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Good Without God?


RJT
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As an ex-christian, if you've been out of the closet for any time at all, you'll have probably encountered the idea from some believer that you can't be good unless you believe in God (and they always mean THEIR god.) I encountered that one again last weekend while visiting some dear old friends who are practicing Christians...especially the wife. She took me to task about a right and wrong judgment I made and asked how I could believe in right and wrong if I didn't believe in God (her god, since hers is the only right one.) How do you answer something like that? I know what I told her, but I'd be interested in some feedback from you all. Is there a true right and wrong if a Moral Authority (i.e. God) doesn't exist, or is everything relative? I don't need a book from you. I can buy one of those (in fact, I have several), but I'd like to know what you say, in the arena of real life interaction with believers. And just maybe it'll help out some of the readers who are just coming out of the closet and facing this issue for the first time. Later! RJT

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RJT I wish I could help you out, but I’ve not encountered this problem because I’ve not yet come out to many of my family members.

 

And I know very little about the philosophy of ethics. I just go with my gut.

 

But I can still welcome you to the site.

 

Welcome.

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I've only had one conversation along these lines so far. I tried out a few arguments, mostly along the lines of: I care about the consequences to myself, other people and the world around me; even when I don't know the other people involved, we're all in this together; yes, we just die and that's it - that's why it matters! etc.

 

None of that really seemed to get through. She only stopped pressing the point when I asked if she was saying the only reason to to care about other people is because we might be punished by God if we don't. At that point, she switched to a new argument, so maybe she got the point...?

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I think your family is correct in a way. In a totally material universe there can be no true "goodness" -- only people's feelings about what they do and don't like. Even a whole bunch of people cannot turn their tastes and preference into anything but mere opinion. "Goodness" as a reality apart from peoples' perceptions is an idea of a supernatural reality. You could call that supernatural reality "God" if you wanted, but you don't have to. But if you want to believe in Goodness, then why not just believe in Goodness and stop there? If that is the endgame, then why go further? Socrates and Plato spoke about "Goodness" in the ways that Christians speak about God. Goodness is the form that all things participate in, to the degree that they are good.

 

Christians are actually the ones who dethrone and obliterate the idea of Goodness. According to Christians, God can make every act and its opposite "Good" simply by willing it and doing it. According to Christianity, a thing is good because God does it; God does not choose to do it because he recognizes it to be good. He can order Abraham to kill Isaac on a Monday and that would be "good" even though it was "bad" the day before. There is no absolute standard of Goodness against which God's acts can be judged. "I am the LORD, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things." Isaiah 45:6-7 (King James Version). "He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: "What have you done?" Daniel 4:34-35 (New International Version)

 

If "good" means "what God wills" then to say "God is good" can mean only "God wills what he wills." Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan. In Christianity, good and evil become entirely blurred, and there would be no point in calling God "good" anymore. In Christianity, "Goodness" is voided of its meaning, and there is only power. God is berzerk and his choices are unguided by a sense of right and wrong outside of his will. John Calvin said as much in his Institutes: "Everything which he wills must be held to be righteous by the mere fact of his willing it. Therefore, when it is asked why the Lord did so, we must answer, Because he pleased. But if you proceed farther to ask why he pleased, you ask for something greater and more sublime than the will of God, and nothing such can be found." John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

 

2r3ij3o.jpg

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The best response I've encountered is similar to what FiddlingAround mentioned.

 

"If only reason you're a good person is because you're afraid of being punished by God. You'd be a horrible person, and if that was the case, you'd be in deep need of psychological help and therapy."

 

If questioned about where they come from. "General consensus of society over time. There are no Universal morals, and the ones that are generally accepted were spread by Empires and kept because they worked and improved the lives of those who adopted them."

 

"Laws and morals don't come from God, they are made by men. The Ten Commandments are not the basis for the modern western system of laws. They are based on Hammurabi's code, which predates the Commandments. They were adopted and spread because they were effective and provided stability and a measure of justice and fairness."

 

That's not to say they were perfect by any means, but it was a standardized way to implement rules for a basic society that remained stable and generally worked out to the advantage of the larger population.

 

I also liken it to 'survival of the fittest' which I view as a mislabeling. It's a poor way of putting it really. The most successful humans were not the strongest or the fittest, but the most cooperative. The ones who worked together became the most successful groups. Which led to civil behavior and looking out for each other and the general peace. Which meant sharing resources, punishing thieves and murderers, and protecting both individuals and the group from harm.

