I was working yesterday on the section of my philosophy book that covers utilitarianism. I was again fascinated by Jeremy Bentham.
He was of course no friend of faith, but this was not because he was an evil-hearted man. Ironically, his opposition to the organized church and Christianity was because he was fighting for some things we would consider to be Christian values today.
For example, his goal was for everyone to count in society, not just upper class men from the right families. He not only wanted all men to be able to vote, even if they came from those dirty, newly industrialized monstrosities like Manchester, but he believed women were fully equal to men and believed the pain and pleasure of children counted exactly the same.
This is a trajectory, and his trajectory led him to ideas we might debate. He believed, for example, that the suffering of an animal was also a consideration in evaluating the consequences of an action. He was opposed to the death penalty and saw prison as a matter of reform rather than punishment. In some work published posthumously, he argued for the liberalization of laws against homosexual practice. My guess is that American law today is similar to what he was advocating, remembering that they used to imprison and even put to death homosexuals. Oscar Wilde was imprisoned in England for homosexual practice at the turn of the twentieth century because he ticked off someone in Parliament.
The picture above is Bentham's skeleton dressed up and his actual head at the bottom. Believing somewhat like Epicurus, he did not believe death was something that should be feared. He bequeathed his estate to the University of London on one condition (he was its godfather, and it was the first secular university in England that anyone could attend, even if you were not a member of the Church of England). The condition was that his dressed up skeleton was to be present at all the board meetings. It is still there in the box above.
So we can disagree with him on his religion, and his simplistic utilitarianism should rightly be tweaked, as John Stuart Mill in fact did. But from this casual acquaintance, it seems to me that his heart was substantially in the right place. We are prone to vilify individuals like him because of his "head." But the Pietist in me, at least from my superficial acquaintance, finds someone here more Christian at heart than scores of the confessing in the Parliament and Church of England of his day.