All the qualities of a Christian relationship with
neighbors - meekness, peacemaking, longsuffering, etc. - clearly lead us to one
basic and fundamental virtue. This virtue is Christian love, and it is the root
principle of Christian morality.
In addition to the moral system offered by
Orthodox Christianity, there are also non-Christian, secular moral systems.
While they agree in many points with the teaching of Christian morality, these
systems nevertheless do not acknowledge the principle of Christian love as the
basic teaching about morality. They seem to be frightened by the height of love
willed by the Gospel, and they seek principles for themselves which are easier
and more acceptable.
Of these secular systems of morality, the best
known and most widely spread in practical life are eudemonism and
For eudemonism (epicurianism), the basis of
morality is the quest for that form of happiness which is native to mankind.
Moreover, it understands happiness as the sum of the satisfactions and
enjoyments from which one's life becomes pleasant. Eudemonists, nevertheless,
differ in their opinions of precisely what satisfactions one must seek in order
to be happy. Some of them (if not the majority) speak almost exclusively of
coarse, sensual satisfactions. Apostle Paul described the basic ideal of such
eudemonism as, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall be
Other eudemonists, pointing out that enthusiasm
for sensual satisfactions destroys one's body and soul, recommend that one not
be captivated by them. They advise that one ought rather to obtain
satisfactions which are more stable and prolonged, and also more spiritualized.
Such, for example, are music, poetry and various types of art and science in general.
Naturally, neither form of eudemonism is an
acceptable principle of morality for Orthodox Christians. The fundamental
question of morality is the difference between good and evil, between what is
good and what is bad. Eudemonism, however, speaks of what is pleasant and what
is unpleasant. No one could argue the point that these are far from being the
same thing. Clearly, eudemonistic people will, in practical life, always be
egoists who willfully demand and take what is pleasant for themselves, refusing
what is unpleasant (even when acting otherwise might be pleasant and beneficial
to others). Moreover, what morality can we speak of in a situation where all
people are endeavoring to obtain only that which they like?
When viewed from the strictly Orthodox Christian
point of view, eudemonism becomes even more insolvent and positively absurd.
Orthodoxy constantly turns one's thoughts to the immortality of the soul and to
one's account of one's earthly life and behavior at the Judgment. What awaits
the eudemonistic egoist at the judgment by Him Who will ask them about matters
of love and help to their suffering brother? Their lot will be the fate of the
rich man in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. It cannot be otherwise
since a fundamental and well-known principle of Christianity is: "Enter
in at the straight gate: for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads
to destruction, and there are many who go in there: Because straight is the
gate and narrow is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find
it" (Mt. 7:13-14).
Utilitarianism (a philosophy of the common good)
is a somewhat better system of non-Christian morality. This system enjoins one
to do what is beneficial, rather than what is pleasant for one. Even so, this
moral system cannot be called solvent. The concept of "beneficial"
seldom coincides with the concept of "good" as something absolutely
good. Medicine, for example, is beneficial in restoring health, but at the same
time, weapons - a revolver or a knife - are beneficial to a thief in the
fulfillment of his evil intent. Thus, the principle of usefulness, or
beneficialness, cannot be established as a basis of morality. If we express
this utilitarian principle in a concise form: "Act in a way that is
beneficial (i.e., advantageous) to you," then it is clear that here again
we have the elevation of that same coarse egoism which we have already
For this reason, some utilitarian philosophers
strive to soften this ideal by recommending that one pursue not only one's own
personal advantage, but the common good, common benefit in which, they claim,
the personal good of each individual is to be found. In this case,
utilitarianism appears in a more ennobled and
lofty form. It nevertheless retains its first basic insolvency, the fact that
the concepts of "useful" and "good" do not necessarily
coincide. Secondly, there are situations in practical life in which one can be
restrained from crime by religious feelings - apprehension to violate the law of Highest Truth - but not by the dry
rationale of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism cannot give one moral support when
one is wavering on the edge of temptation.
Thus, Orthodox Christians can in no way view
either eudemonism or utilitarianism as solvent systems of morality. These
systems are now very widely developed, but we must note nevertheless that their
adherents are often completely orderly people. Why? Because much of social
morality and opinion still bear the imprint of the influence of Christianity
... It is only because of this that people who consider
themselves to be eudemonists or utilitarians can, in real life, be honorable
and orderly. Because of this Christian moral influence, utilitarian and
eudemonistic ideas are often cloaked in a mantle of Christian idealism.
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