Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category


Can We Be Good Without God?

Monday, July 26th, 2010

The sign on a New York City subway read, “A million New Yorkers are good without God.”   In Boston, there were signs on the city buses and subways that read, “Good without God?  Millions of Americans are.”  Billboards in Chicago carried the same message.  During the Christmas season, buses in Washington D.C. carried posters that featured someone dressed as Santa Claus with the message, “Why believe in a god?  Just be good for goodness’ sake.”  These were all part of a bold advertising campaign in 56 cities and 29 states that was launched back in 2007 by organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation.  Their campaign included many other slogans such as, “Imagine No Religion,”   suggesting that America would be much better off if we could somehow remove religion (Christianity in particular) from our culture.

For my purposes here, I want to focus specifically on their message that it’s not necessary to believe in God in order to be a good person.  In fact, I’m finding that more and more people in the public square are proudly proclaiming that, as an atheist, they can be good without God.  When I engage someone in conversation and they tell me that they can be a good person without believing in God, they are usually surprised to hear me say that I agree with them!  I realize that it’s not necessary to believe in God in order to be a good person.  In fact, I know of some people who do not believe in God who I would consider to be more moral than many so-called “Christians”.   So, what’s the problem?  The problem is that the person who denies God’s existence cannot make sense out of morality.  It’s important to keep in mind that the question is NOT whether one can be good without believing in God, but rather, can we be good if, in fact, there is no God.

A friend of mine who teaches Philosophy and World Religions in a local community college had invited me and a pastor from my church to come answer some questions regarding Christianity.  One of the students was a lady who identified herself as a practicing Buddhist.  Keep in mind that Buddhists do not necessarily believe that God exists.  During the Q&A, she had commented in a somewhat sarcastic tone of voice, “Look, I am a good person who does good for my community, and I don’t have to believe in your God in order to be a good person!”  In response, I said, “May I ask you a question?  You just used the word ‘good’ three times.  I need to point out to you  that as soon as you did that, you immediately introduced into this conversation some standard by which to measure what ‘good’ is and what it isn’t.  In order for that standard to make any sense, it must be an objective standard.  That is, it must exist outside both of us, and both of us must be accountable to that standard.  Since you’re the one who brought this standard into the conversation, I have to ask you: 1) What is that standard? and 2) Where did it come from-  what is it based on?”

After a long, awkward silence, she replied, “I don’t know.”  A student sitting behind her attempted to help her out.  This gentleman had leaned forward and whispered something in her ear, after which she confidently smiled and said, “I get my morality from Buddhism.”  As I was attempting to reply, another student began to speak, so I’m not sure if she (the Buddhist) could hear my next comment.  I had said to her that I’m pretty sure that if I were to ask her if Buddhist morality is better than Nazi mortality, she would most likely say, “Yes.”  But to say that one is “better” than the other is to measure both of them by some “higher” standard that exists outside both of them.  To compare the two and to say that one is better than the other is to say that one comes closer to meeting that standard than does the other. But to acknowledge some “Ultimate Standard” is to say that there exists a supreme moral law-  this requires a supreme Lawgiver.

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason makes an insightful observation about this.  He points out that when someone says that they don’t have to believe in God in order to be a good person, it’s like saying that they don’t have to believe in authors in order to read books.  While that may be true, they certainly cannot make sense of books existing apart from authors, nor can they make sense of an objective moral law existing apart from a moral Lawgiver.

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Being Hypocritical About Hypocrisy

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Once again, the Catholic Church is in the news and, once again, it involves allegations of priests within the Church sexually abusing minors.  As would be expected, it has been a feeding frenzy for the media, with each news outlet rushing to outdo the other when it comes to breaking the big story.  There’s really nothing unusual about the media jumping all over a sensational story- we’ve come to expect that.  What I do find unusual is that they seem to get a certain pleasure out of covering any sort of scandal, particularly those that involve the Church, religious leaders, televangelists, and the like.  I suppose it is because the media and, in fact, most people in our culture today have expressed a real disgust for hypocrisy.  But while most people today feel that ‘hypocrisy’ is a term that applies only to those within the religious community who act inappropriately, the truth of the matter is that the term ‘hypocrite’ actually applies to anyone and everyone who behaves in a way that is inconsistent with their particular worldview.  As a result of this misunderstanding, what is often overlooked is the hypocrisy of those outside of the Church who are quick to condemn the hypocrisy of those within the Church.

