The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has posted a series of billboards in several markets across the United States, encouraging Atheists to “come out of the closet.” One of the billboards in the series says, “I can be good without God.” The billboards have stirred a bit of controversy across the States, more over the location of the billboards (many times adjacent to church properties) than over the content of the advertisements.
Does the FFRF have the right to purchase and display such a campaign? In my mind: absolutely! I believe in the Freedom of Speech, as long as such language is not profane, inflammatory, or hate-filled. There is nothing in the campaign that would seem to fall under such categories, although I do think the placement on properties adjoining churches is a wee bit dubious, but even so, I do not think such placement is constitutionally prohibited.
Of greater concern to me is the content of the billboard: Can man be good without God?
Over the years, I have met some outstanding citizens of this nation, who paid their taxes, worked hard for their boss, were faithful to their spouse, gave to the Red Cross, loved their kids, did not yell at the cat nor kick the dog, recycled their plastics, and exchanged their gas-guzzler for a hybrid, but did not believe in the existence of a Higher Power/God/Supreme Being. Would you consider these people “good?” I would pronounce them “good” ethically. These are good people! These are friends, neighbors, and family members. They are the kind of people I like to be around. There is no questioning their “good ethics!” The deeper question is this: what is the source of their ethical system, and by what standards are their ethics to be evaluated?
The existence of an ethical system necessarily implies a law-giver. Either that law-giver is absolute, or the giver of the law is relative. If it is absolute, (this goes to the fundamental question: is truth absolute or is it relative) then there must be an Absolute Law-Giver. If it is relative, then ethical discussions are irrelevant, because they can change at the whims of individuals and vary from situation to situation. There must either be a moral absolute, or else everything else is morally relative.
Let me illustrate the danger of moral relativity. If there is no absolute standard, it is as equally valid to say “I don’t like human trafficking” as it is to say, “Human trafficking is immoral,” as it is to say, “I believe human trafficking is acceptable.” By simple intuition we know that all three statements are not valid. Why? There is a standard! This same logic can be applied to murder, rape, incest, stealing, etc. Very few individuals would feel comfortable ethically to applying the measuring stick of moral relativism to the preceding acts. Thus, if moral relativism is wrong, than there must be an absolute basis for morality, and if there is an absolute basis for morality, there must be an Absolute Law-Giver.
Orthodox Christianity does not seek to answer the question “is man good ethically?” Instead, it seeks to point the individual to the reality that there is an Absolute Law-Giver, and there is a Way to be found acceptable to that Law-Giver.
Can man be good without God? The answer in terms of ethics is resoundingly: “Yes!” But is that enough to be found acceptable to the Absolute Law-Giver? We’ll examine this more in a later blog.