The Moral Theory of Utilitarianism and New York

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Preface: There is much to be said about Governor Cuomo and the legislature of New York for passing the horrific law that allows abortion right up to the very moment of live birth. I think something of particular interest is Governor Cuomo’s professed Catholicism. Cuomo is not alone as a Democrat politician who is a professing Catholic. Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden and John Kerry are others who are as radically pro-abortion as Cuomo.

It’s fair to ask what does the professed faith of these Catholics have to do with with their with their stance on abortion? How do they rationalize what their professed faith deems immoral into something they believe to be moral?

When the news of Cuomo’s actions broke I pondered the answer to the above question and remembered something about a prevailing philosophy that I had come across years ago. Understanding something about this philosophy explains how a person\politician can deem something moral while their professed faith deems the same thing immoral. It’s rather insidious really. I turned to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy for an explanation.

Did you know there was an Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy?

No? Well neither did I until I ran a search for a philosophy known as Utilitarianism.

Like other philosophies Utilitarianism is nuanced but according to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy Utilitariaism is a moral theory related to Consequentialism.

How you may ask?

Utilitarianism is one of the best known and most influential moral theories. Like other forms of consequentialism, its core idea is that whether actions are morally right or wrong depends on their effects. More specifically, the only effects of actions that are relevant are the good and bad results that they produce. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Furthermore..

Utilitarians believe that the purpose of morality is to make life better by increasing the amount of good things (such as pleasure and happiness) in the world and decreasing the amount of bad things (such as pain and unhappiness). They reject moral codes or systems that consist of commands or taboos that are based on customs, traditions, or orders given by leaders or supernatural beings. Instead, utilitarians think that what makes a morality be true or justifiable is its positive contribution to human (and perhaps non-human) beings. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

If you are still with me allow me to note two things regarding Utilitarianism.

  1. Note that utilitarians reject moral codes given by supernatural beings. This explains why Cuomo and his Democrat Catholic friends can so readily reject the moral authority of God. (This obviously applies to Protestants and Jews who also reject the moral authority of God.)
  2. Utilitarianism believe what makes morality true or justifiable is its positive contribution to human beings. This further explains why Cuomo and how Catholic Democrat allies can claim abortion is a positive contribution worthy of celebrating as a moral good.

What does Utilitarianism mean in practice and decision making?

Utilitarianism is a philosophical view or theory about how we should evaluate a wide range of things that involve choices that people face. Among the things that can be evaluated are actions, laws, policies, character traits, and moral codes. Utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism because it rests on the idea that it is the consequences or results of actions, laws, policies, etc. that determine whether they are good or bad, right or wrong. In general, whatever is being evaluated, we ought to choose the one that will produce the best overall results. In the language of utilitarians, we should choose the option that “maximizes utility,” i.e. that action or policy that produces the largest amount of good. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Observations: Utilitarianism is used to evaluate actions, laws, policies, character traits and moral codes. Utilitarians evaluate actions, laws, policies on the basis of overall results, that which would maximize utility, that action the produces the largest about of good. Therefore. a moral code that declares abortion as a moral wrong is not valid because in Cuomo’s mind the largest amount of good is produced by a women’s perceived right to choose, thus over turning any moral code by a supernatural being. In other words Cuomo’s professed faith has nothing to do with his politics unless it’s convenient for him which is why he is against the death penalty for murderers.

Utilitarianism appears to be a simple theory because it consists of only one evaluative principle: Do what produces the best consequences. In fact, however, the theory is complex because we cannot understand that single principle unless we know (at least) three things: a) what things are good and bad;  b) whose good (i.e. which individuals or groups) we should aim to maximize; and c) whether actions, policies, etc. are made right or wrong by their actual consequences (the results that our actions actually produce) or by their foreseeable consequences (the results that we predict will occur based on the evidence that we have). Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Here the encyclopedia notes that Utilitarianism is complex because we need to know 1) what things are good and bad, (2) whose good, (individuals or groups) we should seek to maximize; and (3) whether actions, policies etc. are made right or wrong by their actual consequences or foreseeable consequences.

Once God, as found in Scripture is rejected as the moral authority something else has to emerge as the supreme moral authority. That authority is always the State, either the nation state or in this case the State of New York governed by Cuomo. The state then decides whose good should be maximized and if that means sacrificing children in the womb then so be it. The state declares it is the supreme moral authority and that abortion on demand is the resulting consequence that will maximize good for the group of women who exercise the right. The unborn do have that right and as we’ll see the unborn regardless of how long in the womb are not even persons to begin with.

