Tired Christian claim #2: without God, morality is impossible.

Most of you are probably familiar with this argument. It’s inevitable that at some point in the conversation, a genuinely confused Christian may ask you how you can have a definitive moral system without the benefit of a higher power telling you what is right and wrong. As far as many Christians are concerned, the denial of God also means the denial of an absolute system of ethics.

I can understand their confusion. They have been led to believe the Bible is the absolute authority when it comes to ethical behavior, and our society is the product of Christian teachings and values. However, unbeknownst to them, western society has been influenced more by contemporary philosophers and thinkers than theologians. The reason is simple: as a moral treatise, the Bible is far too inconsistent, cruel, and incomplete to serve our needs. What are we supposed to do with the Book of Numbers, which says:

Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. Numbers 31:15-18

You don’t exactly see a lot of foreign policy being dictated by Biblical scholars, do you. Or how about this passage on how to properly raise your child from Deuteronomy:

If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him . . . and all the men of his city shall stone him with stones that he die. Deut. 21:18-21

I’m not trying to suggest all parts of the Bible are vicious or incompatible with how we live our lives today. The ‘Golden Rule’ of treating others how you would like to be treated is something all human beings can agree on. It’s also why this rule appears in many other religious texts which predate the New Testament. The idea that people should live peacefully and love thy neighbor is not a new concept, and it certainly isn’t limited to Christianity.

The Golden Rule, however, does not necessitate the existence of a God in order for it to work. It’s a rule that deals only with how human beings interact with one another, and there is no need to invite a supernatural element to it. Treat me kindly and I’ll do the same; that’s it.

In fact, you’ll find our entire society is built on the premise that human beings have a responsibility to act in the best interest of their fellow man. When you harm, steal, or kill someone else, you will be punished by people, not by a sky God. For a long time we have realized the only way to have an orderly society is by taking matters in our own hands. We’re not waiting for God to punish the guilty. We handle that ourselves.

All laws are man-made. They are designed by humans, for humans. When drafting any new law, we look at the impact it will have on people; not how a mysterious sky God will react. Long ago, before there was any real orderly structure of society, religion was one of the few ways to keep people lawful. But because clergymen are above reproach, abuses were inevitable (can you say Inquisition?). Western society only became modern when we wrestled these responsibilities away from individuals who could not be held accountable, or who claimed divine providence.

I would rather place my trust in other human beings than in a God who answers to no one. If ‘He’ decreed all Canaanites must die, there isn’t a lot of room for debate, and that in itself is fairly frightening. Christians may wonder how we can be moral without God, but I ask you this: how can you be moral when you can’t even understand how he operates (don’t you always say he works in mysterious ways)? Let me put this another way for anyone who claims the Bible is the infallible word of God: since you obviously pick and choose what you think God wants you to do (see above quotes), how can you be sure you picked the right rules to follow?

I’d rather trust in the inherent goodness of people than some tome of highly dubious origins. Why should we entrust our morality to a book that was written during a time when genocide, war, murder, and slavery wasn’t a big deal?

Comments (8)

  • avatar

    Bob

    I like to use the bible as an example of how humans can be moral without God.
    Since there is no god, it’s safe to say that humans wrote the bible, the book that Christians base all there moral teachings on. Since humans wrote the book on morality, then they don’t need to believe in God to be moral.

  • avatar

    truth finder

    Some visitors to this site might be skeptical about Christianity or might have left Christianity due to some reasons. In response to your quest for the truth, here I post an article on “why I keep Christianity”. If you as a believer or nonbeliever feel abandoned, disappointed, angry, burdened, weary, guilty and afraid, you are missing the most important point of a truly fulfilled life. You were born for much better than who you are now. You were born for a butterfly instead of a caterpillar which you may live now. You are missing the full potential as a true free human being created and loved by God. “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28)”, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32)”. As I have read most your articles from the beginning to the end with patience, I hope you would also have enough patience to read mine to the end to be a fair deal. Although I have not taken any formal courses on theology, my personal experiences with God would be helpful for you to understand some key aspects of true Christianity. As you will see soon after reading my article, true Christianity is not about keeping man-made rules, rituals and traditions out of duty or out of fear of punishment. Christianity is also not about seeking peace, comfort and happiness through wishful thinking. Christianity is all about a loving relationship with the Creator of the universe and our very souls, experiencing explosive joy, thanks and freedom here and for eternity.

    I became a Christian in my late twenties during my graduate study in theoretical physics. Before then I was an atheist and believed in myself. To set a stage for the whole story, let me start my story by discussing a fundamental difference between human beings and animals. I think the difference between them is more than just higher intelligence. Human beings ask self-awareness questions such as “Who am I? Where am I from and where am I going? What is the meaning of my life?” I do not think animals ask these kinds of questions to themselves. If you think that they do and that we just do not know it, that is your belief. If you think human beings and animals are about the same except higher intelligence, it is your belief. But my belief is that there is a fundamental difference between them. As science and technology advance further, future supercomputers could solve problems much faster and efficiently than the smartest person in the world and their IQ (Intelligent Quotient) could reach 1000 or 10000. No matter how intelligent those supercomputers could be, still they will not be able to ask themselves “Who am I (computer)? Where am I (computer) from and where am I (computer) going? What is the meaning of my (computer’s) life?” Self-awareness and intelligence are quite different matters. What makes this self-awareness that human beings have but animals do not? I believe that human beings have a soul while animals do not. Where did it come from? I believe that it is from God, because apparently it is not from materialistic things. Since a soul is a spirit, there is no way to prove or disprove its existence by a scientific way for which everybody agrees. You may argue that a soul appears by random chance or does not even exist in the first place. Just like I cannot prove its existence beyond several pieces of circumstantial evidence by a scientific way, you cannot also disprove its existence by the same way. If you think it does not exist, it is not a fact but your belief. But my belief is that there is a fundamental difference between human beings and animals because the former have a soul but the latter do not, and that the soul is from God.

    Because a soul, God and heaven are all spiritual matters, it appears impossible to know and experience the spiritual world by the same way as we do for materialistic things such as science. In science we do the appropriate experiments to prove or disprove a proposed theory or hypothesis. But because the spiritual matters do not exist in the materialistic world, they can be known and experienced in ways other than scientific ones. As just one of many examples in our everyday life, think about the unconditional love of a mother for her child. How would you know or measure her unconditional love for her child before observing or experiencing its effects yourself? By studying the structure of her heart or of her neurons in the brain? I do not think you can do it this way. Although we cannot detect or measure its presence by scientific ways, we are sure there exists that kind of special love in a mother. The list goes on such as honesty, hope and integrity. Science has done a lots of things for human beings, but there are still some areas we cannot understand and approach by scientific ways because they do not exist in the materialistic world. Due to its nature, the presence of the spiritual world can be known by its effects or its fruits, or in other words by interactions with other beings. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the spirit (John 3:8)”.

    Then can we know how the spiritual world works? Many people try to understand and approach it by speculation. They theorize, conjecture and guess it. They think that God should be the way they want it or do things the way they want it. On one hand, some group of people create their own Genie whom they worship and fear according to their man-made rules, rituals and traditions. On the other hand, other group of people are disappointed with their Genie because their Genie does not answer their prayers the way they want it. But there is an alternative to speculation about the knowledge of the spiritual world. Revelation through the Bible. I believe the Bible is God’s words written by the hands of people who were inspired by God. Because it was written and transcribed by human hands over many years, there could be some mistakes in words and phrases. But the core message, who God really is and what he has done such as the salvation of human beings from sin through faith in the Messiah, remains the same. If you think the every word of the Bible is a fabrication by human beings for controlling other human beings, this is again your belief. I advise you to visit http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/authenticity.html for more objective information about the Bible. Since the true characters of a being are revealed only through interactions with other beings, in the old testament God chose a particular group of people (Israel) as an object lesson to show the whole world who he really is. Through the relationship of God with the people of Israel, we come to know and understand the true characters of God, which could be quite different from your Genie whom you might have created by speculation. God is the creator of the universe including our souls, unconditionally loves human beings created in his image, at the same time he is also just and righteous. But the loving relationship between the creator and creatures was broken by our sin of disobeying God and following the evil suggestions of Satan. As a result sin entered into the hearts of human beings and we were separated from the love of God, because God and sin are completely incompatible. But God still desired to have a relationship with human beings so he devised an animal sacrifice where the blood of animals (without defect) was shed to pay the penalty of our sins in our behalf. Since God is just and righteous, the consequence of sins must be paid for complete forgiveness. Here is an easy example to understand the justice and righteousness of God.

