The Pew Research Center just released the results of a new poll. According to a 2019 study that included over 38,000 respondents in 34 countries, only 45% considered it necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values.
At first blush, these results seem generous toward human nature and espouse the inherent goodness of humanity. After all, we all know good moral atheists, right?
The rub, however, comes in the definitions. Dictionary.com defines morality as principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior. Everyone knows that too. Except, not everyone agrees on what’s right and wrong.
Adolf Hitler was convinced that it was morally right to murder Jews, Gypsies, and other people he considered inferior.
Sadly, many agreed and participated in his genocidal purges with a clear conscience. The Nazis became a god unto themselves as arbiters of morality and look where it led.
Does might make right? Or majority? Or minority? Or age? Or skin color? Or wealth? Or poverty? Or what? All of these have led to tyranny, abuse, and moral disaster at one time or the other in human history.
Even today, many believe it’s OK to steal and burn down businesses if they have good reasons. Still others discriminate against those of different skin color or culture. Many promote the killing of unborn children as a moral obligation. Thankfully the Supreme Court has infallible judges who always determine accurately what is right and wrong (sarcasm).
What about child sexual abuse? Although most agree this is grossly immoral, some now openly advocate for its acceptance. If we don’t need God to tell us what’s right and wrong, their beliefs are just as moral as anyone else’s.
Although the 45% global average includes respondents from six continents, there are wide divergences. Only 9% of Swedes thought a belief in God was needed for morality while Kenya and Nigeria were above 90%. Sadly, less than half of Americans needed God with an average of 44%. Although Muslims likely influenced the African results, at least they realize that without some god, there are no standards. Mine’s as good as yours and Stalin’s is as good as ours.
Such beliefs create a climate ripe for leaders and movements who declare their own ethics as the measurement for righteousness. We’re already seeing this in various segments of US society where atheism is carried to its logical conclusions leading to lawless anarchy. These conditions existed before for Judges 21:25 says that “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
Even the morality of many atheists has been shaped by Jesus’ teachings. Although they may not accept Him as Savior or believe in His Father, most embrace His teachings of love, compassion, and generosity. Sadly, we all measure short of these standards and are then tempted to lower them so we don’t look so bad. Once the bar height is in our hands, however, we can repeatedly adjust it to whatever level we individually or collectively agree. What was immoral yesterday becomes moral today and vice versa.
Perhaps it is our inability to measure up to God’s standards that motivates us to abandon them. The great news is that He has provided a way for us to be forgiven of our shortcomings and acceptable to Him. Jesus not only taught perfect morality, He also lived it and freely offers His spotless righteousness to all who recognize their need for it and who will accept it by faith. As we do so, He then fills us with His Spirit which enables us not only to accurately discern good from evil but to be more consistently good according to His definition.
Our Creator alone has the authority to prescribe human behavior. Let us recognize our desperate need for God and His morality and resist the heresy that that we can be good without Him. The daily news proves we cannot. Blessings, George
George Bowers is the senior pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren and has authored 16 books, including “Blessings Volume 3,” which is a collection of these articles. It is available at Four Star Printing and Shenandoah Stuff. He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org