Sunday, November 08, 2009

Good w/o God

"It is not what they profess but what they practice that makes them good" -- Greek proverb

I'd be curious if my Chicago blog friends (Laura, Scott, Crystal, etc.) had a chance to see that billboard recently. And what do you think of it? Is it appropriate to have this discussion writ large? I say yes. There isn't a city that I've ever been in that does not make a statement about faith publicly. The mere existence of churches with their adornments of crosses and other religious imagery is a public proclamation. So, should agnostic and atheists be afforded the same chance? Of course they should. No one can honestly say that the message on the billboard (or similar ones in other cities) is offensive.

Obviously, not even my Christian friends could intimate that it is exclusively God that makes one good. Right?

What makes one good? If it is God, then does it have to be conscious? Meaning, if an atheist is, by all accounts, a good person, then is it because God made him so and he just won't admit it? Or, does a person have to make a conscious acknowledgement of God? I say no. Admittedly, I don't believe in God, but if there was, I don't think it is in the acceptance of God that makes one better than anyone else.

And when I see one of my friends that is a Christian, I don't have the belief that it is because they believe in God that they are good. If they lost their faith, I wouldn't believe they lost their "goodness". Conversely, deathbed and prison conversions of wicked people do not absolve them of their past or their wickedness.

I believe the origins of being good are familial and by extension societal. The survival of our species has depended on reliance on our immediate families and our clans. Positive behavior by and towards them presented the best opportunity for survival. Groups that demonstrated those tendencies survived and passed on those tendencies. This only speaks to the aggregate. Any individual, depending on physiological and environmental influences, can be good or bad.

I've heard from some Christians that being atheist means that you don't have to play by any rules, that without some strict taskmaster on high, they will not do right. That is a specious and disappointing argument. I would be afraid to be around the type of person that was just one Sunday church visit away from being a criminal. I would hope that a responsibility to self and society would guide their actions ... an innate moral instinct, if you will. But what do I know? I'm just winging it, flying by the seat of my pants. Every day I go out, I will take advantage of anyone, be cruel and sadistic, because God is not in my life. Somebody please save society from me and my "badness". Or not.

"The ideals which have always shone before me and filled me with the joy of living are goodness, beauty, and truth. To make a goal of comfort or happiness has never appealed to me; a system of ethics built on this basis would be sufficient only for a herd of cattle." -- Albert Einstein


CyberKitten said...

It is worrying when Christians seem to be saying that the *only* reason they are good is because of God in their lives. As if they are saying that the moment they lost their faith they'd go on a killing spree. If that's the only thing holding them back they are most certainly people to be avoided.

It's also interesting to see some theists jump through hoops to attempt to explain good non-theists.

wunelle said...

Clearly cooperation and clannishness are innate survival mechanisms. Our ability to act collectively and for the greater good is a strategy which has yielded us more than individual action alone could--and we see the simpler versions in ant colonies and dog packs.

What we label good and moral are, for the most part, things which are pro-social--and those rules that are not strictly functional raise the red flag of political / power manipulation. That's why it's often amusing to see moralist scumbags excoriating people over distinctly non-moral things.

Goodness is that which helps us survive collectively.

CyberKitten said...


dbackdad said...

I just read a review of The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures on NPR this week. It sounds like it is book that speaks to what we were talking about. From the review, " ... argues that religion has an evolutionary function. It's a universal phenomenon ... because it gives humans an edge. ... it restrains aggression and encourages self-sacrifice for the community" - I'll probably pick up this book sometime soon.