Dumbledore, Utilitarianism, And Original Sin

Two essays from the Leaky Cauldron site talk about the utilitarianism of Albus Dumbledore, and those readers looking to prove whether Albus Dumbledore was in fact a utilitarian who believed all throughout his life in subordinating his own personal love of others for “the greater good” are encouraged to look there [1] [2] for proof. Is it in fact moral, according to the standards of biblical Christianity, to behave and reason in a utilitarian fashion? Or is it precisely that god-like pursuit of the greater good and moving around other people as pieces on a chessboard precisely the original sin of mankind in the Garden of Eden? It is that task I wish to examine today.

Dumbledore And The Greater Good

First, we must briefly examine the issue of Dumbledore’s utilitarianism and its moral effects. We will seek to do so briefly (a larger definition is mentioned below) by looking at a few key incidents where Dumbledore consciously defends a utilitarian purpose or acts in a utilitarian fashion. Let us, furthermore, contrast his actions with Snape and Harry Potter, who consistently show themselves as acting on motives of love. A few of these incidents bear examination: Dumbledore’s behavior at the end of Prisoner of Azkaban (hereafter PA), Dumbledore’s enigmatic defense of truth at the end of Goblet of Fire (hereafter GF) also bears mention. We will then examine other aspects of Dumbledore’s utilitarianism in Order of the Pheonix (hereafter OP), Half Blood Prince (hereafter HBP), and Deathly Hallows (hereafter DH).

In the plot at the end of PA, Dumbledore is deeply implicated in very illegal and unethical behavior, done for good ends, but still immoral behavior nonetheless. Though his manipulation of the desires of Harry and Hermoine to save innocent lives, he encourages them to use the time turner to break some serious wizarding laws (not just school rules), risking that they will get caught and go to Azkaban [3]. He shows amusement that Buckbeak “escaped” possibly indicating that he had planned the adventure by that time already [4]. When they come back to Dumbledore after the rescue of Buckbeak and Sirius and say what they did, Dumbledore is appreciative, but in a calculated way [5]. Snape’s fury, driven (though we do not yet know it) by his love of Lily and his hostility towards her betrayer (whom he thinks is Sirius), leads him correctly to deduce that Harry Potter was involved in the escape, but this is viewed as “madness” by Minister Fudge. What is Dumbledore’s response to Snape’s righteous fury, of which he knows the origin? He finds it amusing and laughs about it, not showing any compassion for the genuine concern of a genuinely loving (if dark) man [6]. Dumbledore has mocked a spy he greatly values, pitted his two most valuable “servants” against each other, and put two young wizards at risk of great harm and a lengthy prison sentence for messing with time, and yet he himself is not greatly concerned, thinking more like a calculating chess-master than a loving schoolmaster whose job is to look out for his students and their well being. He even shows unconcern (even satisfaction) at the fact that Peter Pettigrew, the real traitor now returning to Voldemort, has a life debt to Harry Potter [7]. Though we may wink at such behavior, and the secrets that had to be kept because of that behavior, it demonstrates an appalling lack of morality on Dumbledore’s part, and sets up the reader for more of Dumbledore’s betrayals later on.

The basic Utilitarianism of Dumbledore’s character is further revealed in the ending of GF. First, while Harry is still in shock (with a fair bit of post-traumatic stress disorder, one would imagine) from nearly being killed by Voldemort in Little Hangleton, Dumbledore pressures Harry to tell him what happened after he touched the portkey [8]. Then Dumbledore offers sound but very utilitarian advice concerning removing the Dementors from Azkaban and sending a diplomatic mission to the Giants to keep Voldemort’s allies from being able to easily support him [9]. Of course, also included in Dumbledore’s calculations and chess moves is bringing Sirius and Snape, who loathe each other, into awareness of each other’s loyalties [10]. And, most crucially, there is what he says during the otherwise inspiring “Remember Cedric Diggory” speech at the end of Goblet of Fire, where he said “the truth is generally preferable to lies [11]” because as a utilitarian he did not believe in an absolute moral obligation to tell the truth. It is striking that both he and Voldemort, those two utilitarian chess-masters, both claim that their actions are necessary because to do otherwise would be to insult the memory of someone who was dead. Dumbledore and Voldemort are far more alike than many realize, and a lot of it is related to the way they manipulate others for their own ends. The fact that Dumbledore is concerned about good and Voldemort is not is the only distinction between the varying shades of evil in the approach of both men.

