A Pew Research Center Poll revealed that for the first time a majority of Americans say it is possible to be a good person without religious beliefs.
The poll conducted in June and July surveyed 5,000 American adults and found that 56% said that “God is not a prerequisite for good values and morality,” according to Greg Smith, Pew’s associate director of research. Smith attributed this response to the increased number of Americans who are religious “nones,” that is they have no religious affiliation.
In a separate Poll, unaffiliated people were asked whether 16 specific beliefs and behaviors were essential, important but not essential, or not important to be a good “moral person.’
The top responses including honesty (58%) being grateful for what you have (53%), spending time with family (47%) and forgiving those that have wronged you (39%). Interestingly in an open-ended question 23% of “nones” listed “the golden rule” as essential to morality.
In addition to these qualities we all know people who give money to charity, volunteer to help others, and are generally good moral people who are not Believers.
Conversely, we all know religious folks who are selfish, immoral and difficult to get along with. In fact, Jesus often referred to the religious leaders of His day as hypocrites (Matt. 23).
So, maybe the question has a false premise.
Where does good come from? Who defines what is good? How is morality determined?
If there is no God, then society is left with subjective feelings to decide what is good. The standard is not fixed. It becomes a matter of personal preference. With no external reference point who is to say whether something is good or bad? Right or wrong? Moral or immoral?
The Psalmist affirmed that “God is good” (Ps. 73:1). Forms of this refrain are often repeated throughout the Bible. God’s goodness is expressed in His character. It is connected to His love, mercy, and grace (Ps 69:16;100:5; 84:11). To his blessings toward all people, both the evil and the good (Matt. 5:45). And to every “good gift” that comes from his bountiful hand (Jas.1:17).
When a young man came to Jesus and called him “Good Master,” Jesus responded, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God” (Mk. 10:18).
If there is no God, why should any specific standard be imposed upon others? And who gets to decide? Governments? The majority? The powerful?
Those with children have witnessed an older child telling his younger sibling what to do, and they respond with “Says who?” The younger child is, in essence, saying you don’t have the right to tell me how to live.
The Bible teaches that all authority emanates from God. Jesus claimed his authority came from the Father (Matt 28:18). Governments derived their authority from God (Rom. 13:1). Shepherds in the church receive their right to rule from the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:1-4). Even in the home, our relationships are regulated by what the authority of Christ (Eph. 5:22-6:4).
If there is no God, the “rules” are constantly in flux and can be arbitrarily changed at any time by anyone.
There is, however, an even bigger question for us to consider, “Is true religion just about being good?”
Christians must be careful not to equate being good with being pleasing to God. The prophet reminds us that “all our righteousness is like filthy rags.” True goodness and righteousness is epitomized in Jesus and revealed in the gospel (Rom. 1:16-17). Without Him and His sacrifice for our salvation, we are lost.
The gospel of God’s grace (Ax 20:24) reminds us all that human goodness apart from God is futile. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2Cor. 9:15).
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman