Everyone has heard the charge: God is a moral monster. Indeed, Christians themselves have often struggled to reconcile the goodness of God with some of the actions recorded in the Scriptures, not to mention the bloodiness of human history. I have myself struggled with this. What thoughtful person hasn’t? Unfortunately, as soon as you open your mouth to charge God with evil conduct, you have proved he exists, and also that he is good, because unless there exists a good God, all moral statements are nonsensical.
Granted, how you get from one to the other requires some intermediary steps. It is not my purpose to speak to them here.
My purpose is to point out that it is almost a complete waste of time to argue about whether something is moral or immoral- including whether a putative God is moral or immoral- with an atheist because atheism logically entails moral relativism. Most of the atheists that I’ve debated with have actually asserted this. Some have argued differently. I understand there is some diversity. However, I’m not really trying to capture what atheists think, only explain why in my view dialoging on the morality of something is pointless. And I think that atheism logically entails moral relativism, which makes any discussion about the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ about something (anything!) no more or less a discussion- according to the atheist- over one’s favorite flavor of ice cream.
So there you have the first hint at why the debate is useless. Between the two of us, the only one who can be held to any kind of objective standard is ME. That puts the atheist in the enviable position of being able to criticize my views or conclusions forever and ever while leaving themselves insulated from any challenge that their views are not consistent with objective standards… for the obvious reason that they don’t believe there are objective standards. Likewise if they criticize the morality of something God is alleged to have done. God is supposed to be omni-benevolent… and the atheist knows just what that would look like in order to find God wanting! while simultaneously believing that such assessments are societal constructs, evolutionary artifacts, or whatever they tell themselves.
Allow me to try to illustrate.
Let’s say we were arguing about this equation: a+b+c(d*e)=(f-g)+x. I believe in absolutes and objective standards and my counterpart does not, but still believes that when I say x=20 I’m wrong. So we argue. We identify what all the variables are. For example, let’s say we determine that a=10. The atheist nods his head and the calculation continues. Eventually we get to the end of the solution and solve for ‘x’ and aha! ‘X’ does equal 20! The atheist is ready, “Ah, but ‘a=10’ is merely a societal construct. It could just as easily be 9. In fact, I don’t think there is any right value for ‘a’.”
It’s like Lucy pulling the football out when Charlie Brown goes to kick it. The atheist is free to speculate until kingdom come and never take a stand of his own while holding Christians mercilessly to their own standards, and decrying them as moral hypocrites if they fail to live by those standards… as if hypocrisy is objectively bad.
In one very important sense, then, one need not ever give a lick what an atheist believes is moral or immoral. Their own position deprives their assessment of any substance. Treat their assessment as inconsequential rubbish and you’ll still be giving it more consideration than its due.
Ah, but the atheist insists that their moral calculations and pronouncements be taken seriously!
Well, brother, that is proof positive that you do not buy what you’re selling. You live your life every day as though certain things were objectively true, as though there were truly good and bad actions and outcomes. In short, you live every day as though there was a God without being willing to match your mouth with your life. Put another way, you are as much a hypocrite as any Christian you’ve ever taken aim at. Not that there is anything objectively wrong about hypocrisy, right?
In my view, it is pointless to debate the morality of anything with an atheist until he is willing to admit that moral assessments imply the existence of the immaterial and transcendental realities that must exist if those assessments reflect anything more than one’s favorite flavor of ice cream.
Of course, we have already proved in this post the existence of transcendental and immaterial realities the minute I employed logic and reason, eg, in the algebraic formula. The formula could makes use of abstractions such as variables and addition and multiplication and the axiom that one isn’t allowed to change the values of variables on the fly if one doesn’t like a world where X=20. But let’s set that aside.
I am being careful in my language. It’s ALMOST a complete waste of time. As a Christian I believe that all humans are made in God’s image and it is precisely because of this that we all have our intrinsic sense of right and wrong and fair play. The atheist sits around making moral judgements every day because he was created to do so just like everyone else. Hence, while in the abstract it is plain silly for an atheist to make an accusation of hypocrisy* and given their general views not worth the time of day, in objective truth and reality, the charge may actually be legitimate and if so, it would genuinely be wrong. So it matters that we Christians strive to uphold our moral code and likewise strive to ensure that it conforms to objective reality. Not that I think many atheists would be happy even then. But there are many varieties of atheism and degrees of disbelief and other kinds of disbelievers. We need not sit around wondering if today Richard Dawkins will miraculously make his first sane comment, but there are others who may be watching who might be moved one way or the other.
Does this mean that I do not argue about the morality of things with my atheist friends? No. I do. All the time. But when I do, it is always with the goal of pushing it and pushing it and pushing it and pushing it all the way back to where they must come face to face with whether or not I should take their moral assessment as reflecting real facts about the world or if its just them telling me- with as much passion as they can muster- that the BEST flavor of ice cream is chocolate.
* hypocrisy is just one moral assessment I’m using as an example. Any and all moral assessments are meant to be included for the purpose of this post.