As I’ve been writing my new book, tentatively called “The Invention of Altruism: How the Teachings of Jesus Transformed the Conscience of the West,” I’ve been thinking about how I might summarize the basic argument.  Here’s what I’ve got to this point.  I’d be happy to hear your reactions.


Most people I know are moved by news of tragedy.  A terrible earthquake, a drought, a famine, a flood, displaced people, innocent victims of military aggression, — we feel pity for those who pointlessly suffer and sense a desire, even an obligation, to help, for example by donating to disaster relief.   Almost never do we know the people in need; they are complete strangers, often in far-off lands, whom we will never meet and possibly wouldn’t like if we did.  Yet we – at least multitudes of us – want to help.

This sense of moral obligation to strangers in need is unnatural. 

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