Good without God?

I didn’t really express my thoughts adequately in my last posts. Lets try again….
I said that atheism is basically selfish because within it there is no stated standard of behaviour. I also said that within Christianity there is a clearly stated expectation to care for the poor, which, if abided by, the world would be vastly improved. Case in point, if all people in the first world tithed 10% then problems would be solved.
I don’t advocate that Christians do this because they are scared of the ramifications, of of eternal damnation, or anything like that. I suggest that a book which people respect and love, more specifically the gospels, advocates a way of life that is a better way to live. We are told that it will make us uncomfortable and will inconvenience is. But it is the right thing to do

Now I know very well that ‘atheist’ simply means that someone doesn’t believe in god. Given that I was an actual card carrying member of a skeptical society, I also know that many atheists feel connected into a movement, and their holy book is the god delusion.
Many people that I know state that they are offended by the idea that they can’t be ‘good without god’ of course they can be. But in my experience, atheists spend much more time posting memes about how ignorant and sheeplike Christians are than working on soup kitchens or, again, tithing10% of their income.
It’s easy to be good and to give. A bit. But to shake things up and make your life uncomfortable for people that you don’t know, and who will never thank you- well, that’s harder. That doesn’t come naturally. And that’s where I think that being a Christian has it all over being an atheist. Christianity introduced a whole new paradigm of thought- why should we assumed that we have a right to these things in our life? Why do we keep hold of is money like its our own? Why should the default position in our life be one of comfort? We feel that we have a legitimate claim to all these things in our life- money, time, comfort. If we’re not careful we can sound like a petulant 2 year old stating ‘mine’ every time something tickles their fancy. In actual fact, we are all just passengers on this planet, and every one of us in the developed world should Han our heads in shame that we are not doing enough to help the babies that have died while I have been writing is post.
A belief in the authenticity of the gospels pulls us out of our own self- centred righteousness and makes us take a good hard life at our entitled attitudes.

29 thoughts on “Good without God?

  1. Yes, you certainly can be “good without God”. What you can’t be without God is a person who knows they have eternal life, that faith in a life after this one that you can be part of. God is holy, good, and pure and cannot be in the presence of sin, hence we need someone who is worthy to take our sins away. The whole of the Bible teaches us of our need and the provision for that need, Jesus. After that, tithing, doing good works, the social gospel follows from an attitude of gratitude to the God that loves enough to send his son to die for us. The only way to the father is through the Son. And I want to know that I am and will be forever with God.

    • It may be presumptuous of me to take on the role of the token atheist here, but I feel that knowledge empowers us to differentiate between beliefs that are justifiably true (knowledge) and beliefs that are in conflict with reality. In this vein, I make the following comment.

      Jennifer, you should be aware that if the science of genetics is yields justifiablke true beliefs (on the merit that it has produced technologies, therapies, and applications that work for everyone everywhere all the time) then we know from population genetics that Adam and Eve were never real, never historical, and cannot have been humanity’s founding couple.

      In fact, our oldest male ancestor comes some 50,000-70,000 years later than oldest female ancestor! A mind-twist, to be sure, but fascinating nevertheless. The evidence against the historical claim for a founding couple – a real and historical Adam and Evei – is overwhelming. The only reasonable conclusion is that the Genesis account is a metaphor, a story, a myth. That means that the Fall is an interpretation of this metaphor, this story, this myth And that means that the death and resurrection of an historical Jesus – as explained by Paul’s interpretation (based as it is on Augustine’s) – to be a necessary atonement (that has an historical man suffering and dying a very real and gruesome blood sacrifice) is actually an atonement for a metaphor, for a story, for a myth. As a lover of myths, I know that this interpretation makes no sense but degrades the myth to be life-denying. That’s a no-no in myths! Paul’s interpretation of a life-denying myth sends us a very strong signal that it’s a very poor interpretation of a very rich myth.

      If altering the Genesis account from historical to metaphorical causes you any angst for your religious belief (and, by necessity, how it informs your values and morals and meaning and daily actions), then the burden falls on you to do a better job at interpreting the myth to align with what’s true in reality rather than rejecting the method of science that has enriched and protected your life almost beyond measure. You may not actually ‘know’ (meaning a justified true belief), for example, what you say you ‘know’, namely, that “What you can’t be without God is a person who knows they have eternal life, that faith in a life after this one that you can be part of.” And if you can’t ‘know’ this, then I think you can back on the right track differentiating between a belief you hope is true from one that you can know is true. Hope is not knowledge. And neither is faith-based belief.

