While I was driving from Sacramento to the Bay Area, I saw a huge billboard that read, “Are you good without God? Millions Are.” I also noticed a theistic tagger added the words, “Also Lost?” at the end of the message. I think the original question meant something like, “Do you feel comfortable without a belief in God? Millions feel the same way.” Kind of like if you offer someone a drink, and they say, “No, thanks. I’m good.”
Can’t People be Good Without God?
But that got me thinking, “Can’t people be good without God?” I mean, couldn’t an atheist do some really good things without God? I guess if we mean “doing the right thing while not believing in God,” then sure. An atheist could do the right thing. For example, they could honestly report their income to the government, be faithful their spouse and so forth. And why not? But maybe the better question is, “Why?” Why even care about being moral?
Why Do the Right Thing?
Think about it like this: If God’s not real, there’s no moral law giver and no such things as objective moral commands. If that’s true, then why not say, “I’ll do the right thing when it makes me feel good or gives me an advantage, and I’ll do the wrong thing when it makes me feel good or gives me an advantage.” Or why not say, “I hereby declare from this day forward that it’s always right to steal.”
If there’s no God and no objective moral standard, there’s no moral difference between abusing someone or taking care of them. Basically, good and evil are reduced to preference. All you could say is, “I don’t like terrorism,” or “I’m not into slavery.” “Human trafficking isn’t my thing.” But who can really live like this? Some things are really wrong. For example, we all know by intuition that it’s better to give a little girl a loving hug than to hurt her for no reason.
Right, Wrong, and the Moral Law
Imagine my 6-year-old asked you who wrote this blog post. It’d be dumb to say “No one. And if you think I’m wrong, don’t forget I can read better than you!” The existence of this post implies an author. And it really doesn’t matter if you can read this post better than a kid. Here’s the point: Moral commands imply a moral lawgiver. They are a form of communication from one mind to another. And it doesn’t matter if a certain atheist happens to do more good deeds than a certain Christian.
So maybe people really can’t be good without God after all. I mean, if there’s no God, there’s no standard of goodness. On top of that, when we compare ourselves to God’s standard, it turns out no one is good—no one’s lived up to the standard. That’s what Jesus said in Mark 10:18. Keep in mind that niceness isn’t goodness. Don’t you think the Neo-Nazi moms bake cookies for their kids or hand out cupcakes at their birthday parties? Sure they do. Jesus also said it’s no big deal if we’re nice to the people we like (Matt. 5:46-47). How do we treat everyone else?
So I guess the real answer to the question, “Are you good without God?” is “No. None of us are.” That’s why we need forgiveness. That’s why we need God. Millions and millions do.
This was adapted from my recent guest post on Christiana Szymanski’s blog, In Defense of Christian Faith.