I've been entertaining the idea that the Christian God might be utilitarian, after noticing many correlations between things that the Christian God commands or desires and things that promote happiness and well-being. The idea is that if God commands what He commands because those commands, if obeyed, would ultimately lead to maximum happiness and well-being, then I would say that the Christian God is a utilitarian.

To illustrate, I'll enumerate some examples:

  • Example 1: Heaven vs. Hell. This is the clearest one. Heaven represents the utilitarian utopia, a place of maximum happiness, maximum well-being, and minimum (zero) suffering. In contrast, Hell is the complete opposite. So if God is a utilitarian, it makes sense that He would want to maximize the number of people who make it to Heaven and minimize the number of people who wind up in Hell.

  • Example 2: Love vs. Hate. Love promotes well-being. Hate promotes violence, crimes & suffering. From a utilitarian perspective, it makes sense that love ought to be preferred over hate.

  • Example 3: Love vs. Lust. Lust can be a tricky one, considering the accompanying pleasure. However, one could argue that lust and love cannot simultaneously coexist in the same person (i.e., they are mutually exclusive), and if we concede that a profoundly loving state of being can produce more well-being than a profoundly lustful state of being, then, from a utilitarian perspective, it makes sense that love should be preferred over lust.

  • Example 4: Self-control vs. Addictions/Compulsions. This is pretty much self-evident. People who are enslaved by addictions and compulsions are vulnerable to all sorts of health problems, can sometimes be quite dysfunctional, cause accidents, underperform and become less productive in their jobs, etc. A society in which all individuals are masters of themselves can be much more productive and prosperous than a society in which everyone is compulsively distracted by the urge to find their next fix.

  • Example 5: Honesty vs. Lying. Misinformation can cause a lot of trouble. People can make all sorts of terrible decisions based on bad or deceitful information. A lot of suffering could be spared if people only reported accurate information (to the best of their ability) in good faith. It makes sense, therefore, that honesty should be preferred over lying in most situations (with the typical exception of mercifully lying to the Nazis in order to save a Jewish family that is hiding in one's basement).

  • Etcetera.

In light of these correlations, I'm wondering if it would make sense to think of the Christian God as an adherent to some sort of divine version of Utilitarianism. Is it possible that all Christian morality is ultimately based on the pursuit of maximum utility?

  • 2
    That fact that the bible actually suggests any of this itself is upto debate May 29 at 4:37
  • 1
    If a divine being is itself infinitely happy, then as soon as it is happy, it has achieved the aggregationist goal par excellence. Moreover, it could simply arrange the world to be devoid of suffering, much less the threat of infinite torment. No reason to make a labyrinth-game for mortals to solve, unless it also wants to maximize torment, maybe. May 29 at 4:54
  • 1
    No. Christian God could enact maximum happiness and well-being right away, there is no need for him to wait for "ultimately". So he clearly has other priorities and values to consider (respecting free will of creatures is often suggested). God's commands are God's will, but so is the good, what is willed cannot be the "because" of itself. It is also telling that the morality he commands to humans, made in his image, is distinctively non-utilitarian. And Christian God is not a deceiver.
    – Conifold
    May 29 at 4:59
  • 5
    God commended his people not to eat bacon. How can you possibly think he is striving for maximum happiness? May 29 at 8:20
  • @DavidGudeman, ati sundar! What are pigs? We shouldn't eat 'em. Quare? Jun 3 at 1:55

3 Answers 3


It is possible that the Christian God is utilitarian, but only with a non-mainstream understanding of the Christian God.

As Kristian Berry and Conifold pointed out in the comments to your question, the Christian God is omnipotent, so if He were utilitarian, one would expect Him to just create the universe such that everyone were maximally happy all the time, with no need for suffering along the way. The fact that He allows for suffering means that He must value things (such as free will) other than maximum happiness.

One can only accept that God is utilitarian if one accepts that God is not omnipotent in the absolute sense. The Bible teaches that God has all power and can do all things. If "all things" is interpreted literally and broadly, then it means "anything that can be imagined". In that case, God can make everyone happy instantly, and He doesn't, so He's not utilitarian.

However, "all things" might be hyperbole (not all Christians believe every line of the Bible to be literal). It is possible that there are fundamental constraints of the universe that even God is subject to, and "all things" means "all things that are fundamentally possible". And it is possible that these constraints mean that you can't be maximally happy without first experiencing suffering, or perhaps you can't be maximally happy if you don't have free will. And so God, in order to maximize happiness, has created a world where people have free will and suffer a lot.

I think most Christians would reject the idea that God is subject to constraints of the universe. Most Christians will argue that God created the universe out of nothing, and He could have made the universe any way He wanted. So most Christians will reject the notion that God is strictly utilitarian.

But the Bible is subject to many interpretations, and I think there are reasonable (but not mainstream) interpretations that would allow for God to be constrained by fundamental laws of the universe. Under such an interpretation, the Christian God might very well be utilitarian.

  • You could think of God as not so much 'constrained', as: participating in the game he set up. It's not very sportsmanlike to create a game, then just mess around with the rules all the time.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jun 29 at 10:39
  • But if he were capable of setting up the rules of the game, then why didn't he make the rules such that we can be happy all the time? I'm still inclined to say that God is either actually constrained or else not utilitarian
    – T Hummus
    Jun 29 at 16:51
  • "That's what makes a horse race."
    – Scott Rowe
    Jun 30 at 17:04

The Christian god is complex. There is the old versus the new testament, and then there is the holy Trinity, it is a huge mess really, a hodgepodge of different mythological traditions of various tribes of illiterate shepherds if the bronze age middle east.

As such, philosophy cannot give useful answers about questions like that. The art if trying to make sense of all that is called theology, not philosophy.

In philosophy, asking about the nature of specific gods like the Christian one has long ago been discarded same as debating how many angels can dance on the tip of a needle.


Decades ago I read my working concept of ethics in Schaum's outline:

  1. What is good in life or the good life?
  1. How should one act to cause the good?

Deuteronomy - Moses leads the people to the promised land and they are told that they can dwell in the good land, from generation to generation, if they keep God's commandments. On the contrary, "The wicked will perish from the land."

Jesus - Seek first your knowledge of the Father in heaven, his rule over you, and all good things will be added unto you.

God offers unilateral terms like a parent or spouse: If you want X, then you have to Y.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .