For Goodness Sake

A [long] while back I was asked this question: Aren’t Atheists more moral than religious believers [Christians] because they act morally without motivation or fear of divine reward or reprisal?  Since there is no transcendent God [on the atheist view] to whom they are accountable, and goodness is not required because there is no eternal punishment for evil or selfish behavior, the atheist is acting good because he wants to, not because he feels he has to.

Many Christians will want to take the presuppositional tack and point out that ‘good’ i.e., objective morality (or even any kind of morality at all, see: Who Needs Morality?) does not make sense if there is no transcendent standard such as God.  I don’t think this is the wrong approach, per se, but I think all too often it is a conversation stopper.  For this reason, I will take a different approach.

I think it’s important to understand what it is that makes an action ‘good‘.  When people say an action or intention is good, generally speaking they mean it is an inherently good action driven by a good intention.  Different than pragmatism that looks at the end goal — regardless of motive, whatever gets the best results is good — this understanding of good looks at the ends and the means.

I would contend that motive and action carry equal weight in this discussion.  For example, feeding an infant in itself can be seen as a good thing.  But feeding an infant with the intent to feed her to a lion is an unparalleled evil.  Actions alone are unable to determine whether a good has taken place.  Say you pull into your driveway and your neighbor’s garage door is open.  As you get out of your car, a van stops at the end of your neighbor’s driveway.  A man gets out, walks into the garage and loads up the van with your neighbor’s chainsaw and tool box, and drives away.  Has this man done anything wrong?  We can’t tell from the action alone.  Whether the man had permission or not makes all the difference.

Likewise, intention alone is not enough to make an act good.  Some investment bankers take client’s money and invest it in the market in an effort to maximize profits for both the client and himself.  However if the investor earnestly intends to invest wisely and with great prudence, if he loses all his client’s money, his good intention does not make the loss good.  As above with feeding the infant; if instead of food, one feeds the infant dirt, we don’t see feeding dirt to a baby as good because someone meant well.

Though the above examples are a bit exaggerated and explicit, they serve to show that both action and intent must be good.

On the Christian view, when people do good deeds, they should be done for the Glory of God.  Roughly this means one’s actions should recognizable as being done because of a love for God, and should not cause others to think badly of God because of the actions of the believer.  This is not to say everything a believer does is good by default.  Far from it.  Most Christians — myself included — regularly besmirch the name of God with our actions.  That is a failure on the Christian’s part.

So it is in this way that the ‘good‘ deeds of the skeptic carry the wrong motive.  Essentially, all the good the skeptic does is for selfish means.  The driving factor is themselves.  Ultimately, things are done only because the skeptic wants to do it.  Even when doing good for altruistic purposes, there is a sense of self-fulfillment [doing the thing for one’s own purposes alone].  Of course, everyone is different, and many skeptics will argue their deeds are not self-centered, but I think when motives are boiled down, they will eventually arrive at some sense of self-fulfillment.  This is by default, a failure on the skeptic’s part.

Since we are talking about actual good, and not mere appearance of good, all deeds done by skeptics is merely apparently good and carries a misplaced motive.  This is why even the good done by them is not good in the ultimate sense, because proper action and proper motive is necessary to make something actually good.  Something that is only apparently good, is simply not good enough.


  1. “Essentially, all the good the skeptic does is for selfish means. The driving factor is themselves. Ultimately, things are done only because the skeptic wants to do it. Even when doing good for altruistic purposes, there is a sense of self-fulfillment.”

    I have two responses:

    Firstly, how can you be sure that your basic assumptions are correct? It is true that one may feel good about oneself after doing a good deed, but is it necessarily the driving force? Is this sense of self-fulfillment what drives my altruism, or is it merely a property that naturally arises after-the-fact? I’m not so sure anyone can answer this. I’m sure there are those for whom this sense of self-fulfillment is their motivating factor for their altruism, yet it seems almost impossible to think that there is not one person who did not do good deeds for goodness’ sake.

    Secondly, and almost in conjunction with my first point, if you wanted to say that self-fulfillment negates an action’s ‘good intention’, does this also apply to theists? If a Christian similarly feels a sense of self-fulfillment, is his action no longer good? If it is such that a Christian can perform an action and not have it be for personal benefit, then why is the atheist unable to do this? If you’re answer is that a Christian cannot perform any actions that are inherently altruistic, then we are, again, on equal footing. If this is the case, however, we may be in danger of there being no cases which are inherently good.