Although R v W in 1973 made the same a right few states took it as far as New York and now, apparently Vermont. The moves by New York and Vermont are a reaction to a more conservative SOTUS and the states limiting abortion to under 20 weeks and the ones seeking to ban it all together. The battle revolves around who has the moral authority to declare right from wrong and both sides seek to fight it our via legislation although the conservative side recognizes the moral authority of God.

I’ll try to explain this a bit more.

Pregnant women are the group the legislation focuses on. The utilitarian believes it will promote their well being and personal happiness if they are allowed to abort their children up to the moment of delivery. There is no higher moral good than one’s well being and personal happiness utilitarianism. The consequences of an abortion will the person(s) of a problem and the legislature of New York absolves the woman of all responsibility since her action is moral in their eyes. This is precisely why you see women proudly proclaiming their abortions without apology and in some cases bragging about their abortions. This is also why some conservatives equate abortion with a sacrament and a legislature as the forgiver. Utilitarianism is a philosophy but also a practiced religion without God.

Since Utilitarianism rejects moral codes given by a supreme being the state becomes the moral authority and this is why Cuomo (a Roman Catholic) must believe it’s fine to flaunt his own church’s teaching on abortion.

I first came across the Philosophy of Utilitarianism as a formal philosophy many years ago after my wife and I had become Christians and were learning what a Christian worldview is and is not.

In my reading I discovered that Planned Parenthood’s patron saint is Margaret Sanger, a known eugenist, racist and one could argue an early utilitarian.

Sanger is not the only one and in my reading I came across an Australian utilitarian academic by the name of Peter Singer. Singer is among the most prominent utilitarians and has written many books. It would be a mistake to underestimate his influence and those like him in our culture.

Utilitarianism is popular whether a person can articulate it or not because at it’s core it caters to our natural tendencies to self-centeredness and doing “what’s best for me” and “what makes me happy.”

This is why I remember Singer in particular and have connected him to the recent actions of Governor Cuomo and the New York legislature:

In Practical Ethics, Singer argues in favour of abortion rights on the grounds that fetuses are neither rational nor self-aware, and can therefore hold no preferences. As a result, he argues that the preference of a mother to have an abortion automatically takes precedence. In sum, Singer argues that a fetus lacks personhood.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Singer

Similar to his argument for abortion rights, Singer argues that newborns lack the essential characteristics of personhood—”rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness”[52]—and therefore “killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living”.[5

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Singer

Note that Singer declared that a fetus lacks personhood; therefore killing the fetus is morally sound because a fetus is not a person. If that sounds familiar it should because it defines the pro-abortion position.

Note how Singer equates the aborting of a fetus with the killing of a new born something very close to what New York has done. Singer argues that a newborn lacks the essential characteristics of personhood (the argument for abortion on demand of a fetus) and therefore it’s not equivalent to killing a person who wants to live. In other words it’s not a big deal. In fact, as I recall in reading about Singer back in the 90s he stated in an interview that he’d apply this philosophy to include toddlers (children starting to walk and talk, ages 18mo-3yrs) since they also lack the essential characteristics of personhood according to Singer.

Christians, it’s important that we are not blind-sided by the rhetoric of women’s rights and that we come to understand there is a moral theory at work. This moral theory dominates the political left (I am not saying no one on the right is a utilitarian). What I am saying the so called progressive political left is galvanized by utilitarianism where the state is the highest authority. When you take God out the picture you no longer have moral absolutes and the consequences are people like Singer and Cuomo deciding who has the essential characteristics of personhood and who has not

I am slow to play the Nazi card but in this instance it is appropriate. The Nazi state declared that disabled people lacked utility value and the proceeded to kill them off. The Nazi state further declared that Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and may others to be “subhuman” and thus lacking in personhood. The result was millions killed in the concentration camps. When the state is the highest authority all that is not only possible, but probable.

12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 6:12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 When Christians argue that abortion is satanic child sacrifice they are correct and dupes like Cuomo (representing the state) and Singer (representing the underlying moral theory) are the human agents of the rulers, authorities and cosmic powers who preside over this darkness.

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Nerf Toys Evil?

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We recently came back from our annual New Years trip to a water park in the Wisconsin Dells. Our family usually celebrates Christmas there.

