Skip to comments.Can You Be Good Without God?
Posted on 01/29/2014 4:37:11 PM PST by NYer
Atheists and agnostics like to claim that religion or belief in God isnt necessary for living a moral life. I can be a good person without God, they say. Some go a step further and try to build a case for why they can be even better people without God. For example, they might claim that whereas theists are concerned about obeying religious commands that will get them into a heavenly afterlife, unbelievers are able to apply all their energies to making this world a better place.
In a certain sense, its correct to say that one can be a good person without God. History demonstrates this. Classical Western culture, which did not have divine revelation or formal religion, held up natural virtue as the highest goal. Confucianism lays out a sophisticated moral code without a supreme being.
That said, I think a strong case could be made that its both easier and more logical to live a truly moral life as a religious believer than as an unbeliever. If you ever find yourself challenged by an atheist with the good person argument, here are four reasons that might help your answer.
1. God Grounds the Good
What is the measure of morality? How do we know right from wrongand thus what it means to be a good person rather than a bad person?
Without God, or something like God that is both authoritative and transcendent, we can only point to societys definition or morality, or to our own personal code.
The problem with this? Societys definition of morality changes, and sometimes its obviously wrongthink of Nazi Germany or the slave-state South. And our own personal moral codes are even more fickle, variable, and subject to error. To say, Im a good person because Im living my personal moral code is dangerously close to saying, Im living the way I want to live. Is that morality?
Believers, on the other hand, have a standard outside themselves: authoritative and unchanging. God and his moral lawswhether positive laws (specific divine commandments) or the natural laws that originate with himare the best and most reasonable basis for determining what it means to be a good person in the first place.
2. An Eternal Perspective
I mentioned before how some non-theists argue that belief in the afterlife leads to neglect of this life, but I think they have it backwards. Because believers see eternal consequences for their actions (Matt. 21:35-46), it heightens the moral drama of this world immeasurably. Just on the face of it, without any further information, who would you expect to take his moral conduct more seriously:
The person who thinks his everlasting destinyand perhaps the destiny of othersdepends on his living an upright life not only in deed but in word and thought?
Or the person who thinks that his life will end with the death of his body; that there will be neither reward nor reckoning for how he lives it? And that whatever good (or evil) he does to others will be but a momentary gesture, bringing nothing more than a flicker of comfort or annoyance in an absurd and ultimately pointless existence?
Unbelievers can try to gin up some home-cooked earthly motivation for living a moral code, even though its benefits are entirely confined to this life. But the believers eternal perspective so powerfully raises the stakes for being a good person, and thus the motivation, that it must make it easier to accomplish.
3. True Humanism
This next reason is related to the last one. A big part of morality, especially for unbelievers (who are generally less concerned about the morality of actions that dont directly affect others), is doing good for our fellow man. Some would even say that unbelievers are nicer to other people on earth because they theyre not all preoccupied with pleasing an imaginary person in the sky.
But for an atheist, this humanistic impulse rests on pretty shaky ground. Why be nice, or good, or loving, or charitable, to other people? Whats so special about them?
Some will shrug their shoulders and say it doesnt matter. They just think we should. It feels right. Others will try to argue that charity towards others is actually in our self-interest: either because it eventually will rebound our way like karma, or because it just makes us feel good about ourselves.
But what about when it doesnt feel right? What if the other person is a jerk? What if being good to another clearly inconveniences us or even harms us? Why should we do it then? The unbeliever has no answer.
The believer does. Theism provides a foundation for authentic humanism. We are to love one another not only because God commands it, but because its justbecause God made those other people, and keeps them in being, and loves them, and thereby infuses them with their own value. How can the even boldest secular humanists in history compete with that glorious vision of mankind?
4. Got Grace
If theres a more universal constant in human experience than sin, I dont know what it is. Believers and unbelievers all know what its like to know what is right but to do the opposite anyway (Rom. 7:22-23).
To what do unbelievers appeal in this unhappy circumstance? All they have is themselveswhich is the problem in the first place. Yes, some extraordinary people are able to go quite far on natural virtue alone, but theyre an exception. The rest lie on analysts couches and crowd self-help seminars desperate for some natural key to improvement. Or they despair.
Even if there were no God, I think that even the idea of divine help is helpful. Believing that were not on our own, that with enough faith and practice and perseverance we can overcome sin, because we have access to spiritual energy outside of ourselves, can only aid us in our quest to be good people.
