Why Should I be Moral? or Here’s to You Akron!

Last week for Mystic Mondays I posted a passage from the Wisdom of Solomon which outlined some of the consequences of embracing a naturalistic ethic.  One of the questions I asked readers to consider as they meditated on this passage was: if God does not exist why should we be moral at all?  One of our regular commentators, Akron,  was kind enough to take the time to respond to this question.  His answer was that we should be moral because, “it’s the right thing to do,” and he further asserted that we, “don’t need orders from God to do the right thing.”

Let’s take some time to dwell upon this question and upon the answer that Akron gave (an answer, by the way, which is very common among your average atheist or agnostic).

To begin with, let’s consider the question itself: if God does not exist why should I be moral at all?  If God does not exist we are living in a universe in which there is no objective purpose, no objective morality, no underlying intelligence or rationality, in which men are simply the chance byproduct of blind brute physical processes, in which we cease to exist upon death, and in which there is no one watching over what men do or holding men accountable for the things in which they do.  If this, indeed, is the type of universe we live in, this question becomes extremely difficult to answer because it is hard to know, objectively, what it is to be moral in the first place.

Now, there are several ethical theories that a naturalist could maintain but these theories hardly explain the nature of morality in any objective sense.  For example, a naturalist could adhere to some form of Utilitarianism in which the good is defined as whatever brings the most pleasure (and the least pain) to the most amount of people.  However, adopting this ethical system would be completely arbitrary.  Defining the good in such a way would be totally subjective.  According to naturalism, there is no underlying law written within the fabric of the universe which states that the good is whatever brings the maximum amount of pleasure, and least amount of pain, to the most amount of people.  We may argue that Utilitarianism is a useful way of living one’s life and good for maintaining a stable society, but we could not argue that Utilitarian ethics, or any ethical system, was objectively true or said anything concrete about right and wrong.

Hence, if we embrace naturalism, we must also embrace the fact that morality is totally subjective–that is, dependent upon an individual or a society.  From this point we may now examine the question of why, under the naturalistic worldview, someone should adhere to some form of morality?  A naturalist who was being honest with himself would have to answer that there is no objective reason why someone should adhere to an ethical system.  This is not to say that an individual or society might have reasons why they would want to adopt some form of morality, but simply to acknowledge that there is no objective reason why they should adopt a form of morality.

Perhaps I may want to embrace a form of anarchy in which I do whatever pops into my head at any given time.  When I see a beautiful woman I just walk up and kiss her, when I see something in a store that I want I just take it, if I suddenly have the urge to hit someone or something I act upon that urge without restraint.  You might tell me that it would be more advantageous if I were to embrace some form of Utilitarianism, and perhaps that would be true; or, perhaps, I feel that I am more powerful than most people and don’t really care about the rest of society.

Perhaps I don’t care if I live a long life and don’t care about anyone else’s welfare; perhaps I’m only interested in the here and now.  There is nothing about the nature of reality, according to naturalism, which states that I am wrong to live this way.  No one could point their fingers at me and claim that I’m being immoral or evil.  All they could do is claim that I was not adhering to the social norm or that I was disrupting society.  They could not say that I was being objectively evil or that anything I did was objectively  wrong.

All of this is to say that to claim that, if God does not exist, we should be moral because it is the right thing to do is simply question begging.  If God does not exist there is no such thing as the “right thing to do.”  There is what I say to do, or what society says to do, or what some ethical theory says to do, but there is no such thing as the right thing to do.

If, however, God does exist, then there is an order and a purpose woven into the fabric of reality.  There is, more specifically, an objective purpose to human life; there is an objective standard that we must all measure up to which is independent of our society , our culture, or our feelings.  There is also someone watching what we do and to whom we are accountable to.  It is only under this scheme that there are objective reasons why we should be moral and in which there is a clear and definable sense of what being moral is.

Is Religion the Ultimate Villain?

It’s popular, these days, to cast religion as the ultimate villain.  Ever louder we hear the herd screaming that religion is an unbridled danger to civilization–a parasite which has plagued humanity for far too long.  At least this is the picture painted by the so called “New Atheists” and nauseatingly perpetuated by many in the media.  Such an assertion, however, is so shockingly ignorant that one begins to wonder if we are currently experiencing a form of mass cultural amnesia.  Have we in the twenty-first century completely forgotten who we are and where we come from?

Whatever the case may be, one thing remains true: the fantastic claims of the “New Atheists,” regarding religions role in the perpetuation of evil, amount to nothing but mere anti-religious rhetoric. Let me make myself clear, I am not arguing against the fact that great evils have been perpetrated throughout history in the name of religion.  Such an argument, itself, would suggest that I was historically illiterate.  Rather, I am arguing for a fair and balanced portrayal of history–and this includes a serious appraisal of world events in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

More specifically, it involves facing up to some rather disquieting facts; to begin with, as Os Guinness has stated, with the fact that “more people were killed by secularist regimes in the twentieth century than in all the religious persecutions in Western history, and perhaps in all of history.”  David Berlinski, in his book The Devil’s Delusion, provides a chart outlining this staggering reality.  I have only reproduced a portion of this chart, so as to give you a taste of the unflattering legacy of secular ideology:

