Tag Archives: Hedonism

Should Christians be motivated by the fear of missing out (FOMO)?

Theology that hits the spot
Theology that hits the spot

Dina was off from her stressful job last week, so we spent some time talking over some articles that we found on the culture. We specifically talked about what is motivating young people, so I wanted to write something about that.

FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out

Here’s a leftist New York Times article explaining where FOMO comes from:

It’s known as FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” and refers to the blend of anxiety, inadequacy and irritation that can flare up while skimming social media like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram. Billions of Twitter messages, status updates and photographs provide thrilling glimpses of the daily lives and activities of friends, “frenemies,” co-workers and peers.

[…]When we scroll through pictures and status updates, the worry that tugs at the corners of our minds is set off by the fear of regret, according to Dan Ariely, author of “Predictably Irrational” and a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. He says we become afraid that we’ve made the wrong decision about how to spend our time.

[…]A friend who works in advertising told me that she felt fine about her life — until she opened Facebook. “Then I’m thinking, ‘I am 28, with three roommates, and oh, it looks like you have a precious baby and a mortgage,’ ” she said. “And then I wanna die.”

It’s like they want to run a race to do fun and exotic things with their peers, and not finish last.

Anyway, I want to begin this post with examples of FOMO behavior I have personally encountered.

FOMO Travel

Dina and I read and discussed this article by Alain de Botton in The European – notice the emphasis on travel and having fun, sophisticated experiences:

We’re continually being bombarded with suggestions about what we might do (go jet skiing, study in Colorado, visit the Maldives or see the Pyramids). We’re always hearing of the amazing things friends have done or are going to do: ‘there was this great bar we all went to …’; ‘she’s getting married in a little country church, then we’re having a picnic…’; ‘the sun was glinting on Sydney Harbour…’ There are endless hints of the allure of life in other places: an article about family-friendly restaurants in Brooklyn, a crime novel set in Trieste, the departure board at the airport with its list of places only a plane trip away: Moscow, Bangkok, Addis Ababa… The modern world makes sure we know at all times just how much we’re missing. It is a culture in which intense and painful doses of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) are almost inevitable.

What’s interesting is this – how does FOMO travel affect young, unmarried Christians?

Travel through missions work seems to be the FOMO activity of choice for at least a few young, unmarried Christians. One of my best friends who is married to another of my best friends told me about her missions trip to a European country. I asked her why she did it, since it meant lost savings, lost earnings, lost work experience, etc. (She gave up a year of earnings, and she had a great job in engineering). Her answer was that she did it for the adventure. I have a hard time hearing Jesus say that he was going to do something because he was bored and wanted an adventure. Especially when it’s $30,000 in costs, $60,000 of lost income, and lost work experience – per year. This was before the time of the Internet, though, when missionary work actually made sense. I just don’t think it’s worth spending that kind of money for the impact you make. The people I know who went on missionary trips just wanted to feel spiritual, look spiritual, and have a fun “life experience” vacation. One missionary told me that she was desperate to get away from her boring mid-Western roots.

If you really want to share Christ effectively with people in other countries, then you can start a blog and pay the tiny costs for it out of your earnings from your day job – that’s what I do. I get more people from Europe reading my blog than I could contact in a year of missionary work. I Skype with the people who are interested in Christianity from these countries (Scotland, Northern Ireland, England, Canada, etc.), as well. Meanwhile, I keep working my not-exciting job, so my savings increase, and my resume remains gap-less. This is good stewardship of finances, and self-denial prepares your character for the hard work of marriage and parenting. The Bible says that those who do not work should not eat. And Paul says that he built tents so that no one could accuse him of taking on missionary work for financial gain.

You can tell whether a person is sincere in their missionary intentions by looking at how responsible they’ve been in their decision-making. If a person has gone into debt paying for fun, thrilling activities like skydiving, ziplining, surfing, etc., then it’s FOMO travel. We must look past the spiritual smokescreen, and tell young people to grow up.

After all, if defending God’s honor was the missionary’s main goal, then the real battlefield would be the university.

Bill Craig puts it best:

If serving God is your goal, look to the university
If serving God is your goal, look to the university

H/T Blake Giunta.

There is already a perfectly fine university right next door – no need to fly to Europe to find one! Remember, the university that took your faith away, or maybe the faith of someone you cared about? Yeah, it’s still there in your home town! And it’s still ruining the lives of thousands of young people. It seems to me that it’s better stewardship to stay here and work, then give money to groups like Reasonable Faith. And you can start a blog, teach in church and invite scholars to the local university, too. That costs almost nothing, and it produces better results.

What about Jesus?

Sometimes, it’s a good idea to look beyond the words of the Bible and reflect on the overall message of it at a higher level. When I look in the Bible, I see that Jesus went through a lot of suffering in obedience to God in order to secure the salvation of people who did not even like him. And it’s from this sacrifice on our behalf that his claim on our obedience comes. There are things that I don’t like to do that I do anyway because they work to serve God. Jesus life’s ambition was not to do things that were easy, or that made him happy. Experienced Christians do things that are not fun, because these things are right and because they solve the real problem.

If you’re looking for somewhere to start, choose two activities that are absolutely not about you: charity and stewardship. Give away some money to an apologetics ministry, e.g. – BeliefMap, and then spend less money on recreational travel, and fun activities. Stop doing things that feel good, and do hard things that work.

Why do atheists like Dan Barker abandon their faith?

Unbelievable’s latest radio show featured a discussion with former Christian Dan Barker, the founder and co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The MP3 file is here. (60 minutes)

I thought that I would make some general comments about why I think that many people leave the Christian faith, and what you should be careful of in order to avoid following in Dan Barker’s footsteps, specifically.

Basically, there are four major reasons why people leave Christianity.

  1. They want to do something immoral with impunity. This type of person wants to do something immoral that is forbidden by Christianity, like pre-marital sex. They dump Christianity in order to feel better about seeking happiness in this life, apart from God and his moral duties.
  2. They want to pursue happiness in irresponsible ways. This type of person thinks that God’s job is to save them when they act irresponsibly while pursuing happiness. When God disappoints them by not giving them what they want in order to be happy, they leave the faith.
  3. They want to be loved by people, not by God. This type of person thinks that Christianity is a tool that they can use to become popular. When they first try to articulate the gospel in public, they find that people don’t like them as much, and they feel bad about offending people with exclusive truth claims that they cannot back up using logic and evidence. So, they water down Christianity to get along with atheists, liberal Christians and other religions. Finally, they jettison Christianity completely and focus on making everyone feel good about whatever they believe.
  4. They don’t want to learn to defend their faith. This type of person is asked questions by skeptics that they cannot answer. Usually this happens when people go to university after growing up in the shelter of the Church. The questions and peer pressure make them feel stupid. Rather than investigate Christianity to see if it’s true and to prepare to defend it in public, they dump it so they can be thought of as part of the “smart” crowd.

Now listen to the discussion and see if you can identify some of these factors from Barker’s own carefully-prepared words. He is trying very hard to make himself look honest and moderate, because he wants Christians to be sympathetic with his story and his motives for leaving Christianity. But I think that there is enough in his statements to construct a different hypothesis of why he left Christianity.

I’ve grouped the data by risk factor. (These are not his exact views)

Non-rational, emotional approach to Christianity

  • he was raised in a devout Christian family where he probably wouldn’t have faced skeptical questions
  • he converted to Christianity at age 15 as a result of a religious experience, not a serious investigation
  • his idea of God was probably idealized and uninformed, e.g. – a loving God who wants us to be happy
  • he wandered around from church to church preaching, with no fixed address or source of income
  • he earned money by collecting “love offerings” from churches where he performed his music
  • he wrote Christian songs and Christian musicals, but nothing substantive on apologetics and theology
  • he worked in three churches known for being anti-intellectual and fundamentalist
  • there’s no evidence that of any deep study of philosophy, science and history during this time

Desire to gain acceptance from non-Christians

  • he began to notice that some people were uncomfortable with sin and Hell
  • he began to avoid preaching about sin and Hell in order to make these people comfortable
  • he watered-down the gospel to focus on helping people to be happy in this life
  • his manic approach to Christian ministry was challenged by the “real life” needs of his growing family
  • he met liberal pastors while performing his music in their churches
  • he found it difficult to disagree with them because they seemed to be “good” people
  • he watered down his message further in order to appeal to people across the theological spectrum