 

Society and cooperative behavior are what lead us to comfort and allowed us to become civil enough to establish morals and ethics. Not some magic sky being's orders from on high.

 

I've yet to run into a theist who could answer or refute all of that, and the subject usually changed quickly.

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In a totally material universe there can be no true "goodness" -- only people's feelings about what they do and don't like. Even a whole bunch of people cannot turn their tastes and preference into anything but mere opinion.

This is essentially true, but for a society to function, and for individuals to benefit from it, the very idea of goodness has real consequences - usually by defining bad as socially or legally unacceptable, or (for natural types of goodness) by general consensus.

 

Stealing, for example is bad. Can we agree on that? If not, and you steal, you will be punished and your life will become worthless to you or anyone else because of a criminal record.

 

Adultery, when not associated with acceptance on everyone's part, is bad. Divorce, ostracism, dealing with the anger of the spouse and his/her family (and other potential social consequences) make the consequences of adultery real and not just "opinion".

 

The obverse of these, not stealing and being faithful, are then "good". Goodness is doing the right thing because doing the wrong thing has potential consequences based on consensus and/or law.

 

Rape is bad. Need I say why?

 

In many cases, the goodness or badness is dependent on the circumstances. Societies can change with respect to some things - like polygamy, the death penalty, or other socially determined actions. Burning witches used to be considered good. We express our opinions and reasoning, and occasionally society changes - usually when the majority (frequently a vast majority) are convinced that something is good or bad. Laws are then enacted when there is a sufficient majority to deter the bad or encourage the good.

 

Is Rain good? It depends on the circumstances and the results of the rain. Tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural phenomena that are destructive with no "socially redeeming value" are bad. Perhaps they are not intrinsically bad, but the results are almost universally bad. Even when good things happen as a result, the phenomena themselves are still held to be bad.

 

So there is no "absolute goodness" but that isn't to say there isn't goodness. And this goes way beyond "mere opinion." When individuals have opinions, they don't have consequences, but when societies arrive at a general consensus, opinion becomes tradition, law and morality.

 

Incidentally, this has no bearing on whether the universe is "totally material" or not. Biblical morality or any other form of religious morality is no more authoritative than social morality, and the latter is at least based on something rather than nothing. I'm sure you know about Dugard and her captors. How many people would be willing to express the "opinion" that the Garridos did the right thing? That their actions were "good"? Does his opinion that what he did was good matter? Will he suffer the consequences of his actions? Of course, because they are "bad."

 

Even expressing such an opinion would likely have consequences because it is so far out of the general consensus that friends and neighbors would shun such a person that maintains that opinion.

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The best response I've encountered is similar to what FiddlingAround mentioned.

 

"If only reason you're a good person is because you're afraid of being punished by God. You'd be a horrible person and if that was the case, you'd be in deep need of psychological help and therapy."

 

If questioned about where they come from. "General consensus of society over time. There are no Universal morals, and the ones that are generally accepted were spread by Empires and kept because the worked and improved the lives of those who adopted them."

 

"Laws and morals don't come from God, they are made by men. The Ten Commandments are not the basis for the modern western system of laws. They are based on Hammurabi's code, which predates the commandments. They were adopted and spread because they were effective and provided stability and a measure of justice and fairness."

 

That's not to say they were perfect by any means, but it was a standardized way to implement rules for a basic society that remained stable and generally worked out to the advantage of the larger population.

 

I also liken it to 'survival of the fittest' which I view as a mislabeling. It's a poor way of putting it really. The most successful humans were not the strongest or the fittest, but the most cooperative. The ones who worked together became the most successful groups. Which led to civil behavior and looking out for each other and the general peace. Which meant sharing resources, punishing thieves and murderers, and protecting both individuals and the group from harm.

 

Society and cooperative behavior are what lead us to comfort and allowed us to become civil enough to establish morals and ethics. Not some magic sky being's orders from on high.

 

I've yet to run into a theist who could answer or refute all of that, and the subject usually changed quickly.

You took the words right out of my mouth.

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I've often told my Christian friends that anything that is "right or wrong" can be defended by sound philosophical analysis; in fact I have always insisted that it must be so.

 

Even if a God proposes, there must be a reasoning behind it; something which forms a basis for justification either way.