    Let me take this one step further, given that we may end on equal footing. If it is the case that no one can perform an action that is inherently good, then we must judge these actions on there motivations, or intentions, wouldn’t you agree? Supposing that no action is inherently good, I’m sure you would agree that one motivation has the capacity to be inherently better than another. If this is the case, then we must examine the motivations behind both the theist’s actions and the atheist’s actions. Now, to my knowledge, it seems ostensibly apparent that theists and atheists are capable of sharing all the same motivations for doing good deeds – save for one. To my knowledge, the only motivation that a theist may have to perform a good deed that is not shared by an atheist is if Scriptures/God commands said deed. Bearing this mind, it is completely feasible to think that a theist can perform a good action and the person performing said action do so not under his own volition. In this case, the theist is being forced to perform said good deed (the tale of Jonah comes to mind). Now, we may be able to draw parallels to different circumstances (such as one performing actions under duress), but I cannot think of an incident in where the action performed by said person is not immediately beneficial to the person performing said action. In this case, we may attribute the motivation to self-preservation. But this is not the case under the commandment scenario. Even once Jonah had saved Nineveh, Jonah skulked around like baby with a tantrum. These are not grounds for calling Jonah’s motivations as ‘good’, yet they are wholly constrained to theists. Therefore, it naturally follows that, because theists and atheists are able to share all the same motivations for performing good deeds, the commandment scenario ever-so-slightly tips the balance in favor of the atheist.

    • First, self-fulfillment is a very broad term. It encompasses a range between, makiing someone feel all warm and fuzzy and good about themselves, to doing something merely because they wanted to. I intend it to mean doing the thing for one’s own purposes alone, and I will add this to the post in brackets. Doing something for self-fulfillment in and of itself is not a bad thing, per se. For example, I might treat my daughters to ice cream because I know they will enjoy it, and showing love like that for them can be a “God glorifying” thing. I am doing it — to a degree — for self-fulfillment. It makes me feel good to see them happy, family bonding is a good thing in God’s sight, everybody wins. The point I am making is for the Atheist, self-fullment lacks the ‘Godward’ direction that would make a good deed actually good in the ultimate sense, even though it has a temporal, societal, personal beneficial effect.

      I say commands tip the scale in favor of the theist. Obedience to God is inherently a good thing. In this scenario, the motive is to obey God even if it is not personally desirable, is inherently a good thing. But even if you consider sulking about compliance, that only would only render the thing in that instence not good. Though I think obedience in spite of personal feelings is good.

  2. “So it is in this way that the ‘good‘ deeds of the skeptic carry the wrong motive.”
    You do get to the point of the argument here – what is good? Your idea of good is for the Glory of God. That’s a weak and insecure god that needs people to glorify him, but I’ll just let that point lie.

    Humanists, which is a better moniker than skeptic in an ethics discussion, see people as the ultimate ends to ‘love and glorify’. The best way for a religious person to understand this is that doing things for the glory of god means that god is the only valid “end” and that everything else, people, money, time, are all “means” to an end. We differ on the ends at the least.

    You’ve painted humanists has “selfish” which is a comforting bit of slander religionists like to toss out. You should be able to recognize the difference between supporting one’s self and supporting the progress and flourishing of humanity as a whole. What is more ethical, a monk who spends his entire life in a high mountain singing hymns and reading the Bible day after day or a humanist who gives a pint of blood, one time? Giving pint of blood is more ethical than singing hymns for eternity. Incidentally, giving blood to help a stranger you’ll never meet is clearly less selfish than singing your religion’s hymns to your god.

    “they should be done for the Glory of God … because of a love for God.”
    This shows that religious ethics is basically just cultural relativism. If you think that you can love and glorify god by subjugating women or enslaving africans, then that is morality. But it’s unconnected to any basis if it’s what someone thinks is a love of god and for the glory of god according to a certain culture.

    The only way to defend against this is to resort to arguments in the Bible. That means that loving and glorifying god is tied solely to the instructions laid out in the Bible. If that’s the case, then we have, at best, an authoritarian law book of acceptable and unacceptable actions entirely unconnected to any ethical outcome. The Christian is limited to doing what it says in the Bible solely because that’s the only way to know what glorifies god.

