I haven’t seen the subway poster, but I heard that it reads, “One million New Yorkers can be good without God!” Of course, atheists, like anyone else, can be good without God. We all possess that uncomfortable conscience which raises a fuss whenever we do something wrong. The conscience is so persuasive that it usually keeps us within certain limits, at least superficially. However, the real question is whether or not the atheist has an adequate rationale to do good.
Despite the poster’s bold claim, there are several warning signs to the contrary. The atheist must first believe that there is such a thing as “goodness,” rather than a useful idea that we create in order to make society work. If there is no reality of “goodness” and “evil,” then we can’t even begin to talk coherently about being good without God.
The other warning alarm begins to sound when the atheist unfurls his rationale for doing good. This rationale generally consists of a combination of factors such as “enlightened” selfishness and pragmatism. As one atheist explained enlightened selfishness:
“This principle transforms itself into a rational desire for community. We cherish and enjoy this life for others as well as ourselves; we care for each other as parts of infinite nature; we become persons and lovers of nature; and we endeavor not only to preserve each other in being but also to promote a shared happiness through acts of kindness, through friendliness, and also through laws [call them laws of nature] and institutions that foster and promote life.”
However, selfishness and pragmatism can just as easily promote some pretty ugly behaviors, as we have often seen. Sometimes, we find that our best interests are served by using others. Such is the fabric of human history!
I don’t think that this latest atheist initiative – subway-sloganeering – will be able to address these deficiencies any more than their “Blasphemy Contest,” but we can’t blame them for trying.
Author : Daniel Mann
Instructor at New York School of the Bible, New York, February 1992 to present
Teach classes of OT, Theology and Apologetics.
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