"Without God, there is no Good." Assess this claim.

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kipling2448's profile pic

kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The concept of “goodness” within the context of personal belief systems has been debated for many years, and is at the core of many atheists’ beliefs.  Those who reject the notion of a divine or “supreme” being argue that, by adopting a code of morality consistent with the basic tenets of Christianity or Judaism, one can be “good” without believing in God.  The statement that “without God there is no Good” is grounded in a concept of “good” that transcends simple commitments to a moral life.  “Good,” after all, is a relative concept, as the article by Norman Geisler, the link to which is provided below, notes:

“It is total relativism. Being ‘good’ for some (like Nazis) can mean killing Jews.  But for Jews it is evil.  Hence, on this view there is no objective difference between good and evil.”

The Hitler analogy is useful, but presents perhaps too-stark a contrast between more practical definitions of “good.”  The Nazis believed fervently that they were doing what they believed was right and moral, but this analogy is too convenient.  Throughout human history, as critics of organized religion have repeatedly asserted, millions of people have been slaughtered in the name of God, and the oft-repeated refrain of “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”) just as the explosive suicide vest is detonated in the restaurant full of infidels attests to the continued relevance of this discussion.  For practical purposes, though, we’ll keep the discussion more in the mainstream.  Does living a moral life within a logical definitional framework constitute “goodness” for purposes of discussion?  Another writer, again, the link to which is provided below, stated the following with respect to the distinctions between a “good” born of non-theological principles of morality and the far deeper meaning of “goodness” found in many interpretations of Christian theology:

“Christianity requires much more, and above all does not expect to see charity returned. To love thy neighbour as thyself is a far greater and more complicated obligation, requiring a positive effort to seek the good of others, often in secret, sometimes at great cost and always without reward. Its most powerful expression is summed up in the words, ‘Great love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’."

Again, one can appreciate the point this author is making without accepting the conclusion that “goodness” as defined in a Christian sense of the word cannot exist absent a belief in God.  It is entirely possible that somewhere out there are philanthropists and heroes who are also atheists or agnostic.  In fact, divisions within denominations often reflect varying degrees of adherence to the concept of morality.  Within Judaism, there are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform congregations, with the first rejecting the liberalism of the third.  To the more orthodox, fealty to the written word of the Bible is the only qualification for “goodness,” whereas more liberal-minded but still religious individuals may reject the notion that only through such a strict interpretation of the Bible can one be considered “good.”  Charitable acts and, in the more extreme cases, laying down one’s life for another, are not necessarily, and often aren’t, a product of one’s religious beliefs.  Charity for many is an act of conscience irrespective of a belief in God, just as Conscientious Objectors refuse to participate in a war for simple reasons of morality irrespective of theological considerations.  One doesn’t really need the Ten Commandments to believe that killing is wrong, as is sleeping with thy neighbor’s wife. 

In short, whether one agrees with the statement that “there is no Goodness without God” is entirely a matter of one’s personal beliefs with respect to God and questions of morality.  The statement itself implies that true “goodness” transcends a code of conduct that places the welfare of others at least on the same level as on oneself, if not higher.  That need not be grounded in religious beliefs; it need only be one’s concept of doing what’s right.

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biblianet's profile picture

biblianet | College Teacher | eNotes Newbie

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When people want to avoid agreements with the written legacy of morals, they discard any need for guidance in the Bible, for example. These persons may think that the knowledge of God cannot be obtained humanly, but they also add to this unbelief that such theology is an impossible achievement. Theisms are seen with suspicion and they do not turn to the holy writings in search for wisdom. They tend to become their own law, which they end up doing by themselves with tremendous inconsistencies.

They may formulate that they believe the x, y or z patterns are acceptable and may be void of any religious view. The greatest failure in these formulations is that they assume a human nature that does not fail or that it is inherently good.

The contrast with most religious indications is evident. They avoid the sense of belonging to a holy entity that has the authority to guide them and they treat correct behaviour as natural and moral or ethical, but not religious or holy. Some of these views wish to point to a morality based on community agreements solely for the purpose of civilized fellowship. 

The other incoherence in this attempt to make morals without divine orientation is that it ignores the patterns adopted by holy people and they also end up in contradiction as to which patterns and whose patterns to agree on for the purpose of even the most limited environment or circumstance.

Some say that we have to measure our liberty's limit at the door of the other's liberty lines. So, it becomes an endless mismatch of intentions and results because each one will be doing what they will or what they made up their mind to see and think.

For Christians, on the side of those who follow objective instruction from the Scriptures, though there may be disagreements of interpretation, the bar of the law is well discerned. We follow a holy God who calls to holiness on the basis of who he is and who he made us to become through him no matter how moral and perfect in character we may become on our own paths and trials. God provides Christians with truth and the power to hold it and keep it by the Holy Spirit abiding in each believer and hopeful man or woman.

So, Christians have a conscience that can be purified by the truth of what Christ did on the complete and consummated work of sacrificing himself for us unto the Father at the cross. But, those who avoid receiving sanctification and justification through Christ cannot reach peace and they will become disturbed in their own consciences which end up accusing them sooner or later.

One must be humble enough to realize the perfect moral and ethical formulation was attained by no common man but by the Son of God who was sent directly from heaven by God himself.

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