    That also breaks down to cultural relativism. From Catholics to Lutherans to Episcopalians to NAR to Jehovah’s witness, there are, and I’m being extremely generous, more diverse interpretations of the Bible than the number of books in the Bible. The Bible simply useless in getting a straight answer, so it still falls back to the reason an individual applies to the lessons in the Bible. And since the Bible can and has been interpreted in thousands of different ways, we know that there has to be some external purpose.

    A humanist can show, objectively, whether an action helps or hurts people. Anti-gay rhetoric demonstrably hurts people in terms of mental welfare. Gay hate kills kids. I can name you 17 kids, most recently Jamey Rodemeyer, and some may not even have been gay, so it’s the gay hate, not the gay that killed them.

    In the end people use the term “good” or “bad” or “moral” or “immoral”. John is right in being more specific. He says “for the love and glory of god.” A humanist sees that as nonsensical and unknowable at best, given the long history of diverse and contradictory answers to the question. Humanists may disagree, but we have an opportunity to find objective answers to the question of “what provides for human flourishing.” It’s no easy answer, but our ethics are rooted in reality and in the perspective of humanity.

    • “weak and insecure” is only accurate if God is not properly worthy of being glorified and respected.

      You seemingly admit the selfishness of actions when you say “people [are] the ultimate ends to ‘love and glorify’”

      And again, giving blood would be an example of seemingly good, but not actually good in the ultimate sense. Though I don’t usually quote the Bible for my posts, this is a bit apropos — Jesus said ‘what good is gaining the world if you lose your soul’. So the monk is doing a good thing by glorifying and worshiping God, denying himself the luxuries of the world.

      Your comment is a bit long with many different subjects. If you have one or two that you’d like to narrow down, I’d be glad to discuss a more directed objection.

  3. The problem with atheists doing good because they want to is that they often define good for the rest of us. Like Mayor Bloomberg doing good to us by forcing restaurants to reduce trans-fats and salts in their products, or politicians forcing us to use toilets that don’t hold enough water, or light bulbs that do not give enough light.

    The issue you set aside for the moment, a transcendent source for good, is actually the point here. Atheists define what is good by a subjective, internal process. This process can be influenced by selfishness, a Judeo-Christian philosophy, pluralism, anything, you name it. What happens is these atheists then get together to come to a consensus on what is good and then use the weight of government to enforce this morality on the rest of us.

    It all comes down to how one defines what is good. How can something be inherently good without good being defined ahead of time? You correctly pointed out that atheistic morality is not about what is good, but about what is useful. The atheist’s morality is subjective. The Christian’s is objective.

    • I agree with you on this. I just wanted to set aside the moral ‘trump card’ for the sake of this discussion even though I agree it is completely valid. But the question didn’t really seem to hinge on whether or not an atheist can be moral, or ground morality. Rather, whether doing the good thing without fear of reprisal or promise of reward from God makes their actions more moral. For me, I think it comes down to motive.

      Personally, I don’t find “because it benefits the human herd” to be a very compelling grounding.

  4. One thing I forgot to add on my comment was that this atheist morality always ends in tyranny.

    There is no question that an atheist can ACT good. Atheists still feed their children. They still stop at stop signs. They can even feel compassion for people suffering from tragedy. BEING good is another matter. In affirming his deity Jesus asked “Why do you call me good? There is no one good but God.” (Matthew 19:17). Jesus is the embodiment of Psalms 25:8 “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore will he teach sinners in the way.”

    The atheist religion does not logically have any mechanism to define what is “good” only what is “useful” (i.e. what will perpetuate the species). Their sense of compassion comes from being created in the image of God. They can’t help but know right and wrong because they were born with a conscience. (See What We Can’t Not Know, by J. Budziszewski. Does a shark have compassion for the families of its victim? Does a lion care that the woman it has killed has children? How does compassion fit into natural selection? If we are merely “clothed apes” why should we care if our neighbors lost their son to a car accident? Because now our son lost a playmate? Or we lost a potential babysitter? How does having compassion for our neighbors’ suffering perpetuate the species? You see, the atheist’s morality is merely utilitarian. See

    I agree that Christians should do everything they do to give glory to God. I would add that good can be measured in obedience. Jesus said “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” Samuel said to King Saul “To obey is better than sacrifice.” BEING good is about imitating our Creator. We do good things because God does good things. An atheist cannot BE good because his definition of good begins and ends with himself. He only ACTS good because a standard of morality has been established outside himself that he accidentally or incidentally follows.

