There is a school of thought to which many ethicists subscribe, whose students never seem willing to move on from the lambda-omega-lambdas, and whose parties are always unusually loud and long even after the music has been stopped for years and all the drink has dried up. This troupe of tautological idealogues loves to insist upon its own opinions and swears so should you. In doing so they both establish and undercut their point. These are the Utilitarians.
Utilitarianism is a philosophy of ethics that is summarily defined to say, “the morally right action is the action that produces the most good.” To be fair, “good” is then relegated to either pleasure or even beauty, but ultimately it’s difficult to see which side depends upon the other, and whether such a statement is even meaningful on its own and not simply tautologous.
This theory arises from the assumption of naturalism, which is of course the belief that only natural processes govern the world, or else that nothing exists beyond the “natural.” And it is this theory that those people subscribe to who don’t believe God created morality and governs it. Generally, it’s said that good and bad are determined by utility – by what brings more happiness or pleasure to the greater number of people – though even today there’s the question of whether that means the greatest total utility or greatest average utility.
Another difficulty with this theory is that different civilizations sometimes have opposing values of utility, and so one is forced to wonder which of the opposing values of utility is be maximized, and whether or not he can give a reason that doesn’t beg itself. Will different cultures have different gauges for utility? Can someone rightfully say that other cultures are wrong in the utility they value? While the former almost certainly seems the case, the latter can only be done by ignoring utilitarianism. But in favor of what? Well, anything else, so long as denial of God is maintained, apparently.
It’s actually a flimsy theory, and yet it’s held quite strongly by most. Perhaps they consider stubbornness to be a virtue… Except when it’s their opponents who are being stubborn. Then all bets are off, as they say. The case could be made that a utilitarian philosophy of ethics is responsible for the wars between different cultures and unrest between, for instance, the Axis and the Allied powers. But is there any hope of finding a common, reliable ethic, one with sufficient grounding and warrant, that does not beg itself, and that doesn’t end in abject futility?
There certainly is, and it involves denial, just as utilitarianism does. But what I speak of is not an unreasonable denial. Given man’s continual failures to actually improve the state of ethics worldwide, it makes sense we need something more than man’s efforts to do so. And so what we need to deny is the sufficiency of man’s own efforts and man’s own theorizing and musing to recreate the world into something new. And what we need to embrace in turn is the Lordship of Christ, whose Creatorship alone is capable of making good in this world what we have made bad. It requires recognition of our father Adam’s sin, and pursuit of our Father God’s salvation.
As God’s crowning achievement and premier Creation, man has been endowed with the means to reflect the glory of the Creator in a way nothing else in Creation can. Having been created in perfection, having fallen by means of sin, and having been redeemed to an even greater perfection by God himself – this is the divine narrative, and we are given the Script. We’re not left in the dark, but we have been given God’s own Word from the very beginning. It’s not acceptable for man to linger in darkness on his own, and so God has given us his light. And when man strays from this way, there is only war. The history of the world is a retelling of man rejecting God’s Words to varying degrees, and it is a retelling of God’s redemption of men. Man will make his own rules, and man will break his own rules. Utility is futility.