 

I've sometimes asked a Christian whether they would just "blindly" obey a proclamation of something being right or wrong, or good or bad, without considering personal feelings on the matter, a sense of logic about it, or just plain intuition or "gut feeling". Most of the time they will admit that thinking about right and wrong must go past just opinions or commands stated in scripture.

 

Many Christians see scripture more as a "proof" or "ratification" of their beliefs about morality and so on, more than perhaps the origin of the ideal. However, I admit that isn't the whole story, and there are times when their attitudes seem to lack any kind of introspection.

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I would just point out atrocities in the OT that were supposedly approved of (sometimes commanded by) God. Ask if they think it's good to murder infants and children in wartime. Ask if it's good to stone children to death just for disobeying their parents. Ask if it's good to happily dash infants across the rocks. If a good God condoned those things, then they must be good things to do, right?

 

The ironic thing about Christian morality is that they often tout that morals are absolute, when in fact Bible believers have to excuse the bad stuff in the OT (even if by writing it off as just the OT) and yet stand against that sort of behavior for today. How does that even remotely resemble "absolute morality"? In reality they can't literally believe everything in the Bible WITHOUT believing in RELATIVE morailty!

 

If "good" means "what God wills" then to say "God is good" can mean only "God wills what he wills." Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan. In Christianity, good and evil become entirely blurred, and there would be no point in calling God "good" anymore. In Christianity, "Goodness" is voided of its meaning, and there is only power. God is berzerk and his choices are unguided by a sense of right and wrong outside of his will. John Calvin said as much in his Institutes: "Everything which he wills must be held to be righteous by the mere fact of his willing it. Therefore, when it is asked why the Lord did so, we must answer, Because he pleased. But if you proceed farther to ask why he pleased, you ask for something greater and more sublime than the will of God, and nothing such can be found." John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

 

Very well put.

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This is what I was taught. I remember the words clear as day.

 

"Sure, you can be 'good' without being a Christian. But then you're going by your own code, and that code changes. It's written in plastic. But our code never changes. It is literally written in stone."

 

Well, that's kind of true. Of course, that code also called for burning queers at the stake and all kinds of other shit.

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This is what I was taught. I remember the words clear as day.

 

"Sure, you can be 'good' without being a Christian. But then you're going by your own code, and that code changes. It's written in plastic. But our code never changes. It is literally written in stone."

 

Well, that's kind of true. Of course, that code also called for burning queers at the stake and all kinds of other shit.

 

Which of course is the great lie, since their absolute morality is not followed as it was 1500 years ago, 1000 years ago, 500 years ago, 100 years ago, and 50 years ago. The bible is so vague they can justify what they please by following whichever verses they like. They essentially follow the same free market morality that regular people do, but they are wearing lead weights and constantly lagging behind as the tribal book tries to pull them back into the dark ages. The plastic bends to the difficult situation, and the stone cracks.

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Which of course is the great lie, since their absolute morality is not followed as it was 1500 years ago, 1000 years ago, 500 years ago, 100 years ago, and 50 years ago. The bible is so vague they can justify what they please by following whichever verses they like. They essentially follow the same free market morality that regular people do, but they are wearing lead weights and constantly lagging behind as the tribal book tries to pull them back into the dark ages. The plastic bends to the difficult situation, and the stone cracks.

That's good!

 

I would say that they choose what to follow, and therefore they are exercising their judgement regarding good and bad rules to follow - just like the atheist.

 

And plastic bends with stress, stones shatter.

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I do not think Morals are absolute. I think there are many factors that contribute to how we determine what is moral and what isn't.

 

 

I also think the Bible is one of the best sources to use in coming to this conclusion.

 

Look at what the OT, NT and Christians now days say about marriage, slavery and the treatment of women.

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Well, thanks, friends, for all the good replies to my original post. Lots of good thinking here. I profited from reading them. The friend I mention in my post, the one who asked me about how a person could be good without believing in God, wasn't/isn't a good discusser. She was far more interested in stating her dogmas than in listening to responses from me. But I did manage to point out a few things, and maybe they made her think a bit. I asked her if God were somehow removed from her life paradigm, would she go out and start robbing, raping, pillaging and burning? She said, "No, of course not," but she couldn't (or wouldn't) respond to my next question, "Why not?" She didn't have an answer for that. Or, rather, she DID have an answer, but she didn't want to say it aloud to me, because it supported my whole contention about morality not being tied to a god belief.

