In a post that’s sure to get me into trouble with someone, I’d like to explore morality and how it is different for the Christian and the atheist.

Of course, there are others religions out there, but I can’t contrast and compare them all in one little blog post. Since I am a Christian, it is easier for me to compare Christianity with atheism. But if you do have a faith, I suspect you will find yourself agreeing with my comparison, substituting your faith for Christianity.

What I am not saying

I am not saying that a Christian is inherently more moral than an atheist. Nor am I saying that an atheist cannot be moral.

What I am saying

My premise is this: when a Christian acts in a moral manner, he acts in accordance with his stated beliefs. When an atheist acts in a moral manner, he is (in some ways) acting contrary to his beliefs — or at least what he should believe. Likewise, when a Christian acts immorally, he does so against his beliefs. An atheist acts in accordance with what he believes when he acts immorally. (If that last statement angered you, stay with me while I explain.)

The Definitions

I define a Christian as someone who believes the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as inspired by God and has put his trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. He believes that God has created everything we see, and there is a spiritual reality that we cannot see. The Christian believes God has provided humankind with divine laws that should be obeyed, and that God will judge the world based on those laws.

I define atheist as someone who does not believe there is a God. As a result, he believes that everything we see, including human beings, is an accident of time and chance in a random universe. There is no meaning in his universe. Only what we can see and touch is real. In the atheist world, a man uses his reason to determine what is right and wrong. There is no ultimate judge — other than his own conscience.

The parameters

I am going to choose (not at random) two precepts to which I think we should all be able to agree.

The first is that murder is wrong.

The second is that we should help those less fortunate than ourselves.

Of course, there are many aspects of morality on which we can debate, but I assume that these two precepts are pretty universally followed by both the Christian and the atheist.

Murder

When I say that we all believe murder is wrong, this isn’t quite true. There are indeed people who murder. But for most of us, murder is wrong.

Murder can come in many guises. It can come in a moment of anger or hatred in which the murderer kills his victim without premeditation, or it can come from a reasoned calculation. If the murderer believes that killing another human being will get him what he wants, whether it be more money, the girl, or respect, then he kills. Whatever the motive, this is murder.

The Christian believes that all mankind (the ladies too — obviously) are made in the image of God. This image is sacred. God has created us all, and he is the being who decides what is right and wrong for us. He has decreed that murder is wrong. So, for a Christian, murder is breaking God’s law and extinguishing a created being against the creator’s will. When the Christian refrains from murder, he acts in accordance with his beliefs.

The atheist, too, may refrain from murder, but I submit that he has less justification for his doing so. The atheist decides for himself what is moral and what is not as best he can, but he has a problem. From the atheist point of view, we are all accidents. No one created us. We owe nothing to a creator, because that creator doesn’t exist. The atheist may love his parents, but he is not obligated to do so. His parents are just accidents, and he is another accident. His parents desire to propagate and have a child was (in the atheist view) nothing but a biological imperative over which they had no control. The care they gave him was commanded only by their genes, because “love” isn’t really love, it’s how the genes see to it that the young survive instead of being eaten by their parents. The atheist may love them and be thankful for the care that brought him to adulthood, but he has no overriding reason for his thanks. If he is thankless, so what? How could that be wrong? He is just an accident.

That is the atheist conundrum. If we’re all accidents, what is immoral about killing an accident?

An atheist may say, “I think murder is wrong,” and I’m sure he does. But why is it wrong? If I can get what I want by killing another human being, why not? From the atheist point of view, killing another human being should be a kind of survival of the fittest. In fact, that statement coincides more closely with secular thought: survival of the fittest is how we got here. Why stop now? Why shouldn’t the “more fit” kill the “less fit?”

(Again, let me say this: I’m not saying atheists believe this. I’m saying they should believe this. Either we are accidents of survival of the fittest or we’re not.)

The atheist may say that the laws of the state forbid murder, and he doesn’t want to go to jail, but why should the state decide what is moral? Because the state may have been voted into power by the majority? Why should the majority decide what is moral? At one point, not so long ago, the majority considered slavery to be moral, and it was perfectly legal. Did that make it right? And do we refrain from murder only because we’re afraid of getting caught? What if we are clever and certain (rightly or wrongly) that we won’t get caught? And if the state decides in the future that certain people can be killed, will that make it right?

If the atheist says, “Well, I need to refrain from murder so someone doesn’t murder me,” then haven’t we just entered the precincts of religion? Jesus said, “Do unto others as you want them to do unto you.” Of course, the atheist can decide that this command from Jesus is a good one and commit to live by it, but if another man decides that Jesus was a religious crackpot, how can the atheist argue? If one man decides that murder can get him what he wants, he can shoot you dead in the street and take your money and credit cards. How can an atheist say this is wrong? If it’s wrong for someone to do this, why is it wrong?

Now, the immoral man can ignore the Christian when he says: “This is against the law of God,” but the Christian really has a reason for morality that the atheist does not have. The Christian believes that God will judge the world. The immoral man can scoff at this, but it is at least a reason. What does the atheist say to the immoral man? “I think you are immoral?” Why should he care what the atheist says? Why should a moral atheist be in a position to judge an immoral man?

Charity

In 2006, Arthur C. Brooks published a book titled Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism. In it, he said that conservatives donate more to charity than liberals, and religious conservatives the most. In fact, as I remember from reading the book, Mr. Brooks stated that religious liberals give more than secular conservatives! His statistics showed charitable giving in this order: religions conservatives, religious liberals, secular conservatives, and (dead last) secular liberals. The dichotomy wasn’t really conservative/liberal, it was religious/secular.

Since Mr. Brooks book came out, the internet has supported a cottage industry from secular and liberal blogs and papers explaining why this isn’t really true. Conservatives tend to be religious, the reasoning goes. They are giving to their churches for building upkeep and the like. They aren’t really being charitable at all!

I’m sure this secular apologetic makes liberals everywhere feel better. However, if you are an atheist reading this, let me commend your hardiness for reading so far. And let me challenge you: during the pandemic, my church has been purchasing food and giving it to those in need who lost their jobs. Do you belong to a group that is doing that?

But it’s not really my point in this blog post to argue if Mr. Brooks is correct or not. Rather, I find it interesting that liberals are stung by his assertion. Why do they consider charitable generosity a virtue? Think about it. Why don’t they believe in survival of the fittest? Remember, an atheist has come to the conclusion that life is an accident, and we’re all accidents. If someone is poor, could it be this poor person is simply less fit? Why don’t secular people just let him die “and decrease the surplus population?” (A quote from Dickens’ fictional Ebenezer Scrooge, of course.) Why should we help the less fortunate? Is it fear that we might be the less fortunate some day? Or is it true compassion?

Actually, I believe compassion does play a part in this for an atheist. We are “all part of the main.” (A quote from John Donne.) We all belong. But the atheist really is acting against secular reasoning when he shows charity. He should let the fit survive and the less fit struggle along as best they can. If he donates to charity to keep the help the more unfortunate, isn’t he helping someone who, at some level, is simply less fit? Why does he do it?

My point is this: when a Christian provides help for the needy, he does based upon his beliefs. From the Old Testament through the New Testament, financial help to the poor has been the norm. (And even more than financial help. In an earlier post, I explained how about 30 members of my church showed up at my daughter’s house one Saturday morning to help her in her need.) For the Christian, every human being carries the stamp of his creator, and that stamp means we must show compassion, mercy, and charity to even the lowest among us.

When an atheist contributes to charity, he is acting apart from his own beliefs. Why not permit survival of the fittest to continue?

What I think is going on

I’m sure I’ve ticked a couple of atheists off at this point (and maybe a couple of liberals at the same time.) That was not my intention. My intention was to have you think about morality. Why are we moral?

This is what I think as a Christian: all morality comes from God. The atheist may deny God exists, but there is still an underlying imprint of the image of God on him, and there are moral laws that come with that image whether the atheist acknowledges its provenance or not. This is the real reason that the Christian and atheist can agree on much of morality. Because for sure, survival of the fittest gives us no reason to be charitable or refrain from murder if murder will get us what we want.

As a Christian, I have known God’s merciful kindness in my life since the age of twelve. He has interrupted my life, sometimes in supernatural ways you would not believe. I believe the fact that we are moral beings is a gift from God even for those who don’t believe in God. Because, truly, there is no reason for morality without God. It is a sign that there is indeed a God.

But there is a morality on which the atheist and Christian will simply not agree. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart and soul and mind. This is the lifeblood of a Christian. The atheist will not be able to love God.

But that is something that any atheist can change by asking the Almighty for forgiveness and mercy through his son, Jesus Christ.

