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?