan friar, who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in the German death camp of Auschwitz]. True, such tales of self-sacrifice cannot but impose themselves on the sensitive human heart. But if there is truth to the secular doctrine that the ephemeral life — this eye-blink in the history of the universe that we call Self — is the only thing that any living being will ever possess, then the ultimate act of love really turns out to be the ultimate act of stupidity. And since one can just as easily be desensitized to love, we can hardly rely with any confidence on the sensitive human heart.
From the Christian perspective, self-sacrifice is of course an act of love in the sense that it is an act of faith, which also happens to be the theological justification for the very virtue of faith, namely that if the existence of God and the full consequence of any act (both finite and eternal) were obvious to us, it would render altruism impossible. But any act from which the Self cannot possibly profit simply has no rational justification in the secular, even in the sense of one’s deeds reverberating through the future of humanity, which at any rate is just as doomed to die as the Self (and these days possibly not long afterward). I may therefore assume with confidence that if we are indeed living in the secular world, the only thing of ultimate importance is incontrovertibly the precious thing that is me — my thoughts, my feelings, my determinations — my experience of reality… It would be quite superfluous . . . to demonstrate that the secularist is inclined to egotism, though it is quite demonstrable that it would be quite illogical for her to be inclined to anything else, so long as she is unable to afford sufficient reason for placing ultimate value elsewhere…