For Goodness’ Sake

There’s been some publicity about the simultaneous actions of multiple non-theistic groups this Thanksgiving and Christmas season.  Namely, that several groups are launching or stepping up advertising campaigns to spread the idea that you can be moral without God.  

Last year’s campaign.
Articles about the plan this year here and here and here.    And of course statements from at least one horse’s mouth here.  
How do we make sense of these assertions?  Is it possible to be good without believing in God?  Is the morality being advocated by these groups the same morality as Biblical Christianity?  
Let’s go in reverse order.  One of two things is generally afoot with these organizations.  Either morality or good is intended to be understood as synonymous with traditional Biblical Christian usages of these terms, or it is not.  If the terms are being used in a synonymous way (which isn’t usually the case, in my experience), then the argument that you can be good without God doesn’t make nearly the rational sense they expect it should if they just want to appropriate God’s  definition of moral or good.  And this isn’t even dealing with the issue that Biblical Christian ideas about goodness and morality state that nothing can be good or moral apart from God.  So these groups can’t be simply saying that they believe the same things that Christians believe are good, and we don’t need to thank God for those definitions of goodness.  
More often, these groups are attempting to switch terms.  They want to use terms like goodness and morality that people tend to think of in concrete terms.  Murder is not good or moral, for instance, and everyone seems to agree with that.  Most people would also agree that adultery is not good or moral.  But while utilizing the very general terms goodness and morality, these groups want to substitute new definitions of these things.  There are aspects of the Biblical Christian definition of moral or good that they object to, most notably being the assertion that there is a God who has created us and that morality and goodness consist exclusively of obedience and worship of this God.  
Now comes the tricky part.  They want to discard God’s idea of morality and goodness, and posit their own.  However, the Biblical definition of morality and goodness is grounded.  Meaning, that definition isn’t subject to change or alteration.  What God has deemed good and moral remains good and moral always, even if we disagree with it or don’t like it.  In any argument about goodness or morality, the Christian points to the Bible and says here is where those terms find meaning and fullness.  Someone else may choose to posit another definition of goodness and morality, but where does that definition come from?  How is it grounded?
It’s not.  Either it’s a relative definition of these terms that dictates that the individual decides what is moral or good for themselves, or some other individual or group will dictate the new definition of moral and good.  Personal relative morality obviously can’t function unless you’re locked in a room alone, because the first time you decide to utilize your own personal morality or idea of goodness on someone else who disagrees, you run into a shock.  What you believe is good or moral is irrelevant, because there are larger definitions for these terms.  Do you believe that it’s moral for you to drink and drive?  Surprise!  Our society has said that it isn’t.  And that larger definition trumps your individual definition.  Too bad for you!
But where does society get it’s definitions of morality and goodness?  We either get them from God (the Biblical response), or we get them from ourselves.  And if we get them from ourselves, then they aren’t really solid definitions any more, are they?  Suddenly, they can shift and alter and change.  Good can become bad, and something we’ve always been taught to be bad can suddenly be dictated to be good.  Why?  Because whomever we have ceded authority to make these decisions on our behalf has said so.  
Does the government create and define morality and goodness?  No.  Our Declaration of Independence stresses that government exists to protect the rights provided by our Creator.  By God.  Our State acknowledges that it can’t be the source of those rights, because any time a political entity has claimed to have that power, it has resulted not in greater good or morality, but in severe immorality, persecution, the abuse and rescinding of human rights, and badness on a scale that can’t really be denied by anyone – secular or otherwise.  
If God is not the source of our definitions of good or moral, then we have no definitions beyond whatever is suitable to whomever holds power at the moment.  When a new group ascends to power, they redefine the terms to suit themselves unless those terms are grounded in something bigger and larger than themselves. Which means that secularists themselves can’t define the terms with any lasting meaning – they can only attempt to redefine for the moment, until someone else gains power.  
The last question is whether or not one can be good or moral without faith in God.  We’ve already said that the ultimate test of goodness or morality from a Biblical standpoint is obedience to God.  So clearly it isn’t possible to be good or moral from a Biblical definition without belief in the God of the Bible.  But from the secular point of view, is it possible to be a good person as defined by how we treat others and function within our community and society?  

Sure.  Biblical Christianity would say that this is only possible because of the grace of God, that all existence is contingent upon God’s grace, and that this grace permits even the non-believer to be a good neighbor.  The atheist who decides not to murder his neighbors, or to give money or food to the needy, or who doesn’t drive drunk is being good and moral as defined in terms of our relationship to others.  I pray that if my neighbor is an atheist, she acts in these ways.  It is a blessing to me – even if it doesn’t change the very real spiritual danger she is in.  
So it is possible to be good or moral as a non-believer.  But these terms don’t mean the same thing in these two contexts.  There’s a relatively narrow area of overlap that deals with how we treat one another.  It may be possible to act in a moral or good way, but that overlap will grow thinner as these terms are continually redefined to be farther afield from their grounding in Scripture.  Eventually, it is very possible that what we consider to be patently bad right now will be professed to be good.  What seems unthinkable today may one day be considered normal.  
And then the narrow overlap will be gone.  

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