Let us, in showing Dumbledore’s mistaken utilitarianism, focus on four different aspects. First, let us examine Dumbledore’s youthful interests in utilitarian philosophy. Then, let us examine how his utilitarianism led him to trust in the most untrustworthy Mundungus Fletcher, whose actions nearly undermine Dumbledore’s entire plans. Then, let us examine how Dumbledore used Snape’s love for Lily Potter (nee Evans) to cold-bloodedly engineer the death of his most loyal spy. Finally, let us examine how Dumbledore betrayed Harry Potter and used him like a pawn to checkmate the evil Lord Voldemort. These are not the actions of a righteous man, but rather the behavior of an evil Machiavellian schemer.

The plot of DH deals in large part with Harry’s (correct) mistrust of Dumbledore and his motives concerning the Deathly Hallows and Dumbledore’s own repeated betrayals. Aberforth correctly questions Harry as to whether Dumbledore cared more about the greater good than Harry [12]—and he was right in the end [13]. At the age of 17, Albus Dumbledore and his lover Gellert Grindelwald plotted how to gain control over muggles ‘for the greater good’ and only reluctantly went out to fight him in the midst of the great slaughter of World War II [14]. When Harry questions Dumbledore in King’s Cross, Dumbledore is like a guilty child caught with a hand in a cookie jar, because he knows he is guilty and caught for his sins [15]. Even though in later life he changed his goals of dominating Muggles for their own good, he never once repented or changed of his basic utilitarian practice, for after all, he said to Harry at the end of OP that his greatest weakness was to care for Harry too much to tell him the truth [16] (right before he lies by omission by refusing to tell Harry that he’s a horcrux, even though he knew [17]). Those are the actions of a Utilitarian and Machiavellian schemer, not the words of a schoolmaster worthy of the love and adoration of his pupils.

One of, if not the, most unsavory of characters that Dumbledore uses for his own Machiavellian purposes is the half-bred thief Mundungus Fletcher. We first hear of him when Dumbledore tells Sirius to round up ‘the old crowd’ of the Order of the Phenix at the end of GF, and his name is included [18]. We next hear of him in OP chasing some stolen cauldrons in a business deal and leaving Harry to cast a spell in self-defense that nearly gets Harry expelled from Hogwarts [19]. Then we see him trading in non-tradeable substances, namely Venomous Tentcula seeds [20.] Unfortunately, Mundungus’ thieving ways continue, so that he ends up stealing a great deal of Harry Potter’s inheritance from Sirius [21]. We can guess why Dumbledore wanted Mundungus on his side based on the fact that he also went to great efforts to recruit Lupin, Hagrid, and Snape as well. We can gather that Dumbledore could not resist having an insider knowledge of the thieving community through Fletcher, just as Lupin gave him an insider knowledge of the werewolf population, Hagrid gave him a person inside the giant community, and Snape gave him an inside man in the Death Eaters. It is all part of a pattern to get his hand in as many pies as possible, for knowledge is power, after all. But where Dumbledore’s utilitarian desire to get inside the thieving population endangers his “greater” mission is when Mundungus’ thieving ways force him to give up a horcrux to the evil Dolores Umbridge, forcing Harry and his friends to undertake a dangerous mission into the Ministry of Magic to steal it back [22]. Dumbledore’s utilitarian ways in recruiting the thieving Mundungus Fletcher nearly derail the overall mission against Voldemort—that’s failing to act in the interests of the greater good, no matter what your rationalizations And that’s not even mentioning his cowardice at the Battle of the Seven Potters leading to the death of Mad-Eye Moody [23]. In the grand scheme of things, Mundungus Fletcher is a liability to the cause of the Order of the Pheonix, because he is totally without honor.

Severus Snape is not a likable man. He is a bully, constantly tormenting Neville Longbottom and Harry Potter. He gives favorable treatment to his house, Slytherin, and unfavorable treatment to Gryffindor. He is also a Death Eater [24]. Yet it only takes one chapter of the last book of the Harry Potter series for Snape to gain moral ascendancy over Albus Dumbledore. For as many has were the sins of Severus Snape, and they were many, far worse were the sins of Albus Dumbledore regarding Severus Snape. We have already commented on the cruelty of Dumbledore’s treatment of Snape at the end of PA. But “The Prince’s Tale” shows far worse treatment. First, Dumbledore recruits Snape by emotionally blackmailing him in his desire to keep his beloved Lily safe [25]. Then he furthers the blackmail by getting him to protect Harry Potter by reminding Snape that Harry has Lily’s eyes [26.] He then gets Snape to kill him [27], even while fully knowing that Voldemort would stop at nothing to get the power of the Elder Wand and would therefore seek to kill Snape [28]. Dumbledore took advantage of Snape’s genuine and lifelong devotion to Lily, devotion that in Snape’s case even extended to protecting Harry, despite the fact that Snape hated how Harry reminded him of his father James [29], and set him up to be ruthlessly slaughtered by Lord Voldemort. That was a cowardly move of betrayal, typical of a Utilitarian Machiavellian schemer, but a very wicked move nonetheless. The end result is that Snape is a better man by far than Dumbledore, as bad as he is.

