BSR 18: Being a Good Person Is All that Really Matters

BSR 18: Being a Good Person Is All that Really Matters May 30, 2020

Summary of reply: Objective morality is make-believe, the dictionary already defines “good” (no need for God, thank you), and God sets no moral standard that anyone should be striving to follow.

(These Bite-Size Replies are responses to “Quick Shots,” brief Christian responses to atheist challenges. The introduction to this series is here.)

Challenge to the Christian: Being a good person is all that really matters

Christian response #1: Don’t judge “good” by your own standard. Your good will differ from your neighbor’s. The objective standard of good comes from God.

BSR: We’ve all seen or heard countless individual moral dilemmas where we might argue with friends about which course of action was best. We also see moral issues within society like abortion or same-sex marriage that drag on contentiously for years. Where is this objective standard from God that will neatly direct us to the one correct moral answer?

The standard that people use is their own. A person’s moral standard begins with the moral programming they got from being born a human, and that is then shaped by their personality, upbringing, and society.

We already have a source to find out what “good” means—it’s the dictionary. Look up the word and there’s no mention of God. The standards we use are our own, grounded by ourselves. An objective, accessible moral standard would be nice, but there is no evidence of such a thing.

And even if we want to imagine objective morality, why imagine that the Christian god is behind it? Maybe it’s Allah or Zeus or the Aztec god of wind and learning, Quetzalcoatl. As Christopher Hitchens observed, this is slipping God through customs without declaring him.

Morals have a natural explanation. “But where did objective moral values come from but from God?” fails if there are no objective moral values to explain. [Click to tweet]

Christian response #2: No one’s thoughts and actions are entirely pure. If being a good person is all that really matters, then we all fail because we aren’t consistently good.

BSR: When did “good” become “perfect”? We know we’re not perfect. Even more so, we know that others aren’t perfect. The idea “he’s a good person” is never confused with “he’s morally perfect.” Here on earth, we try to live a life that’s at least more good than bad, more helpful than hurtful. We try to leave the earth better for our having lived. We see this codified into the legal system with the idea of character witnesses who argue that, though the defendant has made mistakes, there is a good side that mitigates the bad side.

Jesus’s parable of the sheep and the goats makes clear that works (not faith) get you into heaven and that perfection isn’t required: “The Son of Man will come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”

You’ve ceded the right to have your moral judgments taken seriously if you accept the idea of infinite punishment for finite crimes in hell. Here again we see a difference between Christians’ one-size-fits-all imagination of the afterlife and proportional punishment here on earth. If a single horrible punishment for all crimes makes no sense in our legal system, why would it make sense coming from the omniscient and all-wise Judge of All?

Jesus agreed that perfection wasn’t needed to get into heaven (Matt. 25:31–46). And speaking of imperfection, the one-size-fits-all hell is an example. [Click to tweet]

Christian response #3: “Good” isn’t good enough when God is perfect.

BSR: Read the Old Testament, and you’ll see that God sets a terrible moral standard. He breaks pretty much every commandment that it’s possible for him to break. It’s not clear what moral rules he follows, if any.

Don’t tell me that God’s ways are higher than our ways or that God is good by definition or that God’s various rampages are in “difficult passages” that must be reinterpreted. The word “good” has a definition, and God doesn’t meet it. If you’re going to say that God is “good” when he does good things, you’re obliged to label him “bad” when he does things for which, if you did them, you’d be called bad.

Even if we did allow that God were morally perfect (remember that this is the same God who supports slavery, commands genocide, and kills everything in a flood), why does his moral perfection mean that we must be perfect? In this view, God creates us, so he’s well aware of how flawed we are. We’re imperfect by design—his design. No father would insist on a standard of behavior from his children that he knew they couldn’t meet.

God sets a terrible moral standard—just read the Old Testament. Supporting slavery, demanding genocide, drowning the world—he breaks just about every moral rule it’s possible to break. [Click to tweet]

(The Quick Shot I’m replying to is here.)

Continue with BSR 19: Jesus Was Just a Man

For further reading:

He’s your god; they’re your rules—
you burn in hell.

— seen on the internet


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