ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)--"Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake," proclaims a new holiday ad from the American Humanist Association. Already appearing in the New York Times and Washington Post, the message will soon be blazoned on the sides, taillights, and interiors of over 200 Washington, D.C. Metro buses.
It's the first ad campaign of its kind in the United States, and the American Humanist Association predicts it will raise public awareness of humanism as well as controversy over humanist ideas.
"Humanists have always understood that you don't need a god to be good," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "So that's the point we're making with this advertising campaign. Morality doesn't come from religion. It's a set of values embraced by individuals and society based on empathy, fairness, and experience."
This information from the humanist website is one more in a recent spate of atheistic claims that religion and theism are not only wrong, but unnecessary and probably even evil. But can they demonstrate they are correct? I don't think so.
First of all, the humanist experiment to sustain a good (moral) society without appeal to a supernatural lawgiver and a revealed set of rights and wrongs is sitting on the foundation of a culture that was created from the belief in a Creator who has granted to His human creatures certain "inalienable" rights. The ethics and values that Americans have long embraced such as freedom, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, honoring parents, compassion for the needy, etc. as well as "empathy" and "fairness" are all grounded in the understanding that God made us and expects us to behave in these moral ways. We have lived, written laws, and behaved on the basis of these bedrock beliefs.
Are we to expect that all these ethical principles and practices will likewise flow from the belief that there is no God, no created order that makes man's existence purposeful and special, no absolute set of rights and wrongs, and no eternal consequences for the way we live? We do have some recent examples of societies that do not believe in God nor recognize a mandated divine value on human beings. They are associated with names like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, Idi Amin, and Saddam Hussein. Devoid of any sense of God or godliness, they created a social order of mayhem and evil that destroyed millions of lives. So much for the morality of godlessness.
Secondly, in this non-theistic paradigm, who is going to decide what "being good" is? We have traditionally asserted that being faithful to your marriage partner is "good." But now there are those who not only want to redefine marriage but also those who insist that marriage itself is a bad thing. For centuries, our people have valued sexual chastity, making it almost synonymous with the concept of "purity." Now, young people who value such an ideal are routinely called foolish and mentally and socially deficient. Is being good respecting others' property or may I take what I can get away with as long as it "doesn't hurt anybody"? Dare we broach the human-life topics of abortion and euthanasia? Are cheating, lying, and carousing on the "good" list or the "bad" list, or is it simply optional? How are you going to be good if no one agrees on what "good" is?
Thirdly, without a divine touchstone, why is it I am supposed to care what someone else (or everyone else) thinks is good behavior? If human beings are only biological phenomena who populate a random universe for a brief span of years before disappearing into nothingness, what motivates us "to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity" (the stated goal of humanism)? Is it completely utilitarian, i.e., "I scratch your back and you scratch mine"? Is the motivation to good behavior the approbation of our fellows which stokes our self esteem? Or do we hope to sustain kindness and mercy and brotherly love on the flimsy platform of some ill-defined and irrational altruistic impulse?
The more likely outcome of godless, autonomous ethics is what we see played out among us every day. Human beings grounded only in their self-interest pursue any avenue which appears to gratify, satisfy, stupefy, or mollify. Love means merely self indulgence. Other human beings become mainly a means to an end. Use them. Abuse them. Discard them. Ignore them. When the humanists protest that this is not good, the reply will be, "We will decide what is good for us!"
The history of man's inhumanity to man only gets worse the more "enlightened" we become. Remember, the 20th century brought us not only the Humanist Manifesto but the worst human rights record in history. Against this backdrop, the humanist expectation of god-less ethical living is more implausible than Santa Claus.
What humanism (and all varieties of dishonest atheism) refuses to see is that the worldview they posit not only detaches human life from God but also from purpose, meaning, value, joy, love, and hope. I do not know how a person can ignore the innate sense within themselves that tells them there has got to be more to a person than 75 years and a box in the ground. There's too much plot in the universe for it to be just a colossal accident. I would challenge anyone who has fallen under the demonic spell of atheism to recognize that even the moral ought-ness in your own soul that causes you to ask questions about "goodness" and "badness" is a homing signal from your Creator. And, if you are still unconvinced of God, take a long, hard look at where atheism has left you -- alone in the dark, going through the motions, unloved and unlovely, where your most tender and most cherished human experiences are mocked by the insanity and pretense of it all.
God meant something better for us. He loves humanity. So He created, He blessed, He taught. And when we ran away, when we goofed it up, when we did not get it, He came Himself -- human to human -- to set the world and us straight. "Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth." This is the reason to rejoice. This is the reason to be good.
David Hankins is executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.