Our oldest grandson (age 8) received from us one of those slick NERF rifles that look a lot like a sci-fi advanced weapon system. He was and is thrilled with the gift. He spent some time knocking down aluminum cans and became quite good at it. He was also schooled in “gun safety” meaning no ambushing your little brother or sister. (For those of you ignorant of NERF ammo understand it is harmless.)

I’ve been aware for some time the left’s agenda to ban “war toys.” The ban would include everything from toy soldiers and plastic tanks to toy guns whether they be squirt guns or NERF type guns. It was no surprise to read of yet another effort on Townhall to do away with toy guns because they are suposedly dangerous.

According to the Townhall article the agenda suggests that if a child is deprived of a toy gun they will be less likely to be interested in obtaining a real one once they are older. Therefore, they will be less likely to use a gun in acts of violence. As we have seen time and time again every time there is mass shooting the gun is blamed along with the NRA because the NRA stands for the Second Amendment and the right of the citizen to bear arms.

The article compares the argument against toy guns to the argument for open borders. The left insists that open borders are not dangerous; but toy guns are. Logic and common sense have never stood in the way of a left-wing agenda.

This is the picture used to accompany the article. The girls are obviously having fun using NERF type toy guns (or squirt guns). Will banning them help the real problem?

What is a Bible believing Christian to make of this? Should Bible believing Christians buy the argument that toy guns are dangerous in the way the left argues? What is the real crux of the issue biblically speaking?

Here’s my take…

First, let us observe that when there is a mass shooting the news media is all over it. I don’t have a problem with that but it can (and usually does) obscure logical (common sense) and theological thinking because of the huge emotional trauma associated with a mass shooting. A left leaning media is quick to exploit the emotional trauma for their own ends. It just “feels right” to blame the gun and the emotional trauma gives the idea weight but little substance.

It should also be noted that rarely if ever, is a shooter characterized as someone doing a very evil act. It’s acknowledged vaguelly of course but usually explained away as mental illness and the person “was sick” in some way as if they had a disease rather than simply being hateful. (Hmmm, isn’t every unrighteous shooting a hate crime?)

The Bible believing Christian should mourn the fact that guns can be used to perpetrate evil. That has been abundantly clear throughout history. Any weapon can be used for evil as well as for good. Police are armed for good as is the military and as long as weapons are used for good (confronting evil) there should not be be a problem.

The main problem, according to Scripture (and I’d argue by simple observation) is human nature.

Wayne Grudem in his excellent volume on politics puts it like this:

A Christian worldview must include that there is a measure of moral evil (what the Bible calls sin) in the heart of every human being who lives on the face of the earth. In addition, the Bible shows that this moral evil in human beings must be defined in comparison to an external standard of right and wrong, a standard that comes not from within the human race but from God himself. This one idea, that human beings are viewed as sinful before the absolute moral standards of the one true God, has immense implications for numerous policy differences between Republicans and Democrats…

Grudem, Wayne. Politics According to the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 2010, (pg. 119)

How does Grudem’s biblical definition of moral evil challenge the assumption that banning war toys will result in less violence? Does fewer guns correlate with less violence given the fact that biblically speaking the real problem is the human heart and the measure of human evil that resides in it?

A Bible believing Christian that truly understands the root of the problem would also understand that banning war toys is a superficial solution that does nothing to solve the “evil within.”

While there is much more than could be said I’ll settle for this: Our culture and often times our evangelical church culture looks to blame evil on something outside of ourselves. In this case, it’s guns and\or war toys. The “something” becomes the bad guy, the demon, the evil, or the mental illness rather than our own propensity to do bad things and often horrible things. Frankly, it’s only because of the grace of God that most of us are not as bad as we could be!

The culture as a whole has turned away from God and his absolute standards so we should not be surprised to see the chaos around us. What should surprise us is evangelicals who seem to think that man is basically good and that superficial “solutions” to large problems are the answer.

As for my grandson (and his parents) I’m proud of them. I’m proud that he is being raised as a boy who will all to soon become a man and have man\husband responsibilities. Those responsibilities will be defined by the Bible and Lord willing his little heart will be changed by the gospel so that he strives to fulfill those responsibilities in a way that honors Christ and takes care of his family.

Ultimately, Jesus is the solution to the problems that ails us all. As conservative Protestants we must learn to think biblically about issues. If we don’t we will fall into the trap as the culture in general and either ignore God completely or reduce Him to some abstraction that has little to nothing to say about what really is our biggest problem (Rom 1:18-32).

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