good without god.

[more on my recent podcast interview]

Part of our discussion on Wednesday touched upon morality.  At one point, I ended up talking about where I find a basis for morality, since I no longer believe in a divine moral lawgiver.  I’ll readily admit that I’m not a philosopher, so talking about objective vs. subjective morality not an easy discussion for me to have. (part of me thinks believers get off a little too easy when it comes to answering these kinds of complex questions, because they can just say “God.” and be done with their answer.)

I ended up talking about the ethic of reciprocity, and how most ethical systems can be boiled down to this principle of doing good to others, because you would like to have good done for you.  I don’t think my answer was too radical of a concept, but then our conversation drifted into implications of individual selfishness and reciprocity.  (ugh)

Well, I wish I could have steered the talk of morality in a different direction.  I wish I could have brought up Psalm 14:1, and asked them about what they thought of the verse.  Psalm 14:1 reads:

The fool says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
there is no one who does good.

Now here’s a verse most atheists will recognize, because it’s one usually hurled in our direction. It’s the last part of the verse I would have wanted to talk about — the notion that the godless are corrupt, full of vile deeds, and up to no good. There aren’t many Christians out there who would admit to agreeing with the last half of the verse — but I know many people who still hold onto the idea that god is a necessary prerequisite to being good. But is it true?

Not according to evidence.

Part of my reading prep for the interview involved me reading the peer-reviewed article “Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions” by Phil Zuckerman. This article compared different societies’ levels of religiosity to their levels of violent crime, happiness and well-being indexes, health care services, standards of economic equality, education, and several other categories.  The result?

… societies with higher percentages of secular people are actually more healthy, humane, and happy than those with higher percentages of religious people.

The author was sure to point out that the amount of secularity doesn’t necessarily cause these positive factors in society, but being irreligious does not seem to be a hinderance to having a good and happy life.

I guess this brings me back to another point I wish I could have pressed the two Christians on — why do I need to be a Christian?  If evidence shows societies to function just fine (if not better) without religion, why do I need to be religious?  If I can find meaning and significance in the natural world around me, why do I need to add a supernatural belief on top of it?  If I can be good without god, why do I need Christian faith?

Still waiting for the answers to these questions.

5 thoughts on “good without god.”

  1. The thing that gets me actually, is that so often it isn’t that some Christians are arguing that you have to believe in G-d to be a moral person, but rather that you have to be a Christian. A belief in G-d isn’t enough in their eyes.

    Now I can only speak (type actually) from a Jewish perspective, but Jews often quote Hillel the Elder who lived just before the time of Jesus. A famous story goes that a non-Jew asked Hillel to sum up the Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel got up on one foot and said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go study the commentary.” Sound familiar? At the heart of it, the “do unto others” stuff is part of many of the major religions.

    The fact that so many religions can hold this same belief, a belief that has nothing to do with worshiping or even believing in G-d, and comes from different regions of the world, tells me that this morality, this essence of how we should live our lives, is a human truth.

    What drives me crazy is that so many believers in G-d, fail to follow Hillel (or Jesus’) advice.

  2. I’m eager to hear this podcast, Becky. I’m confident you did very well!

    This ‘dialogue’ stuff is most interesting. I just finished listening to a multi-part documentary on Charles Taylor (via CBC Ideas), and I’ve now put his “A Secular Age” on my reading list.

    Also, I like the new blog layout!


  3. Heather, you know how much I love hearing you talk about Judaism. Thanks for the Hillel quote! Speaking of which, I still have your Buddhist/Jewish book to get back to you. Let’s make a coffee date, and that’ll push me to finish it up to give back to you.

    Robin, thanks for stopping by. 🙂 I’ll have to check out that CBC Ideas/Charles Taylor podcast. Did you hear the Ideas episode they did a couple months ago about nonbelievers? It had Chris Hedges on it (a guy I can hardly stand). Hi to J & A for me.

  4. The reason we need Jesus has nothing to do w/ us. You see, that’s where it all falls apart. God doesn’t exist for us, we exist for God. He made us to be in relationship w/ Him. He is about relationship. AND I’d take it a step further. God wasn’t enough for Jesus either…He had 12, a small group. Then, He also had 2 with whom He really pressed into relationship.

    In addition, the reason that you are “good” without God is that you’re really NOT without God because the Bible says He knit you together in your mother’s womb. He calls you fearfully and wonderfully made. Before your body was even formed, He knew you. He knew you then and He knows you today. He knows you better than you know yourself AND that’s why you’re “good” without God. You’re not without God at all. You still have God in you and that’s the only reason you can still be “good”. He breathed life into you and no matter how far you run, you can never outrun God.

    Oh, one more thing, I’ve thought a lot about your attempt to commit blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and I’ve talked w/ the Holy Spirit about it too and guess what? You didn’t actually commit blasphemy. You see, it’s like murder. I can’t commit murder by saying, “I commit murder.” I have to DO something and you’re incapable of doing what it is you have to do in order to commit blasphemy because blasphemy is about giving Satan credit for the Holy Spirit’s power and since you don’t believe he exists either, you can’t commit blasphemy. See how it works? So…your attempts at mocking God are futile. He’s not threatened by your mocking…not even a little.

  5. Becky,

    I did hear that show with Hedges. I don’t recall too much of what he said. That atheists can be as strident as religious folk is nothing new, however.

    There was another program (it might have been IDEAS, but I think it was actually the Sunday Edition) where Michael Enright had a group of philosophers (he does this occassionally) discussing secularism. And the point that I found most interesting was the concept that secular doesn’t mean completely devoid of religion, but a specifically negotiated public sphere where there is religious restraint and tolerance. That might be have been obvious to most folk, but for me it was an interesting way to frame the discussion. I think Charles Taylor discusses this in his book A Secular Age – since he is explaining the origins of our ‘secular age’ (in Western Civilization) and the role of Christianity as a cause of that development.

    Anyway, it’s interesting stuff.

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