In July of last year, a popular atheist blogger named Leah Libresco shocked the atheist and theist community by announcing she was renouncing atheism and converting to theism. What caused this woman who was reared in a secularly-focused household and went by the alias “the Raving Atheist” to change her mind about the existence of God?
It seems that she could not arrive at a sufficient explanation of the source of morality without God being in the picture. NBC news reports, “After a back-and-forth where her friend asked her to make an argument about where moral law comes from, she couldn’t think of any. She then realized that it had to come from something like a person or being.”
We have all heard expressions like, “be good for goodness sake,” “just follow your heart,” “just do what feels right” as guidance for making moral decisions. While these might be pleasant platitudes, they all point toward a human-centered view of morality. They are dependent on human opinion and judgment and therefore are to be classified as subjective.
This means that morality is dictated by human opinion. In effect, man becomes his own god. If this is true, then one person’s morality is as good as another.
For instance, what does it mean to “be good for goodness sake?” Who decides what is “good”? Do we all define “good” in the same way? Is “good” something that is dependent on our social context or does it apply universally? Such is the ultimate question of morality: “What is good?”
This is the question that philosophers have debated over the centuries. I submit to you that any subjective explanation of morality ultimately fails. Under subjective systems, morality is ultimately reduced to “what is right for me is right for me, and what is right for you is right for you.” This obviously results in contradictions and does not provide a sound basis for human behavior.
By contrast, the Bible upholds that morality exists as a universal law akin to laws of science (e.g. gravity). It is not dependent on human opinion, but independent of such. The following are a few principles of Christian morality:
(1) The Christian worldview teaches that morality is rooted in the very nature of God. Christians are called to be like God and therefore are called to be moral (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:16). Christians are to be holy because God is holy. Therefore, morality is objective (i.e. existing outside of human opinion). It remains true regardless of whether humans believe and follow it or not. This is contrary to and incompatible with the offerings of morality set forth by secular humanists, which are subjective (i.e. based on human opinion).
(2) The driving principle behind all of God’s laws is love: Love for God and for human beings. The Bible states, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Since morality is rooted in God’s nature then it stands to reason that love is the heart of biblical morality. When asked what the greatest law was, Jesus answered: “‘You shall love the LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37–40).
“Love” is not just shown in kindness, consideration and compassion. It includes those things, but it is something much deeper. True love is present in a mind that genuinely and self-sacrificially operates in the best interest of the object of love. It is modeled after what Christ did for us on the cross. The ultimate manifestation of our love toward God is to deny self and live by His commandments (John 14:15).
(3) Human response to the gospel, properly understood, is not some sort of selfish striving to earn salvation or merely avoiding torment by “being good.” It is not a moral checklist that somehow merits salvation. Such is an oversimplified perversion of Biblical Christianity. It is realizing that by sin, we have separated ourselves from God and earned death (Isaiah 59:1-2; Romans 6:23). But it is also realizing that God loved mankind so much that He sent His only begotten son to die for the forgiveness of our sins (John 3:16; 1 John 4:10).
Deciding to turn from sin (which is focused on selfishly serving oneself) and toward God is an act of penitence and gratitude in response to God’s goodness (Romans 2:4). A truly converted person will gladly and willingly keep His commandments set forth in His word.
To simplify, the heart of Biblical morality is self-sacrificial love for God and mankind, which is rooted in God’s nature and is in response to His goodness.
Torrey Clark is the preacher for the church of Christ Northside (www.churchatlagrange.org) and host of the weekly Christian worldview talk show, Culture Shock (www.thelightnetwork.tv/shows). Clark may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 706-812-9950.