First World War (1914-18):…………………………… 15 million
Russian Civil War (1917-22):………………………..    9 million
Soviet Union, Stalin’s Regime (1924-53)………..  20 million
Second World War (1937-45):………………………..  55 million
Chinese Civil War (1945-49):………………………..  2.5 million
People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong’s
regime (1949-75):……………………………..   40 million
Tibet (1950 et seq.):……………………………………..      600,000
Congo Free State (1886-1908):………………………    8 million
Mexico (1910-20):………………………………………..    1 million
Turkish massacres of Armenians (1915-23):…….  1.5 million
China (1917-28):…………………………………………..      800,000
Korean War (1950-53):………………………………….  2.8 million
North Korea (1948 et. seq.):…………………………..     2 million
Rwanda and Burundi (1959–95):…………………… 1.35 million
Second Indochina War (1960-75):…………………..   3.5 million
Ethiopia (1962-92):……………………………………….       400,000
Nigeria (1966-70):…………………………………………     1 million
Bangladesh (1971):……………………………………….. 1.25 million
Cambodia, Khmer Rouge (1975-78):……………….. 1.65 million
Mozambique (1975-92):………………………………….     1 million

(For the full chart, I recommend you read his book)

Sadly, these numbers are only the tip of the ice burg.  To begin with, Berlinski excludes the millions of children who have been slaughtered by abortionists in the past two centuries.  According to analysts, doctor’s have performed approximately 1.37 million abortions a year (roughly 3,700 abortions a day), since 1996, in the United States alone.  Let these numbers sink in; then realize that this does not take into account the number of abortions performed prior to 1996 and in other countries.  If we added these numbers we would soon discover that more human lives have been taken through abortion in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries than were lost in World War II.  Now, there are numerous reasons women get abortions–virtually none of which are religiously based.

Berlinski’s chart also fails to represent the staggering number of lives which are daily being destroyed through drugs and human trafficking.  Most of us are acutely aware of the amount of violence and murder associated with drug trafficking and, perhaps, even more aware of the number of deaths caused by drug overdose.  Nevertheless, I have provided a link for those of you who desire more specific statistics: http://drugwarfacts.org/cms/?q=node/30.  I must warn you, however, that as you research the drug industry you will soon find that it is not the Roman Catholic Church, or some religious ideology, which perpetuates this destructive operation; rather, it is money, power, and lust.  All of which, by the way, are secular motivations.

Many of you, however, are perhaps unaware of the fact that there are now more people enslaved than in any other time in history.  It is currently estimated that over 27 million people around the world are living as modern day slaves–victims of human trafficking.  It is estimated that every year one million of these victims are children being exploited by the commercial sex trade.             I think it is important to note that at least 244,000 of these children are American citizens.  Again I ask you, what is the root cause or source of these terrible crimes against humanity?  Is it the teachings of Jesus?  Or is it humanities insatiable lust for money, power, and sexual gratification?

Now, what is the point of this little diatribe?  Why have I taken the time to lay out all of these statistics?  Is my goal to convince you that atheism necessarily leads one to perpetrate heinous crimes against humanity? Of course not!  My aim is simply to point out, as Alister McGrath as so eloquently stated, that, “human beings are capable of both violence and moral excellence–and . . . both [of] these may be provoked by worldviews, whether religious or otherwise.”  It is simply idiotic hate mongering to suggest that religious worldviews are solely responsible for all of the evils in the world–and truly delusional to believe that secular humanistic ideologies have not significantly contributed to much of the world’s suffering.

In truth, all of this talk about religion and secular humanism has completely drawn our attention away from the true source of human misery–sin.  “What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you?” asks St. James, “Is it not your passions that are at war in your members?  You desire and do not have; so you kill.  And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war” (James 4:1-2).  Is it not our unbridled passions which are the true source of evil?  Is it not our hate, our greed, our envy, our lust, our pride, and our slothfulness which has caused so much pain and suffering?

What truly motivates a clergyman to endorse the torture and murder of thousands of “heretics”?  What truly motivates a German soldier to participate in the mass murder of millions of Jews?  Is it not something dark and twisted inside of us?  Is it not our propensity for sin which ultimately leads us to death?  For, “the wages of sin is death,” says St. Paul (Romans 6:23).  And one thing is most certainly true, if the atheists are correct, if God does not exist, then death is simply all we have to look forward to.  As the Preacher so vividly describes: “the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other.  They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts; for all is vanity.  All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again” (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20).

Thus, is the lot of man without God–his existence is utter despair and hopelessness and ends in total annihilation.  Without God, both life and death are simply meaningless natural phenomena.  There is no “cure” for sin, there is no end to pain and suffering, precisely because there is no evil, in the objective sense, at all.   Under the naturalist scheme, all of the suffering and pain and evil we see in the world, whether perpetrated in the name of religion or some secular ideology, is simply a normal part of existence.  Because there is no mind or purpose behind existence, concepts like ‘good’ or ‘evil’ are simply subjective values we superimpose on nature in our feeble attempt to ascribe some sense of meaning and dignity to our lives.

Under this framework, the Spanish Inquisition was not unjust or evil; it was a mere happening in the history of the movement of particles–men were just being carried along by the, “dance of DNA,” as Richard Dawkins would say.  The Holocaust was not unjust or evil it was just a regular natural occurrence–any value judgements you or I might make about such events are simply our own private opinions.  It is only if Jesus Christ is the logos, the reason or logic behind reality, through whom and for whom all things were created, that our existence has any objective meaning at all.  Likewise, it is only because of Christ–who is the standard and measure of goodness–that we can truly say something is objectively evil.

It is only if the logos became flesh and dwelt among us that man has any hope of overcoming evil.  It is through the death and resurrection of Christ that death has been conquered and man has the opportunity of being made new and being set free from pain and suffering forever.  It is upon Christ’s second coming that justice will finally avail–when all wrongs will be made right and the evil will be judged.  It is through his second coming that all of creation will be renewed and the world will finally be at peace.

The conclusion of the matter is this: religion is not the source of all evil–history has shown that any ideology, religious or otherwise, can breed evil and injustice–however, it is only within the framework of the Christian worldview that evil is properly accounted for.