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Good without God?

Posted on October 29, 2017 at 5:30 AM

May my words be in the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Sometimes in the culture of the world around us we hear talk of people having no need of religion in order to be good. There is, for example, a book by a prominent American Humanist called 'Good with God'; and closer to home the group Atheist Ireland even has a charity called 'Good without gods'. This idea of human-based morality raises two important issues. The first is that in this context what is meant by being good? Presumably 'good' here must mean whatever people think of as good. The obvious problem is that when there are no objective standards of what constitutes right and wrong what happens when people disagree? In our modern world you end up with what is good and moral in one place being quite different to what is good and moral somewhere else, or even from person to person … which is bizarre when looked at logically. How can something be good when done by one person, and yet also be wrong when done by another?

 

Not only is the idea illogical, it is also, from the Christian point of view heretical, idolatrous, blasphemous, and, of course, sinful. It is heretical because it goes against the teaching of the Church that it is God in his infinite wisdom who fashions the moral law, not man. We might term it the heresy of individualism. It is idolatrous because it places the individual in the place of God when it comes to deciding what is right and wrong, thereby putting each person in the place of God for themselves – essentially worshipping themselves rather than God – the idolatry of the person. It is blasphemous in its open defiance of God and his authority as creator and sustainer that all that there was, is, and ever will be until the end of the ages. And it is sinful because it goes against what our Lord Jesus Christ, as we hear in our Gospel reading today, declared to be the first and greatest commandment; that we love the Lord our God will all our heart, soul, and mind. And those who do not keep God's commandments do not and can not love him, as our Lord and Saviour makes clear elsewhere in Sacred Scripture when he says that those who love God will keep his commandments.

 

That deals with the first of the two issues that I said claims that we can be good without God raises. The second is this: it suggests that the primary purpose of religion is to make us good. And it is not; that is a false narrative of the secular culture that sadly all too often many even within the Church not only allow to go unchallenged but often even accept. But it not true; it is in fact a lie. We are not called to be Christians in order to be good; we are called to be Christians in order to be holy.

 

And that is the only thing that makes sense if you really think about it. Genesis tells us that we are made in the image and likeness of God; and therefore just as he is holy, so too must we be holy. God even tells us himself directly that this is what we must be. Listen again to what we heard in our Old Testament reading from the book Leviticus: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 'Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.'” Naturally, being holy will lead us to be good; for the good man or good woman, the good boy or good girl, will all, out of love of God keep his commandments, not just as they apply to loving him, but as they concern loving our neighbour.

 

But can being good make us holy? Well, if by good we mean following God's law as set out in Sacred Scripture and the Holy Traditions of the Church, then it is indeed a good path to holiness. But if by being good we mean good as defined by the secular culture of the world around us, then I am afraid the answer must be no. How could it possibly be otherwise? So much of what the secular culture proposes openly defies God's law, calling a great deal of what the Church teaches to be good evil, and presenting as good many things the Church Christ founded has called evil on the basis of not only the natural law but the Divine Revelation that God has granted us.

 

As I draw to a close, there is something else that needs to be said concerning the idea of being good without God - things that the Christian must always keep in mind. It was God who created us and sustains us; the idea of being good without him is an illusion, for without him we are nothing. It was he who died upon the Cross to save us from our sins; without him all our efforts are as nothing. It is He, who through his Church, gives us the Sacraments that give us the Grace, the Strength, and the Divine Nourishment we need to make us Holy; without him we have nothing. God created us to be with him in heaven; and it is by our lifelong struggle, aided by him, to be Holy as he is Holy – a holiness that is reflected by a life that does such good deeds that are pleasing to him – that will lead us there. And it is such holiness of life that I pray for all here: in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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