Friday, November 14, 2008

Good for Goodness' Sake

Earlier this week, a friend of mine, who more or less espouses this view, alerted me to this ad campaign.

The thought of it does weird things to my stomach. It kind of awakens my inner reactionary and makes me want to stamp up and down on a poster while wearing stilettos and rant or something. This would probably not go very well, partly because I never wear heels and a first attempt at stilettos while trying to destroy something would likely end up destroying me more quickly than the poster. Also I don't think reactionary reactions are usually very effective.

Having said that, I've got to say I agree with Wildmon on this one. I just don't see where the basis of goodness comes from without a God. We have sort of discussed this here before. Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, while coming from the mouth of Jesus, might work as a basic manifesto for all people with or without a belief in God. But I've discovered that, just because I love to be given books for my birthday, not everybody does, so if I literally did unto others as I would have them do unto me, some people might not consider I had given them a good birthday present. On a larger scale, somebody might say that assisted suicide is good because it prevents suffering, and I might say it's bad because it short-circuits personal development and denies God's sovereignty over that life.

Although I think there are really solid reasons for believing in the Christian God, for the sake of argument let's say I could be wrong. Or the assisted-suicide-advocate could be wrong. Or somebody that believes in a totally different kind of God could be wrong. But we can't all be right about what good is. And without a God, who decides? I suspect even atheists have different ideas about what constitutes "good" in any given scenario. So do Christians, if it comes to that. But atheists, as far as I can tell, don't have any external basis for deciding what goodness is; it's entirely arbitrary. Christians may not always get our goodness right, but at least we have a basis for it. I think, frankly, that an atheist's basis is the same one--it's just not acknowledged.

On the other hand, I do think there's a reason to "be good for goodness' sake," particularly for Christians. We have a God who loves, who didn't want robots, who doesn't add up points for us to get into His good graces. He wants to relate to us, and He wants our goodness to come out of relating to His goodness--He is goodness. I'd rather be good for His sake than because Santa Claus was coming to town . . .


T5M said...

I just had this conversation with an unsaved family member. It's so funny how plain this truth is to those of us who have had the veil lifted. As I explained it, she just didn't get it. She kept coming back to "why would a child molester get to go to heaven just because they have a conversion to Christianity in jail and I won't go to heaven, even though I am a good person and try to do the right thing"

I tried to explain that her definition of being "good" is not God's definition, but she wasn't with me. Ray Comfort has a great website for folks like her, if you're not familiar with it, he basically brings folks through the 10 commandments and shows them that they may not be as good as they think they are because they've broken all of God's rules. His principle is that in order to show people that they are in need of a Savior, they'll be more receptive to hearing about Christ.

Anyway, I just linked to your blog from Marty's blog...

Jeff said...

I'm absolutely with you. I've discovered that I have to be careful about how I share this argument though.
I'm not 100% clear on why I've often been misheard. But for whatever reason, whenever I say
"You don't have a reason to be good." What people often here is that I'm saying that they aren't good.
I actually think that the moral behavior of agnostic/atheists on the one hand and the moral behavior of Christians on the other hand is roughly equal. I don't think we Christians should be proud of this. But I think it's true. I try to emphasize this to angostics and atheists:
I admit that I'm making a pretty harsh accusation. But I'm not accusing them of being immoral. I'm accusing them of being inconsistent.
It's sometimes been terribly amusing for me, to watch the mental gymnastics that devout atheists engage in when justifying their own good actions.

Jenn said...

t5m--welcome! thanks for the website suggestion. I don't think I feel the need to argue whether people ARE moral or not--I just find it baffling that people who don't believe in God think they have a reason to be.

Which is, I realise, not a very gentle way to put it, but I can't think of one right now.

However . . .

Jeff--yes! Thank you for making that distinction. Because I think that is often what people hear, even though that's not what I'm saying. It's the inconsistency that confuses me--and yes, that sometimes makes me chuckle.

Matt @ The Church of No People said...

Amen. I just heard about that ad campaign as well. Every time I get to talking about atheist morals, that is always my argument. Why? What's the point of being good? Shouldn't complete hedonism be the greatest good?

Jenn said...

Matt--you would think. I actually do know a person or two who espouse that view. But even they have trouble being consistent about it.

T5M said...

I just realized that I should've proofread before publishing my comment. Yikes.

Having been on that side of the argument longer than on this side, I am very sensitive to the atheist/agnostic perspective. (I was an atheist who married a buddhist) - fortunately we both came to know Christ 5 years ago.

I fully believe that when I speak about Christianity to my unsaved family members they don't truly hear me. It's the most bizarre phenomenon. I can say “I love gay people” and they’ll insist that I think gay people are subhuman. It boggles my mind. They think I’ve been brainwashed.

revjas said...

Wow, Jenn! You are getting to be quite the philosopher and theologian! I just spent about an hour catching up on my reading of your posts for the last two weeks, and they are excellent and profound! Insightful and articulate -- witty and wise! Thanks for thinking, feeling, praying, writing!

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