Self-sacrificing love as the ultimate contrarian belief

Gerald R. Baron
7 min readSep 7, 2022
Polish priest Maximilian Kolbe. His story of giving his life for another is a powerful reminder of the fundamental idea of Christianity that stands in stark contrast to human inclinations.

This is the eleventh post in the series on the good I find in specific Christian beliefs. Again, this is not about truth or untruth, nor about justification for these beliefs. This is about whether these beliefs which I consider important to Christian teaching, better enable one to live a full and fulfilling life in the brief days we have on this planet.

The proposition to be defended here is:

It is better to believe that self-sacrificing love is a good thing and maybe the best thing, than to believe that humans’ first obligation is to obey our selfish genes.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)

Knowing we all face death and that our lives are the absolutely most precious thing to us, it is no wonder that the story of someone giving up their life for another brings us emotionally to our knees. One such story prompted the recent sanctification of a Polish priest named Maximilian Kolbe. Here is his story:

“On July 29, 1941, Auschwitz deputy commander Karl Fritzsch ordered that 10 men be starved to death as retribution after three inmates were believed to have escaped. Upon hearing that he was sentenced to die, Franciszek Gajowniczek — a sergeant in the Polish army and father of two — burst into tears, prompting the Franciscan Maximilian Kolbe to approach the commander. ‘I am a Catholic priest from Poland,’ Kolbe said, according to inmates who were present. ‘I would like to take his place because he has a wife and children.’”

The commander accepted the offer and placed the priest with the nine others selected to die by starvation. After two weeks, Kolbe and three others were still living so they were gassed and burned.

The profound effect such stories have on us is because of our extremely strong will to live and the fact that our evolutionary history, as with all of life, depends on selfish genes. This motivating force behind natural selection is, in the view of some, the only explanation for why we are here. The extreme altruism which proponents of exclusive Darwinism explain away as a genetic response to the benefits of mutual support somehow rings hollow in the face of such actions.

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Gerald R. Baron

Dawdling at the intersection of faith, science, philosophy and theology.