Posts Tagged ‘moral issues’


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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Posted in Ethics | 107 Comments »

Why NOT Discuss Politics and Religion?

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

It’s election time again which means that it’s time for voters to begin the process of weighing out the candidates as well as the issues that are up for discussion.  Once again, friends, family members, and co-workers will engage in discussions that tend to come up during a political year.  Unfortunately, conversations of that nature have a tendency to stir up people’s emotions and before long, what started out as a civil discussion often turns into a heated argument.  Eventually, some well-meaning person listening in will try to ‘put out the fire’ by saying, “You see?  That’s exactly why I say that you should never discuss politics and religion!”  But even though people often say such things, there is a very real sense in which everyone brings politics and religion into their normal, day-to-day conversations and they don’t even realize it.

Take religion, for example.  I often hear ‘unbelievers’ say, “Don’t bring religion into this!”  (By that, they usually mean “Don’t bring Christianity or Christian values into this!”)  But the fact of the matter is that even those who would consider themselves “non-religious” have a ‘religious’ view of their own.  The reason that they may not think so is because most people today think of religion as ‘a belief in God’, but such a simple definition is inadequate because there are some religions (such as Buddhism) that do not necessarily believe in God.  So, that brings us back to the question, “What is a religion?”  A religion is fundamentally a worldview, a perspective, a set of assumptions, a ‘lens’ if you will, through which a person looks at everything in life in order to try and explain how all of life fits together in a coherent and comprehensive way.  It is a ‘framework’ through which a person is trying to make sense of the world around them.  This is extremely important to understand because it tells us that everyone, whether they realize it or not, is operating on a set of beliefs (a worldview).  This means that everyone, including the atheist, is ‘religious’ in that sense.  Furthermore, it tells us that ALL views expressed are ‘religiously motivated’ because they are an expression of that person’s worldview.  In other words, any time an individual gives their perspective on a matter in almost any conversation they are, in fact, bringing their religion into the conversation just as much as anyone else!

Even political discussions are not entirely avoidable.  Why?  Because political issues are ultimately about moral principles.  They have to be.  If you don’t believe me, think for a moment about the kind of issues that we typically refer to as ‘political issues’.  Most political issues involve that which is right or wrong, good or bad, just or unjust, fair or unfair- all of which are moral issues.  Even the questions of how and why people should be treated equally are moral questions.  In other words, by what objective moral standard did we determine that it is right (morally) to treat people equally and that it would be immoral to not treat people equally?

So, just as with religion, everyone has a moral point of view and they are asserting their moral point of view every time they use words such as ‘right’, ‘wrong’, ‘fair’, ‘unfair’, ‘just’, ‘unjust’, ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘should’, ‘shouldn’t’, ‘ought’, ‘ought not’, (etc.).   It’s unavoidable.  So, the next time you hear someone insist that people shouldn’t get into discussions about politics and religion, you may want to point out to them that they just did!

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Posted in Christianity and Culture | 6 Comments »

  • In today's world, there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to matters of truth, meaning, morality, our origin, and our destiny. The purpose of Renewed Thoughts is to bring clarity to such issues by examining them in light of a Biblical worldview, using the tools of science, philosophy, and critical thinking.