I will offer 4 counter-examples to this hypothesis; I will also acknowledge a few shortcomings of these counter-examples.
1. Minimizing suffering
Some forms of utilitarian thought--such as negative utilitarianism--prioritize the minimization of suffering (example), as opposed to classical utilitarianism which weighs total well-being (total good & total bad). I have even seen utilitarian proposals which suggest minimizing suffering should be the only variable considered in a utility equation.
This form of utilitarianism does not appear to be consistent with the Christian concept of God. If God solely wanted to minimize suffering:
- Why engage in the creation in the first place?
- Why wasn't the first order of business in Eden to incinerate the tree of knowledge of good & evil?
Both have led to a significant amount of suffering.
However, this objection is readily neutralized if the utility function includes total well-being rather than just total suffering, and the question then simply collapses into the problem of evil, which Christian writers have responded to many, many, many times.
2. Heaven-Hell dichotomy
A system which ultimately consigns all humans to one of two states:
a. Infinite happiness OR
b. Infinite misery
Is remarkably non-utilitarian (various arguments for such a system have been made...but they aren't utilitarian arguments). This is especially true if one understands Matthew 7:13-14 to indicate that a larger share of humanity will be consigned to option b. However, even if the split were 50/50, or even 90/10, the argument below still works.
The problem of the marginal soul
If heaven & hell are the only options, where do you draw the line between who is in and who is out? Wherever that line is drawn, there will be people who "just missed" heaven. For such an individual, well-being would be unimaginably greater if there had been a 3rd option in between.
This is not an argument against justice being part of the nature of a perfect Being. Rather, it is an observation that consigning all who don't make it to heaven to the same fate as Genghis Khan is not at all utilitarian.
This objection, of course, is less forceful against belief systems which suggest a multi-tiered afterlife (examples here & here), wherein someone who is unable to remain in the presence of God may still reside somewhere better than a lake of fire.
The objection was raised that even a multi-tiered system can be critiqued along the same lines. A 3-tiered system will be more utilitarian than a 2-tiered system. A 4-tiered more than a 3-tiered system, and so on. N+1 is always more utilitarian than N, so any system with N tiers is sub-optimal. This is a good objection--in fact it may even be fatal to multi-tiered systems like Dante's Inferno or the 7-tiered system I linked in the previous paragraph (I don't know, I lack the expertise to give an informed opinion on those particular beliefs--I simply supplied the 2nd link to show there are a variety of multi-tiered beliefs out there)...but this objection is ineffective against the multi-tiered system described by Paul--see Appendix 1 below.
3. Christians aren't commanded to be utilitarians
The Bible records hundreds of commands, none of which instruct humanity to maximize a particular utility function. Even if an Omniscient Being giving these commands were a utilitarian, it is not difficult to see why commands would be given in the "thou shalt not" form as opposed to the "weigh these variables" form.
Let us say that for a given moral decision, there are 100,000 variables in play (including butterfly effects that will result from this particular decision), and we are aware of maybe 6 of those variables. We're hopeless! We would have no chance of identifying the decision that maximizes utility (and that's even before we get into the problem of what utility we try to maximize).
In theory, if one had all information, it would be possible to plug every variable into a massive equation and mathematically determine the morally correct decision in any circumstance. However, we don't have that kind of information and so we cannot be perfect utilitarians.
Instead, God gives rules of thumb like "thou shalt not bear false witness", and occasionally instructs His prophets when a very rare exception needs to be made (the OP has already noted a strong case for a morally correct exception to this particular rule of thumb).
This doesn't mean that God could not be a utilitarian, but it does show that the Christian morality He commands people to adhere to is not strictly utilitarian. This may create a conundrum when we consider the instruction:
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
We are given general commands that aren't strictly utilitarian, and we are commanded to be like our Father in Heaven. Does this mean our Father in Heaven is not strictly utilitarian?
