Immoral atheists

The following is a reconstruction of a conversation I had with a fundamentalist Protestant some years ago. I present it for your comment.

Christian: Atheists, by their nature, are immoral. If there is no guarantee of divine justice, there is no reason not to sin and hope to get away with it.

Me: So Christians are without sin because they fear God’s wrath?

Christian: No, Christians are not without sin. All humans are sinful beings by nature. But by accepting the gift of Jesus Christ on the cross, Christians have received forgiveness for their sins and been reborn without the stain of the sin of Adam.

Me: What about sins Christians commit after accepting Jesus. Don’t they have to pay for those?

Christian: No. Jesus’ suffering on the cross is sufficient to wipe away all the sins of the saved.

Me: Then why should a Christian not sin? If someone is saved, they don’t have to fear God’s wrath for their sins, do they?

Christian: No. Their sins have been paid for. But Christians strive to go without sin because the Holy Spirit works within them.

Me: Aren’t you saying that atheists are immoral because they have no fear of divine justice, but Christians are moral even though they have no fear of divine justice?

Christian: No. I’m saying that atheists are immoral because they are fallen and have no reason to be moral, but Christians strive to be moral because they have accepted the Holy Spirit and it works within them.

Me: If it’s not fear of punishment that makes Christians good, then why do you say it’s lack of fear of punishment that makes atheists bad?

Christian: Because all of humanity has a fallen nature, and only through acceptance of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit can a mere human hope to battle against temptation to do evil. If you feared punishment, you would accept Jesus Christ as your savior and be reborn.

Me: What about a person who is not a Christian but believes in God’s justice. Might not that person be good in order to avoid punishment, even without accepting Jesus?

Christian: It doesn’t work that way. Because they are done by corrupted humans, good works mean nothing to God. They are like rotting fruit to him because humanity is corrupt. Good works cannot save you from punishment; only the blood of Jesus can wash away your sins.

Me: Then what you’re really saying is that everyone — not just atheists — is immoral because they have not accepted Jesus as their savior. At its heart, divine justice has nothing to do with it.

Christian: I guess in a sense that’s true, but it’s the promise of divine justice that motivates someone to become a Christian. You can’t have one without the other.

Me: Could I sum this up by saying that you think all non-Christians are going to be punished by God and all true Christians are saved, and whether or not any of them sins or does good deeds doesn’t change their fate?

Christian: You’re making it sound horrible on purpose and that’s a gross oversimplification, but in general that’s true.

Posted on February 17, 2011 at 7:12 am by ideclare · Permalink
In: Anti-atheist

4 Responses

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  1. Written by NFQ
    on February 17, 2011 at 8:40 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Slippery! This is very interesting to read; thanks for posting it.

    I think the clincher happens when you ask, “If it’s not fear of punishment that makes Christians good, then why do you say it’s lack of fear of punishment that makes atheists bad?” Christians have told me many times that they just love God and that’s why they want to obey him, that it has nothing to do with the desire to go to heaven or the fear of going to hell. (That would sound selfish and shallow, I guess, though I’m not sure why — an eternity is a pretty long time, and worth taking into consideration.) But if that’s the case, what of the non-Christians who convert to Christianity because they are worried about the fate of their souls? Do they not count as “true Christians”? Do their reasons for being a Christian suddenly change as soon as they convert? … Their answer to you on this question doesn’t even really address the point.

    I love their comment, “You’re making it sound horrible on purpose.” It’s just a factual restatement of what they just explained! If it sounds horrible, that’s not your fault….

  2. Written by Stephanie Briggs
    on February 19, 2011 at 6:19 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Great post. I’m still wondering about the cop-out: so Christians can be horrible people and get away with it because Jesus took care of everything? They never have to apologize for wronging people because Jesus took care of everything? Come on! How convenient.

    That is not to say that ALL Christians are like this – of course there are some very good and kind Christians out there. My best girlfriend is a Christian and we get along great.

    FYI, I’m a secular Jew and am married to an atheist. But I do know a lot about the Jewish holy days, and Jews who are observant ask forgiveness from others on Erev Yom Kippur, the day before Yom Kippur. On the day of Yom Kippur, they ask forgiveness from God. The idea with these two days is that forgiveness must be granted from the people you’ve wronged before it can come from God.

  3. Written by Athiest
    on April 12, 2011 at 3:20 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Hey, what denomination was this guy? Because I am quite sure the idea that grace, not works, can save one’s soul is a belief held only by a few extreme sects.

    I’m not a theological scholar, but my understanding is that during the reformation era this belief was created somewhat as a reaction to catholicism’s corruption (where “works” based absolution was, in a way, sold for power via relics and whatnot). However, the concept took several forms including the idea that some people were “chosen” and others were not, and the belief this commentator supports is essentially a less harsh re-hash of the idea, this time arguing that accepting Jesus was enough.

    The reason I think knowing his denomination would be helpful is because this theological concept has become manifest in many different protestant groups ranging from extreme fundamentalists to more “liberal” congregations.

    I am an Athiest through and through, but I think it would be good to include that sort of information both to make your arguments more clear and to avoid making rash generalizations.

    I have come to realize that religion is as much about culture and heritage as it is about theology. You would most likely get offended if someone insulted your family, right? therefor, even neglecting issues of faith and power, it is understandable that theists react angrily to athiesm.

    Providing distinctions in your theological attacks and avoiding broad generalizations would reduce this backlash and help more people to realize the truth.

  4. Written by Mike
    on February 14, 2012 at 2:26 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    So what your saying is that it is okay to cheat, kill, lie, steal, rape and abuse unless your imaginary friend is telling you what not to do. Have you considered the possibility that you are the immoral one?

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