In case you missed the big announcement, the American Humanist Association is having their 75th Anniversary Conference in Chicago next May. Before you book your trip to Chicago for this historic event, it might be helpful to have a clearer idea of what you would encounter when confronted with a room full of Humanists.
On their web site under their Frequently Asked Questions, I found the following definition of Humanism:
Definitions abound. Kurt Vonnegut, who served for many years as the AHA’s honorary president, maybe said it most succinctly when he observed that “…being a Humanist means trying to behave decently without expectation of rewards or punishment after you are dead.”
It seems that this comes down to the age old question of whether we can be good without God. In fact, the AHA has sponsored an ad campaign in the past on buses in Washington DC that said “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” Given their campaign, I think this is precisely what they are saying.
It is interesting that a group such as the AHA that says reason is the best way to understand the world around us, would treat the most fundamental question of why we should believe in God as irrelevant. But the fact of the matter is that our ability to reason is one of the things that set us apart as human beings. This means that above all we seek truth. And there is no greater question related to the truth than the question of whether God exists or not. There is no more relevant question than this and it is entirely contrary to reason to simply dismiss it.
To make my point, suppose I change the scenario a little bit and I say, “Why worry about a lion in the room? Just pass me the popcorn and enjoy the movie.” I might very well be worried about the lion in the room because there is in fact a lion in the room. To simply say that I should ignore this question and enjoy the movie is ridiculous. In much the same way, the answer to “Why believe in God?” may in fact be because there is a God.
What I am saying is that before you can even answer the question as to whether we can be good without the Lion of Judah, we must first address whether the claim that God exists is true or not. If it is not true then nobody who is honest should believe it, regardless of how comfortable it make him feel. However, if God does exist, then someone who is honest will believe in Him, even if they find it difficult.
What about the original question as to whether we can be good without God? Despite the fact that I don’t personally think this is a good question, a little over 40% of Americans say you can in fact be good without God (and that is low compared to the rest of the Western World). Unfortunately, I am going to split hairs again and say that this answer totally depends upon the answer to the first question. What I mean by this is that your definition of good is totally dependent upon whether there is a God or not.
Those who believe in God also believe that life is eternal and that we are just pilgrims in training for the next world. Our definition of what is good is going to be seen in light of eternity. This can lead to a vastly different view of whether an act is good or not. On the other hand, those who do not believe in God are not pilgrims but tourists and are going to see things that are good only in the temporal sense.
To illustrate my point, I will pull another portion of their definition of humanism from the FAQs. In it they say that Humanism
is a worldview which says that reason and science are the best ways to understand the world around us, and that dignity and compassion should be the basis for how you act toward someone else.
The part that I want to emphasize is “dignity and compassion” being the basis for how you act toward someone else. These words have very different meanings depending on your worldview.
Before you can recognize the dignity of the human person, you must first ask from where that dignity comes. We as Christians believe that our dignity is rooted completely in the fact that we are made in the image of God and are made for God. That is the source of our dignity.
How would the atheistic humanist answer the question as to what gives the individual dignity? In the absence of God, we will replace Him with some other god. These humanists seem to have set themselves up as their own gods (I am not sure how else to interpret the comment that “No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.”). When this happens, the only answer to the question then of what gives an individual dignity is that they are made in our own image. In other words, what gives a person dignity is how useful they are to me personally. If I have no use for them, then they can be thrown away.
This, by the way, is precisely why Communism and Atheism must go hand in hand. If the individual is going to live forever then they are afforded the dignity due to them because they will live forever. However, if they are merely going to go into the ground to rot then the society or the state is the most important because it will last much longer.
What about compassion? The word compassion literally means to become a co-sufferer with. For a Christian, compassion means a willingness to journey with another as they suffer and to take whatever burden of that suffering you can upon yourself. The Atheistic Humanist flips this completely around so that compassion means that you will do anything you can to relieve your own suffering that is caused by the suffering of another. This is played out in spades in “Mercy Killing”. They advocate euthanasia because they cannot stand to see another person suffer.
So with all of this nitpicking of the questions, I will answer the question anyway—can we can be good without God? My answer is no. Christ asked the rich young man why he called Him good and that God alone was good. That is why I think the idea of being “good for goodness sake” is ludicrous. You cannot be good without some absolute standard upon which to base your goodness. Which brings me to my second reason and that is that you can’t be good for goodness sake.
What this statement means is that the purpose of life is to “be good”. So often I hear people say, “I’m a good person” right before they try to justify something that is not good. When I hear this I want to grab them and shout, “NO YOU’RE NOT AND NEITHER AM I!” The purpose of life is not to be good. The purpose of life is to be a saint. Saints are not merely good people, they are holy people. As Leon Bloy said, “the only tragedy in this life is to not be a saint.”