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UTILITARIANISM: the ethical theory for all times.

John Stuart Mill stating his father's view of the common religions. Found in the Autobiography of John Stuart Mill. It can be read as applying equally to John.

In his best prose, John speaks through his father, and thereby avoids publishing his enlightened and unpopular opinion of the opiate of the masses. Preistly, for example, had his home and laboratory burnt by the masses for being known as a free thinker.

Growing Up Without God

Those who admit an omnipotent as well as perfectly just and benevolent maker and ruler of such a world as this, can say little against Christianity but what can, with at least equal force, be retorted against themselves. Finding, therefore, no halting place in Deism, he [Mills father] remained in a state of perplexity, until, doubtless after many struggles, he yielded to the conviction that, concerning the origin of things nothing whatever can be known.

This is the only correct statement of his opinion; for dogmatic atheism he looked upon as absurd, as most of those, whom the world has considered Atheists, have always done. These particulars are important, because they show that my fathers rejection of all that is called religious belief was not, as many might suppose, primarily a matter of logic and evidence; the grounds of it were moral, still more than intellectual. He found it impossible to believe that a world as full of evil was the work of an Author combining infinite power with perfect goodness and righteousness. His intellect spurned the subtleties by which men attempt to blind themselves to this open contradiction....

As it was, his aversion to religion, in the sense usually attached to the term, was of the same kind as that of Lucretius; he regarded it with the feeling due not a mere mental delusion, but to a great moral evil. He looked upon it as the greatest enemy of morality; first by setting up factitious excellenciesbelief in creeds, devotional feelings, and ceremonies, not connected with the good of human kindand causing these to be accepted as substitutes for genuine virtues; but above all, by radically vitiating the standard of morals, making it consist in doing the will of a being, on whom it lavishes indeed all the phrases of adulation, but whom in sober truth it depicts as eminently hateful.

I have a hundred times heard him say that all ages and nations have represented their gods as wicked, in a constantly increasing progression, that mankind have gone on adding trait after trait till they reached the most perfect conception of wickedness which the human mind can devise, and have called this God, and prostrated themselves before it. This ne plus ultra of wickedness he considered to be embodied in what is commonly presented to mankind as the creed of Christianity. Think (he used to say) of a being who would make a hell-who would create the human race with the infallible foreknowledge, and therefore with the intention-that the great majority of them were to be consigned to horrible and everlasting torment.

The time, I believe, is drawing near when this dreadful conception of an object of worship will no longer be identified with Christianity; and when all persons, with any sense of moral good and evil, will look upon it with the same indignation with which my father regarded it. . . . The world would be astonished if it knew how great a proportion of its brightest ornaments-of those most distinguished even in popular estimation for wisdom and virtue-are complete skeptics in religion.


This sentiment of James & John Mill, was not unique.  Philip Beauchamp recognizes the same:

“Religion injures individuals by prescribing useless and painful practices: fasting,, celibacy, voluntary self-torture, and so forth.  It suggests vague terrors which often drive the victim to insanity, and it causes remorse for harmless enjoyments.  Religion injures society by creating antipathies against unbelievers, and in a less degree against heretics and nonconformists.  It perverts public opinion by making innocent actions blameable; by distorting the whole science of morality and sanctioning the heterogeneous dictates of a certain blind and unaccountable impulse called the 'moral instinct or conscience.'  Morality becomes a 'mere catalogue of reigning sentiments,' because it has cast away the standard of utility.  A special aversion to improvement is generated, because whatever changes our conceptions of the 2. sequence of phenomena' is supposed to break the divine 'laws of nature.' 'Unnatural' becomes a 'self-justifying' epithet forbidding any proposed change of conduct, which will counteract the designs of God.' Religion necessarily injures intellectual progress. It disjoins belief from its only safe ground, experience. The very basis, the belief in an inscrutable and arbitrary power, sanctions supernatural and 'extra-experimental' beliefs of all kinds... (p. 345-346)


'Beauchamp, Philip' [George Grote and Jeremy Bentham], Analysis of the Influence of Natural Religion on the Temporal Happiness of Mankind, London, R. Carlile, 1822.


Bentham found that, for example, in Parliament, the seated clergy would align themselves with the conservatives in opposition to reform.  His disapprobation to the effects of organized religion is scattered throughout his writings. 

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Mill's father James had obtained a measure of fame from a works in economics (influenced by his friend David Ricardo), in psychology, and a history of India. James was also an associate of Jeremy Bentham, who became John's godfather. Educated by James, John was a child prodigy, who lived up to promise. John made significant contributions in psychology, logic, ethics, political science, and economics. He became, without campaigning, an MP for Westminster--but only for one term. The Encarta Encyclopedia says of John, "His advocacy of women's suffrage in the debate on the Reform Bill of 1867 led to the formation of the suffrage movement."

John died within a year of the birth of his godson Bertrand Russell. This was unfortunate, for Bertrand was raised by his dowager aunt, from whom he developed a disliking for certain things held fitting for an Earl, including religion, sexual repression (he was married 4 times), and war (he was jailed during WWI). In fact, he became after WWII the principle organizer of the movement against nuclear weapons, and during the Vietnam War a leader in opposition thereto.

All three (Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Russell) were child prodigies who lived up to their promise as well as their utilitarian ethics they espoused.