      • I welcome your input- I haven’t read your overnight ( for we Aussies) comments yet, and it’s the 5 year odds birthday so the house is already rocking at 6am but I look forwards to reading your comments during the day.

  2. Part of the difficulty arises because too many of us who claim to be Christians do not live lives that are different enough (in a good way) to make the point to non-Christians, especially athiests. Do I really give sacrificially (not just my money, but my time, my attention)? Do I really have a Christian love (caring, concerned for another person’s welfare) to every person I meet? Or do I just like to relate to people in my own circle? I am trying, but I’m far from being there yet. I would just encourage all of us who claim to be Christians to consider seriously what that should look like and try to live like that.

  3. When I was in college (a long time ago), I had a great conversation with an atheist. People didn’t proclaim their religion—or lack of—so much then, so meeting someone “in the opposition”, so to speak, was unusual. On learning that I was Christian, we both warmed to the opportunity. “I just can’t believe in a god that would allow the war in Vietnam.” he said. (It was that long ago!) “Neither do I,” I said. “Well, I don’t believe in a god that permits children to starve in Africa,” he said. “Neither do I, nor anyplace else,” I said. “I don’t believe in a god that allows a young mother to die of cancer leaving her kids orphaned.” And of course, I didn’t either. We were getting very dramatic. The conversation went along like this for about half an hour until we both pretty much agreed: neither of us believed in the same god. In a sense, I was a greater atheist that he. I simply gave no thought to the definition of god he was working so hard to disavow. He was not so much an atheist as he was a contrarian. He clearly believed that the god of his definition existed, if only in the minds of his opposition. God, for him, was an intellectual proposition. Yet he also had a heart for human suffering and a sense of right and wrong. But we didn’t explore that.

    I have met genuine atheists, however, in the church as well as out. These are folks who have never experienced any sense of Something greater than themselves. This is what I think you are getting at. These are people “having ears, do not hear; having eyes, do not see”.

    • These are folks (atheists) who have never experienced any sense of Something greater than themselves.

      Not true. Not even in the same ball park as what’s true.

      Your attribution is badly misplaced in that many of the atheists I know are in awe of being part of this universe… in spite of it revealed only partially by what little we have come to know about it, are amazed and delighted and deeply moved by art and literature and beauty, who live lives they claim are filled with self-assigned meaning and purpose. I know atheists in all uniforms selflessly dedicated to service, who do good (and risk much) for no other reason that to further its reach based on compelling reasons rather than superstitious authority, who often describe their sense of self as being a grain of sand on the beaches of infinity, a single drop in the ocean of life, and other such metaphors, humble to admit freely to feel lucky to have been born in such a place and time to be able to know something about which they are a part in spite of recognizing just how trivial that part may be in comparison to the whole.

      To claim these folk are somehow without the sense of being an integral part of something more is simply ludicrous and shows a rather significant bias to prefer to believe what you want to believe – presumably to make yourself feel better – rather than find out what might be true if it should make you feel less worthy. I regularly perform music and (selflessly) do my part to create exactly that ‘something greater’ on offer to whomever wants to experience it, so you’ll pardon my skepticism that your claim is generally valid. It’s generally not.

  4. I cannot stay silent on this notion that atheists are in some sense more selfish than religious folk. Like most people, I know religious people who are very generous with a strong social conscience and others who are extremely miserly regarding anything outside their own concerns (including what piousness means to each of them). The same range is true for the atheists I know (my spouse – an atheist – donates almost 20 hours a week, every week of the year, year after year, in additional palliative care for all kinds of people). So the question is whether or not there is any way to see trends or averages of more selfish behaviour by non believers as suggested in comparison to believers. How might we do that?

    Well, let’s take highly religious geographical areas – like countries or states, for example – and look to see if we can find these trends and averages at the degree of social support for the disenfranchised, the poor, the addicts and single mothers and homeless, and compare that investment with countries and states that are lowest on religious affiliations, shall we?

    You’re not going to like the answer.

    You guessed it: there is a direct correlation between the religiosity of a country (or state) and a lack of social support, with greater economic inequalities, higher rates of poverty, lower rates of social security measures, all kinds of higher rates of anti-social behaviours, shorter lifespans, higher rates of teen pregnancies and STDs, yada yada yada. If the thesis were true, then we should expect to find the opposite. But we don’t.


    Internationally, we find the same results as we do in a US state by US state comparison: the higher the rate of religiosity, the higher the rate of negative social consequences.

