I am a utilitirian at heart. I want to fix everything and I want to do everything efficiently. I have found that while utilitarianism can provide some much needed perspective at times, I have also found that I feel a profound tension between the embracing of this view and the throwing off of it.
On the one hand, it seems that being utilitarian is very detrimental in many ways. First, and most obviously, it can be harmful to relationships. Many men share my utilitarian leanings and fail to listen to their wives. Rather than allow their wives to be heard, husbands try to fix problems and end up creating more tension. At the same time, the old saying "the ends justify the means" - an apt summary of utilitarianism followed through - seems obviously wrong in a universe where objective morals exist. Nobody wants to live in a world where all that is deemed right is determined by what works. In such a society, forced euthanasia, infanticide of children with particular disorders, sterilization of certain groups, etc - would not only be enacted, but they would be the reasonable thing to do.
But at the same time, utilitarianism seems like an absolutely Christian notion to me. In fact, it seems like one of the most Christian conclusions one could ever draw, for when God created, he called his creation very good. It was as he intended. And when God redeems, it is and will be very good again. God is a God of order and made the world to work. So it seems as though when one finds something working, they have found something good. It is the footprint of our God of order.
As I have been thinking about this upcoming election, I have thought even more about utility and Christianity. I have been asked by a portion of conservative Christianity to cast my vote for the candidate who serves the conservative agenda. It is a call for me to vote in a utilitarian manner. Vote for what will advance the conservative agenda and my comfort. And that's when it struck me. Utilitarianism is most certainly true. What does work is good. What does advance my agenda is good - but with a very important caveat. My agenda will and should be advanced if it is aligned with God's agenda. While Matthew 7 tells us that God will give us every good gift if we just ask, and Matthew 6 tells us to ask and it will be given to us, both of these notions are preceded by the concept of seeking first God's kingdom. It is only when we make God's agenda our agenda that utilitarianism really works.
Unfortunately, humanity tends to place God's seemingly foolish agenda last. Self-sacrifice, mercy, and humility have never been all that appealing. All Christians understand that we are all fallen, though we all too often only see the outside world as the fallen ones. But if I truly believe that I live in a world where everyone - Christians included - are fallen, then much of what is lacking in Christian utility makes sense. I understand why Christian marriages fail. Two self-centered sinners married each other. I understand why Christians succumb to sexual temptation. Two sinners with God-given sexual appetites mar God's intention and indulge their lusts. See, God's agenda works perfectly, but we spend most of our waking hours superimposing our agenda over his - and calling it "God's agenda."
It was here that I realized any distaste I had in my mouth for utilitarianism was because utility is defined by the agenda, and so often the determining agenda is not God's. God says to love our neighbors by laying down our lives. We think we do well by agreeing with God that we should love our neighbors, but think that this love is conveyed by heavy handed laws and mandates. God says to bear one another's burdens, and we tell God that we agree with him, but we apply limits to the amount of burden God can expect us to bear. God has commanded us to seek justice for the poor, but we lessen the weighty call we are to meet by saying he only meant for us to help the "deserving poor," not those who are poor of their own making. This is a bastardized version of creation and reality, and only furthers pain and sin. And as Christians seek what works based on their own agenda rather than God's, it pushes away the onlookers who are outside the faith. And who could blame them? Why would anyone want to embrace a religion that so blatantly doesn't work?
Fortunately God has made his agenda very clear. He has shown us what works, not through commands, but through the incarnation. The commands we read and attempt to perpetuate through legislation miss the whole point of God's plan. For the law that was written on stone tablets could never be followed. The law must be written on our hearts - hearts that have been turned from hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. But here we stand, conservatives trying to chisel away at the impenetrable granite faces of deeply entrenched hearts, when it is only the finger of God who can soften a heart of stone to write his decrees upon it. But for these hearts to be changed, they must encounter God face to face on the mountain top. We are a city on the mountain top. We, the church, are where God meets them. His presence is always with us, and our faces should be ever shining to those around us. As we allow God's presence to pervade every aspect of our lives, true utilitarianism will prevail.
Our God is a God who works. He is utilitarian. That is hard to believe because we spend most of our time judging him by our standards of functionality. He may use foolish means. He may use weak people. He may not gauge success by expediency. But he will bring about his glory. He will accomplish his plans. He will uphold the law. He will judge all of our actions - according to his standards, not ours.