Ignorance of Christian apologetics

  • he began to think that if there are many different views of religion, then no view can be correct
  • he was not intellectually capable of using logic and evidence to test these competing claims to see which was true
  • he decided to instead re-interpret Christian truth claims as non-rational opinions, so they could all be “valid”
  • he became a theological liberal, abandoning theism for an impersonal “ground of being”
  • he embraced religious pluralism, the view that all religions are non-rational and make no testable truth claims
  • he began to see God as a “metaphor” whose purpose is to make people have a sense of meaning and purpose
  • he jettisoned God completely and focused more on helping people find meaning and morality apart from God
  • seems to think that religion is about having a “great life”, and felt that you can have a “great life” without religion
  • seems to think that religion is about being “good”, and felt that you can be “good” without religion
  • religion makes people feel bad by telling them what to do instead of letting them do anything they want
  • religion makes people feel bad by telling them what is true, instead of letting them believe whatever they want
  • religion makes people feel bad by telling them that God will hold them accountable for their beliefs and actions

So what do I think happened?

I think he abandoned his faith because he wanted people to like him and because he needed to be invited to liberal churches in order to make money to pay for the “real life” needs of his family.

He seems to have thought that Christianity is about having his needs met and being liked by others. I think he wanted to feel good and to make people feel good with his preaching and singing. He seems to have become aware that the exclusive claims of Christianity made other people feel offended, so he cut them out. He hadn’t studied philosophy, science or history so that he would have been able to demonstrate to other people whether what he was saying was true. It’s hard to offend people when you don’t really know whether your claims are true or not, and when you don’t know how to demonstrate whether they are true or not.

I also think money was a factor. It seems to me that it would have hurt his career and reduced his invitations from liberal churches if he had kept up teaching biblical Christianity. In order to appeal to a wider audience, (like many Christian singers do – e.g. – Amy Grant, Jars of Clay, etc.), he would have felt pressured to water down the unpleasant parts of his preaching and singing. Lacking apologetics skill, he instead abandoned his message. He needed to account for his family’s needs and “real life”, and exclusive truth claims and Hell-talk would probably have reduced his ability to do that. It seems to me that he should have scaled back his extreme schedule of preaching and singing, and instead gotten a steady job so that he could afford “real life” and a family without being pressured into altering his message.

Life isn’t a fairy tale. God isn’t there to reward risky behavior. We need to be more shrewd about financial matters so that we have the ability to not care about what people think of us. Look at this blog. I work all day as a senior software engineer with two degrees in computer science so that I can refuse donations. I save most of what I make in case a tragedy strikes. Since I am financially secure, I can say what I think, and disregard anyone who wants me to change my message because they are offended. Becoming a Christian isn’t a license to behave irrationally and immaturely with money. For some people, (like William Lane Craig), stepping out in faith works. But if it doesn’t work, it’s better to retreat and re-trench, rather than to compromise your message for money.

Barker didn’t seem to make any effort to deal intellectually with typical challenges like the existence of Hell and religious pluralism. He just wanted to be liked by people instead of being liked by God. He seemed to have thought that being a Christian would make him happy and that other people would all respond to him and like him without having to do any work to explain why Christianity is true. But that’s not Biblical. When the singing and preaching is over, you still have to know how to give an answer to non-Christians. But Barker couldn’t give an answer – not one that allowed him to retain his beliefs. He had not prepared a defense.

What does Dan Barker think about Christianity today?

Many atheists today are interested in eradicating public expressions of Christian beliefs in the public square, because they hate Christianity and believe that Christians should not be allowed to make them feel bad by exercising their rights of free speech. Is Dan Barker one of these militant atheists?

Well, take a look at this video, in which he objects to a nativity scene and demands that an atheistic denunciation of theism be posted alongside it. In the video, Barker explains that the nativity scene is hate speech, and that the baby Jesus is a dictator. He seems to be totally oblivious to the the idea that if Christianity is true, then it doesn’t matter whether it’s mean and exclusive. And this seems to me to have been his problem all along, from the day of his “conversion”.

