psychologist supporting patient during counseling indoors

Do You Need God to Be Good?

Dur­ing my time as a Chris­t­ian, it was­n’t uncom­mon to come across the argu­ment that God must be real because apart from God as a tran­scen­dent and absolute source of moral truth, the only alter­na­tive is nihilism — noth­ing tru­ly mat­ters because all will fade away to death and entropy. Var­i­ous apol­o­gists I was famil­iar with con­sid­ered this argu­ment of moral­i­ty to be the best argu­ment for God’s exis­tence. And… fair enough.

But what does that imply?

Would Chris­tians who believed that argu­ment become mur­der­ous rapists in the absence of their belief in God?

Well, no. At least I did­n’t, and I bought into that argu­ment pret­ty thor­ough­ly for a good chunk of my Chris­t­ian days.

Morals and “good­ness” will always be some­thing that is argued over. We tend to allow those things to be defined by what suits soci­ety best, which of course can have unfor­tu­nate con­se­quences — at one point, after all, slav­ery suit­ed soci­ety well enough to con­tin­ue for sev­er­al generations.

His­to­ry will always judge our moral­i­ty, and as well they should, but it falls to every gen­er­a­tion to fig­ure out what works best for them. Yes, that means moral­i­ty is sub­jec­tive, which I get is an uncom­fort­able thought if you find solace in the moral absolutes of the Bible.

Yet… Were bib­li­cal morals absolute? One has to won­der, in light of things like Matthew 5:38 – 39, in which Jesus quotes the Old Tes­ta­ment “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” and then advo­cates for instead turn­ing the oth­er cheek. Is that not a moral­i­ty chang­ing? The “absolute” of the law’s “eye for an eye” changed by a sub­jec­tive “but I say to you…”?

And how often have the morals of the church­es changed over time? Indeed, how vary­ing are they among the church­es that exist today, among the Amish, the Bap­tists, the Catholics, the Luther­ans, the so many others.

One could also con­sid­er the stan­dards for good­ness that Jesus set forth in the last sev­er­al vers­es of Matthew 25, that of pro­vid­ing for the needs of those who need it most.

It does­n’t take a schol­ar to notice the abun­dance of church­es in Amer­i­ca and the con­se­quent­ly inex­plic­a­ble num­bers of unhoused, mal­nour­ished, or oth­er­wise des­ti­tute peo­ple exist­ing con­cur­rent­ly to them.

If we were to take the Bible seri­ous­ly, none of us are good — and the num­ber of prob­lems so many peo­ple across the whole world face would seem to track with that! — but I think one of the cor­ner­stones of good­ness ought to be tak­ing care of, stand­ing up for, and oth­er­wise sup­port­ing those who need it.

The refugees who feel unsafe in their homeland.

The sick who face a new, lit­tle under­stood disease.

The trans­gen­der teenagers strug­gling with the most basic ques­tion of their identity.

The Black peo­ple who know that “to serve and pro­tect” comes with an asterisk.

And so many others.

I do not believe that we need God to be good to our fel­low humans.

How­ev­er, I will nev­er stop believ­ing that those who call them­selves by God’s name have an unprece­dent­ed amount of col­lec­tive pow­er to rad­i­cal­ly trans­form this world for good. The amount of mon­ey and pow­er church­es wield could solve so many of the world’s prob­lems. That those prob­lems con­tin­ue to exist despite the holy cof­fers, despite Matthew 25, means that even with God, the “good” seems illusive.

Decades ago, over a meal with Dad, he told me that there was a time he recalled where he was in a pub­lic space and saw an old­er lady fall down, but he did­n’t help. He called that a sin. I did­n’t appre­ci­ate that at the time. In fact, I argued against it — after all, there was no stat­ed law in the Bible about help­ing those who fall down, and sin is trans­gres­sion of the law. “It may have been a sin against her, but it was­n’t against God,” I said.

How lit­tle did I under­stand Jesus’ instruc­tions back then.

“Such as I have give I thee…” said Peter, hav­ing no mon­ey to give, but help­ing nonethe­less (Acts 3:6). Jesus framed “sin” and what peo­ple will be judged for by how they treat others.

How often do we dri­ve by the beg­gar, avert­ing our gaze?

How many peo­ple die alone in hos­pi­tals and nurs­ing homes?

How many peo­ple sleep on our streets? How often do we turn a blind eye when politi­cians and busi­ness­es are aggres­sive to the unhoused, remov­ing bench­es or spik­ing flat areas so that there is no place for them to sleep?

And you can scale this up: How much do we turn a blind eye when cor­po­ra­tions and politi­cians mis­man­age our envi­ron­ment, which will inevitably lead to more droughts, more food short­ages, more suf­fer­ing, more war?

Believe in God. Or don’t. But suf­fer­ing is all around us. It does­n’t have to be.

Go, and sin no more.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Use your Gravatar-enabled email address while commenting to automatically enhance your comment with some of Gravatar's open profile data.

Comments must be made in accordance with the comment policy. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam; learn how your comment data is processed.

You may use Markdown to format your comments; additionally, these HTML tags and attributes may be used: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

A Salted Faith
%d bloggers like this: