I’ve written before of the Evangelical Christian fallacy that without God, atheists are allowed to do as they please, since they lack any moral guidelines.
|Paul Jennings Hill|
Atheists find this argument to be troubling at best, and downright scary at the worst. If the only thing holding a Christian back from rape and murder is the fear of punishment, then such a person should be avoided!
It is also possible for a Christian (like Christian minister, Paul Jennings Hill) to use their religion to justify murder as an ethical action.
When a Christian is serious about basing their ethical guidelines on the Bible, it is reasonable to ask how they interpret the Bible in order to find those allowed by the Bible. Mr. Hill, for example, had an interpretation that may be very different from other people.
But all of this is a different argument.
I contend that the belief in a divine lawgiver and enforcer actually precludes ethical behavior on the part of the believer.
Let’s make it clear. The Bible states that people who act in a manner that pleases God will be rewarded, and those who do not will be punished. Matthew 25:31-46 is quite clear that our actions will be judged.
We must question whether it is even possible to act in a moral manner when a person’s very thoughts are under constant scrutiny and their actions and thoughts are being weighed to see if they are a “sheep” or a “goat”. Whether or not a divine judge actually exists would seem to be beside the point. The real belief that a divine judge actually exists will influence a person’s actions.
If a Christian does good, by giving to the poor, comforting the sick, or just being a friend in a time of need, there must remain some awareness that God’s judgement upon them is tracking their actions and adding those actions to their “book of life”. And this is more than action – the Bible makes it very clear that a Christian is even judged by his or her own thoughts.
Even if a Christian has the best of motives, even if they are truly altruistic, they must be aware at some level that their actions and thoughts are being monitored by the being that will judge them as being worthy of Heaven, or condemned for that other destination (which varies among the different Christian denominations.)
This knowledge reduces all lofty motives to the level of merely covering one’s ass.
If you do good, some part of you knows you will be rewarded. If you do bad, that same part knows that you will be punished. Knowing this, how can a person claim that they are acting out of a moral purpose? How can a person act ethically when that person is under constant surveillance and a promise of reward or punishment for their thoughts and deeds?
I submit that it is only possible to act ethically when one is sure that there is no reward or punishment for one’s actions. The true belief in the existence of God precludes true morality – only those people who act without the expectation of reward or punishment, now or in some afterlife, are capable of morality.
A true example of morality is an atheist who does good in secret, free from the judgement of humanity and divinity.