So the real question is this: is it true? Barker seems to be much more interested in asking “is it nice?” and “will it make me happy?”.

Fertility and pregnancy: how long can a woman wait before having a baby?

This is from Aeon magazine. The author writes for several ultra-leftist publications, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Salon and Slate.

She writes:

Many studies show that women are not only woefully ignorant when it comes to fertility, conception and the efficacy of assisted reproductive technologies (ART) – but they overestimate their knowledge about the subject. For instance, a 2011 study in Fertility and Sterility surveyed 3,345 childless women in Canada between the ages of 20 and 50; despite the fact that the women initially assessed their own fertility knowledge as high, the researchers found only half of them answered six of the 16 questions correctly. 72.9 per cent of women thought that: ‘For women over 30, overall health and fitness level is a better indicator of fertility than age.’ (False.) And 90.9 per cent felt that: ‘Prior to menopause, assisted reproductive technologies (such as IVF) can help most women to have a baby using their own eggs.’ (Also false.) Many falsely believed that by not smoking and not being obese they could improve their fertility, rather than the fact that those factors simply negatively affect fertility.

Fertility fog infects cultures and nations worldwide, even those that place more of a premium on reproduction than we do in the West. A global study published for World Fertility Awareness Month in 2006 surveyed 17,500 people (most of childbearing age) from 10 countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South America, revealing very poor knowledge about fertility and the biology of reproduction. Take Israel, a country that puts such a premium on children that they offer free IVF to citizens up to age 45 for their first two children. According to a 2011 study in Human Reproduction, which surveyed 410 undergraduate students, most overestimated a women’s chances of spontaneous pregnancy in all age groups, but particularly after receiving IVF beyond age 40. Only 11 per cent of the students knew that genetic motherhood is unlikely to be achieved from the mid-40s onward, unless using oocytes or egg cells frozen in advance. ‘This can be explained by technological “hype” and favourable media coverage of very late pregnancies,’ the authors concluded.

[…]For a woman over 42, there’s only a 3.9 per cent chance that a live birth will result from an IVF cycle using her own, fresh eggs, according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). A woman over 44 has just a 1.8 per cent chance of a live birth under the same scenario, according to the US National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Women using fresh donor eggs have about a 56.6 per cent chance of success per round for all ages.

Indeed, according to research from the Fertility Authority in New York, 51 per cent of women aged between 35 and 40 wait a year or more before consulting a specialist, in hopes of conceiving naturally first. ‘It’s ironic, considering that the wait of two years will coincide with diminished fertility,’ the group says.

[…]‘No one talks about fertility,’ said [reproductive endocrinologist Janelle Luk, medical director of Neway Fertility in New York City], who does not believe women are really open to hearing about it. ‘I don’t think women know that there’s a limit: the message is equal, equal, equal. Women say: “We want to go to college, we want to work on our careers, we want to be equal to men.” But our biological clock is not.’

[…]Another way women might even out the fertility playing field is by focussing on the so-called male biological clock. But is there one? Although there have been recent news stories about how advanced age in men (over 40 or 50) increases time to conception and the incidence of autism and schizophrenia, the absolute risk is negligible. ‘When you look at the numbers, you have to separate what the absolute risk and the increased risk is,’ said Natan Bar-Chama, director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. ‘The absolute risk is still really very small.’

I think if I ever have a daughter, I will be sure to urge her to be skeptical of her emotions and intuitions, to learn how to assess probabilities, to disregard exceptional cases when making plans, to resist the feminism in the culture, to get wisdom from older married women with children instead of young unmarried childless women, to accept that she is not so special that laws and rules don’t apply to her, and to accept that the universe is not malleable according to her needs and desires. I hope my wife will see the value of reining our daughter in before the catastrophes like infertility happen.

Where does the organized opposition to educating young women about fertility facts come from?

‘We feel that women should be able to talk to their ob/gyn about fertility,’ said Sandra Carson, ACOG’s vice president for education. ‘We certainly want to remind women gently that, as they get older, fertility is compromised, but we don’t want to do it in such a way that they feel that it might interfere with their career plans or make them nervous about losing their fertility.’ In other words, there are no guidelines for talking to a woman about her fertility unless she herself brings it up.

