If we could establish the single greatest good claimed to result from faith, what would it be? My speculation is that it would be the claim that faith promotes positive moral values. Many conversations have taken place on this subject, and all have ended, in my opinion, with unsatisfying conclusions.
The Faith Claim to Morality
John Locke, 17th century English philosopher, in A Letter Concerning Toleration states the following: “Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist.”
For a man whose greatest work is arguably his appeal to religious toleration and the civil organization of society, he argued for acceptance and toleration of all groups except one—Atheists. John Locke is not alone.
Arkansas State Constitution, Article 19 Section 1
“No person who denies the being of God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any court.”
Maryland’s Declaration of Rights:
Article 36: “…nor shall any person, otherwise competent, be deemed incompetent as a witness, or juror, on account of his religious belief; provided, he believes in the existence of God…”
Article 37: “That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God;”
Further examples of this kind are available at this link.
From My Experience
I was once involved in a class discussion at the college level during a comparative world religions course. During this discussion, a local preacher of some sort made the following claim: He suggested that he fears a world where people do not believe in the existence of a god because he is afraid that his daughter would likely be raped and other similar nonsensical acts of violence would ensue.
On another occasion, I volunteered to help with a home building project sponsored by a Christian organization where each workday began with a prayer. One prayer in particular caught my attention. The preacher said that we should all work hard at being compassionate because this is what Jesus wants us to do. He offered no other reason.
In these examples, and I am sure there are billions more, literally billions if I had access to all the words spoken by the faithful throughout human history, the claim that faith is a guide to moral actions is apparent.
But, what is this really saying?
I think what is repeatedly being made clear is that believers fear what they themselves might do if they themselves come to lose their own faith. I see this as an outward expression of an internal emotion, and it is frightening to say the least.
The Faithful Reject Any Sense of Human Morality
The idea that morality is derived from a god seems ridiculous to me. There simply is no connection between the two. If the faithful only perform what might be considered as moral acts because this is what they must do to satisfy a higher power, then they are not moral in the least.
They are not moral, because they are not acting upon their own guidance, their own feelings or intuitions. A moral act does not constitution a moral being. A moral being must recognize why an act ought to be considered as morally permissible, morally necessary, or morally unacceptable. Simply stating that this is what a god prescribes does not satisfy this requirement.
The Atheist’s Alternative
Now let us consider the atheist. This is a person who first rejects the existence of the faithful’s moral law giver. From this point of origin, the atheist then must take it upon his or herself to behave as he or she sees fit without the appeal to a higher authority.
In doing so, the atheist embraces the belief that humans are moral creatures and that we all can behave in a morally acceptable manner if we chose to do so. The faithful obviously do not. The faithful believe that we must act according to some god’s commands because whatever this god commands must be morally required.
The faithful reject the human capacity for developing acceptable moral standards and consistently appeal to eternal rewards and punishments as the source for their decision making.
It is for this reason, that rather than have any atheist attempt to convert a person of faith, I would rather see all atheists simply provide support for those who are like-minded and leave the faithful be.
“I fear a world where people cannot be good without god.”