Jonathan Edwards on Egoism

charity


It is not contrary to Christianity that a man should love himself, or, which is the same thing, should love his own happiness. If Christianity did indeed tend to destroy a man's love to himself, and to his own happiness, it would therein tend to destroy the very spirit of humanity. . . That a man should love his own happiness, is as necessary to his nature as the faculty of the will is and it is impossible that such a love should be destroyed in any other way than by destroying his being. The saints love their own happiness. Yea, those that are perfect in happiness, the saints and angels in heaven, love their own happiness; otherwise that happiness which God hath given them would be no happiness to them.

-On Charity and It’s Fruits, by Jonathan Edwards

Yes, that came from Jonathan Edwards - the 'puritanical' man with a wig. You may be surprised to learn that he, and other puritans, had a lot more in common with joy-filled philosophers like Ayn Rand than both the modern Church and the modern school system would have you believe.

The quote he has provided above is an excellent description of true egoism - not the twisted cultural projections of blood-thirsty beasts, or of self-absorbed vanity queens, or of narcissistic idiots who can’t see past a mirror. Those are all fine distractions, employed to stoke your hate for the real thing. And the real thing – the real egoism – is simply this:

“that a man should love himself, or, which is the same thing, should love his own happiness”

So Christians, you think that Christianity is opposed to man ultimately ‘loving himself’ and ‘loving his own happiness’? Well, Jonathan Edwards (for one) disagrees with you. In fact, not only does he disagree with you, but he implicitly condemns you as a destroyer of mankind.

If Christianity did indeed tend to destroy a man's love to himself, and to his own happiness, it would therein tend to destroy the very spirit of humanity. . . That a man should love his own happiness, is as necessary to his nature as the faculty of the will is and it is impossible that such a love should be destroyed in any other way than by destroying his being.”

But isn’t that the great aim of modern Church culture - to destroy man’s love for himself? Isn’t that the supposed great and mighty sin against which Christians of all denominational stripes can unite – that men love themselves and seek their own happiness? Isn’t this warred against as the very essence of evil in almost all Christian ministries? Yes – and they are dead wrong.

to destroy man’s love to himself, and to his own happiness” is “to destroy the very spirit of humanity”. And to “destroy the very spirit of humanity” is to destroy the very image of the One in whom humanity is made. An assault against the essence of Man is an assault against the essence of God (Gen.9:6b). The attempt of altruism, to destroy Man’s love for himself and his own happiness, is the attempt to destroy his very being, because Man's value for himself and love for his own happiness is inextricably tied to his very being. Ayn Rand parallels Edwards on this point very eloquently:

The doctrine that concern with one’s own interests is evil means that man’s desire to live is evil – that man’s life, as such, is evil. No doctrine could be more evil than that.” – The Virtue of Selfishness

If the modern Church culture aims to destroy Man’s love for himself, his love for his own happiness, and his concern with his own interests, then modern Church culture aims to destroy the very life and essence of Mankind – which means that the modern Church culture is either wickedly confused or wickedly malevolent; but wicked, nonetheless.

It is likely that they are wickedly confused – confused because they see the Bible saying things like “if anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Mt.16:24), and because of their militant anti-intellectualism and self-appointed bondage to defunct philosophies, they are entirely (and willfully) incapable of integrating that with other verses like “satisfy yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps.37:4). They are incapable of such integrations because, like Man’s life, they have dismissed as evil the very tool of such integrations: Man’s mind.

Make no mistake. The altruistic aims of the modern Church are evil to the core, and if the Church is to ever get off of its monumentally evil war-path against the essence of Man as created by God, it will need to take up the responsibility of thinking –thinking through the dilemmas of seemingly contradictory truths in order to discover a rational integration.

It is true that Man ought to love himself and his own happiness (Edwards, above ; Mt 12:31, Eph.5:29)

And

It is true that, in order to follow Christ, Man must deny himself and pick up his cross (Mt.16:24).

Both are true. Its your job , Christian, to figure it out.

 

Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.” - Ayn Rand

8 thoughts on “Jonathan Edwards on Egoism

  1. Interesting. As a Mormon, I don't have a very in-depth understanding of what most Christian denominations believe about happiness and being interested in the pursuit of happiness.

    But one of my favorite scriptures has always been 2 Nephi 2:25- "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy." And this is a similar favorite: Moses 1:39- "For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man."