(Possible counterpoint - it may be extremely utilitarian on God's part to use "rules of thumb" rather than utility equations because rules of thumb will be more effective in this world. In a future state wherein our nature is more perfectly aligned with God's--see 1 John 3:2-3--perhaps we could argue that God expects us to become utilitarians at some point in the future, but knows we're not quite there yet. In the meantime those rules of thumb are still in full force and Divine Command Theory prevails)
4. Loving parent
We are the offspring of God (Acts 17:29) and He loves us (1 John 4:10).
Let's imagine a possible world with 1,000 people, and the conditions of that world can be set such that the maximum number of people (let's say it's 750) will enter into eternal bliss, and the minimum number of people (the other 250) will go to eternal torment. Classical utilitarian thought would favor this as the optimal outcome.
However, what if there is a different set of conditions, wherein 2 of the 750 now fail, and go to eternal torment, but 1 of the 250 now pursues a different path and receives eternal bliss (we'll say his name is Simon). Classical utilitarian thought would oppose this outcome, as it maximizes well-being for 749 versus an alternative which reached 750.
So far no issue right?
What if you are Simon's loving parent?!?!? Are you going to sacrifice Simon because under the set of conditions wherein he fails 2 others do not fail?
While fully granting that Simon may choose to reject what God offers him, the dilemma here is that there's a possible world where Simon doesn't reject it. Any parent of more than 1 child will readily recognize that a loving parent does not pursue gladitorial trade-offs where one child succeeds at another child's expense. (okay maybe a parent will permit that for some trivial competition, but not for something that really, really matters)
The objection I don't follow the logic here was given. True, I did not present this argument formally. Here it is:
P1: A loving parent intends to do everything possible for the well-being of each child
P2: God is a loving parent
C1: God intends to do everything possible for the well-being of each of His children (from P1, P2)
P3: God is Omnipotent--that which He intends to do, He does
C2: God does everything possible for the well-being of each of His children (from C1, P3)
P4: If God creates system750 (the system above where Simon fails that 2 others might succeed), God does not do everything possible for the well-being of Simon
C3: God does not create system750 (from C2, P4)
The final conclusion is simply an if A then B, not B, therefore not A argument. P2 & P3 are not at all controversial (among Christians). P4 is demonstrated in the original post. The crux of the matter is P1. A disinterested utilitarian philosopher may not see P1 as an obstacle: sacrificing 1 to gain 2 increases the utility of the system. But the Father is not a disinterested utilitarian philosopher, He's a Father (I believe it is noteworthy that of all the titles He could have selected, it is the title of Father by which He would like to be addressed--see Matthew 6:9). I challenge any parent of 2+ children to rebut premise 1.
However, in an effort to not only argue this as an appeal to the best intentions of parents, I've addressed some theology relevant to this topic in Appendix 2.
If we allow for:
- The exclusion of negative utilitarianism
- A variety of possibilities in the afterlife (a la 1 Cor. 15:40-42)
- A utilitarian God giving simplified, user-friendly commandments
Then God is a utilitarian genius may be a true statement, but I would add a critical caveat: He is enough of a utilitarian genius to know when not to use utilitarianism. His utility function appears to be tempered by variables such as Paternal love & respect for human moral agency.
If He is a utilitarian, I propose He employs utilitarianism at a level far beyond what was conceived of by Jeremy Bentham or John Stuart Mill. I see in God's plan a system in which everyone achieves the absolute best outcome they possibly can. Everyone has the potential for salvation in the fullest sense of the word, and will receive whatever portion of God's goodness & blessings they are willing to receive (sadly many will choose to reject much of what God offered). No one is eternally sacrificed against their will in order to maximize the utility of another.
If that is a utility function, that would indeed be the work of a utilitarian genius - a system in which utility is not only maximized collectively, but it is also maximized individually for every single participant.
Appendix 1 - Paul's multi-tiered afterlife
For those not already committed to a binary model of the afterlife, there are 2 passages from Paul which suggest a more complex arrangement exists. I'll review 1 Cor. 15:40-42 here (the other is 2 Cor. 12:2). Speaking on the subject of the resurrection Paul states:
40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the
glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is
41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and
another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption;
it is raised in incorruption
Paul did not expand upon this to provide a detailed theological treatise (later writers have done so), but he has acknowledged that in the resurrection there will be bodies raised to different degrees of glory. He has given 3 groups or categories, which he contrasts via comparison to heavenly bodies. He has also acknowledged that within a given category (stars in this case), that the amount of glory is not the same.