All this talk of ‘gentle’ reminders and ‘appropriate’ counselling has a history – a political one. Back in 2001, the ASRM devoted a six-figure sum to a fertility awareness campaign, whose goal was to show the effects of age, obesity, smoking and sexually transmitted diseases on fertility. Surprisingly, the US National Organization for Women (NOW) came out against it. ‘Certainly women are well aware of the so-called biological clock. And I don’t think that we need any more pressure to have kids,’ said Kim Gandy, then president of NOW. In a 2002 op-ed in USA Today, she wrote that NOW ‘commended’ doctors for ‘attempting’ to educate women about their health, but thought they were going about it the wrong way by making women feel ‘anxious about their bodies and guilty about their choices’.

We don’t want women to feel bad, so it’s best to let them follow their hearts. That view is not helpful to women! If we want to help women, we must tell them the truth, and take the consequences.

All this talk about fertility could be accompanied by a discussion of the hard fact that a woman’s attractiveness will decline as she ages. This is a troubling lesson that countless women have had to learn the hard way. When you are young, you stand a much better chance of finding a successful male with good values and who is willing to commit to marriage and parenting. Many women will testify that, as you get older, this convenience deteriorates quickly. The good men will be claimed by the responsible women who don’t waste their youthful years seeking thrills.  Men who are contemplating marriage value a woman’s appearance, fertility, vulnerability and submissiveness to his leadership. Women need to be careful not to embark on a course that will reduce their ability in any of these areas that are important to men, e.g. – careerism, premarital promiscuity, etc.

34-year-old career feminist buys herself an engagement ring

Feminist career-girl traveler says: follow your bliss
Feminist career-girl world traveler: follow your bliss

This is from Marie Claire, a woman’s magazine. (H/T Dalrock)

Excerpt:

“I bought myself an engagement ring in Tanzania,” I emailed a group of my girlfriends, mainly for effect.

[…][My friends] particularly love to gossip about me, the last single woman standing in our group of college friends, the only one who didn’t get married last year.

[…]I’ve been the managing editor of Yahoo Travel since April, which is about how long I’ve been single. I love the idea of marriage. I love it so much that when I finally do it I want it to last forever. My ex-boyfriend was my best friend, but he wasn’t my husband.

[…]Now I am single and 34. I have my dream job, one that has allowed me to travel to 12 countries in the past nine months, telling stories all over the globe. It’s such a dream that some days I don’t even think it’s real. I’m convinced that I will wake up one morning and Richard Dawson will pop out of my closet to tell me this isn’t my life at all. Rather, I’ve been on a Japanese reality show for the better part of a year and now is the bit where I’m locked in a house with nudists.

Earlier this year I published an amazing nonfiction book about nuns called If Nuns Ruled the World, and in May I have a new novel coming out.

Like I said, it all seems like a dream. And yet, my friends are very concerned I will end up a spinster, and that has left a large black mark on my otherwise remarkable existence.

[…]I’m actually a hopeless romantic… somehow I still believe in the serendipity of locking eyes with someone across a crowded airport, bumping into him in the Acropolis, or being forced to share a cab in Mumbai. I actually have no doubt that I will meet my husband somewhere on my travels.

She buys the ring, and then seeks attention:

I immediately texted my ex-boyfriend. We talk every day. Like I said: best friend, but not my husband.

“I bought a fancy ring in Tanzania.”

[…]It’s a commitment to myself and a reminder that I’m not wrong, or crazy, or flawed to wait for the right person. I saw the sun rise over Mount Kilimanjaro this morning while writing this, looking at my ring sparkle as my fingers flew across the keyboard. I’m happy to just be with me for a little bit longer.

Four points:

First thing, the fact that she bought an expensive ring from a gift shop in Africa ($$$) on the spur of the moment makes me question whether she has the temperament for marriage. A woman who wants to get married has to able to delay gratification and be a good steward of family resources. Husbands prefer women who are not in debt and not wasteful. It’s an important way that a woman shows a man respect for studying hard things, building a good resume and saving his money before the marriage.

