The Reconquista Initiative
Atheists Cannot Be Good Without Belief in God
In today’s day and age, it is often contended, and very often contended by Christians themselves, that while atheists might not, on their worldview, have an actual foundation that undergirds the objective moral rules and duties that they follow, they nevertheless can still be ‘good’ people without a belief in God. Indeed, it is argued that atheists are individuals who, though denying the existence of God and thus not having a sound basis for their belief in the existence of moral rules and duties, still feel the pull of morality on their hearts—for they live in a theistic universe, or so the theist contends—and so when atheists act in accordance with the moral law and do what is morally right, they can thus be counted as ‘good’ despite their lack of belief in God. And so, the thinking goes, unbelievers can be just as good as believers can be, despite their rejection of God and despite their lack of belief in Him.
Now, while this contention is often used as a means to build bridges with atheists by trying to placate the outrage that some atheists would feel if told that they are indeed not good due to their lack of belief in God, the fact is that a strong case can be made to show that atheists are not objectively good people, or at least not as good as theists are, precisely because atheists lack a belief in God and reject Him. Indeed, it is the atheist’s own willful atheism which ensures that he cannot be considered a ‘good’ person, or at least not nearly as good of a person as a believer can be. And the funny thing is that there is no way that the atheist can escape this conclusion, for it stays with him regardless of whether theism or atheism is correct.
Now the reason why the atheist cannot be considered good without a belief in God is two-fold. First—and for the sake of argument—consider what occurs if atheism is true. If atheism is correct, and if God really does not exist, then atheists cannot be considered good in an objective sense given that, on atheism, there are no objective moral rules and duties that would allow us to call atheists ‘good’ in some real or significant way. Indeed, as atheist Alex Rosenberg says in the first chapter of his book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions, the reality of atheism means that there is no difference between right and wrong, and that, concerning the answers to moral questions, anything goes. That, Rosenberg contends, is the inevitable reality of atheism. But if that is the case then while atheists, on atheism, might be considered ‘good’ in a trivial and essentially tautological sense—because on such a view, anything that atheists do can be considered ‘good’ by them—the fact is that on such a view, neither atheists nor anyone else can be considered good in an objective sense, for there is no objective good that people can be compared to. Indeed, only if there was some type of external standard of goodness against which the actions and behaviors of atheists could be compared, could we determine if atheists were good or not in some non-trivial sense; but since there is no such standard on atheism, then there is no objective way to label atheists as good given atheism. So if atheism is true, atheists are not ‘good’ in the way that we normally use that term.
But now, consider what occurs if atheists are wrong. Consider that if God—the creator and continuous sustainer of all that is—exists, and yet willful atheists do not believe in Him and do not acknowledge Him nor give Him the worship that He is due from His creatures, then, in a very real sense, atheists are morally failures in a very significant way. Indeed, in such a case, atheists are not being good, or at least they are not being good about a very fundamental issue, for they are failing to fulfill the most critical moral duty and commandment that they should be fulfilling: namely, to love God with all their heart, and soul, and mind. Indeed, by failing to believe in God—so long as the lack of belief is willful and not due to some uncontrolled cognitive disability or ignorance—an atheist is morally deficient in such a vital and significant way that we would be very hard-pressed to call him ‘good’; and even if we could label the atheist ‘good’ in spite of his lack of belief, then, at best, he would most certainly be less good than a believer in God would be—all other things being equal, of course. Thus, if God exists, then the atheist’s wilful lack of belief in God is not a morally neutral issue, but rather it is a factor which gives us the grounds to question the atheist’s categorization as a ‘good’ human being, and it is also a factor that allows us to rationally see a believer as more moral than an atheist—again, all other things being equal.
And so, the long and short of it is this: whatever way that atheists turn, they cannot be meaningfully considered good without a belief in God, for if atheism is true, then their actions are neither good nor evil, and so it is essentially trivial to call them ‘good’; but if God exists, and atheists fail to give God the acknowledgement and worship that He is due as their creator and constant sustainer, then this is a moral failing of such significance that it is, once again, hard to label anyone who fails in such as way as ‘good’. Thus, whatever way the atheist turns, he cannot meaningful be defined as good, or at least not as good as a God-believer is. Consequently, Christians should stop conceding the point that atheists really can be good without belief in God, for, as seen, a strong case can be made that atheists simply cannot be considered good without such a belief. But lest some Christians suddenly think themselves ultimately better than atheists given this conclusion, they themselves should heed the words spoken by Jesus Himself in Luke 18:19 and Mark 10:18: “No one is good—except God alone.”
Anno Domini 2016 11 26
Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam