What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?–Matthew 16:26
A utilitarian is like an existentialist with a multiple personalities disorder, he believes his actions are ultimately good because they please himself. Of course this statement must be prefaced that there are indeed differentiating factors between utilitarianism and existentialism. The point of this perhaps tongue and cheek statement is that the facade of utilitarianism isthat a universal good equals whatever benefits most. However it is not unsurprising that the overwhelming solutions a utilitarian offers ultimately benefit themselves, in this respect they mirror a pseudo-existentialist ideology.
Still, there are many different types of utilitarians making it difficult to paint them with too broad of a brush. An example of utilitarianism is the age of the Enlightenment. This is one of the better examples because of how widespread the ramifications. This was an era where the desire for happiness became the motivation for human conduct, thus the principle of utility. To the utilitarian, success and ethical value is assessed by what end is had, the consequences count. In this way one might hold up America’s universal health care system as an act of utilitarianism—the end justifies the means if the consequence of the program results in more people having health care.
The set up and these examples serve as a warning in themselves, they deny a healthy autonomy and a distinct Christian ethic. Matthew 16:24-28 is a most helpful context for Christians to consider before whole-heartedly jumping after utilitarian ideals. Sin’s pervasive nature drives us to what is pleasurable, this is what happened in the Garden, pleasure for eating and pleasure in knowledge. Albeit this pleasure was only in their mind, not lasting one second after they ate for immediately they knew they had sinned. Immediately they perceived their utilitarian view come crumbling down, the consequence of their ethical decision brought condemnation and unforeseeable destruction. This is the catastrophic nature of utilitarianism, it perceives a common good but cannot know the true end of its goal. Whether it will bring happiness or so often pain. It is self serving, like Adam and Eve in the Garden.
The Enlightenment and those who pursue utilitarian ideologies today are no better than our First Parents. These are they whose actions and ideas seek to build a glorious Garden, a paradise of their own here on earth, but will ultimately find that by seeking only happiness in this life they will loose it in the next. Christians are to hold dear to God’s Word, learn from our common Old Adam, and trust by grace through faith that paradise is not had in earthly pleasure but through Christ’s promises.