    Suppose a thief stole a billon dollars from a bank, spent all of them, and later was caught. Is it just and right for the judge to release the thief if he confesses his crime with sincere remorse? No, then the justice would not be exercised the way it should be. The appropriate consequence for his sin must be paid by the thief or somebody else, and that is the justice everybody agrees. The animal sacrifice devised by God reveals the characters of God, both his righteousness (The consequence of our sins must be paid) and his love (The consequence of our sins is paid by animals instead of us who committed the sins). In spite of God’s continuous forgiveness of their sins through the animal sacrifice, God’s people (Israel) again returned to the sin and rebellion after a short moment of remorse, revealing the persistent nature of sin in human beings. Temporarily restored relationship through the animal sacrifice lead again to their separation from the love of God. After the great fall human beings could not get out of the bondage of sins on their own in spite of their desire and effort. Despite the original intention of God (“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”: Matthew 19:26), the people of Israel continued trying to keep all the rules and rituals on their own in order to prove their righteousness before God. As I mentioned before, the old testament is a shadow of what would be fulfilled in the future by the Messiah for the whole human beings. If you have read the Bible, you may remember that there were numerous prophesies about the coming Messiah (Jesus Christ). Because some of them are so obvious even to Jews who still deny Jesus is the Messiah, they just skip reading those sections of the old testament such as Isaiah 53. Eventually the (incomplete) animal sacrifice in the old testament was replaced by the sacrificial death of Jesus to pay the penalty of all our sins once and for all. When we accept Jesus Christ into our heart as our Savior and Lord, we are completely liberated from the bondage of sin once and for all by the help of God (not on our own) because God comes into our heart to reside as the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32)”.

    There are two important features in our salvation from sin. First, it is a gift of God for all human beings. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)”. Our God of love and compassion is just like a loving mother jumps into the water to save her drowning child regardless of the fact that the child is obedient or disobedient to her. Her loving heart for the child is far from the petty conditional love (If you will obey me, then I will save and love you. Otherwise I will not save you). This unconditional love is possible because she shed her own blood with pain when delivering the child. The love of a mother for her child is just a shadow of the love of God for all human beings. Second, it is obtained by faith, not by works. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9)”. Our salvation from sin is so precious that even selling all our possessions to give them to the poor would not be enough to earn it, although this is a good thing to do. This is what the people of Israel had done to earn righteousness by trying to literally and legalistically observe all the rules and rituals to be perfect before God. It is impossible to attain the high standard of righteousness by our own works (Matthew 19:26) so God provided for us another way of salvation, salvation by faith in Jesus Christ who fulfilled the whole righteousness on our behalf. Because salvation comes from faith in Jesus Christ who died to pay the penalty of our sins in our place, we are 100% sure of our eternity in heaven, free from the fear of our uncertain eternal future. So we do not really fear about
    death, because it is just one time horizon in our eternal loving relationship with God. The salvation by faith may not be the way you expected from your common sense (by speculation), but this is the way according to the revelation of God. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death (Proverbs 16:25)”. Then you may ask what is the point for good works. We do good works out of thanks for the grace we have received from our God, namely, the gift of the fulfilled life here and the eternal life in heaven which we do not deserve. Now you can see the difference. We do good works out of thanks to God, but not to compensate for our sins in order to earn salvation.

    Have you ever experienced the joy of freedom from the bondage of sin with the help of the words of God? I will give you just three examples. First, on one occasion I arrived at a free pornographic site while surfing on the internet. Seeing a few dozens of free pornographic images was very enticing because it was free and nobody was watching me. There was nothing to lose. Seeing them or not was just my finger tip away. Then I was reminded of two verses in Psalm (119:9,11). “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you”. With the words of God I resisted the temptation successfully. What a joy of freedom from the bondage of my sinful desires of self-indulgent lust! The joy and freedom was hundred times greater than my temporary pleasure of seeing the images. Have you ever experienced this kind of joy and freedom? If not, you are missing your full potential as a true “free” human being. With the words of God now I am 100% free from this kind of temptation whether in secret or in public. Second, on another occasion on the way to my work I passed a beggar asking for money. Although I already passed him a while ago, God’s words kept telling me inside my heart “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36)”. I could not resist God’s words asking me for compassion on the beggar I had passed. I had nothing but to return to the station where the beggar worked and give him a few dollars together with handshakes. What a joy of freedom from the bondage of my sinful desires of selfishness! Third, yet on another occasion one of my colleagues started to spew several insulting remarks on me during the lunch time. Considering the circumstance and context, it was obvious that they were intentionally directed toward me. I was tempted to get revenge on him by finding faulting with his weaknesses which could be as humiliating to him as possible. Then I was reminded of the words of Jesus “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also (Matthew 5:39); Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44)” What a joy of freedom from the bondage of my sinful desires of hatred and getting even!

