There is no god, why do good?

The whole question reads thus

 If you believe there is no God, why not do whatever you want to whenever you want to? There really is no consequence if there is no judgment by God. If there was no God, I would use mind altering drugs, have as much sex as I wanted, hurt people who angered me, or whatever. Sure, people wouldn’t like me, but that is a temporary condition solved by death. As the Apostle Paul said, “If the dead are not raised, let’s eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32) As an atheist, do you live this way? If not, why not?

This is a very loaded question and is often asked of atheists directly or in many variants. To deal with this questions, I would first want to take a detour to briefly demonstrate why claiming our doing good as being dependent on the existence or say so of a god is not tenable. To do this, I will present the Euthyphro dilemma that appears in the writings of the divine Plato, as Nietzsche calls him, where he presents a question Socrates asks Euthyphro and is presented thus:

Is the pious (τὸὅσιον) loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?

which is loosely rephrased to read

do gods command a thing because it is good, or it is good because a god commands it?

If in the first instance you answer yes, then it can easily be said that an action being morally good has nothing to do with gods say so. On the other hand, if your answer to the second question is a yes, then anything a god commands is moral. There are theists who have argued that this is a false dilemma that god is by nature good and as a result he cannot command an immoral act. The argument that god is naturally good presents a problem if the theist also argues that her god creates everything, for then the question to ask is why would an infinitely good god create evil. For a moment, granting there is a god, such an entity is made known to us through scripture, where we find situations where he has commanded murder [Exodus 11] or been complacent in the commission of murder [Judges 11:31-40] though this depends on whether you consider human sacrifice/murder moral or immoral [taking Christianity as an example]. It is evident from the above examples that to rely on the say so of a god as a guide for morality would be a disastrous exercise without a solution in sight, especially given the fact, that whenever god has spoken, he has not addressed himself to everyone in a language they all understand but has always chosen to do his speaking through proxies.

Having thus dispensed with  whether gods have a say so in our morals, we can then look at the questions presented each at a time and see what we can say in response.

The first question asks

why if there is no god, should I do good?

As must be obvious to anyone who has considered this matter,  how we act is directly linked to our living in societies with other sentient beings. That this is the case is evidenced by the fact that almost everyone would be bothered by the reproach he would receive from his fellow-men if his conduct was wanting than what a god would think of the matter. We daily observe, men being so concerned about how their neighbours would perceive them if they acted in a certain way than what the heavens thought of the matter and is further supported by the fact that many crimes are committed in private, where we would expect gods to be on watch, even by god believers, than in the public glare. It is important, therefore, to note that the threat of a future punishment in the hereafter can not act as a deterrent for committing crimes in the present life. Many crimes would be committed if the offender was certain he would not be caught, even if he thought heaven was watching.

To say there is no consequence for our actions unless a god exists is to ignore the fact men have lost their honour among fellow citizens, have been incarcerated, or in some cases killed by the state for being a disturber of peace! The threat of punishment in heaven has not made societies better. On the contrary, men have been most unhappy where the belief in god and of nether worlds has been rampant. In truth, where leaders have thought themselves answerable to god alone, men have been most unhappy. The rulers have been cruel, inconsiderate, and, believing themselves answerable to god alone and having priests as their cohorts, have waited for the last possible moment, when they can no longer inflict any more evil, to ask heavens for its forgiveness. It must be evident that men are concerned with how their fellow men will view them than with what heaven thinks.

The last part of the question implies that whoever is asking it, is stopped in his tracks only because he fears a god who would judge him after he is dead. Such a person is not fit to live in a society of men, where we owe our fellows obligations such as not abusing their rights. Because I am organised in a certain way, that is, valuing peace, honour among my peers and those around me and fear of pain, among others, I do not go around offending my neighbors. In fact, this is hardly a choice, and to claim that I chose not to offend my neighbors, I think, would require to be supported with evidence. Whereas I know that my death will be the end for me, I don’t know when it will come calling and wouldn’t imagine living in a society for a minute longer where I am ostracized! No one cares for a miserable existence among his fellow men. Those who live their lives trampling on others rights have lost the capacity to empathize. They, in my view, no longer view the other as being like them, but see them as quite distinct and separate, in a word, as being less human.

To include sex in the list of things that this person doesn’t do for fear of gods is to treat sex as an evil, a wrong that should be avoided. If sex is a natural desire for living creatures, there is, indeed,no way that having sex then becomes  good or evil. The question one would ask, is, why, if this person believes he was created by god, did god find it prudent to have sex as the most profitable way for the propagation of species and why did he make this desire so strong?

In conclusion, I do not live as Paul suggested we should live, not that I don’t enjoy my beer, I do, and not because I fear a god, but because the reproach of my fellow men in this life and how they see me is more important to me than the fear of a supposed heaven or hell. Two, as I have written elsewhere, I do believe that our training, environment and temperament determine how we act. These things rule out  whether I actively choose to or not to do some specific act. In short, I have no choice but to act as I have, whether everyone agrees with this conclusion is open to debate.

Categories: Atheism, god


44 replies

  1. You and I are not fathers, but i think parents would add a deep-felt obligation to promote a safe and secure society for their children. Non-parents can, of course, feel this urge (its one of the fundamental tenants of humanism) , but i think parents (particularly of young children) feel it more acutely.

  2. Great essay. The need for social harmony determines our behavior in addition to “our training, environment and temperament.” This rational observation contrasts poignantly with the premise of the question that infers humanity is innately wretched without a belief in god.

  3. Reblogged this on Random thoughts and commented:

    Why be moral if there are no gods? Because morality has nothing to do with gods and if what we have been told about gods i,e being infinite and so on, there is no way humans who are finite can offend an infinite being nor is there a point where our desires can meet.