That is a choice we all have.

11 thoughts on “Christianity, Atheism, and Morality

  1. It’s always curious when a Christian decides they know how an atheist “should” believe.
    What you have written and yep, you have tried lie and claim that Christians are more moral than everyone else, is the common attempt by a Christian who needs to pretend that atheists must be nihilists so you can create your strawman.

    Happily, most atheists are not nihilists. We have as many reasons to be moral and we have many sources of morality. They are subjective and that is fine with me since that means they can improve, not be the morals of an ignorant tribal people from thousands of years ago.

    There is no “should” for how someone who has concluded that there are no god or gods acts. We don’t’ need your gods for our morals.

    Christians try to claim that their morals are objective and come from their god. That Christians cannot agree on what morals their god wants shows that there is no objective morality that underlies Christianity. Each Christian certainly wants their version to the “right” one, but they have no more evidence than their fellows.

    Atheists are not as you try to define them for your strawman. We don’t believe that the universe is an “accident”, implying randomness that we do not see. This universe is built on order, and the laws of physics can be as “eternal” as your god. There is plenty of meaning for atheists in the universe and we supply it ourselves, not needing any magical beings to do so. Yep, there is no “ultimate judge” like most, if not every religion, claims there is, with no evidence to support such claims. A pity that theists can’t show which of their gods are the right ones.

    Most of us do believe murder is wrong. We get that idea from far older times than the bible nonsense. The idea of personal control and personal ownership is from Sumeria and likely far older than that. Ideas about murder, theft, etc are what make civilizations work. No god needed. Why is murder wrong? Well, I don’t want it to happen to me, so I have empathy and self-interest to guide me.

    Your “submission” is just based on your lies about atheists. Christians repeatedly tell me that their god has the “right” to kill whomever it pleases since it created us. I find that no more than slavery, and a very Christian excuse for why their god is such a vicious character. We do know that parents do care for their young for biological reasons, no god needed again. And no, most atheists aren’t “thankless”, that is just you needing to demonize atheists to convince yourself you are better than they are.

    You *are* trying to say that atheists should believe your nonsense. We don’t, so again your opinion is no more than an attempt to denigrate atheists in order to ignore that we are just as good as you are.

    You also lie about charity. You conveniently ignore that Christians give to themselves, and that counts in the numbers for charity. You “give” to your church so you benefit from that nice new sound system, someone to tell you how to live, etc. That isn’t charity. Charity is helping someone else, not yourselves. You give because you are afraid, selfishly concerned for your afterlife based on your *beliefs*, not for the person who needs help. I don’t need a carrot or stick to give to people who need help. Now, who is the charitable one here?

    Atheists do not all follow the same worldview. I consider myself an Epicurean in worldview. I don’t believe in the “survival of the fittest” like some idiotic social Darwinist do, social darwinists who are largely conservative Christians.

    You are right, I wouldn’t believe your claims of your god interfering in your life supernaturally since Christians claim that all of the time, but when someone asks them why they are no better off than anyone else, they have come up with excuses e.g. apologetics. I can point out that Christians suffer just as much from the current virus as others, despite the bible promising that any baptized believer in Christ as savior can heal (Mark 16, John 14, James 5).

    With your god, you claim morality comes from it (and again, Christians don’t agree on what morality it wants). However, I would guess that you would be horrified if a human did the things that your god does in your bible: killing a child for the actions of the parent, killing a man for trying to keep a box upright, killing boys and keeping the young girls for sex slaves, forcing a man to choose between freedom from slavery and his family, telling slaves to stay with people who beat them, etc. If these actions are objectively moral, it should make no difference who does them. So, we have that your god can do these things without you questioning it because it is powerful, nothing more than a morality based on might equals right.

    Obeying a tyrant because you are afraid of it isn’t love. A tyrant who does the above actions doesn’t love anyone. I am more moral than your god and want no part of its horror.

    As for accepting this god as a “choice”, you need to read your bible. Paul says that this god picks and chooses who it will allow to accept it and who it will damn for no fault of their own in Romans 9. Jesus says the same thing when asked why he uses parables. You intentionally misrepresent your bible and that doesn’t work with a former Christian who has read hers.

    Like

    1. Dear ClubSchadenfreude:

      You and I have talked before, haven’t we? I knew I was bound to tick someone off, I just didn’t realize it would be you! I appreciate the feedback, even if I wish it had been more kindly stated. You seem rather angry at me.

