Self-Denial and Activism

I really admire Richard Branson (Virgin Group) ever since I read his autobiography Losing My Virginity. This morning I came across this post about fasting for Darfur on his blog. In this post he outlines his reasons for fasting. And they largely center around bringing awareness of the issues in Darfur.

While I think there is a place for activism and for helping raise awareness of important issues. I feel we often fall into being too gimmicky with our activism and see self denial as the end, not as a means to an end.

C.S. Lewis starts his essay The Weight of Glory by asking what the ‘highest of virtues’ is and he writes that most would probably answer unselfishness, but that we should really be focused on love instead of unselfishness.

The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself.

While I know he wasn’t talking about activism directly I think the principle still applies. I’ve noticed a tendency for activism to slide into unselfishness and self-denial without actually doing any good. In activism we need to make sure that we don’t see self-denial as the end, but rather the means to an end.

I took issue with the fact that in the statement made by Richard Branson I didn’t see a call to action other than to join him in fasting which in and of itself doesn’t do any good for anyone in Darfur. The organization spearheading this movement does have calls to action which have the potential of helping others, but it doesn’t appear to be the primary focus. They seem to be more intent on getting people start fasting rather than taking more direct action.

In discussing this with Amber she pointed out that perhaps this was just the first step to other action. That experiencing the hunger that people in Darfur are experiencing would be the catalyst for people to finally take additional action. If that’s the case then I think it’s a good place to start, but I don’t think it stops there and when there isn’t any mention of further actions until you dig into the website I fear the core message might get lost.