I sometimes ask myself why I listen to radio programming that irritates me. I’m a glutton for punishment, I suppose, because I do it every day.
The other day I heard a man on a religious program say that if God doesn’t exist then acting morally makes no sense. The absence of God removes all solid grounding for the moral life.
I respectfully disagree.
Most religious people and secularists agree that forgiveness, generosity and mercy are good things. A fundamentalist Christian would probably go further and say that these things are good only because they’re attributes of God. Because man is made in God’s image these things are good for man, too.
For the fundamentalist, goodness and the will of God are inseparable. God wills that man should be like him – merciful, generous and forgiving.
Even liberal Christians often profess that their moral behavior is based on their belief that God has created the universe to conform to a certain moral order, so faith is never completely out of the equation for the Christian. On the other hand, from a logical perspective, goodness and the will of God must be two different things. It just happens that, from the Christian perspective, they coincide.
Morality is a characteristic of interpersonal relationships, and people can be moral without consciously conforming to the will of God. The cowering submission of the slave, who fears only divine judgment and doesn’t desire goodness on its own accord, is not pleasing to God.
Sacrificing one’s life for another is an inherently good thing. The fundamentalist claims that doing so makes no sense unless God exists, but why should that be the case?
Isn’t self-sacrifice good because it demonstrates that man can act nobly and generously, even when it flies in the face of his own well being? And wouldn’t it make sense for a man to choose this good rather than the bad of selfishness?
Isn’t forgiveness good because it unshackles another person from the psychological pain of guilt?
Perhaps the secularist must draw surreptitiously on Judeo-Christian values to establish what he defines as good, namely respecting the rights and dignity of all people. On the other hand, human life and the tremendous excellence of which it is capable seems foundation enough to anchor moral behavior.
Of course, God as creator is the source of that capacity. That’s the connection that those who don’t believe in God miss, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be moral people.
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal