Thursday, April 30, 2009

Are Christians or non-Christians more moral?

One of the interesting conversations I had in the last week while we were visiting Rockhampton was with a few guys that were suggesting that the good things I do is less genuinely good than when they do good things because I do them because I'm a Christian. If I understood them correctly, they're saying that they do things simply because they're the right things to do, whereas I do them only because God says to do them. While I had heard similar comments before, I hadn't thought about it recently and only now have I had a chance to reflect on their comments.

My first reflection is that I do things because they're the right thing to do, as well as because God says to do them. That is, it's not like I object to doing the good things that these guys were talking about. I'm no different in that respect. I love helping friends. I'm moved with compassion when I see people having a rough time. And I think it's great that they want to do good things. It seems only natural. I live in this world where I have a natural desire to seek to do the good. It works. It makes the world a better place. It expresses love that I genuinely feel. Speaking as a Christian, God's made the world to work that way. Loving God's world doesn't mean blindly obeying his commands. It means obeying his commands with my eyes wide open—responding to the world in a way that "fits".

Second, do non-Christians really have no other motivation than that it's the right thing to do? I do the right thing because it benefits others, it pleases me and it pleases God. Don't non-Christians do the right thing because it benefits others and it pleases them? How long would people do the right thing if it always didn't benefit them? How long would it seem the right thing? Altruism is satisfying. I enjoy it, as I say. There's nothing wrong with that. But doesn't it taint our altruism? And shouldn't we stop and consider how long we'd be altruistic if it wasn't pleasing to us?

But third, the question of whether a Christian or non-Christian is more moral depends on whether you believe there's a God. If there isn't a God, it does seem more moral to act without the need of extrinsic motivation. But if the God of the Bible is there, then the good we do is a gift from him. And to do that good without acknowledging the gift is, well, a form of pride. So I appreciate these guys arguments. I can see that in their worldview, they seem more moral than I do. But I hope they're also willing to see how it looks to God if he actually is 'the giver of every good thing'.

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