Oct 13, 2011

Christian Hedonism Challenged

I just ran across this very insightful critique of Piper's Christian hedonism by Reformed philosopher and theologian Paul Helm. Though Piper's views on this emphasize some elements in Christian theology and living that have been sadly neglected and that we should recapture today, I have never been able to get past the feeling that he has gone too far. Helm offers a much-needed corrective. I hope all the Piper fans out there will read Helm's blog with an open mind.


Toph Morris said...

I don't want to say too much here, as I haven't really examined either point of view with any great zeal (I have my hands full with American History issues as it stands), and I am uneducated on the issue of 'Christian hedonism' as a whole. But something about Helm's argument doesn't ring necessarily true to me:

"Is that person getting pleasure out of what he is doing? Of course he is. But the pleasure is not the first thing; the first thing is restoring the car, and the pleasure piggy-backs on the activities that this involves"

This may or may not be the case. I've certainly experienced things I had to do which gave me pleasure in return. But I've certainly experienced enough other tasks which I did because they gave me pleasure, and the fact I got to fix something in the process was the additional plus.

And I'm finding this to be the case whenever I study argumentation. I like it when people try to argue logically, giving a series of events which necessarily lead to a conclusion: a leads to b, b leads to c and so on. But the problem I find with these arguments is that if at any point along the way, say point b, is debatable, the whole argument falls apart from there. This is the same way I felt when trying to get through The Abolition of Man, and feeling like I might have actually agreed with C.S. Lewis if I could buy for one moment that there's such thing as an objective aesthetic (or, if it is based on God's opinion, that we can ever know these well enough to mean anything). So even if Helm is arguing well against something I would truly be against as well, I'm not sure I can back an argumentation that, I feel, breaks down at the beginning.

But then, like I said, I'm not entirely clear on the debate as it stands.

Steve Cowan said...

Toph, I think you are missing the point. Helm is not saying that there are no things that we do for the pleasure of it. But he is challenging Piper's claim that we never do anything except for the pleasure of it. There are at least sometimes that we do things for their own sake, and the pleasure they bring (assuming they do) is a side-effect.

On anther note, I don't get why you don't believe in an objective aesthetic. Would you seriously mantain, for example, that my child's stick-figure drawing is no less aesthetically excellent than a Rembrandt?