So even if belief in God were just a moral crutch, it would be a handy and effective crutch. But most theists think its more than a crutch. We believe that God not only sets out the moral law and tells us to obey, but gives us the power to obey itwhat we call actual grace. Were able to transcend merely natural virtue, go beyond all that we have to give by our own power, because God gives us his power.
That power perfects our natural virtue, making us better people than we could otherwise have hoped to be. Better still, it enkindles in us supernatural virtue, moving us from being good people to a moral state nonbelievers cannot attain: holiness.
I do not believe so personally.
My belief in Jesus and my belief that I will have to account for the contents of my life to Him is what keeps me on the straight and narrow.
Blacks are the most religious race, followed by Hispanics, then Whites and then Asians
Now what’s this about needing to Believe in God to be good?
Religious? Maybe if your god is government.
Some of the most moral people I know are atheists.
depends on what you mean by good
Men certainly can’t be good without God, Because men were conceived in iniquity and have the sin nature of their father Adam, the federal head of the human race, men can’t be good with God either. However, they can be forgiven. Men can cast their sin on the Son and stand in the courts of heaven and be found righteous, but it’s not because of any goodness or righteousness in them, it’s because His perfect righteousness has been imputed to their account.
“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one”
“Belief in Jesus” and trying to do good is not enough. Satan believes in Jesus. You must accept that Jesus is the one true son of God and that He is the ONLY way to get to heaven. “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
I think a person can but few choose to be.
I personally think Democrats want a godless electorate because a godless electorate doesn’t care about right and wrong and will accept obvious lies without caring.
You can be good, but you won’t fear being bad.
Mar 10:19 You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'"
Mar 10:20 And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth."
Mar 10:21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."
Mar 10:22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Mar 10:23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!"
Mar 10:24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!
Mar 10:25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."
Mar 10:26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, "Then who can be saved?"
Mar 10:27 Jesus looked at them and said, "With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God."
“n a certain sense, its correct to say that one can be a good person without God. “
Not according to Romans.
Fear of the Lord is the beginning of a man’s education. You wont pass go without it.
Being good but denying God is an exercise in futility. We believers celebrate Christmas because a gift was sent by God in the Saviour Jesus because His sacrifice gets us to heaven and not our so-called goodness.
Being good and being saved are two different things. Yes, people can be good apart from God, but not saved.
I’m sure they can be good, but they won’t be their best.
“”Some of the most moral people I know are atheists.””
Are your atheist friends pro-Obama (70 percent of atheists).
Are they also pro-abort? Pro-homosexual marriage? Pro-fornication? Pro-cursing? Anti-going to church? Anti-prayer?
It is impossible for atheists to be moral.
Of course you can be good without god, but you’re not going to be sin free and you’re not going to be saved.
But I believe there are certain circumstances where non-believers get the ultimate proof and ascend to heaven. I seem to recall a special latin name for it but can’t find it. Been a long time. I believe it’s reserved for those that have not heard the word of god and are righteous by their own conscious.
I think the question is phrased wrong — by saying ‘no’ you are opening up the possibility of humanity being worthless*, by saying ‘yes’ you are opening the way to a “I’m a good person”**.
The best way to approach the question is how Jesus did, He said:
“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”
This puts the focus on the goodness of God***, not on the goodness (or lack thereof) of mankind.
* — Humanity cannot be worthless because the living God deemed us to be worth His own life; this is irrespective of the impact of the fall upon man being made in God’s image***.
** — Romans 3:23 says “[...] all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God;”
*** — God’s image cannot but be good; it is debatable whether or not the fall destroyed or merely deformed that image which mankind bears, given that the murder of a man is a capital crime in the Noahic covenant there seems to be great evidence that it is the latter: “At the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man” (Genesis 9:5,6)
HOWEVER--my personal opinion is that, while there are times when this must be stressed, we are living in a time when it is stressed too much. The concept of Theonomic Positivism (ie, "there is nothing either right or wrong, but the arbitrary decree of G-d makes it so") is ultimately just true in its own way. In our G-dless age, when what little morality the secular world still holds to is brandished as a weapon against His authority, I think the world has heard too much of "natural law" and such things. I also think the author of the article makes G-d too much a utilitarian inspiration for good behavior than the Supreme Source of what is right and what is wrong.
And here we go again.
It is just this intrusion of the alien notion of "salvation" that has helped derail the idea of G-d's ultimate statutory authority. Everything is seen in light of "going to Heaven," whether goodness is necessary (as Catholics and Orthodox teach) or whether it is a "sign of salvation" (as many Protestants believe).
