(N.B.C.) Is Religion Hedonistic?

By David Groenhout

 In examining faiths, a common link between them is their moral code,
or more importantly, its source. Taking, for example, Christianity,
the fundamental purpose of man is to serve god. This results in a
number of moral rules (don’t kill, don’t steal, etc.), which are
sometimes consistent with other sets of moral rules (both religious
and secular), but the source of these rules are the human need to
serve god. This is also the source of moral rules in Judaism and
Islam, but we’ll stick to Christianity now as an example.

The point of note though, is that serving god isn’t the end of
Christian morality. Follow god’s words, the bible says, and you are
rewarded with eternal life. This is, presumably, a payment for
following moral rules you wouldn’t follow otherwise. But then
following the words of the bible becomes an act in order to fulfil
your own needs, and derive your own pleasure. In this way, Christian
ethics are no different to hedonism.

Hedonism is the idea that all actions which lead to greater pleasure
are right. Simple minded hedonism adds to this that all pleasurable
actions only need to justify themselves immediately. Christianity
clearly does not agree with this, as in it, less pleasurable acts are
passed up in order to achieve more pleasurable acts some time in the
future. Nonetheless, pleasure is the main motivator in Christian
ethics.

It could be argued that it is also the goal of Christians to spread
the word of god, and as such, to spread the eventual pleasure of
eternal life. Ignoring that this is still merely the means to the end
of eternal life, this doesn’t change the faith’s hedonistic aspect. In
fact, it could be further argued that this is still a means of gaining
pleasure, as generally, we are far happier within a society than
without.

It is important to note that there is nothing intrinsically wrong
with hedonism. When you think about it, very few people (if any) can
say they aren’t hedonistic. Also, it is, theoretically at least,
possible for a Christian to follow the bible without any desire for
paradise. This would however, go against the majority of believers,
and as such, the common reading of the bible.

One final thing to note is that this isn’t an aspect singularly of
Christianity. Judaism and Islam follow a similar “follow god, gain
eternal life” morality. Religions like Buddhism and Hindu can be
explained similarly, as while the source of morality is karma, the
moral codes instituted by those faiths still rely on the afterlife as
a reason to follow them.

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7 responses to “(N.B.C.) Is Religion Hedonistic?

  1. Johannes Climacus

    I am not really sure what your point is. I don’t think you have provided a fair/rigorous account of either Christianity or hedonism.

    As for the thesis that Christianity is hedonistic this is the very same argument put forward by John Piper in his book Desiring God: Meditations of a Christain Hedonist. Piper is a fairly conservative/orthodox theologian, he bases his argument on the Westminster Catechism written in the 1640s, which states that the chief end of man is to Glorify God, and enjoy him forever.
    So you see there is quite a strong tradition of “Christian hedonism” that doesn’t create oppositions out of Christianity and pleasure or service and reward.

  2. Søren, you’re back! Terrific!

  3. This is a very interesting blog. One point I would like mentioned however is that it is rather over-simplistic to label Buddhism and Hinduism as hedonistic. It is definitely not true for their monistic and non-devotional forms and still a bit superficial for the denominations that more closely resemble monotheism or polytheism.

    You are very welcome to ask me why and I can explain to you in more detail if you wish to know. Thanks

  4. please explain…

  5. Interesting article.

  6. Religion is Hedonistic, of course, as anything else that is related to any living creature. A man who devotes himself to alcohol and fornication is neither more no less hedonistic that the ‘altruist’ priest who devotes his life to helping others. The only difference resides in the ‘source’ of their pleasure.

    “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.”
    George Bernard Shaw

    My point is that religion and pleasure are not mutually exclusive. When a reporter interviewed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and told her that he would not do what she was doing for a million dollars she answered: “neither would I.” She did it for the love of god. I think that this statement could be regarded as altruist only by those who don’t understand that money was not a source of pleasure for her. To feel close to God was.

  7. I loved this text ❤ I was thinking the same today, and you explain so well the idea. Thank you!

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