Can a Christian be moral? That question must sound absurd to a Christian, but the same absurd question is posed to atheists, often by Christians: Can an atheist be moral?
For the Christian, the absurdity of the question ‘Can a Christian be moral?’ lies in the Christian belief that religion is the source of morality and that therefore the religious person has the best chance of performing morally. This too is why the Christian cannot imagine that a non-religious person can be moral.
But religion did not invent morality. The seeds of morality predate religion by tens of thousands of years, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years.
Go back to Darwin and with him acknowledge the sociability of our species, the tendency in natural selection to prefer cooperation in early humanity in order to render our species successful, the gift of inhibitions granted by natural selection to prevent us from killing each other off, the rise of empathy, also naturally ‘selected’ to aid in the ascendancy of our species. All these traits, early infused in early humanity as survival aids, are the origins of moral feeling. And even the thing called ‘conscience’ was bequeathed to us by natural selection.
All the sociable species have something like morality at work in them. Humans are not the only animals with a conscience. Dogs, monkeys and apes, and even some birds have a conscience: they experience a mental state of guilt when they are caught doing something wrong, and they evince an attitude of guiltiness in bodily posture, facial expression, and gesture. Just look at your dog when you catch him doing something he knows is wrong. Look at his body, his tail, his face. Your dog has a conscience.
The moral impulse is antique equipment for humanity, much older than religion.
Religion came along later and, yes, religion did become the chief world historical vehicle for further inculcation of moral rules. That’s true. And we owe religion a nod of thanks for that. But religion did not originate, invent, contrive, or think up morality.
And that’s why the non-religious have always been able to behave morally. The instinct to behave morally and to abide by inbuilt inhibitions is biological, not theological.
Can a Christian be moral? Well, the Christian has as good a chance as anyone to be moral. But no religion ever inoculated its practitioners from behaving immorally. And so the question remains open.
Featured image ‘Conscience’ by Thomas Hawk via Flickr