We all want to believe that we were made for something more than the mundane of every day life. Some people have skeptically claimed that’s why ancient man “created” religion. It was a way to break up the boredom and to give people something beyond this world to which they could look for fulfillment and peace. They could dream of a place called “paradise” where there were no more tears, you were with your loved ones and evil was vanquished forever. Each person could make heaven whatever they wanted as long as they saw it as “perfect”.
Modern advancements have done away with almost everything that ancient religions could offer and in some ways have done it much better. Medical sciences offer medicines that bring healing- physically, emotionally and mentally. It also allows us to understand the complexities of the world and the universe in ways that go beyond mythology and fairy tales. Social networking allows us to be in communities with one another in ways that many churches cannot compete with. And there are enough organizations and non-profits that people can be involved with where you do not need religion to justify it. There are organizations all over the country that promote that you can be “good without God”.
What if what we have called “faith” all of these years is nothing more than a chemical imbalance in our brain and a strong desire to see purpose in this world? Scientists are trying to discover a “God” chemical that can be manipulated to create a euphoric feeling many experience during powerful religious experiences. And, we all know people that have claimed “no faith” that are living happy, successful lives. How would our lives really be that much different if we found out tomorrow that God and religion were a hoax?
Does your brain hurt yet? Good.
So, let’s address this head on then. Can we be good without God? If you are a person of faith then chances are pretty good that you have doubted your faith at some point. You might have been confronted with ideas such as the ones I described above and didn’t know what to think. You maybe even have lost faith only to come back to it at a later time in your life. Or, maybe you haven’t come back yet and don’t have plans to come back. Wherever you find yourself my prayer is that these next few paragraphs will encourage and challenge you.
“Good” is a word we throw around that could mean several different things. One thing it could mean is something that is pleasing to us personally. It is subjective- meaning that what I might consider “good” you might not. It could be as simple as “Meat lovers pizza is good” and you would say it’s “bad”. There is not necessarily a moral component to it but rather just a personal preference for one thing over another.
“Good” could also mean a particular behavior that we deem acceptable. This could be anything from being polite to being selfless. The moral component is still subjective and personal because it is based on our preferences. Some parents might see their child being argumentative as a good thing- they know how to challenge authority. Of course this is probably not a parent of a teenager! There are other (more rational) parents who see compliance and respect for authority as a good behavior to develop.
We know from history that people have thought their evil was justified by the “good” outcomes that they hoped to attain. The idea of “the ends justifies the means” is not limited to people that would typically be classified as evil. People of both religious faith and non-religious faith have done great evil in order to advance the world in a way in which they saw as “good”. The most recent example of this was the bombing in Norway.
“Good”, in order to mean anything for our morality, must be based in something that is not subjective such as our experiences, preferences or culture. If all we have to define “good” by is our limited world view then it really has no meaning and we might as well not even worry about it. We might think something is “good” now but in a few years we decide that it is no longer “good”. The “thing” hasn’t changed but rather it was our definition and outlook that changed. And, knowing my own heart- this is not a good basis for anyone to define good or to define morality!
“Good” then has to be based on something outside of ourselves. It has to be something absolute- something that doesn’t change from time to time, person to person or culture to culture. I believe that this absolute good can be found in the character and Person of God. He is the standard by which we define “good” and “evil”. Yes, I’m prepared for the ones who will claim that people’s interpretations of different “gods” throughout history have lead to terrible events. But, we must separate people’s interpretations from God Himself and this is not easy to do.
I always find it interesting the conclusions people come to about me based on the writings on this website. It would be unwise of someone to think they “know” me based on the limited glimpses into my heart and mind that are published here. You can get impressions of me that are correct- I like to discuss serious topics, my wife and I have some pretty messed up pasts but we are in a great place currently and we have a pretty good marriage. But, these impressions are not “me”. The only way to know me is by spending time with me.
We can get impressions of God through many different ways- our experiences, people we know, books and articles. However, I believe that God is fully revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. There are many reasons for me to believe this that I will cover another time. However, it would be unwise of me to say that I know God based solely on what other people have told me or on what others have experienced. I must personally spend time seeking God in a real and personal relationship and learning to know Him.
Can we be good without God? I think if the only thing we have to define “good” as is subjective then sure we can be good without God. We make up the definition and decide when we’ve met the standard. It would be like me saying “I will be wealthy when I have $10,000 in my checking account”. I have given a definition of wealth that is based on my view of it.
It’s when we are around someone that has $100,000 in their checking account that we start doubting our defintion of “wealth”. But, then if we meet someone with a $1,000,000 in their checking account then we no longer think that we or the person with a $100,000 is wealthy. This is how it is in relation to God. He is absolute goodness. Until we compare ourselves with Him then we will never understand what “good” really is and just how far short we fall of it everyday.
What do you think? Can we be good without God?