The Gospel and Ethical Egoism

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Amanda Kelly February 11, 2013 The gospel and Ethical Egoism The scriptures contain a number of passages that in some way or another associate moral obligation with self-interest in the form of seeking rewards and avoiding punishment. Thus, Exodus 20:12 says “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” Jesus tells us to “seek first His kingdom, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). On another occasion he warns his listeners that at the end of the age “the angels shall come forth, and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:49–50). Paul states his ambition to be pleasing to the Lord “for we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds…” (2 Cor 5:10). The fact that rewards and punishments are associated with self-interest and moral or religious obligation is clear throughout the scriptures. What is not so clear is just how to understand these passages from the point of view of moral theory. More specifically, do texts of this sort imply that ethical egoism is incompatible with the moral theory of the gospel? Ethical egoism claims that one ought to only do what is in his/her long-term best interest. It seems plausible to say that the restored gospel is contrary to ethical egoism since losing oneself in the service of others allows one to serve God as well. While the Gospel teaches that blessings come through obedience to the moral values prescribed, the average true believing member doesn’t go out looking for service opportunities that will bring the bigger blessings. The focus is instead placed on how the lives of others can be enriched through one’s service. This is in contrast to the EE who

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