      I can’t help but feel that you have fallen into the same trap that you say I have: you assume you know what Christians should believe! The motivations you ascribe to me are simply — well — as inaccurate as you state my picture of atheism is. I know you must have read what I wrote, which I still stand by. Many of the things you said I said — I just didn’t say. Perhaps I wrote badly.

      I did find it intriguing that you think there is order in the universe. Are you saying that you do not consider the universe random? You are right. This surprised me. Where do you think the order came from if not by chance?

      May I point out that your Bible reading seems to have come from a “Reformed” point of view? This is the interpretation of the Bible that is also called “Calvinist,” which does indeed stress God’s election. My church is Reformed, but I am not. I understand Romans 9 differently. I do believe you and I have a choice. While many of my fellow believers would disagree with me, I think the Bible clearly tells a different story. If you have been taught that God damns people for no good reason other than his glory, it is no wonder that you are angry at him, at Christians in general, and me in particular.

      Many of the biblical examples you cite as evidence that god is vicious? Again, perhaps because I know what God is like, I understand differently.

      I, too, live near Harrisburg. But you seem to know that. Would you like to come to our house for dinner? We might both understand the other better if we could talk to each other in person. Of course, the governor’s orders to “shelter in place” make that difficult right now, but I’m serious. I might not be as bad as you think I am! If you want to come for a meal, my wife and I would be pleased to have you. Or we could meet in a “neutral” location if you prefer.

      Here is where we can both agree that the choice is yours!

      Like

      1. I think we have. If we have, then you’ve likely been shown that your claims are wrong. That you try to use them again is unfortunate. Again, atheists are not bound to what a Christian needs them to be.

        That Christians don’t agree on much at all, the rest of us have to go with who calls themselves a Christian. You all insist that only “you” have the right version of Christianity. That’s why there are hundreds of sects, if not millions since each Christian makes up their god in their image. I read the bible and take what it says as what it means, knowing the culture of the time period. I don’t need to try to make up apologetics for it so I can keep my faith that I worship a humane being.

        So, explain Romans 9 if you want to claim I’m wrong. Paul says directly that this god gives grace to whom it wants and damns the rest, claiming that no one has the right to complain about this action.

        Exactly how does that work with free will? How does your god controling the minds of the Egyptians, the pharoah, and your god killing David’s son, the ultimate expression of removing free will?

        We don’t know where the order in the universe came from *yet*. We may never find out. That doesn’t mean we need some god, any of the thousands that humans believe in. I don’t believe in your god for the same reason you don’t believe in others. No evidence.

        You said you got your degree from Ship. No secret that people often stay around where they grew up. It is nice of you to offer dinner. I am not interested since your false claims about atheists indicate that you intentionally tried to misrepresent people out of malice or willful ignorance for your benefit. That does not make a pleasant dinner companion. I have chatted with Christians before. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Ray Comfort, the creationist. You can see that on my blog, club schadenfreude.

        No reason to think you or anyone else knows what this god is “like” since Christians cannot agree on that nor show that their version is the right one. What do you think about a god that kills a child for the actions of its parents, a god taht requires a man to make a choice between freedom and his family, a god that kills a people who are ruled by a king and who can’t do anything about him, a god who kills a man who simply tried to keep this god’s magic box upright, if not vicious? If a human tried to make people do these things, killed children, etc, would you think that human vicious?

        Your bible betrays your claims of a good and benevolent god.

        I am not angry. I am not here to make you feel better either. When you lie about atheists by claiming that they are one thing that they are not, you get called out. A lot of Christians aren’t used to people being holding them accountable for what they say, and not couching it in deferential terms.

        Like

  2. Dear Club Schadenfreude:

    I can see your point. I was hoping that we would be able to sit companionably and get to know each other better. Since you have attributed some pretty unpleasant characteristics to me, I can see why — for you — that just looks like an unpleasant meal.

    We could argue like this in the comments forever, but that’s not very profitable. If you really want to know how I interpret Romans 9, my book “UnReformed” puts what I believe down in black and white. (https://smile.amazon.com/UnReformed-Solid-Ground-Barry-Clay/dp/1548536652/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=unreformed+by+barry+clay&qid=1589054260&s=books&sr=1-1). You could buy the eBook it and pan it for a mere $4.29! I can’t see it changing your mind, but perhaps you would at least concede that I have a biblically defensible reason for what I believe.