    Overwhelmed by the mighty love and grace of God, I am 100% satisfied with and thankful for everything, absolutely everything. I even thank God for the cancer I struggled with recently. Because of the disease, I learned to love and trust my God more, learned to be more thankful for everything, learned to have more compassion for other people, learned to resist better the temptation of lust and selfishness! Overwhelmed by the unconditional love of God, my joy, thanks and freedom have exploded like a volcano everyday. Why do I leave Christianity? Why do I abandon my God who has made me what a true human being is meant to be? If some of you may argue that all my wonderful experiences are just from wishful thinking and self-motivation, you are free to think whatever you want. Although you might have left God due to some unpleasant reasons, you can come back to him anytime. We live in a free and democratic society. Nobody in your current community should not criticize or condemn your decision to return to the love of God again. God always loves you no matter who you are now or no matter what you have done, just like a loving mother who does not hesitate to jump into the water to save her drowning children.

    Some of you might be skeptical about Christianity because some Christians are hypocrite, selfish, arrogant and ungraceful. I became a Christian because of the love of Jesus Christ for me, not because of good behaviors of other Christians. I admit there are some believers who tear down people around them instead of building up out of immaturity. Please do not be distracted by their behaviors although it may not be so easy to you. I do admit that our spiritual forefathers did many cruel things to humanity in the name of God through such as the Crusades and the Inquisition, indicating the danger of institutionalized beliefs. They were in stark contrast to the unconditional love of Jesus for all human beings. On behalf of our spiritual forefathers I sincerely apologize to all humanity. Many of you including even some Christians might suffer from negative psychology. Students study hard to learn new things, not for fear of dropping out of the school. We eat food to stay health, not for fear of starving to death. We do some Christian activities (worship, fellowship, prayer and Bible study) to enjoy here and for eternity what our God of love is offering us (joy, thanks, freedom and so on). We do not and should not do them for fear of something. Some Christian leaders may use the fear of hell or punishment to get their messages across to others more effectively, but this is not a healthy approach and is absolutely wrong! Fear is the opposite of love which is all about the whole message of Christianity. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment (1 John 4:18)”. If you feel hurt or offended by them, I am sorry and truly apologize you on their behalf. Many of you may see the salvation with the eyes of negative psychology. Because we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), the entire human beings were doomed to the eternal separation from God and that was our destiny in the first place. But through our faith in Jesus Christ we were rescued by God from the eternal condemnation. On the other hand, the negative psychology says that we were doomed to the eternal separation because of not believing in Jesus. Now you can see the difference. The eternal condemnation was caused by our sinful nature, not by our rejection of Jesus as the Savior and Lord. We do not need to be a slave to constant negativism for advances in our knowledge of everything. If you have left Christianity, it is not based on a fact but on your own belief.

    If you are skeptical about Christianity due to some unpleasant reasons, I kindly ask you to come close to God to enjoy his unconditional love and grace. If you do not come close to your Creator, you could end up being the older son in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32, who kept grumbling and complaining due to some petty reasons without enjoying the true love of God. About a few years ago I was going through difficult times and about to leave Christianity because God did not answer my earnest prayer for more than 10 years. My anger and bitterness kept building up to the point that I shouted to my God, “You are only interested in bringing me into your family. After then you do not take care of me any more!”, “In contrast to your promise that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope (Romans 5:3-4), I am getting more angry, disappointed and sour toward you instead of getting closer to you as a result of the current trial!”, “Those who are far less qualified than me get a better job and faster promotion. Surely this world is not fair!”. Although I went to the church every Sunday and read the Bible regularly, I did not really come close to God in order to know and meet him personally. I myself was the older son in the parable of the prodigal son. I kindly ask you to come close to God to know and experience how good and gracious our God is.

    I admit that I still do not understand several things about God and the Bible such as the literal interpretation of the first few chapters in Genesis and some bloody scenes in the old testament. How can I, a tiny creature, understand every detail of what the Creator of the universe has been doing? God has no obligation to tell his creature every detail of his world. God is not my personal Genie. Of course we should avoid this kind of rigid attitude: “Because A said B, B must be the absolute truth. Period. Do not ask any question”. By the way, have you ever heard about the cosmological constant problem in physics and astronomy? According to the most recent observation of the universe, the expansion of the universe is accelerating contrary to our perception. The universe does not show any sign of slowing down of expansion, but instead expands indefinitely. To be consistent with this observation, the Einstein’s field equation should include the cosmological constant of the order of 10^(-120) in reduced Planck unit. However, the calculated value with the best theory available now is of order of unity in the same unit, in other words, 10^(120) larger than the observed value! This is the greatest disaster in the history of physics which has been known and praised as accurate science. As a former theoretical physicist, I do not want to easily give up the best theories physicist have developed so far. I believe that there would be still some things we do not understand, with a hope that someday we may be able to put all pieces together to get the complete picture. If you are considering leaving or have left Christianity for similar reasons with some unanswered questions, I kindly advise you to exercise more patience instead of giving it up easily. In spite of our efforts to know all the answers, there could be still some unanswered questions about God and the Bible. How can mere creatures demand the Creator to explain every detail of his world? How can we declare there is no God, simply because we do not have a full understanding of his world? How can an ant claim that there is no internet, simply because it does not make sense to him or it is not logical to him? Let us not jump to a conclusion in haste!

