Many Christians proclaim that without firm belief in their god, nobody can possibly be a good person. But they’re wrong, and I’ll show you how today.
Good Without a God. Right?
It’s a popular phrase in Christianity: You can’t be good without God.
The Christians who like this phrase tell us that non-Christians are immoral. Simply because of their non-belief, non-Christians (we are told) are far more likely to commit a crime. They’re far less trustworthy in every way, in fact.
The implication is that Christians, by contrast, are in their opinion less likely to commit crimes and are far more moral and trustworthy. When this is disputed by sharing information about Christians who have committed crimes or who are not in the least moral or trustworthy, though, the sharer is likely to be accused of “bashing Christians” or smearing the faith, or that Christian’s accused of not being a TRUE CHRISTIAN™.
Can’t win for losing, can we?
It’s easy for me to see, now that I’m years out of the religion, why it’s so important that Christians maintain this fiction. If a Christian genuinely believes that disbelievers are evil and immoral, it’s that much easier to totally dismiss their arguments and experiences. It’s even more unthinkable for that Christian to consider arguments against the religion.
Only Bad People Deconvert. Right?
This attitude allows Christians to talk trash about people who’ve left their religion. “You just wanted to sin” is such a commonly flung accusation it’s become an in-joke among ex-Christians.
But is it true? No, of course not. Christians don’t leave the religion and immediately become cheaters, liars, abusers, or criminals, any more than they secretly still believe, in their heart of hearts, in the Christian deity.
To many people who leave the religion, they consider that only moral option available is in fact to deconvert. Once we’ve seen enough evidence contradicting Christian claims, it’s easy to see why Christians often seem like such hypocrites. Indeed, I still shudder when I hear Christians say things like “If it weren’t for Jesus, what’s to stop us all from running out and murdering and raping everybody in sight?” as if the only thing holding them back is their own religious zealotry.
(By the way, if any Christians reading my words think this way, let me say here very clearly: Please don’t ever stop to consider the validity of your religion. Society’s safety clearly depends upon your staying zealous.)
True Leopards Still Sin Their Tails Off.
It was a huge shock to me, as a teenager in that Texas Southern Baptist megachurch, to discover that people could profess a very strong “conviction” (that’s a Christianese word roughly meaning “certainty that the religion is true”) on Sunday and still be liars, cheaters, and worse during the week.
The same kids singing with tears rolling down their cheeks on Sunday took drugs, cheated on tests, got drunk, partied, and had unapproved sex all week long!
Later, as a Pentecostal, I’d discover that the most zealous people in church watched television, went to movies, wore clothes that contravened our holiness standards dress code, cursed, cheated on their spouses, lied on their taxes, abused their kids, and worse.
I’d also discover the markers of a dysfunctional society. Even knowing what I knew about how awful Christian groups can be, I still felt shocked to see just how much worse Christian-heavy states fare versus more secular states: higher divorce rates for evangelicals (also here), higher rates of teen pregnancy, higher rates of stalking and sexual violence, worst college graduation rates, less hate crime protection, and more.
Indeed, religiosity correlates strongly here with higher rates of property crime, and here with societal dysfunction (as an added bonus, enjoy the statistics about just what religions are most represented by prison populations–spoiler alert: atheists are way down the list).
How does any of that sound like “Jesus” makes anybody more moral?
I Wish Christians At Least ACTED Like They Take Their Stated Ideology Seriously.
When I first saw these contradictions to Christian claims about superior morality, I was still Christian myself!
I didn’t stop to wonder why people who claim to have the real deal grasp on the truest truth ever truthed could possibly act this way. Instead, I thought this must mean the church itself was flawed. I really thought that there a god would judge me at the end of my life–and that an eternal (and gruesome) sentence awaited me if I didn’t toe the line. Thus, I was downright frantic to fly right.
I couldn’t even imagine why other Christians, who presumably thought the exact same thing I did about Judgment Day, clearly felt no pressure to behave themselves. Clearly the problem was with the church I was attending, not the message’s absolutely ludicrous nature.
See, the message could not possibly be untrue, I thought. Jesus transformed people. He washed them clean. He made them new creations. In a very real sense, he was a new chapter, a new beginning, a new life.
No Changes of Stripes or Spots.
It would take many years for me to see the truth about Christian conversion myths.
A scumbag who converts might act non-scummy for a bit. Alas! The scumbagginess will come back soon enough. A liar will still lie, and a cheater will still cheat. An abuser will still lash out.
Why, it was almost as if there wasn’t a god involved at all and therefore no supernatural transformation.
I was already basically a good person who didn’t like to lie, cheat, steal, or otherwise disobey the law, so, shockingly, I didn’t do those things as a Catholic or after becoming a Southern Baptist or later a Pentecostal, and even more shockingly, I still don’t do those things as a non-Christian today. And that’s about what people discover when they deconvert from Christianity.
The Flip Side.
If one doesn’t need Jesus to be good, then it seems to me that one who doesn’t believe in Jesus isn’t necessarily evil. Millions of Hindus and Buddhists today manage the trick just fine. Indeed, decent people existed long before one god in the Israelite pantheon managed to push out all the other deities in the religion and take over Judaism.
Nowadays, anybody can find non-believers who are excellent people. Such people have existed all through history. The Golden Rule didn’t start with Christianity or Judaism! There are philosophers and scientists alike out there doing a great job of working with the idea of morality and its source. But I don’t worry about that. I just know that Christianity clearly has no monopoly on morality. In other words, Christians are not intrinsically more moral as a group than non-Christians are.
The problem really is that a plethora of reasons tell us that they absolutely should be.
The cognitive dissonance angered me at first. But then I began to wonder: if the Southern Baptists weren’t right, then who was? Surely someone was. While I pondered, I drifted out of that megachurch, gradually stopping attendance entirely.
Thus, that chapter of my life ended–and another began.
(PS: Yes, I know that leopards aren’t striped.)
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