Daily Archives: October 22, 2010
A few days back, I promised that I would discuss the answer to a question that has been raging in the atheist-theist dialogue for a long time. It stirs up controversy wherever it goes. The question: Can atheists be moral without God?
The short answer: NO, absolutely, unequivocally, not. It is impossible to be moral without God.
I had best get to the long answer before I get flamed by my atheist readership, which actually amounts to 99% (if not 100%) of my overall readership. First, I must explain an important, and oft overlooked, distinction that will bring this entire question into focus: the difference between ethics and morals.
When he was learning the art of the psychological autopsy, NCIS’s Ducky was asked by Mr. Palmer to explain the difference between ethics and morals. Ducky said something akin to “The ethical man knows he shouldn’t cheat on his wife, while the moral man would not.” In other words, ethics govern solely the behavior of an individual, where morals begin with the heart and proceed out, modifying the behavior as a result.
It is quite possible for a man to watch rape porn, read erotica featuring rape or non-consensual scenes, constantly fantasize about raping women, and even request that his consensual partners fight him, beg him to stop, and cry real tears during sex. He literally views women as objects that exist solely for his enjoyment. What holds this individual back from actually raping a woman is the threat of jail time, the looming possibility of having to register as a sex offender, and the associated shame and loss of status all of that would bring.
This person actually quite ethical. He doesn’t act on his impulses. He obeys the law. By all outward appearances, he’s a fine, upstanding citizen. But his hidden dark side poses a problem with calling him “moral.”
Ethics are solely concerned with behavior. A person can be ethical and even appear to bear the good fruit associated with the Kingdom of God, but essentially be a “whitewashed tomb full of dead man’s bones.” If you take care to wash only the parts that people can see, while continuing to live a robust life of mental evils, are you really moral?
If my neighbor, the guy with the really hot wife, the awesome job that I could never get in a million years, who paid off his house because he’s a millionaire in his twenties, and owns three fancy sports cars suddenly got divorced, fired from his awesome job, and totaled two of the three sports cars (in one day), how should I react to that?
Externally, if I offered a shoulder to cry on anytime he needed one and offered to help him financially if he needed to pay some debts or bills (no millionaire is completely without debt), and tried to help him get a job; would I still be good if in my mind I kept thinking silently, “I’m so happy! I want to see this S.O.B. fall further into despair. I’m going to nickname him ‘Job.’ May he total the other sports car, too!”
I’m thinking, “NO.”
That example is perfectly within our fallen natures. It isn’t that we can’t do good. We, in our fallen nature, can’t will good. We may do some (relative) good, but privately, we still entertain impure (or even evil) thoughts. Our behavior conforms to the good, but our minds do not.
Contrast this with a Christian, who is a Christian in both word and deed. I hate to say a “true” Christian, so let’s say a “sincere” Christian. Once his faith has been placed in Christ, a transformation occurs. He is a new creation. His inward thoughts are taken captive, to conform even those to Christ. Our carnal minds, after all, aren’t subject to God’s law (nor indeed can be).
Ethics are external. Those are what people see. However, morals work from the inside out. Instead of just doing good, we are good. That’s a far cry from simply acting ethical. Instead of not stealing thousands of dollars from the bank at which I work, the capability of that theft is no longer in my person. That, in a nutshell, is what it means to be conformed to Christ.
That, however, isn’t something that just happens the day of my altar call. It is part of sanctification, which is a life-long process where I work with God to conform both my actions and my thoughts to Christ’s example.
This is hard. But no one ever said Christianity was supposed to be easy.
Somehow, I started receiving a newsletter titled “Godthoughts Wired.” The e-mails act as though I had subscribed to it, but it is being sent to one of the side addresses that I don’t use for that purpose. So, I think that a spider crawling my expansive network of sites found it and subscribed me. I thought that the newsletter might be interesting, so I fished it out of my spam folder and decided to give it look.
The issue sent for October 21 raised an eyebrow. A lot of people in the religious right are going to great lengths to besmirch President Obama. It’s occasionally comical. I want to go on record first: I voted for Obama. I believed that he would do more to lead this nation out of its financial crisis than McCain would have. I’m still waiting. At this point, I’m probably not going to vote for re-election. The problem is that the Republicans seldom put up a candidate worth voting for. I’m usually trying to decide between the lesser of the two evils. But in this case, I really believed what Obama was saying. I really thought that he’d be the leader who pulled us out of this economic sinkhole. And, I looked forward to laughing at my fellow churchgoers who doubted that he could do that, all of whom were proudly displaying “McCain/Palin” yard signs and bumper stickers that they got from our church.
I just want everyone to understand this background. I was pro-Obama, and now I’m not so sure. He really hasn’t fulfilled his campaign promises. Go after him on those grounds. But what the Godthoughts Wired e-mail did was a bit different.
In 2009 a London reporter asked Barak Obama the following question, “Could I ask whether you subscribe, as many of your predecessors have, to the school of ‘American Exceptionalism’ that sees America as uniquely qualified to lead the world?”
Obama answered, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”
Okay, Obama is being a politician and giving a political answer that isn’t really an answer. That’s typical. I hate it. I wish that more reporters would call politicians out on this crap, but that’s another article entirely. Godthoughts continued:
Hmmm…Any honest assessment of the history of the founding of the United States of America reveals that America was a country that once honored Christianity and the God of the Bible more than any country in the history of the earth. Thereby, the institutions of this nation rested upon the foundation of the Christian faith.
While I agree, despite numerous claims to the contrary, that the United States was founded on Christian principles (not necessarily as a safe haven solely for Christians, but as a place that allowed a free choice of religious worship–there’s a difference!), I’m not so sure I really see where this e-mail is going. Obama never denied American Exceptionalism. He just said that he figures (rightly) that other nations feel that they are also uniquely qualified to lead the world.
Because my bet here is that they are going to equate a denial of American Exceptionalism with a denial of Christianity. The letter concludes with these words from Pastor Brad (whoever that is):
To reject “American exceptionalism” is to reject the God who made America the most “exceptional” nation in the history of the world.
Yep, there it is. So, Obama’s words are twisted to mean that he denies American Exceptionalism, and that is twisted into a denial of Christianity.
There is plenty that you can attack Obama for. Why manufacture something that just isn’t there? And what is the purpose of trying to prove that he isn’t a Christian? Or that he isn’t an American citizen?
End of rant. And I’ll be unsubscribing from that newsletter.
As the title suggests, I really didn’t think I’d get this show up in time. All I had was a rant on the 2010 Consensus Statement on Morality as of yesterday evening. Normally, I have more done than that, since I work on podcasts a little at a time throughout the week. So, during the course of Thursday afternoon, I managed to answer two of the six questions that I had on the docket despite having my kids with me. I finished up the remainder of the questions and did the promised rebuttals to Doug Crews after everyone went to bed.
Unfortunately, the answers that I offered to some of the questions are superficial and I didn’t provide background links to supplemental material that would help the listener understand better. I promised at the end of this show to get more motivated in answering the comments, so I will do that–because my answers are probably going to be pretty open to rebuttal from skeptics. I’ll be more ready in the comments to answer.