 

This lady's husband is a strong Christian and also a scientist from Columbia University, a geophysicist. He was the first Christian I ever met who supported evolution. Of course, he saw it then, and still sees it now, as God's method for creating the biological complexity we see around us today, starting with mankind. He's NOT a proponent of Intelligent Design, but he does believe that God used evolution as his means of creating, and that Genesis 1-3 is something of a parable, describing true events, but in poetic, symbolic ways. He believes that evolution brought man to the point of being an intelligent biped, and then God selected homosapien from the rest of the evolved animal kingdom, blew into him "the breath of life" (an immortal spirit), giving him the divine image and lifting him out of the animal kingdom forever. I've challanged him to tell me the evidence that he uses to support that theory, even as he so passionately argues for the veracity of the evidence that supports evolution. I haven't gotten an answer as yet. Hmmmm. But I also want him to think seriously about the role of morality & ethics in the evolutionary process (homosapien evolution, obviously.) I see it as very logically a product of evolution, or, rather, an element in the process of evolution that was selected and reinforced due to its contribution to the survival of the species. Morality (as defined by any given society) is a strong defense for any community, calling on that community to promote the morality, and to discipline transgressions of that morality. While morality may not always contribute to the survival of the individual in the evolutionary process, it most certainly does for the community as a whole.

 

Have a good weekend, friends....................RJT

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I think your family is correct in a way. In a totally material universe there can be no true "goodness" -- only people's feelings about what they do and don't like. Even a whole bunch of people cannot turn their tastes and preference into anything but mere opinion. "Goodness" as a reality apart from peoples' perceptions is an idea of a supernatural reality. You could call that supernatural reality "God" if you wanted, but you don't have to. But if you want to believe in Goodness, then why not just believe in Goodness and stop there? If that is the endgame, then why go further? Socrates and Plato spoke about "Goodness" in the ways that Christians speak about God. Goodness is the form that all things participate in, to the degree that they are good.

 

Christians are actually the ones who dethrone and obliterate the idea of Goodness. According to Christians, God can make every act and its opposite "Good" simply by willing it and doing it. According to Christianity, a thing is good because God does it; God does not choose to do it because he recognizes it to be good. He can order Abraham to kill Isaac on a Monday and that would be "good" even though it was "bad" the day before. There is no absolute standard of Goodness against which God's acts can be judged. "I am the LORD, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things." Isaiah 45:6-7 (King James Version). "He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: "What have you done?" Daniel 4:34-35 (New International Version)

 

If "good" means "what God wills" then to say "God is good" can mean only "God wills what he wills." Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan. In Christianity, good and evil become entirely blurred, and there would be no point in calling God "good" anymore. In Christianity, "Goodness" is voided of its meaning, and there is only power. God is berzerk and his choices are unguided by a sense of right and wrong outside of his will. John Calvin said as much in his Institutes: "Everything which he wills must be held to be righteous by the mere fact of his willing it. Therefore, when it is asked why the Lord did so, we must answer, Because he pleased. But if you proceed farther to ask why he pleased, you ask for something greater and more sublime than the will of God, and nothing such can be found." John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

 

2r3ij3o.jpg

 

A lot of good thoughts here. Thanks. For years as a Christian it secretely frustrated me that God could never be wrong precisely because RIGHT was defined by what God willed and did. He could never lose. He had all the cards. No matter what he did, it was "good" by what in my heart of hearts I considered an example per eccellenza of absurd, circuitous "reasoning." It would be laughable if attempted by anyone but God, but God doing it somehow, by definition, makes it RIGHT. I'd laugh at that myself...if it weren't so destructively absurd. RJT

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I think it was Fran Lebowitz who said it best; when asked by someone why atheists bothered to try to lead a good life, she replied: "Because atheists know we only have one chance to get it right."

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I'd ask how they think it's possible to be good with god.

 

Because frankly if you're only good because you think god is looking over your shoulder, you're really not that good.

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The friend I mention in my post, the one who asked me about how a person could be good without believing in God, wasn't/isn't a good discusser. She was far more interested in stating her dogmas than in listening to responses from me.

 

That's probably because she's programmed to just accept what god supposedly says, so therefore she's not really allowed to think logically about this stuff. If one has a roadblock to logical thinking, then any discussion just about has to follow along the lines you mention.

