Love for ourselves is intending benefit only to ourselves and not to others except as it is in our own interests—not to our church or country, not to any human community or fellow citizen. Love for ourselves is also being good to others only for the sake of our own reputation, advancement, or praise, so that unless we see some such reward in the good we may do for them we say at heart, “What’s the use? Why should I? What’s in it for me?” and forget about it. This shows that when we are caught up in love for ourselves we are not loving our church, our country, our community, our fellow citizens, or anything worthwhile—only ourselves.
We are caught up in love for ourselves whenever we give no consideration to our neighbor in what we are thinking and doing, and therefore we give no consideration to the public welfare, let alone the Lord. We are conscious only of ourselves and our immediate circle. This means that when we do something for the sake of ourselves and our immediate circle and it does benefit the public and our neighbor, it is only for the sake of appearances.
In referring to “ourselves and our immediate circle,” I mean that when we love ourselves we also love those we claim as our own, specifically our children and grandchildren, and in general everyone with whom we identify, whom we call “ours.” Loving them is also loving ourselves. This is because we see them as virtually part of us and see ourselves in them. Included in those we call “ours” is everyone who praises us, respects us, and reveres us.
We are caught up in our love for ourselves when we belittle our neighbors, when we regard anyone who disagrees with us as an enemy—anyone who does not respect and revere us. We are still more deeply caught up in love for ourselves if for such reasons we harbor hatred toward our neighbors and persecute them, and even more deeply if we burn with vengeance toward them and crave their destruction. People who do this eventually come to love cruelty. We can tell what love for ourselves is like by comparing it to heavenly love. Heavenly love is loving service for its own sake, loving for their own sakes the good things we do for church, country, human community, and fellow citizen. When we love these things for our own sakes, though, we love them only as servants who wait on us. It then follows that when we are caught up in love for ourselves we want our church, country, human communities, and fellow-citizens to serve us rather than wanting to serve them. We place ourselves above them, and them beneath us.
Not only that, but the more deeply we are caught up in heavenly love (which is loving actions that are useful and good and enjoying it when we do them), the more we are led by the Lord, since this is the love in which he is and which comes from him. On the other hand, the more deeply we are caught up in love for ourselves the more we are leading ourselves, and the more we lead ourselves the more we are led by our own individual self; and our own individual self is nothing but evil. That self is in fact the evil that we inherit—which is loving ourselves more than God and the world more than heaven.
Furthermore, to the extent that its reins are loosened (that is, with the removal of the outward restraints exerted by fear of the law and its penalties, and by fear of losing reputation, respect, profit, office, and life), selfish love by its very nature goes so wild that it wants to rule not only over every country on earth but even over heaven and over the Divine itself. It knows no boundary or limit. This is the hidden agenda of all who are caught up in love for themselves, even though it is not evident in the world, where the aforementioned reins and restraints keep it in check. When people like this find themselves blocked, they bide their time until an opportunity occurs. The result of all this is that when we are caught up in this love we do not realize that this kind of utterly senseless craving lies hidden within us. . . .
from Regeneration, Pages 7, 8