    Some other good LDS scriptures about the pursuit of happiness are-

    Alma 27:18- "Now was not this exceeding joy? Behold, this is joy which none receiveth save it be the truly penitent and humble seeker of happiness."

    Alma 41:5- "The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh."

    Alma 37:37- "Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day."

    Lest you think I'm being partial to LDS-only scriptures, there's also the Old Testament-

    Isaiah 35:10- "And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away,"

    and (very similar)

    Isaiah 51:11- "Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away."

    Zephaniah 3:17- "The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing."

    Proverbs 3:5-6- "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."

    And New Testament-

    Galatians 5:22-26- "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another."

    Romans 14:17- "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost"

    2 Corinthians 1:2-4 "Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand."

    All of these scriptures come together to support my feelings about happiness and your definition of egoism. God wants us to be happy. Mormons believe that he actually created us and put us on this earth with the express purpose of helping us achieve the greatest possible happiness, and that we each have limitless potential that can only be realized by trusting God and His direction. It's only when we start comparing ourselves with each other, and try to outdo one another, and begin to believe that we are invincible or all-powerful or that we don't need anyone or (worst of all) don't need God that we become pursuers of wickedness rather than happiness.

    We believe that when Christ said "He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 10:39), he was explaining that serving one's own interests at the cost of others, or serving oneself before looking to the needs of others, leads to unhappiness. Contrariwise, being compassionate and caring and aware of others leads to peace and happiness.

    I'm interested to hear that some Christians think seeking happiness is somehow taboo. I thought the whole point of being Christian was finding (and spreading) joy.

    Reply
  2. Pursuing the highest possible value (God) and thereby achieving your own happiness cannot accurately be described as "denying oneself". Even if we can interpret such verses as statements about short-term vs long-term self-interest, I think it's worth asking whether embracing this kind of language isn't more dangerous than simply distancing ourselves from misleading wording, no matter who its authors were.

    Reply
    1. Which language/wording is it that you are referring to as "misleading" and "dangerous"? I *think* I know what you mean, but clarification would be helpful.

      Reply
      1. I was still referring to "denying oneself", or as the New Living Translation has it: "turn from your selfish ways". But there are many more examples outside of this verse. The imprecision of religious language is what has made it possible for Christianity to wind up where it is today. Continuing to speak of self-denial in churches, even if a more benign understanding is restored, is an open invitation for altruism.

        Text from Paul in particular is problematic. Wherever his letters are relied upon more heavily, negative theology creeps in. Even the author of 2 Peter acknowledged that his writing was a liability, saying, of Paul, "His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction."

        Reply
  3. It is not so much the imprecision of language on behalf of the writers, but the imprecision of thought on behalf of the reader. It is important to keep in mind that the Biblical authors were in a specific context, with a specific mission. They were not trying to combat or even ebb the defunct ethics of Kantian morality. Their purpose was not precise philosophical education. I think the quote you provided from Peter paints a great illustration. The fault was not that Paul wrote about things that can be "hard to understand", the fault was that "ignorant and unstable people distort" it - as they do, and will always do with everything that they do not genuinely wish to understand.
    There is a responsible and rational way to approach and understand the writing of any author (Biblical or otherwise), and apart readers/hearers having a dedication to such an approach, an author can be "precise" until he is blue in the face and people will still find ways to twist what he has said.

    Reply
  4. It does not take malicious intent to find apparent altruism in the Bible. Even an honest reader is going to come across passages that look that way. It is certainly possible to give the authors the benefit of the doubt though. My bigger problem is with the church. We are *now* combating Kant and many other philosophical influences, and if holding onto certain phrases actually does damage for modern audiences, triggering associations with antithetical philosophies, we should aim to be much clearer and more careful with how we present our ideas.

    I guess my point is, if the word "sacrifice" causes centuries of Christians to stumble, pluck it out. Same goes for "faith", and all this "dying to self" garbage. Recover healthy meanings wherever you can, but if it comes down to a choice between the two, it's much better to shift your terminology than your theology.

    Reply
    1. It doesn't take malicious intent to find irrational behavior in the life of Francisco, either. But it does take good intent and strict intellectual discipline to find the truth - that he is actually acting supremely rationally. If Galt and Francisco can expect such good intent and strict intellectual discipline from Dagny and others in their pursuit of understanding truth, why can't God expect the same of us? Perhaps, as with the strikers, He intends to confound some - particularly those who do not genuinely and passionately wish to see the whole truth.

      Reply
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