    In summary, Christianity is not about keeping man-made rules, rituals and traditions out of duty or out of fear of punishment. Christianity is also not about seeking peace, comfort and happiness through wishful thinking. Christianity is all about a loving relationship with the Creator of the universe and our very souls, experiencing explosive joy, thanks and freedom here and for eternity. Thank you very much for reading my long article.

  • avatar

    Roxanne

    Let me just start by saying, you didn’t really say anything new. And yes I read the whole thing.

    I’d like to reply to just a few items if I may.

    “Although I have not taken any formal courses on theology, my personal experiences with God would be helpful for you to understand some key aspects of true Christianity.”

    From Wikipedia: Solipsism is an epistemological or ontological position that knowledge of anything outside the mind is unjustified.

    Your personal experiences are invalid arguments.

    “Just like I cannot prove its existence beyond several pieces of circumstantial evidence by a scientific way, you cannot also disprove its existence by the same way.”

    Same goes for God, the soul, the supernatural… etc… The small bits of historical and archeological evidence that supports ideas that biblical stories might be true doesn’t prove the bible as a whole is true. Just because the bible mentions the Red Sea and the Red Sea is a real place doesn’t mean the bible is true.

    “We do good works out of thanks to God, but not to compensate for our sins in order to earn salvation.”

    Atheists do good works as well and not for the selfish reason of earning a good place in the afterlife.

    “First, on one occasion I arrived at a free pornographic site while surfing on the internet.”

    Why couldn’t you post that link?!?

    “If not, you are missing your full potential as a true “free” human being.”

    The best night of my life was the night I declared my atheism. I never felt freer (is that a word) in my whole life!

    “Second, on another occasion on the way to my work I passed a beggar asking for money.”

    I give money to homeless people all the time. And I don’t have to be halfway home before deciding to go all the way back to give them a few cents or a dollar.

    “Third, yet on another occasion one of my colleagues started to spew several insulting remarks on me during the lunch time.”

    I have to ask what it is you did that would make a co-worker feel the need to insult you. I have very rarely had occasions where a co-worker and I had arguments. And I usually use the advice or criticisms of co-workers or managers to try and better myself rather than just ignore them. Plus, I would have spoken up rather than appear weak. You are allowed to respond without actually fighting.

    “I even thank God for the cancer I struggled with recently. ”

    Did you thank the Doctors and Nurses for going to school for years and studying science that healed you?

    “If you feel hurt or offended by them, I am sorry and truly apologize you on their behalf.”

    Thanks for that at least.

  • avatar

    edac

    Totally appreciating this new series of blogs, Jacob. Word up.

  • avatar

    Ron

    truth finder..a tad long and your sermonizing is tedious. I’m afraid that you have visited the wrong spot to gain converts to your mythology. Heard it all before.

  • avatar

    Martin Fallon

    “Truth Finder” is a troll. I read the same ‘copy-paste’ article on some other site. Perhaps he wants to hypnotize us into ‘believing’, or just bore us to tears…

  • avatar

    gsunurse

    I suppose the only thing i find confusing about morality without the existence of a God ( though i don’t believe in the kind that comes to most peoples mind at the mention of this term) is that it seems counter to the existence of most everything else. Life evolved over millions and millions of years by ensuring its own survival, not the survival of a community (although, there is strength in numbers so a community can be maintained for self survival purposes). It seems that morality however, runs against this grain sometimes. An old man who is not my relative is drowning in a pool, why do i feel a need to help him? My genes are not at stake, if anything his passing only strengthens the collective gene pool. Theres not much in it for me, in fact rescuing him puts my survival and my genes at risk. why then do i still feel a need to intervene? Where has this drive come from?

    Additionally, mutually beneficial altruism has other holes. What is mutually beneficial between two parties, or even two communities is not always considered “right”. its Without some sort of external standard to which morality can be compared to, its nothing more than a sliding scale for those involved.

    I have no problem with an ingrained morality from an external force of some sort, yes it can be corrupted but never the less we all believe we should do what is right and not what is wrong, whatever those mean. Forgive my long winded response. Hope this was thought provoking

  • avatar

    Matthew Graybosch

    I tell believers who play the “no morality without God” card that, “If morality is impossible without God, then why haven’t I violated your rights to live in peace by beating the everloving shit out of you?”

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