Paul lived in a world where there was no word for "trillion". One of the common means in the ancient world to express "a really big number" or "numberless" was by comparison to the stars (which, if you're constrained by the limits of Roman numerals, are effectively numberless). Genesis 26:4 is an example of this phenomenon. Paul is acknowledging variations in resurrected glory that differ as the numberless stars in the sky.
Paul precisely meets the challenge raised in the objection, by teaching a system in which individual outcomes can be individually tailored.
This addresses the blessings/glory/happiness side of the utilitarian scale, but what of suffering?
In a multi-tiered afterlife such as described by Paul, the utilitarian's problem of minimizing suffering is readily resolved: never-ending torment in a lake of fire is no longer the base case if one has not entered into God's glory. If unrepented sin is the basis for punishment in the afterlife, the sinner suffers for his own sin, but not anyone else's (see here). Suffering is thus specific to the individual. The duration of suffering is addressed in the second half of my post here.
Universalism was proposed as an alternative solution to the heaven-hell dichotomy. I see the appeal (who doesn't want to be told eat, drink, and be merry, do whatever and there will be no consequences?), but even if universalism can offer an escape from the heaven-hell conundrum, it fails the utilitarian test at the other end of the spectrum: the argument from evil is a formidable objection to universalism.
If suffering is not teaching, refining, and making us into people prepared for God's gift of eternal life (since under Universalism we can skip the refining and still get eternal life anyway), the world has an awful lot of unnecessary suffering.
Universalism also suffers from the handicap of not being taught in the scriptures.
Appendix 2--does someone get the short end of the stick in order to save someone else?
If there is a possible world where Simon (random name chosen in the example above) will accept God's plan and repent, would God implement a different possible world, in which Simon does not do so?
- Isaiah suggests the answer is no. His parable of the vineyard suggests God has done everything possible, and that only after that is ultimate punishment is given.
- Peter suggests the answer is no. God wishing for all men to repent, and God setting up a system that permanently handicaps some from doing so, appear to be mutually exclusive.
- Lehi suggests the answer is no. Men are given all things that are necessary, and they are free to choose eternal life. That freedom would appear to be impaired if one's best chance to exercise it were taken away
- Alma suggests the answer is no. He reports:
15 But this cannot be; we must come forth and stand before him in his glory, and in his power, and in his might, majesty, and dominion, and acknowledge to our everlasting shame that all his judgments are just; that he is just in all his works, and that he is merciful unto the children of men, and that he has all power to save every man that believeth on his name and bringeth forth fruit meet for repentance. (Alma 12:15)
Perhaps others come to different conclusions, but I struggle to read that verse and imagine that God does not justly & mercifully give as much opportunity to one man as He gives to any other.
One more theological rabbit hole
In the hypothetical where Simon is given less-than-ideal circumstances and is condemned, because that scenario allowed 2 others to be saved, we have a very theologically thorny problem.
First, we might ask why would God put Simon on earth in the first place if Simon were destined to fail? Would not the utility function be better served if God didn't have a child named Simon, and 750 people still entered into God's glory, but only 249 were condemned? (we could then run that recursively for each of the other 249, including anyone who would not repent in any possible world, until there's nobody left in the condemned group, and the total population is just the 750)
Utilitarianism's only escape is to contend that Simon's influence is indispensable to the system, and that without him there will not be as many people saved. In other words, Simon is brought into the system because sacrificing Simon makes saving others possible. Wait, what?!?
There is only one Savior (Isaiah 43:11) and that is Jesus Christ (Luke 2:11). And He volunteered.
In offering this objection to the objection to the objection to the original objection in my post, I recognize a possible objection to the very simple presentation of the rabbit hole given here. I also have a response to that recognized objection. In other words, I could write an objection to the objection to the objection to the objection to the objection to the original objection...but the matter is sufficiently complex that it would have to be its own post, probably longer than this entire post. We may have to save that one for another time.