Finally, let us examine Dumbledore’s betrayal of Harry Potter. Since Harry Potter is the hero of the series, a useful touchstone for whether a character is good or evil is how they react to the naïve goodness that he possesses. Albus Dumbledore, rather than showing himself as a loving and caring person, shows himself as cruel and calculating, and therefore evil. At the beginning of OP he leaves Harry without a comment after a nerve-wracking trial [30.] He then has the gall to suggest to Harry that their relationship was closer than that of headmaster-pupil [31], and then to say that he had intentionally caused Harry to suffer a bleak childhood with the Dursleys so that he would be protected by the magic of his mother’s love [32]. He compounds these errors of cold-bloodedness with bungling in his leaving to time and chance for Snape to reveal to Harry the essential knowledge that Harry was a horcrux that had to be “killed” by Lord Voldemort [33]. This is done only by the slimmest of margins, even though Dumbledore, having taken the time to get to know Harry Potter, knew that he would not dodge his unpleasant fate, even if it meant losing his own life [34]. Dumbledore had the “Boy Who Lived,” the only one who could defeat the evil Lord Voldemort, and he played him like a total fool. And Harry, even knowing Dumbledore’s betrayal and wickedness, still had the loyalty to name a son after him [35]. We should all wish to have friends as loyal as Harry Potter, and friends a lot less cynical and manipulative than Dumbledore, who could have taught my Utilitarian relatives and ex-friends some lessons in those dark arts.

What Is The Connection Between Utilitarianism And “Original Sin [36]?”

We have spent some time examining how Dumbledore’s actions clearly show him to be an advocate of Utilitarianism, which is itself but one form of Machiavellianism, where the ends justify the means, freeing mankind from obligations to moral laws if it impedes their ability to meet the glorious and moral ends they are devoted to. We now, having proven beyond a reasonable doubt from the Harry Potter series that Dumbledore’s actions were motivated by “the greater good,” must now answer a theological question: is it immoral, by the standards of the Bible, to behave in a Utilitarian manner?”

The answer is a resounding yes. There are several reasons why Utilitarianism is immoral by the biblical standard. First, to behave in a Utilitarian fashion, manipulating other people for one’s ends, is itself setting up false gods, and is therefore objectively sinful. Second, Utilitarianism is sinful because it forgets that it was the original sin of mankind to choose good and evil for one’s self—mankind does not have the right to decide what is right and wrong for themselves (as a Utilitarian does) but rather is responsible for choosing whether to obey God or not. Third, to behave in a Utilitarian fashion is to act in rebellion against God’s providence by substituting one’s own flawed human reasoning. Therefore, an unrepentant Utilitarian cannot enter into God’s kingdom.

First, a Utilitarian approach leads someone to break the first commandment, setting themselves up as a god to others instead of giving honor to the Creator and Lord of all. Someone with a Utilitarian approach believes in their own god-like intuition and in the goodness of their attempts to manipulate and control other people like pieces on a chessboard. Therefore the utilitarian person defines themselves as a god and others as servants or followers to be used or tossed away by how others benefit their own selfish plans and schemes. This behavior is objectively sinful, because it falsely assumes a distinction between ourselves and others, and leads us to treat others with cold calculation rather than love and respect. A utilitarian person is therefore, by definition, an evil and unloving person as a result of their own idolatrous views of themselves as a god-like being and a law unto themselves, bound by no moral standards.

Second, a utilitarian falls into precisely the same sin as Adam and Eve through their selfish desire to define good and evil for themselves. For it was in the Garden of Eden that the serpent lied to Adam & Eve, saying that if they eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that their eyes would be open and that they would be like God, knowing good and evil (see Genesis 3:5), adding a further lie about the immortal soul in the bargain (see Genesis 3:4). Someone who buys into the utilitarian ethic believes exactly Satan’s lie, that a sufficiently wise and clever human being with education and “knowledge” can become like God, knowing (that is, defining and having control over) good and evil. It was a lie in Eden and it remains a lie today. All humanity is called to choose between life and death, blessing and cursing, and God urges us all to choose life (see Deuteronomy 30:19), but to obey God (see Deuteronomy 30:20) is necessary to receive eternal life. We do not possess immortality within ourselves apart from the gift of God. A Utilitarian believes in the lies of their own infallibility and their own immortality, and (like Dumbledore) they are shown to be sadly mistaken fools, having rejected God’s moral standards and replacing them with their own useless man-made rules and standards.

