Sunday, March 15, 2009

God is a Utilitarian!

Public Discourse, More Government, Less God: What the Obama Revolution Means for Religion in America, by W. Bradford Wilcox
A recent study of 33 countries around the world by Anthony Gill and Erik Lundsgaarde, political scientists at the University of Washington, indicates that there is an inverse relationship between state welfare spending and religiosity. Specifically, they found that countries with larger welfare states had markedly lower levels of religious attendance, had higher rates of citizens indicating no religious affiliation whatsoever, and their people took less comfort in religion in general...How do we account for the inverse relationship between government size and religious vitality? As Gill and Lundsgaarde point out, some individuals have strong spiritual needs that can only be met by religion. This portion of the population remains faithful, come what may. But other individuals only turn to churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques when their needs for social or material security are not being met by the market or state...At times of high insecurity, such as the current recession, religious demand goes even higher...This is why, even though Obama’s audacious agenda might provide short-term relief to the economic and social challenges that now beset us, over the long term the Obama revolution is likely to erode first the religious and then the civic and moral fabric of the nation.

Here we have the true conservative argument. The welfare state is bad for religion because it makes people better off. Cut-throat capitalism promotes true religion and virtue by making people miserable, thus providing opportunities for forebearance, compassion and charitable giving.

So much the worse for virtue. If this is what virtue is all about then we're better off in a world where it can't exist--where people are secure and happy and so there isn't any need for charity or compassion. We don't imagine that there's some redeeming benefit in there being paraplegics and amputees so that we have the opportunity to design better wheelchairs and shouldn't think that poverty, misery and pain have value insofar as they provide opportunities for the cultivation and exercise of virtue.

Augustine said that in this world, after the fall, non posse non peccare, but in Heaven non posse pecare. How is this supposed to work? If intentions matter from the moral point of view this means that in Heaven we will somehow be blocked from forming bad intentions. But then what happens to free will? We got ourselves to Heaven by exercising it. God gave it to us knowing that it was dangerous because, presumably, the immeasurable benefit of free will outweighed any risk. Now we get to Heaven only to be deprived of it?

No! It is impossible to sin in Heaven because there no one can be harmed. You can have the most evil intentions in the world and act out of the deepest malice. Do what you will you can't hurt anyone because they are all invulnerable beati, tenured for eternity. By the same token it is impossible to be virtuous since there is no one for whom one may feel compassion, no one who can be an object of charity, no dangers in the face of which one may show courage and no tests of fortitude. Heaven is beyond good and evil.

It is therefore easy to understand the nature of Hell. If your intention is to do harm, you will be eternally frustrated because no one in the afterlife can be harmed. They can only, by the grace of God in conferring on us free will, harm themselves. So you can will to do harm even though in having that desire you harm yourself. It's also easy to understand why Hell can't be permanent. Eventually every soul must get it. Origen was a universalist, but so was Gregory of Nyssa and other unquestionably orthodox theologians.

But God must be a utilitarian, or at least a consequentialist--otherwise non posse peccare means monkeying around with people's intentions and so undermining free will.

3 comments:

Kevin Timpe said...

"Augustine said that in this world, after the fall, non posse non peccare, but in Heaven non posse pecare. How is this supposed to work? If intentions matter from the moral point of view this means that in Heaven we will somehow be blocked from forming bad intentions. God would stop us. But then what happens to free will? We got ourselves to Heaven by exercising it."

This is decidedly NOT Augustine's view. According to Augustine, not only will we have free will in heaven, it will be the highest kind of free will: what he calls "genuine freedom." Genuine freedom differs from metaphysical freedom in that it is perfected and thus always used for the good. What will stop us, on his view, from forming bad intentions is not God, but rather the perfection of our moral natures. So, I'm sorry to say my consequentialist colleague, Augustine's answer is BUILT on the virtues, rather than dispencing with them.

H. E. said...

"Genuine freedom" sounds suspiciously like the "positive freedom" of which Isaiah Berlin was suspicious. I don't think for a minute that historically Augustine was a consequentialist. But I find it hard to understand how non posse anything can make us more free or free in some more genuine sense.

Virtue is a necessary evil, a response to adversity. The idea that a welfare state would be undesirable because it would undermine "personal responsibility" and other virtues is surely the tail wagging the dog.

For most of human history hardship has been the norm so for millennia we've been telling ourselves Noble Lies about the value of "character," responsibility, self-discipline, hard work, and various other coping mechanisms. Now we're approaching hedonistic pig heaven on earth but we've so propagandized ourselves that we worry there won't be any room there for these "virtues." Ridiculous.

gaohui said...

Unconventional women don't ed hardy often fit into more ed hardy shoes conventional sizes. Instead, they are ed hardy clothing faced with the challenge of finding comfortable ed hardy clothes and stylish plus size women's clothing. By and large, most ed hardy store store refuse to stock sizes in ed hardy Bikini excess of a size 14 ed hardy swimsuits or 16. This means they have ed hardy Caps to find the clothes they need in specialty buy ed hardy store that can be very expensive. What then ed hardy swimwear is a plus size ed hardy sale woman to do? She has to do ed hardy glasses her research and find the cheap ed hardy places, both online and Christian audigier off, that will accommodate her wardrobe.