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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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ATHEIST COMMANDMENT 5

“God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.”

priest-10214-largeWhat does it mean to be a good person? What makes life meaningful or worth living? It seems to me that God is like the paper upon which we write. Without him we do not even have the tools or perspective to answer satisfactory either question. The atheist critic contends that the believer is greedy and wants a better deal than the universe gives. Unhappy with a broken world, he argues that theists imagine another world where there is a God who cares and an order that will make sense of the present mess. Karl Marx made much of this “pie-in-the-sky” interpretation of religion. These critics contend that eternal life and the joys of heaven are imaginary rewards fabricated to placate those who are currently suffering or doing without. Note that the rise of American atheism has followed the fall of Soviet communism and the red threat. Many Americans once viewed socialist leanings and atheism as stripes belonging to the same animal. In contradiction, we still find a lingering merger of faith to patriotism. It is almost always the atheist or secularist who throws down the gauntlet: challenging “under God” in the pledge, public prayer, the Bible in schools, the teaching of intelligent design along with evolution and civic toleration of religious symbols.

It is true that sinners and the godless can know good fortune and a level of earthly happiness. But what happens when things do not go our way? The believer finds consolation in his faith, particularly in the face of disappointments, suffering and struggle. Other than taking a mood pill, what does the atheist do when he is facing the prospect of failure, pain and death? What is the meaning of life when everything must be defined in terms of limited mortality? Apart from God, do we even know what it means to be a good person? Why be charitable or self-sacrificing when it costs us and this is the only life we will ever know? Are fornication and homosexuality good? Is adultery only bad when you are caught? Is it okay to steal if you think you can get away with it and there will be no negative consequences? If life gets too hard is it good to take an overdose of pills and end it all? If drugs make you happy then should it not be a personal decision to take them? Is it good to help a scared girl to have an abortion even if believers contend it is the murder of a child? Christians are confused about such matters, too. Many think that simply being good will save them or that following their conscience, even an erroneous one, absolutely frees them from culpability. It does not.

People who reject God might stumble upon being good persons, and there are such things as natural virtues, but I suspect it is usually because they have been touched or “contaminated” by the faith of people around them. It is hard to argue for supernatural virtue or ethical principles or defined commandments when there is no belief in God. It strips the law of any genuine imperative. Precepts become arbitrary or capricious. We see this with the current transition of homosexuality from a crime and defect to a right and gift. Instead of civil laws backing up the laws of God, the laws of men become the final authority and they can change at any moment with the current fads and fashions. Politicians become the new priests and prophets, demanding that vice be regarded as virtue and that moral evil be rendered as good. Morality becomes a matter for vote and legislation, not something imposed by a God in Scripture or from a principal agent behind nature and creation.

Liberalism might rule the day at present, but views can change and we may see an atheistic secular world fighting itself over what is right and wrong. A person might tolerate sodomy but condemn pederasty. The pederast or pedophile might object to bestiality. The bar is increasingly lowered but not every atheist may find he can bend so low in reference to certain indignities. Killing the child in the womb might earn his or her remarks of gratitude as a feminist for women’s rights; but kill a three year old that no one wants might make the same critic puke in disgust. Such is the brave new world we are creating. What we have forgotten is that even Hitler and his Nazis thought they were good persons doing good work with eugenics and holocaust. Today we would stamp them as evil although many of their stratagems against the innocent have been put back into place. I will say it again and again. Without God, we do not know how to be good. Of course, this is a different question than, are Christians actually good? The believer acknowledges that he is a sinner who has fallen short. We need the mercy of Jesus. While God’s grace can make us saints; his law reveals how much we have fallen short and how much conversion we still require. If there is no God then there is no sin and no need for forgiveness. We must also then face a universe that could not care less about us. We can live for a few seconds of a hundred years, but eventually the world will get its way and we will die. We are children of nature and we are destined to die. A fallen world will kill us. We will get cancer or diabetes or heart trouble or something else. The atheist says he is not afraid to live and die. I suppose those who feel they have achieved something might feel this way. But what if you are a “nobody” with nothing going right in your life? Suppose you think that nobody loves you. No one wants you. You might conclude, “I would be better off dead,” and if the atheists are right then you would probably be right. In any case, you will get your wish. You will die. We all do. The atheist has to face the prospect that he will be forgotten. It will be as if he never were. Nothing he did will have any permanent significance. How can one be really happy when the transitory is all that one believes to exist? The story of Job was in response to such concerns. The ancient Jews gave little thought to an afterlife. They saw God’s reward in earthly success: wealth, property and family. But what if evil men should flourish and good or innocent people should suffer? Where is the justice in that? Here is the conundrum and it leaves us with one of two possibilities. Either there is no God or at least none that cares a damn for us or there is a good God who will balance the scales in another life where some will be rewarded and others punished. The former argues that we live in a universe where ultimately there is neither justice nor mercy— a prospect that many of us find too terrible to conceive. The latter claims that there is more to reality than we know and that a just God has given us an innate desire for life and happiness that he will satisfy— not in this world but in the kingdom of Christ.

3 Responses

  1. Yes , Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world (at least not till his return).I would argue the political model in the parable of the prodigal son included personal freedom(for expression and pursuit of happiness). In the story of the garden it was the same. Religious political models err by controlling this personal freedom. thank you Father Joe. singed Charlie

  2. EXCELLENT!!!! Thank you!

  3. Thanks for a great series Father!

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