Christmas – isn’t it magical? Since I was a little boy, I’ve loved this time of year. It brings special things out of hiding – Christmas lights, carols you only hear this time of year, cookies you only eat in December, shows and movies that only work these few short weeks, Santa and his elves, the atheists and their banners…
Well, atheists don’t really go into hiding, but they do have a way of appearing in force this time of year, reinforcing that constant push in our culture to take Christ out of Christmas.
Out of nowhere, their banners, bumper stickers and billboards pop up. One that’s been making the rounds in one form or another for several years reads: “No God? No Problem! Be good for goodness’ sake.”
Now think it through logically for a moment. There’s a contradiction so wide in this saying – “Be good for goodness sake” – that you could drive an entire herd of reindeer through it.
For the moment you say there is no God is the moment that you are no longer able to say that something is good or evil. There can be no intrinsic good or evil in an accidental, random, temporary world where everything is eventually snuffed out by death. There are only preferences. We can get together as humans and vote on what those preferences are. We can say we frown on murder and theft and rape – and we can even enforce those preferences with police and courts and soldiers and fines – but you can’t say that any of these behaviors are good or evil.
Murder is not “evil” in a world without God where death permanently claims us all. You might call it frightful, but if I am Vladimir Putin, and I want you out of the way, or if I am a thief who wants your stuff, then murder or stealing might be quite useful for me, though unfortunate for you. Who’s to truly say that one way is good, and the other not? Evil…schmeeval.
There has to be a transcendent, eternal standard outside of ourselves in order to use that language. There has to be a bigger Someone outside of the human race who can enforce true right from wrong before we can talk like that. “Goodness” points to an eternal standard. It’s always this way. And for something to be eternal…well you need, you know…Him.
Being good for goodness sake is – as Mr. Potter said – sentimental hogwash. Don’t get me wrong. We’re not saying that atheists can’t be noble and morally upstanding. I know many a nonbeliever who I’d rather have as a neighbor than many a believer. I love it when atheists point others towards morality. Atheists are even recognizing the value of church, trying to imitate the community that believers have enjoyed for millennia. I even hear that Satanists are turning over a new leaf.
If I were writing a Christmas card to my atheist friends, here’s what I’d write inside: If I am an atheist and think that there must be something inherently proper or fitting about a certain virtue or behavior, then I should have the intellectual honesty to run with that thought to its logical conclusion. And that thought can bring me to only one place…wait for it…God. Merry Christmas.