G-d could have created us as spirit beings in Heaven like the angels but chose not to. He could have not given us freewill but chose to do so. He could have not given us a list of commandments, but He chose to do so.
We were created by G-d in this world, not so much to "go to Heaven," but to transform it by keeping His Commandments on His Authority. When it comes to this, chrstianity hasn't been so conservative after all.
Please don't quote the "new testament" to "prove" anything to me. I do not accept it, and the very point of issue is whether it is from G-d (chas vechalilah!).
I take my soapbox out of the drawn, place it on the floor, stand on it and begin my speech.
Arguments like this are where secularist go astray because we do not challenge their assumptions correctly. They assume three things to be true which are actually false when they make a statement like this. Unfortunately many people that should know better at least partially believe the assumptions as well.
1.The first false assumption is that all religions are of equal value or are attempting to do the same thing
2. The second false assumption is that they believe the purpose of being religious is to make you a better person
3. The third false assumption is that they are assuming there is really such a thing as “good” or “moral” if there is no entity to define good or moral.
The first statement shows an utter lack of knowledge about the teachings and doctrines of various religions. The concept of “Nirvana” is a a good example of this in that it is a place where you achieve absolute nothingness; you know nothing, do nothing, experience nothing. That is a very different place conceptually from a Heaven. Indeed, Nirvana looks a lot more like a Christian Hell than a Christian Heaven. It is possible that all religion could be wrong, it is impossible that they can all be right. So saying you can be as good or moral as a religious person is meaning less if most religions are wrong or partially wrong
The second assumption is also easily seen to be false. Even in a religion like Buddhism which is the most works oriented religion you can find the object is not to do good deeds to make you a better person in the here and now but to be able to be re-incarnated into a higher form in the next life. Notice the good works are means to an end, not an end in and of themselves. To say I can do good, live morally without a Deity is beside the point because religious people are not being religious because it allows them to be better; often the reverse is true, religion helps us realize how bad they are.
The last area is a problematic one. If there is no God, there is no morality. About the best you can say is morality equals physics. For example gravity is everywhere. Its affects can be measured and predicted so it is WRONG to say I can float in the air rather walking down the stairs. But that type of universal or absolute is neither moral or immoral.
If there is no God then there is no reason other than expediency that we can say; Thou shalt not steal, kill, covet, forget your parents, work to hard, or behave unethically towards others but expediency is not the same as morality; even if doing these things can be shown to have what are widely considered to be deleterious affects upon society. This is why the left is dangerous. They place an artificial ideal above personal morality. It is OK to oppress one group to achieve the greater good. It is OK to lie cheat and steal to win an election because they’re ideology is superior and tells them they are moral people regardless of what the unenlightened would see as a crime.
Without an absolute arbiter of morality there is no should or should not but only can I get away with it. Without a moral code that comes from beyond our own experience there is no standard to measure goodness, right and wrong or righteousness. You can’t even be a subjectivist because you can have no valid scale to evaluate circumstances.
Here is what the secularist is really saying.
If all there is is what happens and there is no morality then all people are equally moral.
That is a world where Hitler, Mao, Ted Bundy and the gun wielding nut jobs at Columbine HS are just as moral as anyone else. That is the only way you can be moral in a world without moral absolutes
I put my soapbox back in the drawer and go back to work
So without God what exactly is a moral life?
Seriously, a male animal copulates with every female that will have him, is that immoral. No.
What about animals that kill each other (same species) for dominance or territory? No, that’s OK.
So, by and large, its flattering that atheists pick Christian morals, but what does that show you?
But you can't be good with God either as a fallen human.
Jesus said flat out, "there is none good but God." We do our best and humbly ask His forgiveness for where we fail.
Because He is good He forgives us.
Now can you do something good without God? Yes. But that is quite different then being good.
However, you can't be saved without Him ...
It all depends on what’s true objectively.
If God doesn’t exist, you can be good, but only in a relative or subjective sense so in this scenario goodness is only a figment of your imagination.
If God exists, then without God you can be good but only in an eartly sense. Ultimately, the source of all goodness will judge you to be not good.
it depends on who is defining what “good” is.
from God’s perspective, none of us in ourselves is good. the human heart is evil. we are naturally inclined to do bad. we don’t have to teach kids to be bad, we spend a huge amont of time teaching them to be good.
for atheists with no objective moral absolutes, ‘good’ is relative and subjective, so for them, self-definijg what good isto them, they would say yes.
