Question #5, from TodayChristian’s list of 10 “unanswerable” questions, finally creates an interesting problem. Not because it’s particularly hard to answer, but because it’s essentially a re-phrasing of question #4.
5. If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?
This is the real problem with superstition-based moral systems like Christianity. Because TodayChristian’s faith wants to make God the only reason why people do anything, he or she has completely failed to understand what the real-world constraints are on our behavior. And in fact, TodayChristian has it completely backwards, in some ways. People who have a God are often more likely to feel free to do what they want, up to and including murder and rape. It’s the atheists, who understand that actions have material consequences, who have the best basis for consistent good behavior.
Just taking a quick look through the Bible, we find ample cases where somebody’s God coincidentally tells them they ought to invade a neighboring tribe, murder them, keep the young girls as sex slaves, and settle on the stolen property of their victims. A Biblical “morality” system has no problem condoning such behavior because, hey, God said to do it, and therefore it must be ok. And how do we know God said it? Well, the murders told us so. And if you can’t trust a murderer, who can you trust, eh?
This is the problem with superstition-based morality. If you say that “God” defines right and wrong just by saying “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not,” then nothing is really wrong in and of itself. It’s only wrong when God says it’s wrong, and therefore you’re free to murder, rape, steal, lie, or whatever, as long as you sincerely believe that God is telling you it’s ok right now. And by a very remarkable coincidence, God very often wants you to do things that will give you free reign to take what you want, to stomp on people you don’t like, and generally be a dick, even to this very day. Funny how that works.
Meanwhile, real-world morality acknowledges that actions have material consequences, and the morality of those actions depends on the good or harm done by those consequences. That by itself gives secular morality a measure of objectivity that superstition-based morality, with its inner sense of “what God is telling me,” cannot obtain. The atheist, whose morality is based on objective, material consequences, is far better equipped to know that murder and rape are wrong even when God says it’s ok, than the believer who thinks that God can change morality whenever He likes.
And as for the believer who knows God can’t change morality whenever He likes, that’s an admission that God’s morality is subject to a higher law—materialistic morality—that believers find it difficult or impossible to acknowledge. And if they can’t even acknowledge its existence, how are they ever going to understand it well enough to apply it fairly?
As for good deeds that go unrewarded, is that the only reason you do good deeds? Because you expect a reward? Not out of compassion, or empathy, or simple generosity? Atheists, who know the true limits of life, understand the true value of such virtues better than those who think they’re off the hook because some some celestial sugar daddy will take care of handing out the pie in the sky bye-and-bye. That’s bogus. Do good now, while you live, because you will never have another chance.
So, despite the slight wrinkle posed by the fact that Question #5 is just a re-run of Question #4, we are 5 for 5 in “unanswerable” questions that are really no trouble at all. And the next one isn’t going to be any harder:
6. If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?
Here’s a quick preview: all meaning, including Christian meaning, comes directly or indirectly from material reality. Surprised?