The Egoism of Christian Hedonism

Renowned Pastor and Theologian, Dr. John Piper, has very eloquently articulated throughout his career the theology and morality of Christian Hedonism: “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him”. The chief end of Man, Piper argues, is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever. Similar to Ayn Rand, Piper rightly understands and argues for Man’s pursuit of happiness as an absolutely essential aspect of true morality. Both Rand and Piper agree that the moral aim of Man is to pursue his highest rational pleasure. Piper (rightly) sees the pursuit of one’s happiness as a properly Christian virtue because one’s highest happiness will always ultimately be found in God. Therefore, he reasons, to the extent that a man truly seeks his highest pleasure, he will find it in God and God will thus be glorified through the happiness (satisfaction) which that man finds in Him. In other words, “because God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him”, therefore — for the sake of His glory — you should eagerly seek satisfaction in Him.

With this infinitely valuable theological recovery of morality, Piper pierced through the immensely thick veil of the morality which has suffocated the Church and the world for the past few centuries; he pierced through the morality of Immanuel Kant. Kant advocated the morality of altruism and held that an action is moral only to the degree that the actor does not benefit from the action in any way. In other words, Kant held that action for one’s own benefit (“selfishness”, “hedonism”, “self-value” — call it what you will) is the essence of evil and that self-denial is the essence of the good. Sound familiar? This morality (altruism) is at the core of most moral assumptions in the culture today (especially within the Church). Piper, in one of the first messages of his that I listened to, once said that he is on a campaign against Immanuel Kant and the stoics. He is not alone.

Ayn Rand, more than any thinker in the modern era, ruthlessly and comprehensively decimated the morality of altruism in her writing and in her philosophy. She was an avid Atheist (mostly due to the evil morality and irrationality presented to her by modern day Christianity), but God used her as a passionate and devout advocate of truth in every other area of thought — particularly in morality. And it is to her morality that we must now turn.

If Piper’s morality is summarized by the two words “Christian Hedonism”, then Ayn Rand’s morality is summarized by the two words “Rational Egoism”. Man, she held, ought to pursue his own rational values, because to do otherwise is to contradict his nature and to defy justice. Contrary to Kant, Rand held that an action is only moral to the extent that it does benefit the actor because the alternative is unjust. And she was right: It is unjust for one to not benefit from one’s own action. Justice demands that the one who does the acting benefit from the action. She also taught that Man ought to value himself because apart from such self-value, no other values are possible. And here again, she is also correct. A man who does not value himself is not capable of valuing anything else. This is because to value is necessarily an activity of the self. A non-self cannot do anything — let alone value. Further, to value is to seek that which one considers valuable to one’s self — but if the self is not to be valued, why should it seek that which is valuable to it.

In other words, If I am not to value myself, why should or would I pursue anything that is valuable to me? And if I don’t pursue anything that is valuable to me, then how and why would I pursue God in a way that glorifies Him? And now, hopefully you are beginning to see the connection (and this is just the beginning of the connection): If –according to Piper — pursuit of my happiness (my values) is essential to glorifying God, and if value for my self is essential to the pursuit of my values, then value for my self is essential to glorifying God. I cannot love God (or anything else for that matter) if I do not value myself.

Allow me to flesh this out: If I do not value my God-given mind, I will not cherish it and train it in a way that enables me to see God and His glory clearly. If I do not value my God-given affections, I will not jealously examine them and test them in order to ensure that they accord with what is due to God and His glory in creation. If I do not value my God-given will, I will not discipline it and use it in a way that speaks of the glory of who I am meant to be: an Image of God. If I do not value myself, as an Image of God, I will not passionately pursue the multitude of possibilities to image Him forth in my life. And If I do not value my life, I will not guard it from being wasted.

All of morality hinges on one’s pursuit of one’s own rational happiness. And therefore, all of morality hinges on one’s truly and rationally valuing one’s own self. God will not be glorified if I do not seek to delight myself with what is supremely satisfying — and I will not seek to delight myself with what is supremely satisfying if I do not value being satisfied; if I do not value my life and my self.