Being “good” especially in one’s own eyes is the biggest barrier to having a relationship with God.
And that is that, after all, G-d really does exist. Derekh 'Eretz, Dina' deMalkhuta' Dina', learning from the animals, are all ultimately valid because of G-d. If (chas vechalilah) there were no G-d, none of these would have any validity or meaning whatsoever. So even with a natural, rational, or intuited morality, the ultimate authority remains G-d, so that both "independent morality" and Theonomic Positivism both are ultimately the same thing.
This is another reason I think we need to cut out the appeals to rational or instinctual morality at this time and remind the world that without the objective existence of G-d there is no morality of any kind . . . even the kind that "makes sense" to us.
Thanks, I’m going to stick with my belief system, it has worked in my life.
I don’t really believe that anyone knows exactly what anyone must do to go anywhere.
You might believe that you know, and you may well also be right, but what it is is a belief.
I submit that one can, indeed, be moral and ethical withoug God, but only if one lives in a society that got its moral and ethical composition from its Religious foundation. The Atheist has to have some entity or background on which to determine what is moral and ethical. Religion is the only source. Philosophy in a society without a JudaeoChristian or Buddhist basis may determine the ethos of the philosopher himself and influence some of his adherents but that is a tiny group and their actual practice will be modified for survival and comfort in society as it is. Socrates could drink the hemlock. His disciples did not. If there is no Universal Source for morality, there is not measure by which to determine what is moral and one believes that what one does that appears to benefit himself is morality.
Once you remove God, The definition of good becomes fluid.
Moral by Judeo-Christian standards?
Moral according to the perennial philosophy.
Apart from a transcendent God there can be no objective morality. Only personal preference and social convention - both of which can and do change with the wind.
Why can there not be an innate human understanding of morality—whether or not individuals also transgress or rationalize otherwise?
"Perennial philosophy" - what is that and what makes it objective?
Now you are back to God - if it's "innate" then its either of divine origion or just subjective desire which can and does differ from person to person. If it's just some form of Darwinian survival mechanism then it holds no authority once it is recognized as such.
Pick any church at random out of the phone book and you will find people whom regularly consider themselves members that fit your description to a T.
It’s in essence Huxley’s theory at there is a core of common ethical principles taught by virtually all religions, with the implication that they thus arise from something universal whether in Man or God.
Just, appropriately to this thread, playing Devil’s Advocate here with you.
But say it is of evolutionary cause. Innate in the way that other species have common, universal traits such that humans nearly universally recognize the same components of morality. If it leads to a persistent consensus of what is moral behavior, why would that necessarily be lacking in authority?
I see that as powerful evidence of a God, in which case this core is objective truth and a reflection of Divine law. If they are just an evolutionary survival mechanism then there is nothing objectively "good" or "bad" about them at all and I have no "moral" obligation to follow them to the extent they interfere with my enjoyment of my brief time in this world. Pragmatism is not an objective foundation for moralilty. Again, there can be no objective basis for ethics apart from a transcendent God.
But if all of society just innately ‘feels’ or ‘reasons’ that the same morals are good and right, why does there need to be some transcendent God decreeing it so—and why is such an external decree necessary?
Becasue if "everyone" "feels" this way it is either becasue a transcendent God put that feelilng there (which means consequences for disobedience) or it is merely an evolutionary survival characteristic. If it is merely an evolutionary social survival characteristic there would be no objective reason for any given individual to agree or feel bound that this feeling was "right" or "good". Why should anyone let others "feelings" interfere with maximizing their enjoyment of their very short life. If lying, stealing, killing and raping are what maximizes my enjoyment of life what would make that "wrong" regardless of how others "feel"? The big fish eat the little fish. It is what it is - whatever is, is right. Certainly "reason" can't lead to ethics because there are often very logical, rational reasons to do what others don't like in order to achieve your goals. If there is no God there there are only two laws:
1. Do as thou wilt; and
2. Avoid negitive consequences (ie. don't get caught)
But if 1) individuals internally sense the same right and wrong, 2) society altogether agrees to same, and 3) laws reinforced the same right and wrong that’s pretty overwhelming. Arguably, the first circumstance is by definition the strongest basis for people to believe what’s right—that is, they innately believe such, so don’t need any outside authority.
That is different from how you try to twist it to be that individuals experience such belief as an arbitrary choice. That is not how most people experience right and wrong—and it is also not how Huxley’s theory explains it.
That must be correct but it avoids accountability.