  4. Great essay, Mak! I’m hoping that this particular individual writes a rebuttal to the many counterpoints you, me and Robert have expressed. My biggest problem with this particular argument is that, like all theistic claims, it is wholly unsubstantiated.

    • Thanks Culpeper. As you very well say, how would they substantiate this claim when everywhere in their code book, from which it must be admitted they get the idea of god gives such a bad example of how to live with others? Take for instance the case of lot sleeping with his daughters and having children with them and there is nowhere in that book where it is condemned. What do we make of that? Or of a man who sends his concubine out to be raped by a horde of hungry and horny townsmen?

  5. Please note the basis for the question: without the fear of God, humans who are inherently evil will run amok. This is the “original sin” abomination in sheep’s clothing. These people took normal human weaknesses and turn them into a depraved moral character. Without God, I think people would do good for the same reason they would with God, because it feels good to help one another, that the approval of one’s peers has value, etc.

    On the other side of this question is a God who has created a system of disproportionate punishments for rather minor indiscretions? (You know, like condeming all human beings to hellfire for all of eternity for the indiscetion of one human pair.) Why would one want to serve such a god? Clearly it is evil.

    • Stephen you bring out a very important point, that of taking natural human weaknesses and from it making man wretchedly sinful needing salvation and then proclaiming to be the custodians of the salvific message!

  6. Simple common sense will inform you that anything done under negative duress ( read fear) is ultimately destructive for all parties concerned

    Only those individuals with what we can politely label ”misfiring neurons” would take pleasure in ruling through fear – gods included.

  7. I am Good and Evil. I do Good and Evil. I am God and not God, as only the Atheist that I am could be.

  8. Do Christians really believe that the rest of the world lives like some sort of cartoon cavemen – shooting up, clubbing their neighbors over the head and copulating without pause in the open air, like some sort of weird junkie cross between orangutangs and bonobos? He either lives under a rock or is totally disingenuous. However, if he really is such a cutie pie that he can have as much sex as he wants, should he give up on god be sure to send him my way.

    As far as the final question goes, do I live that way? Actually, I sort of do but it doesn’t work out the way the questioner thinks. First, let’s start with the drugs, if you do too many drugs it makes other aspects of your life painful. The most obvious example is drinking too much and getting a hangover. Your health can decline. You loose your job or your friends. Most of those motivations are sufficient for keeping me to the occasional glass of wine or beer. Once in a while I’ll have a more than that until I’m pleasantly tipsy, play my music too loudly and dance like a doofus. However, it’s pretty rare that I get seriously drunk because it’s simply not fun.

    Sex. Hmm. Wish I could have as much sex as I want. Sigh. Kids! Listen to your elders! You’re going to get old one day. Have fun now. But seriously, it’s much like the drugs, only messier. In order to have sex other people have to like you. That should be obvious, but the questioner doesn’t seem to think so. (Wow. He or she must be one hunk or one good-looking babe.) For instance, if you sleep with your boyfriend’s brother, you won’t have a boyfriend anymore. Guys are kinda funny that way. So you’ve got to pick and choose even when you’d like to say, “I’ll take all of them.” Girls are funny that way, too. By the way, I didn’t start limiting myself to atheists until I was in my late thirties, so I’ve probably mostly slept with Christians. I haven’t noticed anyone’s religion actually having much of an effect on whether or not they have sex, just whether or not they torture themselves about it the next morning. Plus, there’s the pregnancy and disease issue. Frankly, that’s much more matter-of-fact to deal with than the interpersonal issues, but there are plenty of things going on to regulate one’s sexual behavior without divine intervention. Oh, yeah, the best part about being married is that it was the period of my life when I had the most sex. Steady lover equals more sex. Playing the field results in a lot of time wasted trying to find the next partner. That saying, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” probably didn’t have anything to do with fowl.

    Finally, being mean to people. Honestly, I just don’t enjoy it. Again, we’re social animals. Our young are dependent for an absurdly long time. If we weren’t inclined to try to get along, we wouldn’t even be here because of that. Your mother, or some pre-Christian female ancestor, would have just left you by the side of the road so she could smoke crack, have sex with random strangers and angrily hit people upside the head.

    Really, does that life even sound like fun? Even if a person were a total hedonist he or she wouldn’t live like the nightmare you described. (I seem to have switched from “the questioner” to “you”. Please, pardon any confusion.) I jokingly call myself a libertine, but really, my life is pretty boring. You need to pay your rent, pay for your pleasures, your food, transportation, etc. So you need to have a job. So you need to get up in the morning, be sober, go to work. Besides there are many other pleasures besides sex and drugs, I like reading, I like painting, taking long walks, laughing at friends’ jokes. Painting and reading, are things that you get more pleasure out of the more you master them. That requires application, direction. In the morning I do little stretching exercises so when the day comes that I dance like a doofus I don’t pull something. To laugh at friends jokes requires friends, which means being a friend.

  9. ‘God’ is more than likely just a derivation of the word ‘Good’. But it is undeniable that viewing the function of the cosmos as good, and superior to us as individuals, helps us as a species to develop and attempt to live by benign cultural aspirations

    • Are you implying the threat of punishment by some celestial overload is necessary for us to treat each other well? This argument falls flat in the face of evidence we have since men, even believers in the heaven-hell doctrine, have treated their fellows so miserably that cats do better!

  10. Because if you do me wrong, I’ll punch you in the eye?

  11. Wow, awesome post Mak! All I can think is, what pathetic small minded people it must take to think that they would run amok murdering and raping and pillaging if it weren’t for their damned dog. If this is what they believe, then, I think it says more about them than it does us. Anyone that presents this argument just showed you their true nature.

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