    I understand the references you make from which you ascribe viciousness to God. I can only tell you that I have never found God vicious. I think he acts with a greater degree of understanding and knowledge than you might glean from the written pages of the Bible. But then, I approach the Bible from faith. I doubt you will agree. You seem as certain that your point of view is correct as I do mine. In that, at least, we don’t seem all that different.

    You seem to know where to find my blog. If you ever think you could stand me (and my much nicer wife) for an hour, I stand willing to pay for a meal for you and a companion at the Harrisburg Panera Bread. Just leave a message on my blog, and we can arrange it.

    There are no hard feelings from my point of view.

    CultureClayBlog

    Like

  3. Less than a third of the world’s population are Christian. And almost weekly (if not daily) on WordPress a Christian posts something along the lines of “Christians have better morals than the rest” (I’m being a little flippant there).

    If two thirds of the world don’t believe in the “morality” of the Bible, how come the humans generally still manage not to kill each other?

    Could it be, that we don’t need the Bible, Qu’ran, or Torah to guide us? Could it be that we evolved as a species to collaborate? That we developed empathy and compassion?

    Like

    1. Hi, SpawneeDave:

      Thank you for a courteous challenge and response.

      My point in my blog post — possibly poorly said — is NOT that Christians have better morals than non-Christians, but that there is a benchmark of morality on which we all agree — at least in certain areas, and that this is a sign of God’s existence. I believe we all are given a conscience by God, whether we believe in him or not, whether we acknowledge him or not.

      A corollary to that was that I believe moral behavior can be followed and adhered to by an atheist even when the atheist doesn’t have a fundamental reason for embracing that morality. I don’t believe evolution explains our morality. Why would evolution develop empathy and compassion? Why do we regard compassion as good and a lack of compassion as bad? If evolution (which happens by chance and survival of the fittest) got us where we are now, why did survival of the fittest decide to abandon that blind mechanism for compassion and empathy? Why did a moral order spring out of that randomness?

      I do believe that God has provided us good laws and — should we break them — a path for forgiveness and reconciliation. We may not understand or agree with everything he has said — and some may misinterpret what is written in the Bible — but those laws are there. The majority of us do manage not to kill each other. Some theologians call this “common grace.” If I understand you correctly, you believe that morality developed by chance as the process of evolution continues to lift us to a better moral plane. I think it is more that the imprint of God’s image on us — which we all share as created beings — is itself good and provides that moral foundation. Some disregard it, of course. Some people murder. Some lack compassion.

      But I suspect there are some aspects with Christian morality that we do not all share. And I do believe that can be a higher morality. I know I certainly find it more challenging. For instance, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21 – 28), Jesus equates anger and lust with the sins of murder and adultery. I’m not sure everyone would agree with him. I find it easier to refrain from murder than to not get angry. I could see someone getting angry all the time and thinking nothing of it. Certainly, I’ve heard Terri Gross on NPRs “Fresh Air” say there’s nothing wrong with viewing pornography and masturbating as long as you’re an adult. She put her stamp of approval on behavior that is forbidden for the Christian. One of the 10 commandments is “Thou shalt not covet.” I could see someone shrugging his shoulders and saying, “What’s the big deal about coveting? It doesn’t hurt anyone else.” And, of course, Jesus identified the greatest commandment as “You will Love the Lord your God with all Your heart, and all your Soul, and all your Mind.” Not everyone will agree with that or consider it worth obeying. Perhaps the second greatest commandment he identified, “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself” would get wider agreement.

      But, as I said, I appreciate your polite challenge. It makes me think and consider. And perhaps I can do the same for your!

      CultureClayBlog

      Like

      1. Evolutionary anthropology explains how human behaviour developed. We are one of the few species that shows empathy and compassion not just to our own species, but also to others species too. To care for others, one requires a degree of compassion.

        Btw, it’s not survival of the fittest (many people confuse that with evolution).

        Like

  4. Dear SpawneeDave:

    You intrigue me. What is “Evolutionary anthropology?” You are correct. I always understood that the mechanism behind evolution was mutation culled by survival of the fittest. What is the “evolutionary anthropolgy?” What mechanism does it use to make us better?

    Though I suppose I could just “Google” it and get an answer.

    CultureClayBlog

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.