Can an atheist really be good without God? This seems to be an age old question and something organizations like the Illini Secular Student Alliance (ISSA) would have you believe with billboards and advertisements to boot. Well, what does God think? Does God agree with this sentiment that someone can be good while not believing in Him? Psalm 53:1 says, “The fool hath said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good.” Well, that was very direct from God’s Word. I guess that settles the debate. For the sake of argument, though, let’s dig a little deeper into this question of secular morality. There’s no question atheists are capable of practicing good actions. We all know non-believers who give to charity, work at homeless shelters, and care for hurt animals and people. So, how can this be if God’s Word says, “There is none that doeth good?”
You can consider this article somewhat of a sequel to a previous one I wrote: When Christian Reform Met Classical Theory. In that article, I explore some of the foundations of Western Culture. There is no question that different parts of the world have different cultures and cultural norms. Many of the prominent atheistic campaigns out today originate from culturally Western nations. Thus, to attain a better understanding of the influence of these campaigns, we should take a look at the framework of Western Culture itself. Western Culture has seen many changes from Roman culture and philosophy (heavily influenced by the Greeks) to Catholicism to the Renaissance and Reformation, to the Age of Enlightenment, and so on. All of these and more time periods, events, and movements have shaped how we, in the West, feel and think today. Berry, Poortinga, Segall, and Dasen (2002) state, “Human beings acquire patterns of behavior through experiences that are characteristic of the context of which they live.” Thus, we must find the context in which these atheists and their campaigns live.
As you can see with the different time periods which have contributed to the foundation of Western Culture, Christianity can be found to be a central factor. Alvin Schmidt (2001) posits in his book, How Christianity Changed the World, much of Western Culture bears a striking resemblance to Christ’s influence and teachings. Just look at one of the foundational moral codes of Western Culture, the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Do you know where the Golden Rule originated from? It comes from Matthew 7:12, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” What about giving to charity as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have done which has been highlighted by the current Secular Samaritan campaign? Luke 18:22, “Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” 1 Corinthians 13:3, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
Whether they like it or not, these atheists, including Gates and Buffett, live in a Western society which is greatly influenced by Christian principles. Instead of being good without God they are good because of God. The question of the day shouldn’t be, “Can an atheist be good without God?” Rather, the question should be, “Do any of these atheists live in a moral vacuum?”
Berry, John W., Poortinga, Ype H., Segall, Marshall H., & Dasen, Pierre R. (2002). Cross-Cultural Psychology: Research and Applications (2nd Edition). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Schmidt, Alvin J. (2001). How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.