Finally, as alluded to above, a Utilitarian rejects God’s authority and therefore acts in rebellion against God. A Utilitarian says in their hearts that they will be like the Most High God, ascending into heaven through their depth of understanding and the subtlety of their reasoning, but instead they will be cast into the grave and destroyed (see Isaiah 14:13-15). Satan’s original sin of pride is at the base of the Utilitarian order. For the basic sin of a Utilitarian is to assume that they are wise and knowledgeable enough to decide good and evil for themselves, to move others like pawns to achieve their own dreams. And whether those plans or dreams are good or evil, the manipulation and attempt to control others is by definition a sin, since God alone is the maker and Master of mankind, and all attempts for human leaders to usurp that unique and privileged position are acts of rebellion against God and attempts to substitute man’s plotting and scheming for the subtle workings of divine providence. To attempt such schemes is to deliberately and willfully resist God’s authority, and to open one’s self up to the harshest condemnation. For no one who pridefully resists God’s authority will enter His kingdom or receive eternal life. Instead, they will be devoured by fire and turned to ashes in the astonished and horrified sight of humanity, like their master Satan (see Ezekiel 28:18-19). Do you want to be in that company? I don’t.


Dumbledore thought he was a very clever wizard, manipulating others to fulfill his schemes and strategies, glorying in his intelligence, and using others like pawns in his game. But he met his eternal reward, as is the fate of all mankind to die. He wanted to be the master of death, but only God has that right. He wanted to choose right and wrong and control the lives of others, but that was an arrogant and rebellious attempt to steal the power of God for his own selfish purposes. Let us therefore recognize Dumbledore for the evil man that he is, and if we would prefer his evil to that of Lord Voldemort, we must still see it as a grave evil. For God is the Lord of all, he alone is our Master and King, and anyone who attempts to claim for themselves the power of God is a rebel and a traitor against the Kingdom of God. Such traitors, unless they repent, will receive a very unpleasant end. Let ourselves not be named among that evil company.

[1] http://www.the-leaky-cauldron.org/features/essays/issue21/LifeandLiesAlbusDumbledore

[2] http://www.the-leaky-cauldron.org/features/essays/issue21/DumbledorianEthics

[3] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban (London: Bloomsbury, 1999), 288.

[4] ibid, 294.

[5] ibid, 305.

[6] ibid, 306-307.

[7] ibid, 310-311.

[8] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire (London: Bloomsbury, 2000), 604.

[9] ibid, 614.

[10] ibid, 618.

[11] ibid, 620.

[12] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows (London: Bloomsbury, 2007), 458.

[13] ibid, 555.

[14] ibid, 291-293.

[15] ibid, 571.

[16] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix (London: Bloomsbury, 2003), 735-744.

[17] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows (London: Bloomsbury, 2007), 550-551.

[18] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire (London: Bloomsbury, 2000), 618.

[19] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix (London: Bloomsbury, 2003), 22-24.

[20] ibid, 156.

[21] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince (London: Bloomsbury, 2005), 245-247.

[22] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows (London: Bloomsbury, 2007), 182-190.

[23] ibid, 69, 83.

[24] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire (London: Bloomsbury, 2000), 616.

[25] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows (London: Bloomsbury, 2007), 544.

[26] ibid, 544-545.

[27] ibid, 548.

[28] ibid, 578.

[29] ibid, 551-552.

[30] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix (London: Bloomsbury, 2003), 138-139.

[31] ibid, 729.

[32] ibid, 736.

[33] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows (London: Bloomsbury, 2007), 550-551.

[34] ibid, 555.

[35] ibid, 607.

[36] I use original sin to refer to the fact that the sin of Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was the original sin of mankind (as there have been countless many more since then). I do not mean to imply that I believe that babies are born with “original sin” because of that sin, only that in Adam all men sinned by having their natures corrupted by evil to the extent that all mankind has natures that are a mixture of good and evil, like the fruit eaten by Adam & Eve, and so therefore all mankind has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory as a result (see Romans 3:23).

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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