 

Have a good weekend, friends....................RJT

 

You too!

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The reason I treat other well is because I empathize with others. I do not like it when bad things happen to me, so I do not wish those things to happen to others and I especially don't want to be the cause of hardship for others.

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As an ex-christian, if you've been out of the closet for any time at all, you'll have probably encountered the idea from some believer that you can't be good unless you believe in God (and they always mean THEIR god.) I encountered that one again last weekend while visiting some dear old friends who are practicing Christians...especially the wife. She took me to task about a right and wrong judgment I made and asked how I could believe in right and wrong if I didn't believe in God (her god, since hers is the only right one.) How do you answer something like that? I know what I told her, but I'd be interested in some feedback from you all. Is there a true right and wrong if a Moral Authority (i.e. God) doesn't exist, or is everything relative? I don't need a book from you. I can buy one of those (in fact, I have several), but I'd like to know what you say, in the arena of real life interaction with believers. And just maybe it'll help out some of the readers who are just coming out of the closet and facing this issue for the first time. Later! RJT

 

Interesting, someone was just talking about this very subject last night at a local apostate meeting. He asked, if we abandon the idea of God, then what does that mean for our morals? If there are no more consequences for our actions (or "sins", as the Christians would call it) then would we not become an immoral society? Of course we still have a conscience and therefore do not feel comfortable killing another human. We don't feel right stealing, or cheating on our spouses, or what ever. You get the idea.

 

I'd say that one can be good without God, with the only difference being the motive for being good. Christianity promotes a fear-based motive for doing good. Please God and he'll be happy...but don't please God and look out! That's the primary factor in Christians, I believe. Naturally, they still have a conscience, and that no doubt guides them to do good. Which leads us to the godless good. One who does not believe in God can still be good simply because we have a conscience. Even if those Christians gave up God (as most of us already did) they'd still have the ability to be good.

 

It's a little...I mean, a LOT silly to think that God is needed to be good. Just goes to show the level of Christian ignorance out there regarding Atheists. Also shows how they feel about Atheists/Agnostics or what have you. I don't think very many Christians see the godless as real people. Which is sad, if you ask me.

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Judging by all the people in the bible who killed, and the christians who kill in the name of god today, it seems like faulty logic. Christians don't stone their kids to death nowadays- for the most part. There are a lot of things in the bible that are condoned that christians would never do now- they'd be locked up. Slavery certainly wasn't good, but christians thought it was acceptable in biblical times, so how do they explain that? What's good seems to change with the times, even for believers. But...I guess when you're on that side of things, and everything not pertaining to christianity is of the devil, we are looked at as being 'them', and they are programmed not to trust us. So, no matter what good we do, it is 'filthy rags' to them. If they believed we were truly capable of good, they'd have to question their beliefs. It's easier to just write everyone off.

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I believe it was Hitchens who had a great response regarding the OP.

 

He said something to the effect: "If I am unable to make a moral decision without the bible, please give me one, just one moral act, that I can't perform that you can as a christian,"

 

No one has been able to come up with one..

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Elephants are known to demonstrate empathy. I'm assuming they don't believe in a God or an afterlife.

 

:lmao:

 

On a more serious note, some people in my background like to brag about how sinful they would be without God. One day I said to one of these people, "If you really are that bad a person you better make some radical changes in your life!"

 

It was on the telephone but I could tell that this was totally not the correct response, i.e. not what I was "supposed" to say. She changed her tactic. Apparently, she did not consider herself such a terrible person at all; it was just so much rhetoric to feed the atheist. At least, that is how it came across the line to me.

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Elephants are known to demonstrate empathy. I'm assuming they don't believe in a God or an afterlife.

 

:lmao:

 

On a more serious note, some people in my background like to brag about how sinful they would be without God. One day I said to one of these people, "If you really are that bad a person you better make some radical changes in your life!"

 

It was on the telephone but I could tell that this was totally not the correct response, i.e. not what I was "supposed" to say. She changed her tactic. Apparently, she did not consider herself such a terrible person at all; it was just so much rhetoric to feed the atheist. At least, that is how it came across the line to me.

My response would be (and I'm paraphrasing something else I read), "If you need religion to be a good person, then you are not truly good. You are afraid. Good people are good because they know right from wrong."

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