“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”
-Colossians 2:8, ESV
This post is the first in a series in which I hope to interact with philosophers, especially modern and postmodern. The first I will pick is John Stuart Mill.
John Stuart Mill had a sad childhood, learning Greek and Latin classics he didn’t understand when he should have been playing outside with friends. John Stuart Mill was probably not the first Utilitarian, but the first to popularize it. The most destructive aspect of his philosophy is the belief that
Good = Pleasure
Evil = Pain.
We see how tremendously influential his ideas are with statements like, “If it feels right, it is right.” The problem is, sometimes evil is pleasurable, and sometimes doing the right thing will cause you pain. If you follow Mill’s philosophy, you will do evil things, convinced they are good because they are pleasurable.
Mill’s philosophy has influenced us in more subtle ways. Consider an extreme example first, and then a more subtle. One woman has an abortion and says it was a good experience. Another woman who has never had an abortion says abortion’s bad. Our culture will find the first woman’s testimony to be more credible precisely because we have deeply imbibed Mill’s philosophy. Mill’s philosophy leads us to believe that someone with an existential experience doing evil has a more credible, more legitimate experience. Of course, Jesus, who was sinless (which means He never had an existential experience doing evil) nevertheless speaks with authority on things like lust, anger, and greed in the Sermon on the Mount. If Mill’s philosophy is true, the sinless Christ cannot speak with any authority about evil things like lust, anger, and greed. Now consider a more subtle example. Consider one man who has sex outside of marriage, gets married, remains faithful in marriage, then says his sex outside of marriage was bad. Then consider a second man who has never had sex say sex outside of marriage is bad. Our culture will hold the testimony of the first man to be “more legitimate” because of his existential experience doing evil.
But the truth is, you don’t need to commit murder before you decide whether murder is good or bad. You should know murder is wrong, and then not do it. You can and should learn the difference between good and evil without an existential experience doing evil.
And what if John Stuart Mill’s view of pleasure isn’t pleasurable enough? What if the gospel offers something better? What if joy, pleasure, righteousness, pain, suffering, and glory can be mingled together? They can. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1, 2, ESV, emphasis mine).”