Second thing, many women like this one want to get married “some day”. Even many Christian women. It’s very important to understand that women who say they love the idea of marriage often do not love marriage as God designed it. Marriage is designed so that a woman will support her husband and care for her children. Men and children are not accessories that are acquired in order make women happy, or to make her friends envious. Marriage as designed respects the leadership-oriented nature of a man and the needs of young children. A woman who wants marriage must be prepared to accept responsibilities, obligations and expectations in the marriage.

Third thing, she texted the ex-boyfriend and asked for his approval of her impulse buy. The ex-boyfriend affirmed her by saying “Great!” – he wasn’t going to tell her the truth. Women today often pick boyfriends like this who will have sex with them before marriage because she can suppress his instinct to lead on moral / spiritual issues by giving him sex. Women like men who listen and affirm them, but they are fearful of responsible men who tell them right from wrong, truth from error. That’s why women today freely choose to give men premarital sex – to get the attention and acceptance of a man without having to care what a man thinks is morally right or true. Many men today would rather take the sex than tell a woman what is right and what is true – even to save her from disasters of her own making. A chaste Christian man who wants to make the marriage serve God by leading his wife and children is rejected immediately because he cannot be controlled with sex. Women have feelings that any restrictions on their pursuit of happiness is “controlling”. And often they don’t look to the leadership of a competent man as a positive thing, no matter how badly their own reliance on emotions, intuitions and peer-approval has failed them in the past. And of course should this immoral, deceptive man she freely chose disappoint her by being immoral and deceptive, then it’s the man’s fault. She is the innocent victim.

Fourth thing, when a woman says that she has a high view of marriage then delays it into her mid-thirties, don’t believe her. Marriage is about the joy and challenges of bonding to someone to accomplish shared goals. It is an enterprise all on its own. With marriage, you can do things as a couple that you could never do as singles. You can model marriage to others. You can have and raise children who will know God. You can work together as partners to achieve bigger things for God. Never believe a woman who says she values marriage who then puts it off for a career. I can understand a woman saying she wants to put off marriage by serving God in some way, but not for a career.

I can’t recommend that anyone marry this woman, because the risk of divorce is too high. A woman has to be able to be sensitive to the needs of those around her. She has to be accustomed to picking a good man who will lead the family, and to respect his leadership because he is the provider. People who reject the design for marriage are not ready for marriage, no matter how much they claim to be romantic and to love marriage. Seventy percent of divorces are initiated by women, most often for general unhappiness. Men – make sure you pick a woman who are focused on marriage as it really is, and not on her own happiness.

Utilitarianism and the Moral Life by J. P. Moreland

I found this essay on After All, but it looks like their site is not working well, so I’m just going to steal it and post it here, in case it disappears completely. This is one of my favorite short essays on utilitarianism, and it’s a wonder that the thing can’t stay up somewhere. Well, it will have a home here now. I’d be surprised to see anyone else be this awesome in a measly 1000 words as Dr. Moreland is below.

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Utilitarianism and the Moral Life

What Is Utilitarianism?

Utilitarianism (also called consequentialism) is a moral theory developed and refined in the modern world by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). It can be defined as follows:

An action or moral rule is right if and only if it maximizes the amount of nonmoral good produced in the consequences that result from doing that act or following that rule compared with other acts or rules open to the agent.

By focusing on three features of utilitarianism, we can clarify this definition.

(1) Utilitarian theories of value.

What is a nonmoral good? Utilitarians deny that there are any moral actions or rules that are intrinsically right or wrong. But they do believe in objective values that are nonmoral.

Hedonistic utilitarians say that the only intrinsic good is pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Quantitative hedonists (Bentham) say that the amount of pleasure and pain is the only thing that matters in deciding between two courses of action, I should do the one that produces the greatest amount of pleasure and the least amount of pain (measured by factors like the duration and intensity of the pleasure). Qualitative hedonists (Mill) say that pleasure is the only intrinsic good, but the type of pleasure is what is important, not the amount. They would rank pleasures that come from reading, art, and friendship as more valuable than those that come from, say, a full stomach.

Pluralistic utilitarians
say there are a number of things that have intrinsic, nonmoral value: pleasure, friendship, health, knowledge, freedom, peace, security, and so forth. For pluralists, it is not just the pleasure that comes from friendship that has value but also friendship itself.