Keep in mind that, according to recent surveys, the majority of the big players in the media proudly admit that they are humanists, atheists, or agnostics.  Given that they are looking at the world through the “lens” of atheism, etc., it logically follows that most of them would view matters of truth and morality as being “relative”.  Therein lies their hypocrisy.  For example, think for a moment how all of this relates to their reporting of the recent Church scandals.  The very same media that is so quick to tell us how wrong it is to judge others, find themselves doing exactly that-  passing judgment on the Catholic Church.  Secondly, the same media that claims that there is no such thing as absolute truth, end up contradicting themselves by accusing the Church of covering up the scandals through deception and lies.  Perhaps someone should point out to the media that a lie, by definition, is the denial of something that is absolutely true!  Lastly, the very same editors, writers, and news anchors who insist that it’s wrong to force your morality on others, find themselves in the position of forcing their morality on the Church by condemning the immorality of its sex offenders as well as condemning the Church for its hypocrisy.

I don’t want anyone to miss the main point here.  I am not, in any way, making excuses for those within the Catholic Church who have committed these terrible offenses.  It is imperative that the truth is pursued and that the offenders be brought to justice just like anyone else.  Still, there is a lesson in this for all of us.  For those within the Church, it is a painful reminder that actions really do speak louder than words.  Jesus reserved his strongest condemnation for religious leaders who acted hypocritically.  That alone should be enough to motivate any Christian to live consistently with their message.  But there is also a message in all of this for those outside of the Church- you can’t have it both ways.  If you’re going to insist that there is no truth, that it’s wrong to judge others, and that it’s wrong for someone to impose their morality on someone else, then you must remain silent on this issue, because to do otherwise would be hypocritical on your part… and I know how much you hate hypocrisy.

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Is Happiness the Bottom Line?

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

“Everyone should have the right to do whatever makes them happy.”  How many times have you heard someone make a statement like that?  In fact, there is a good chance that you have even said it yourself.  Although it is not a new idea by any means it is, nevertheless, enjoying a great deal of popularity among our culture today.  It’s not hard to understand why it’s such a popular idea.  After all, who among us doesn’t wish to be happy?  But while this idea may sound reasonable and perfectly harmless at a glance, just a few minutes of thinking it over and following it to its logical conclusion exposes just how harmful this idea can really be.

What I find most disturbing is the number of people these days who have bought into this idea with such reckless abandon that in their insatiable thirst for happiness, they are apparently willing to overlook and even justify the most horrific examples of such faulty thinking.  For example, in three separate conversations that I had with three different students last year, I asked each of them this question, “When it comes to making decisions in your life about what is right or wrong, what do you base it on?”  They all predictably answered, “I base it on doing whatever makes me happy.”  I then asked each of them, “When you consider the events of the Holocaust and the fact that Hitler was exterminating millions of people and worked toward building a master race in the pursuit of his happiness, would you say that what Hitler did was right?”   In each conversation, the student looked at me and said without any hesitation, “Yes.  I guess it was right for him if it made him happy.”  In one of those conversations, I responded by saying, “I really do hope that you’re just being stubborn or that you’re just messing with me because if I thought for one moment that you were actually serious about your answer, I would have every reason to be afraid of you…..and so should everyone else.”

Recently when I was addressing a high school youth group regarding some cultural issues involving sexual promiscuity, I brought up the question of whether or not people should simply “do whatever makes them happy”.  Not wishing to risk using Hitler as my example again, I used the examples of  a student who steals from his classmates and a pedophile who molests children, both of which are examples of someone who is pursuing their own happiness.  One of the girls in the group raised an objection.  She pointed out to me that it really wasn’t fair for me to compare them, because in the case of the pedophile and the thief, they are both pursuing their happiness at the expense of someone else or doing harm to someone else, whereas in the matter of sexual promiscuity between two consenting people, this is not the case at all (although that is even debatable).

I responded to her by saying that I wasn’t trying to compare them, but rather, my intent was to point out some of the dangers of the “do whatever makes you happy” mentality.  I then asked her if she at least agreed with me that molesting children and stealing from someone is wrong.  She definitely agreed.  I further asked her if she agreed with me that we cannot and must not go around these days “throwing the door wide open”  by suggesting that “everyone has the right to do anything that makes them happy” -  that for us to make such broad, sweeping and open-ended statements would be both irresponsible and destructive.  Again, she agreed.  Next, I  asked her if it was reasonable to conclude from this that in the pursuit of one’s happiness, there has to be a limit.  She said, “Yes.”  I finally asked her, “When we say that there is a ‘limit’, aren’t we really saying that there must be a moral boundary line?” – She agreed.

This, of course, leaves us with the most important question of all: When it comes to drawing the boundary lines on ANY issue in life, who ultimately decides where those boundary lines are to be drawn?  Is it up to man, or is it up to God? If we make the mistake of leaving it up to man, I have no doubt that we will end up opening the door to a world that none of us will be able to endure.

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