If anyone wills to come after me,” said Jesus, “he must say ‘No’ to self. He must take up his cross day after day and follow me. For whoever wills to save his life will lose it; but he that wills to lose his life for my sake, this is the man who will save it” (Luke 9:23, 24).

Our generation just does not believe that. For us it is axiomatic that if we are to be successful in life we must press on with our own interests. If this cuts across the interests of other people, so much the worse for other people.

We defend ourselves by saying that there is nothing new in all this. Men and women have been living this way for centuries; probably they always have done so. Maybe there is a bit more of it in our day, but that means no more than that we are more open, less given to hypocrisy than were earlier generations. In fact, we find it quite possible to make a virtue out of our failings!

There is something in this. There is certainly no virtue in covering up and pretending to be better than we are. These days people have a certain impatience with sham, and for that we ought to be thankful. Furthermore, selfish conduct is not exactly new. “Realists” in every generation have been cynical about the virtues Christians advocate and have studiously avoided them when their own interests have been at stake. (They have, of course, advocated them when other people’s practice meant their own profit.)

But society at large has not condoned such practices. Society has held that people ought to be honest and reliable. Persons have been held to be responsible beings, expected to contribute in some way to the general welfare.

What is new is. that society at large seems to have abandoned the expectation that its members will behave with consideration ...

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