Currently, the most popular utilitarian view of value is subjective preference utilitarianism. This position says it is presumptuous and impossible to specify things that have intrinsic nonmoral worth. So, they claim, intrinsic value ought to be defined as that which each individual subjectively desires or wants, provided these do not harm others. Unfortunately, this view collapses into moral relativism.

(2) Utilitarians and maximizing utility.

Utilitarians use the term utility to stand for whatever good they are seeking to produce as consequences of a moral action (e.g., “pleasure” for the hedonist, “satisfaction of subjective preference” for others). They see morality in a means-to-ends way. The sole value of a moral action or rule is the utility of its consequences. Moral action should maximize utility. This can be interpreted in different ways, but many utilitarians embrace the following: the correct moral action or rule is the one that produces the greatest amount of utility for the greatest number of people.

(3) Two forms of utilitarianism: act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism.

According to act utilitarianism, an act is right if and only if no other act available maximizes utility more than the act in question. Here, each new moral situation is evaluated on its own, and moral rules like “don’t steal” or “don’t break promises” are secondary The moral agent must weigh available alternatives and choose the one that produces the best consequences. Rule utilitarianism says that correct moral actions are done in keeping with correct moral rules, However, no moral rule is intrinsically right or wrong. Rather, a correct moral rule is one that would maximize utility if most people followed it as opposed to following an alternative rule. Here, alternative rules (e.g., “don’t lie” vs. “don’t lie unless doing so would enhance friendship”) are compared for their consequences, not specific actions.

What Is Wrong with Utilitarianism?

Several objections show the inadequacy of utilitarianism as a normative moral theory.

First, utilitarianism can be used to justify actions that are clearly immoral. Consider the case of a severely deformed fetus. The child is certain to live a brief, albeit painless life. He or she will make no contribution to society. Society, however, will bear great expense. Doctors and other caregivers will invest time, emotion, and effort in adding mere hours to the baby’s life. The parents will know and love the child only long enough to be heartbroken at the inevitable loss. An abortion negates all those “utility” losses. There is no positive utility lost. Many of the same costs are involved in the care of the terminally ill elderly. They too may suffer no pain, but they may offer no benefit to society. In balancing positives and negatives, and excluding from the equation the objective sacredness of all human life, we arrive at morally repugnant decisions. Here deontological and virtue ethics steer us clear of what is easier to what is right.

Second, in a similar way, utilitarianism denies the existence of supererogatory acts. These are acts of moral heroism that are not morally obligatory but are still praiseworthy. Examples would be giving 75 percent of your income to the poor or throwing yourself on a bomb to save a stranger. Consider the bomb example. You have two choices — throwing yourself on the bomb or not doing so. Each choice would have consequences and, according to utilitarianism, you are morally obligated to do one or the other depending on which option maximized utility. Thus, there is no room for acts that go beyond the call of morality.

Third, utilitarianism has an inadequate view of human rights and human dignity. If enslaving a minority of people, say by a lottery, would produce the greatest good for the greatest number, or if conceiving children only to harvest their parts would do the same, then these could he justified in a utilitarian scheme. But enslavement and abortion violate individual rights and treat people as a means to an end, not as creatures with intrinsic dignity as human beings. If acts of abortion, active euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, and so forth maximize utility, then they are morally obligatory for the utilitarian. But any moral system that makes abortion and suicide morally obligatory is surely flawed.

Finally, utilitarianism has an inadequate view of motives and character. We should praise good motives and seek good character because such motives and character are intrinsically valuable. But utilitarianism implies that the only reason we should praise good motives instead of bad ones, or seek good character instead of bad character, is because such acts would maximize utility. But this has the cart before the horse. We should praise good motives and blame bad ones because they are good or bad, not because such acts of praising and blaming produce good consequences.

In sum, it should be clear that utilitarianism is an inadequate moral theory. Unfortunately, ours is a pragmatic culture and utilitarianism is on the rise. But for those of us who follow Christ, a combination of virtue and deontological ethics is a more adequate view of common sense morality found in natural law and of the moral vision contained in the Bible.

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