    Non belief writ large seems to yield trends and averages that clearly show less selfishness and much higher rates of support by higher numbers of people for those most in need. (For all the details and a list of studies that show this to be the case, I will gladly supply the links.) But my point here is that these trends and averages stand contrary to and in conflict with the often-assumed-to-be-true notion that non belief is somehow revealed to be the cause of less concern for the welfare of others. This is simply not supported by reality but shown to be in opposition to what’s true: non belief seems to be directly correlated to a much higher statistical level of social action on behalf of the welfare of others.

  5. Now I know very well that ‘atheist’ simply means that someone doesn’t believe in god. Given that I was an actual card carrying member of a skeptical society, I also know that many atheists feel connected into a movement, and their holy book is the god delusion.

    Really? An atheist holy book? Did you really just write that and think it true? What about all those atheists before Dawkins’ best seller? What was Sagan’s holy book? Or Russell’s? Or Ingersoll’s? Or Hume’s?

    I think what you mean to suggest is that, since Harris’ End of Faith in 2004 (a response to the religious cause to the mass murder of 9/11), there has grown a movement called New Atheism, an atheism quite a bit different than anything that has come before. New atheism is different in that those who support it will no longer stay quiet but challenge the notion of privilege offered without merit to religious belief whenever and wherever it is encountered. Because Dawkins is the most high profile New Atheist (his job, remember, was the promotion of public understanding of science, which he did by public engagements about the intentional conflict by those who wished to believe in creationism at the expense of maligning, misrepresenting, and demonizing Dawkins’ area of expertise: evolutionary biology, and who concluded his tenure with his book The God Delusion – 2006… a best seller that combined his idea of cultural memes being passed on through Bronze Age religious beliefs) as well as so articulate and clear both in writing style and public speaking, that his success and effect has earned him great deal of enmity from those who try to vilify the man in hopes of vilifying his argument. This is why we usually see the negative words ‘militant’ and ‘shrill’ and ‘fundamentalist’ and “extremist, and so on usually attached to Dawkins and, by extension, all New atheists. In such a world, up means down and black means white because Dawkins, like Harris and Dennett, are anything but militant, anything but shrill, anything but fundamentalist and extreme. They are calm and rational and use informed arguments and compelling reasons for their legitimate and long needed public criticisms of religious belief privileged in the public domain. The response to this sustained and effective tactic of exposing religious privilege for the sham it is is of the kind seen here: a drive by smear that presumes its own validity. Obviously there are no holy books for non belief in the same way there are no special haircuts for the bald; the claim is made only to denigrate without having to rely on using reasoned argument and compelling evidence to confront the criticisms of such powerful and effective New Atheists.

    • It’s not a question of who does more. It’s a question of how can putting secular principles (vilified as they are) into social action produce much better results than the heartfelt generosity of the faithful (held up to be evidence of virtue through faith) and why don;t more faithiests know this?

      • Re: ‘better’

        See my comment above, March 18, at 4:33. ‘Better’ means achieving to a greater social degree the same objectives as the religious want to achieve. I really do like comparing apples to apples and that’s why I’m surprised more faitheists don’t seem to be aware of this fact but assume, quite incorrectly, that if not for their faith-based work rather than that done by secular agencies, the social situation would degrade. The opposite is the case.

      • An immediate comment with regard to your earlier post is one of caution. If the statistic is right (which I haven’t checked, but have seen many people quote conflicting data) then which causes which, or is there even a third cause for both. For instance, it may be that in states where there is poor social justice more people question the meaning of life and reach out to religion for help. In UK at the moment, there are dramatic cutbacks in welfare and a corresponding dramatic rise in church action (food banks, homeless charity work etc).
        Many of the greatest social reformers were Christian. Wilberforce is a great example, and I’ve recently read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Both that and Wilberforce’s “Real Christianity” were extremely scathing of the so-called Christians of the day. So perhaps they felt the same way, ‘these christians are no better than non-christians’. And I suspect Christ too would feel the same.
        But again, social justice is not the goal of Christianity. It is simply an outworking of the centrality of being a follower of christ. It is an outworking of the deep love that true Christians choose to hold for others, empowered by the deep love that Christians feel for and receive from Christ. The essense of christianity therefore is to love God with all our heart mind and spirit, and to love ones neighbour as oneself. The ‘good works’ follow from these, not as requirements, but as natural desire to please and help those we love. Not all that claim to be Christian appear to ‘get it’…..

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