Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Goodness without Godness

Can we be good without God? “Definitely!” according to atheist and ex-Muslim, Salmon Rushdie, who was interviewed by Bill Moyers for his series on faith and reason. Rushdie argued persuasively that, even without a belief in God, we know right from wrong. We're hot-wired for it; it's part of our DNA, as is our capacity for language.

Rushdie could have been citing the Bible, which acknowledges that we're created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27) and therefore have a moral conscience and know the truth (Romans 1-2). Is it then necessary to believe in God in order to act morally? In the long run, Yes! Besides having a conscience, we need an adequate rationale to live morally, something that atheism lacks.

If morality is a matter of having a conscience, which is just the by-product of DNA, evolution, or the way we were raised, then it carries no moral authority. An "is" doesn't automatically become an "ought," which is the essence of morality. Just because I have a built-in repugnance for stealing doesn't mean I ought not to steal. Similarly, if I am a shy person, it doesn't logically follow that I shouldn't learn how to become more extroverted. Just because I'm wired a certain way, it doesn't mean I must stay within the confines of my wiring.

So just say I'm wired to not steal? This doesn't constitute an adequate reason to not steal. My wiring doesn't represent a higher truth upon which I can base my life. It's mindless and moral-less and therefore has no business dictating anything to anyone. Wiring can't be anyone's reason for being. Only God is adequate for such a role.

Without God, there is no truth that is higher than my wiring. Without such a higher truth, my wiring is my God; it’s higher than everything else. If so, no one can tell me that my stealing is wrong. After all, it's just a matter of your wiring accusing mine, and my wiring is going to carry more voltage than your wiring, at least for me. In such a world, there is no foundation for any moral discussion or a higher moral truth, which can critique my wiring. Even a Hitler can simply say, "I don't care what you think, I felt I was doing right!"

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