“Be good for goodnes’ sake” was a phrase seen on buses and billboards earlier this year. The message is that you can be good without a base from which to decide what is “good.” Supposedly, there is an inborn morality within each of us that can do the right thing. One does not need God to understand good and evil.
There are several problems with this concept. First, we live in the new culture of the Western world–there are no absolutes; there is no “good”; there is no “evil.” It is up to each individual to decide for himself, or herself, what it right and what is wrong; what is good and what is evil. Often, it is prevailing opinion that makes the decision for us. This is a culture never before seen in our world. While there have always been a few philosophers that make the claim, the average member of society has always understood that some of their actions are wrong. They just decided that it didn’t matter. It was a little like the kid who said, “I’ll get a beating for this–I’ll do it anyway.” If we have rejected God’s right to rule, there is no justification for that call from our conscience .
Why has our world, our American culture, come to reject absolutes? Perhaps because we want limitless freedom. Perhaps we love the idea of evolving into gods who can best judge good and evil for ourselves. (However, just as in the family of gods on Olympus, this can in itself lead to problems.) I think that the reason that we reject any sort of absolute involves both of these attitudes plus the idea that God (if He exists) has no right to declare anything as absolute. That would give Him too much power over our lives and actions.
The claim to goodness from within ourselves, without guidelines from a source beyond our own humanity, leads to the inevitable conclusion that there is no definable evil. In believing that goodness is the condition in which we are born leads necessisarily to the conclusion that if we do bad things, it must be due to making bad decisions, and bad decisions are the result of our upbringing, the unfairness of life, or a hurt that changed a heart from love to hate. Daumer, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, along with serial murderers and rapists were really good people who just made some bad choices due to their life experience. In other words, we can train ourselves to be in perfect harmony with the world around us. There’s one big problem with that–in our culture everyone has the same right to establish what is right or wrong conduct. What happens when those opinions of good and evil, right and wrong, come into conflict?
A persistent theme in the writings of all religions is the right of one’s god to set the value system. Our own culture is so linked to the Judeo-Christian Bible that it is absurd for anyone to claim that he or she has established their goodness out of their own heart and mind. That is like saying that the Amish are not affected by modern technology because they choose to ignore it; or claiming that I believe America is great based solely on my own observation. It isn’t possible to avoid the God-molded definition of morality in the West. We are trying to establish a man-developed morality in a culture infused with God’s law. We think that we can do it by rejecting any of the God-inspired notions of absolutes.
Atheists will rant at the thought that man cannot better his world on his own; that man is not born innately able to recognize good and do it. They claim that the morality that they pursue is a valid morality of logic, without thought of absolutes or God, though many of their moral thoughts strongly resemble those taught in God’s word. Their claim is therefore disputed by one of their own, Friedrich Nietzsche, who wrote:
“When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept, the faith in God, one breaks the whole. It stands or falls with faith in God.” (The Portable Nietzsche, pg 515; quoted in “The Real Face oF Atheism”, pg 53 by Ravi Zacharias.)
Our own experience and observation should be enough to demonstrate that mankind will pronounce as “moral” whatever is the most practical path of the moment. Some examples: Many people support abortion because they believe that it eases the financial stress on the government; our government denied for decades any claim that Agent Orange could possibly cause illness in veterans; Rekha Basu, columnist for the “Des Moines Register” reports that one Iowa county is “expected to approve” a plan to “begin offering up the bodies of people dependent on county funeral assistance for medical experimentation before they can be buried or cremated.” As she adds, “Words like exploitive and humiliating barely do justice to the idea.” There are many more examples, like the young man a few years ago who was defended and justified by his friends for murdering a woman to get her sports car–their reasoning? He had always wanted a car like that. Good and evil become totally relative without absolute truths.
The world does not work better without God–with man making his own morality. We are on the verge today of euthanizing sick people (expecially the elderly), of being able to decide what intelligence level our offspring should have; of controlling every aspect of life as defined by whatever might be the current definition of good or evil. Those definitions, free of absolutes, will be in constant flux, leading to chaos.