I am finally back to continue the Atheist Memes series. Sorry for the long delay between posts. I haven’t abandoned the site. It’s just that life gets busy sometimes. Click here for the last post in this series, where I discussed the “Churches With Lightning Rods” meme. In this post, I would like to discuss another popular meme. I am calling this one the “True Morality” meme.
The “True Morality” Meme
This meme makes the case that atheists are actually more moral than religious folks. Check it out below and then we will see how we can respond to memes like this.
The point of the meme is pretty clear. Atheists who do good without the promise of eternal reward for their good deeds are being more moral than Christians who believe that their good deeds will be rewarded. Helping an old lady across the street is a good thing. But if you are only doing it because you believe she will give you ten dollars, then it’s not as good. The argument goes that you don’t really care about the old lady. You are only performing the action for selfish reasons.
Is this a fair critique of the morality of Christian theists? Do atheists actually have the inside track on morality, since they believe there is no divine being that will punish them or reward them according to their deeds?
An Issue of Motivation?
Let’s say the meme is correct, and Christians only ever do good because they expect that it will benefit them in the afterlife. If that is why Christians do good, then why do atheists do good? I think there are a few possible answers here.
- An atheist might say they do good because they experience empathy. It hurts them emotionally when others around them are experiencing pain and suffering. Therefore, they go on to try to alleviate or prevent that suffering.
- Maybe they do good because they think society will perform more successfully when people are kind and that they are more likely thrive in a successful society.
- Perhaps they do good because they believe others will return the goodness back to them.
- It could be that they are giving of themselves in order to help someone else because they love them and want them to be happy.
- They may refrain from doing bad things because they are illegal and they don’t want to have to pay a fine or go to jail.
What do you notice about all those options? They all involve some sort of benefit. An atheist is going to have a hard time explaining why they do good, without it boiling down to a “selfish” motivation. Even if that motivation is that it makes them happy that someone else is happy.
So if true morality really is doing what is right when there is no benefit to yourself, then atheists and Christians seem to be on the same grounds.
Understanding the Gospel
However, I am not sure we are even on the same grounds. What I mean is that Christians might even have less of a “selfish” motivation than atheists have for their good deeds. To understand why I would say that, you must understand the Gospel. You see, it is not Christians’ good deeds that get them into heaven. If it was up to our good deeds, then none of us would make it. Those who go to heaven will do so based solely on an unconditional pardon for their sins. Christians do not achieve salvation by works but, instead, as a free gift from God.
What does this mean? When I help an old lady cross the street, that action has no bearing on my eternal destination. Maybe I am doing it for the same reason an atheist would. Or, even better, I am doing it as an outflowing of grace in light of what was done for me. In other words, I don’t walk the old lady across the street in order to get something in return. I walk the old lady across the street because of the gift I have already received, out of gratitude and joy.
This seems to me to be even less “selfish” than what the atheist hopes to gain by their good works. It also highlights the major difference between Christianity and most other world religions. In virtually all other world religions, doing good and refraining from doing evil is the way one receives the ultimate good outcome. Whereas in Christianity, our salvation is a gift. Most religions tell you what you need to do to achieve salvation. Christianity tells you what Jesus has already done to secure it on your behalf.
So, instead of undermining “True Morality”, Christianity actually provides a system of salvation that truly opens the door to be good for goodness sake.
One More Thing…
At this point, I think we have sufficiently addressed the meme. But I did want to add on one important point that shouldn’t be missed. If you take God out of the equation, you also take objective morality out of the equation. If the atheist believes he is living a truly moral life, he is going to have to explain how true morality exists in the first place. In a completely naturalistic worldview, there is nothing inherent in our actions that makes them good or bad. Morality is reduced to mere opinion and preference.
So, atheism lacks a sufficient grounding for true morality. Whereas Christianity not only provides the system of salvation necessary for “unselfish” morality but also a way of grounding the existence of morality in God’s nature and character.
Check back soon for our next article in the Atheist Meme’s series. Hopefully, the next one will come out a little quicker than this one.