Yet, in many of these conversations that I have had, atheists tell me that you don't need God to be a good person. Often, right after those statements, they will point to themselves as an example of this being true. They just happen to be led by science and logic. That doesn't make them a bad person, but it does give them freedom from what they claim is the false god in the sky.
Then they will go on and use examples from the Bible or the actions from those who claim Christ as examples of why religion is evil, unjust or immoral. They will bring up slavery in the Old Testament as an unjust treatment of people or the Israelites slaughter of the Canaanite peoples in the conquest of the promise land as immoral. They will talk of failings of Christians who have cheated on their wives, stolen from others, and lied just as much as any non-believer for the justification of their position...that they are just as good as anyone who follows a god.
And while these are definitely problematic...there is a deeper misunderstanding that the atheist is missing.
Whenever I press an atheist concerning four areas of logical inconsistency that most atheists or agnostics believe (Creation from nothing, order from disorder, life from non-life and morality from an amoral source), the response I receive in return is: I am not making a positive truth claim therefore the onus is on the one who is.
However, if that is the truth, to what is the atheist comparing the immorality of God or his followers? What standard is he/she appealing to, if indeed, the atheist is making no positive truth claim? How do they have any authority to debunk a truth claim being made?
In the area of morality, the atheists I've encountered fall back to the "science" of morality. The idea of "doing no harm" to another person becomes the measuring stick. But what is "harm"?
Richard Dawkins recently tweeted that he believed it would be immoral for a mother of a child with down syndrome (or I assume any major birth defect) to keep the child rather than abort the child. His conclusion was based upon the amount of perceived suffering and happiness that would be taken away if the child was born. But how was that suffering and happiness measured? And at what point was the value of life deemed not worth having according to these measurements?
Many atheists affirm the inherit right of a homosexual lifestyle because "it does no harm". But is this true? Lifespans of lifelong homosexuals are between 8-30 yrs less (depending on the study) than that of the normal population. While this is scientifically proven through many studies, how does this not constitute as "harm"?
Dawkins and others like him have also been advancing the dangerous narrative that raising a child in a religious household is akin to child abuse and brainwashing, proclaiming it by the mere allegation...evil and immoral. By what diametric has he come to this conclusion? Did he separate the moral implications of each separate worldview by which the different religions would define their morality or did he just lump them all together because his non-belief in any god makes any god seem immoral no matter the morality they promote?
And do all atheists agree with the three situations mentioned above...not even close. Some are horrified by the comments of Dawkins and their fellow atheists in some or all of the areas mentioned. Some have accepted the logical consequences of their belief...that there is no imminent morality binding to all people, if there is no god. Still others believe that science will hold the ultimate answer to this moral dilemma, a kind of "science of the gaps", if you will.
But within the "scientific" answer of measuring "harm" comes the great justification for any and every behavior. The scientific answer to morality and doing no harm to others has to take into account the physical, emotional, social and psychological measurements. Whenever a desired behavior causes "harm" within one parameter, one can simply jump to another vaguely defined metric in another parameter for justification. (Such as the case of homosexuality physically causing "harm"...to the emotional, social and psychological "harm" it causes by suppressing such behavior and claiming that the latter outweighs the former.)
Abortion becomes a choice, not of the life and death of a child, but the well-being of a mother, both financially and emotionally. Life, because it lacks a clear definition of when it begins, in an atheist point of view, is not conferred upon the child, so the only life that is considered is that of the mother. Do you see what happens there? The emphasis of well being is transferred from child to mother to justify the willful loss of life, while maintaining the moral high ground.
The same can be said for any morally questionable activity one wishes to justify.
This is how President Obama can declare in 2008 that "marriage" should be solely defined as between a man and a woman. Then later, in 2012, announce that his view concerning "marriage" has evolved and yet hold himself to be morally right in both statements, even though they are contradictory to one another.
(While the examples listed above have been chosen because they are the moral issues of our day, a brief look at history under atheistic regimes can also find the rational and scientific justification for the slaughter or oppression of those of a differing race, religion, disability or dissenting viewpoint, while maintaining the moral high ground that such action was necessary and right.)
This is why arguing with an atheist concerning morality is seemingly stacked in the favor of the atheist. As a Christian, I have a fixed point of reference for what right and wrong is as defined by God. And it is at this point that an atheist pounces on. Of course, the Scriptures declare that we all fall short of the standard of God (Rom. 3:23), so anyone looking at our imperfect lives has plenty of ammunition to show that we don't live up to what we believe. An atheist, on the other hand, simply uses this information to declare themselves as "moral" as Christians, while using the example of our failings to justify disbelief in God and set up their own morality...which unlike followers of Christ...has the uncanny ability to evolve and remain correct, even when, over time, they have believed in contradictory things.
|Image courtesy of Stuart Miles|
Which brings us back to the problematic question: Why do many atheists go to such great pains to prove that they are just as good as believers when, over time, their standards continue to change?
I believe that the answer is simple. They are human and they are fallen. As a fallen human being, the one thing that we cannot stand is for someone to tell us that we are not good, especially when we are trying so hard to be good. For the atheist, they have equated being moral with being good and assume that being as good as anyone else is good enough.
And while I agree that any atheist can be as good as any Christian, my view about myself isn't that I am good...but just the opposite, according to God, I am evil. I am in rebellion. I am a slave to sin.
It isn't that I cannot do good things in this terrible state, I can. Jesus speaking to people about Himself and the goodness of God said the following:
What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! (Luke 11:11-13, emphasis mine)
However, as stated by Jesus, just because I can do good things doesn't make me good or moral. I am in a wretched state of need. And while I am capable of doing good things, I am also capable of unspeakable atrocities. These evil acts begin with my rebellion to the law of God and only find deliverance through Jesus Christ, not in my righteous acts.
Paul puts this conflict felt by the Christian and atheist in context:
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
(Romans 7:21-8:8, emphasis mine)
The ultimate difference between the morality of the Christian and the atheist isn't the amount of good things that a person can do. Rather it is the recognition that the only One who is good is God (Mark 10:18). It is admitting that we have fallen short of God's standard and are in desperate need of a Savior. It is choosing God's righteousness found in the person of Jesus Christ, over our own, and trusting Him more than we trust ourselves.
Because the atheist cannot or will not do this, his standards will always be changing to suit his individual fancy or the changing whims of society, forever giving himself the moral high ground. This ironically, in the eyes of God, makes the moral atheist a myth.