Can we be good without God?

It is a firm atheist belief that humans are perfectly capable of being good without God, and Humanist societies in several countries want it spelled out on buses and in subways, too – either as a question, “Can you be good without God?” or as an outright statement of fact, “You can be good without God.”

So, is it true that we can be good without God? It wasn’t in Paul’s experience. “I find this law at work,” he wrote, “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me (Romans 7:21),” and the more he tried to do good, the worse it got, too. He eventually concluded that “nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do do what is good, but I cannot carry it out (verse 18).”

So, what was his problem? It was what he called his “sinful nature.” It was so powerful it wouldn’t let him do the good he so desperately wanted to do, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work…waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin (verse 23).” Even when he wanted to do something as good as keeping God’s law, he still couldn’t do it.

And what is our experience as humanity in general? Well, for those who want to be good people and want this Earth to be a happy, peaceful place, it must be terribly disappointing, because for all our desire and efforts to do good, multiple millions of people are still suffering from acute poverty, endless wars and terrible diseases. The facts speak for themselves, that our experience today is exactly the same as Paul’s. In our inner beings we’d love to make this world a better place for everyone, but we still can’t do it. If it was true, then, that we’re quite capable of doing good and creating peace and happiness for all people on Earth, it would’ve happened already, right? But it hasn’t.

And the reason it doesn’t happen is that all our desire to do good is “weakened by the sinful nature (Romans 8:3).” And there’s only one way, according to Paul, for dealing with that, and that’s having the Spirit of God living in us (verse 9). That, and that alone, is the source of “life and peace (verse 6).” Would an atheist accept that? Likely not. Why not? Because his sinful nature won’t let him, proving the point that there’s only way we can be good and that’s with God, not without him.


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