    • An atheist cannot BE good because his definition of good begins and ends with himself. He only ACTS good because a standard of morality has been established outside himself that he accidentally or incidentally follows.”

      This one sentence embodies this entire post. Well done.

  5. Oscar and Jason give very compelling responses to this discussion and instead of really addressing them, John, you pat Dogtags on the back for reinforcing your position and providing you with a good soundbite.

    Definitions aside, basically we all agree that doing “good” makes us all feel better about ourselves. The only difference here is that theists do good to glorify their imaginary friend, which in turn also makes them feel better about themselves. To imply that people who don’t subscribe to their theistic view are without moral standards simply derails the conversation.

    “The point I am making is for the Atheist, self-fullment (sic) lacks the ‘Godward’ direction that would make a good deed actually good in the ultimate sense, even though it has a temporal, societal, personal beneficial effect.”

    Could you please provide an example of a “good deed in the ultimate sense” that would not be done for self-gratification?

  6. John Barron Jr, what is the purpose of Hell? If christians do good only to glorify their god, why would there be a need for an eternal punishment for the rest of us? If Hell is not actually giving any motivation to do good, why is it there? If Hell has a use as a motivator for good, does it not only work for those who believe in it? If it serves as a deterrent for the christians not to do evil, their motivation is by far more selfish than that of the “skeptics”.

    We all choose what is good and form our opinion about it on what we know and understand. One person chooses to trust the wisdom and potential connection to an alledgedly benevolent god by some ancient scribes. A nother person may choose to trust their emphaty and hopefully educated evaluations of scientists on how the humanity, the world and the universe works. In the end, we can be sure on what good we have achieved only, if it is “apparent” to us. But as a situation where we have to choose quickly between potential good and evil arises, it is easier to trust ones instincts and emphaty, than to look for scientific research or ancient tomes.

    “Proper action” and “proper motive” are not necessary to produce something “actually good”. Good may result from completely selfish intent. For example a businessman may have a completely selfish intent on self gratification by creating a fortune, but still produces jobs and wealth to others. Wether he did it for the glory of a god or not makes no difference for his employees, who have avoided poverty by his actions.

    Dogtags, parlamentarian democracies work thus. Majority decides for representatives who after considering the notions of experts decides on a consensus for what is good for the populace. That is how social morals is defined. It may have flaws as a system, but it is the best one we have for government, just like Winston Churchill said. Are you not happy with it?

    Why is it that so many christians seem to have trouble at grasping biology? Is it because biology as science contradicts the outdated ideas one particular ancient tribe had about their envarioment? Emphaty is a strong emotion that has an obvious purpose for survival of the fittest. Survival of the fittest population. Survival of the fittest would serve no purpose for the evolution if it was about survival of an individual. Even crows may attack a man carrying an umbrella, because they think he has captured one of their kind.

    • I have written about whether hell is a proper motivation HERE.

      But I never said the only reason Christians do things only to glorify God. I said that is what a Christian has that a skeptic doesnt. That is what gives the proper motivation to a proper action when combined make an action “good”. Christians fail at this all the time, myself included, and I made this concession in the post.

      The rest of your comment either makes my point for me, or addresses something else. The point DogTags made was that on a purely physical universe non-physical realities should be non-existent, but they arent. We have non-physical emotions and emotions. You also make his point for him as well when you defend survival of the fittest.

  7. Z-

    Of course you found their responses compelling. You find every criticism of religion compelling.

    When you say, “To imply that people who don’t subscribe to their theistic view are without moral standards simply derails the conversation. ” That shows me that you either didn’t read what I posted, and just jumped to the comments, or you didnt understand it. I intentionally didnt make this argument in the post. You seem to be referring to a point someone else made in the comment section also who noted that I intentionally didnt make this point in the post.

    Second, I responded to both Jason and Oscar, both of whom have interesting points. I fully responded to Oscar, but as I noted to Jason, there were many different points made in a long comment. I don’t want to get into an essay competition and I asked him to narrow it down to one or two points that he’d like to discuss further. I know you like to have a dozen or so complaints, that if not all are responded to you claim some kind of victory. But that’s not going to happen with Jason, because unlike yourself who hurls insults and condescention, he is a thoughtful, articulate, charitable objector who seems to be interested in an actual discussion.

  8. @ John,
    You said:
    “On the Christian view, when people do good deeds, they should be done for the Glory of God.”

    But don’t you agree that the average Christian makes very few of their daily actions while thinking “I am doing this for the Glory of God”.

    Indeed, good actions or bad (I won’t debate those definitions in this discussion), are made without really thinking much at all, for both Christians and Skeptics.

    I think we need to separate unconscious/reflexive (good or bad and thus no intention) vs reflective/conscious actions. So that, in your best scenario we have:
    if that is the case, by your definitions Christians:
    60% unconscious
    20% selfish
    20% done for the glory of Yahweh (reflective)

    Skeptics are:
    100% selfish ????: I don’t think so
    How about:
    60% unconscious
    20% selfish
    20% reflective on some ideals

    To have them at 100% selfish and different categorically is naive. Heck , even many Christians disagree with you on that.

    Some Christians say Skeptics act by natural law and are consciously good because God’s law is written in their hearts. Some say Skeptics can be good without knowing. Some say we are all bad and that the only real moral difference between Christians and skeptics is that Christians have gratefully accepted forgiveness.

    So not all Christians agree with you that Christians are morally superior to those nasty selfish SKeptics.

    I could not but help shake my head at your lack of understanding. You are clearly on an objective to keep yourself above the rest of us slobs, aren’t you.

  9. @John Barron Jr, I would really be interrested in your answer to the last question posed by ZQTX. For some reason you did not address it.

    A christian does some good for the glory of god, and a skeptic does some good by evaluating his/her actions according to what may result from them. How do these intents or means make the results any different? You may claim there is a difference, but as long as you can not verify on that, it is just a guess.

    Emotions happen in the physical universe and take place in the neural systems of individuals, and are conveyed between individuals by the means of communication. There might be something beyond what we know to be physical, but emotions do not need such explanations.

    How did I make your points for you, or the point of Dogtag for him/her?

    • @Rautakyy

      I can’t think of one off the top of my head. But regardless, I really don’t take Z as much more than an instigator. It is the one consistent thing about him. If there is a question or point he makes that I think isn’t a waste of my time to put in an effort to answer I will, otherwise, I will likely ignore him. He is consistently rude and hostile, I dont need that.

      You make our points by pointing to the “is” of a situation. Like when you “explain” emotion, all you do is point to some chemical reaction. But “happiness” is more than a chemical reaction, it has some kind of meaning. Also, when you point to evolution and survival of the fittest, you are not pointing to morality, but to what perpetuates the species, that is not morality, that is utility.

      You seem to be stuck on the end result of an action. If the end is good (in the utility sense) then it is good and motive doesnt matter. If I got you a gift, would it make you happy that someone got you a gift? Probably, I would too. What if you found out the only reason I gave it to you is because I got some greater benefit and only gave it to you because you happened to be the first person I ran into, and didnt really want it and wanted to throw it in the trash, but decided to give it to you because I didnt feel like finding a trash can or littering? Doesnt that make the “gift” less significant? I think so. The right motivation and the right action make the thing good, not just the end result.

  10. John – I know you are biased toward my comments before you even read them. I admit that there are people posting here far more eloquent than me. I just call things out for what they are and I don’t tap dance around the subject. You may not have said anything about the moral righteousness of Christians in your post, but Dogtags did and you fully embraced it and endorsed it. His blog even goes so far to say that when good deeds are done by atheists it’s an attribute borrowed from Judeo-Christian morals.

    The heart of the matter is your view is that goodness is done by theists to glorify their deity and that non-believers do good out of selfishness and utility.

    Here are some straight-forward questions for you:

    1. Presuming that god exists, how can you claim to know just what glorifies god? Doesn’t that become pure speculation?

    2. Does your god really have a need for this glorification or does it just make you feel better about yourself?

    You can dismiss my questions if you want – maybe they just need to be rephrased and asked by someone else. I still challenge you to provide an example of a “good deed in the ultimate sense” that would not be done for self-gratification.

    • The heart of the matter is your view is that goodness is done by theists to glorify their deity

      WRONG! What I said was that the only way to have a something be good in the ultimate sense of the meaning, is to have both proper motive and proper action. Skeptics by default do not allow themselves access to proper motive in the ultimate sense. Christians on the other hand, even though the majority of their apparent good deeds are not turly good because they are not done with the proper motive have access to the proper motive. They are able to do good in the ultimate sense because they can have the proper motive. Got it yet? Can we all agree to stop using this false understanding of my point?

      1. If we are presuming the God I believe in exists, the Bible provides the answer to what glorifies God.

      2. It doesn’t matter if God needs this glorification. It is not a character flaw unless He is undeserving of it. Whether I feel good about myself is irrelevant to whether my actions bring glory to God. That is not necessary. Just like it is unnecessary for me to want to deliver mail in order to properly deliver mail.

      Challenge all you want, but even if I can’t think of a situation, it doesn’t have any bearing on this discussion because I have already stated that self-gratification in and of itself does not make something not-good. So you even asking it is irrelevant and proves nothing.

  11. So you’re saying that any good a skeptic does is without proper motive?

    You’ve latched on to this terminology of “motive for good in the ultimate sense”. Please define that, with examples, and differentiate it from just goodness for the sake of goodness.

    • Yes, I am saying that. I spent an entire post saying that.

      An example would be, and this is strictly hypothetical, so don’t take it on a slew of tangents. Say you were dying of something that could be cured with an antidote. A temporal good would be saying nothing to you, giving you the cure and allowing you to live out your life as an atheist and die, condemned to hell. A good in the ultimate sense would be to give you the Gospel (presuming you’ll come to a saving trust in Christ) whether you get the cure or not. Your eternal destination is more important than your temporal comfort.

  12. really, John? now you’re resorting to deleting my posts?

  13. The truth hurts, I guess. Your “strictly hypothetical” example is based on your dangerous belief system with a moral code that tells you it’s better to let someone die at your hand rather to save a life.

    • This here tells me hou cannot participate in a discussion like a grown up. I knew this would be how you took it. But I gave you a strictly hypothetical example just like you asked for. The ultimate good of salvation is better than the temporal good of life now but damnation later. If you have nothing productive to add, just observe and let’s the grown ups talk.

  14. Terrance H. says:

    If I have failed to understand your argument, I apologize right now. But I don’t think I have. If a “skeptic” quickly pushes someone out of the way of an on-coming vehicle, you don’t seriously believe the skeptic quickly applied a cost-benefit analysis, do you? I totally don’t understand the whole misplaced motive bit. And I don’t see how you can know the motives of another unless they tell you. Also, what part of moral absolutism takes motives into account? An act is either moral or immoral, right?

    • @T

      Listen, for some reason Atheists (and I guess yourself) dont seem to look past Earth level when discussing morality. So when you ask about a cost-benefit, I know you overlooked the entire point. There are things that would be temorally good (Earth level) and ultimately good (God level). Earth level goods would be anything that the common person would do to help someone out. Everyone does these kinds of things, ‘out of the goodness of their heart’, right?

      Then there are the things that are ultimately good. These things include the temporal goods, some go further. What makes an ultimate good is when it is done with the proper motive. The proper motive is to glorify God. Things done with the intent purpose of pleasing God, so to speak. So what we have is a state of affairs that limits the Atheist from doing ultimate goods, because as long as they believe God does not exist, they will never have the proper motive behind their actions. That’s not a guess on my part, just ask an Atheist next time they dosomething if they had pleasing God in mind.

      In case you havent been following the comments, I will reiterate for the 5th or so time, this does not mean that Christians do all things with the proper motive. In fact, I would say the vast majority of Christians do the vast majority of good deeds with the wrong motive. What I am saying is that only Christians have as an option the ability to do ultimate goods.

      I gave examples of actions in the post that depend on motive as to whether they are good or not. Im sure if you thought about it through out your day today, look at the way you interact with your family and others. Think about the things you do for them, you do them out of love and friendship. Now think about if there are things you did if done with alterior motives, would they still be good? Here’s one. If your child gives you hugs and kisses because they love their dad, thats a good thing, right? What if they give you hugs and kisses in order to manipulate you from punishing them for misbehaving?

  15. John Barron Jr, following the logic of your hypothetical example, would it not be an act of mercy to kill all people who have joined true christian sect, recieved the gods grace and forgiveness. Now, quikly before any of them may lose their faith. One would condemn ones own soul to eternal damnation, but all the killed people would have a ticket straight to Heaven. That would be truly a selfless act. There would be no reward, other than the self gratification of faith in the “ultimate good” of the act. That is, if there is no doubt that there actually is a Heaven and that the mechanics to get there work just as supposed by some guys in the antiquity.

    I am sorry that you and Dogtag did not know this, but happiness is nothing more than a chemical reaction (well a chain of chemical reactions really). This is well studied and known phenomenon. It only has the value we give it, as a result of series of chemical reactions in our neural systems affected by our cultural heritage.

    Morals is a result of an interpretation of “utility”. It is just a social behaviour model. Nothing better comes to mind, than how the Bible demonstrates that. The laws of ancient Jews are a set of rules typical for nomadic people in the pressure of city cultures. Do not take “utility” or the survival of the fittest as some form of fascism. It is utilitarian to have empathy. That is why so many animals (like humans) have evolved to have that capability. It is not in our interrest as a species to destroy our envarioment, therefore it is moral to preserve life, sometimes at a great cost. Empathy is a chemical response that gives us what we desire, the feeling of compassion and self fullfillment. That in turn serves both the individual, community, speicies and in the end all living things. Though not allways. In nature nothing is perfect or finished. The self destructive behaviour of humans as a speicies is a perfect example. That is what one should expect from an ever evolving ecosystem, where as if it all was created by some perfec entity, that is not at all what one would expect.

    To act for the glory of a god is just as “utilitarian” as any other form of moral good. If there is some defined and desired good result for the action, then there is “utility” to it also.

    Of course motivation may have a special meaning, that we give it (as a result of yet a nother chain of chemical reactions and cultural evolution). Motivation is important, but bad motivation does not allways render achieved good any less good. Does it?

    You can not answer the question by ZQTX, not because you dislike how it is proposed, but because all our actions have self gratification as a motivator. Even if the reasons for our actions would be to save others on our own cost, our prime motivator would be self gratification of knowing to do the right thing. Even if we would act only for the glory of a god, the main motivator would be the self gratification of doing the “right thing”. There is no difference in the motivation of these actions.

  16. So, based on your explanation of “temporal good” and “ultimate good”, how do you claim to know what is “good” in the god level? Are you in the mind of god to understand his motives?

  17. Amusing.

    So again, I ask – How are you to determine the “ultimate goodness” of your actions (which haven’t been written down by a bunch of people) as it coincides with the motives of your deity? People love the phrase “What Would Jesus Do?”, but how do you, John, determine just what Jesus would do?

    • You keep asking the question as though I am supposed to presume the bible is not a valid source. I don’t accept your premise. Therefore, luckily we’ve been told. A bunch of people wrote it down.

  18. This has nothing to do with any premise. It’s a straight forward question.

    How do you know just what Jesus would do in any particular circumstance?

    • Seriously? What would you do if you didn’t know how to spell a word…you’d look it up. There are plenty of bibles in circulation (best selling book in the history of man) and there are plenty of websites with topical indexes.

      Only the lazy and disinterested can’t find out wwjd.

  19. So in other words, any conjecture as to “what Jesus would do” in any given circumstance not related to anything storied in the bible would be pure speculation, would it not?

    You are obviously missing the point of the question.

    Instead of continuously insulting me, why don’t you look beyond your hate for me and try to understand what I’m trying to say.

    You say that Christians have motivations beyond that of atheists because of the notion of “ultimate good” and atheists will never have the proper motive for good. My questions to you were to expose the fact that unless you truly know the motive of god, how can you be sure your actions glorify that? The bible does not address every circumstance or every possible action, so claiming to know what god would want is pure guesswork, unless you are willing to state that you are in the mind of god. If that’s the case, then we have a room available for you at Bellevue. If you seriously answer questions in your head with anything like “It’s what god would want”, you’re a danger to society.

    • Since it is clear you are biblically and theologically illiterate, I’ll explain one quick thing to you before I part ways with you. While the Bible may not touch on every explicit situation, it does teach principles that would cover every situation. For example, the Bible doesn’t say anything about ponzi schemes, but it does tell us not to steal. It might not say anything about child pornography, but it does speak to protecting the innocent. Etc. In fact I’d be hard pressed to discover an action that isn’t covered by a biblical teaching.

      Now, your unformed smug questions have earned you a time-out. You madam, are a danger to yourself.

  20. Terrance H. says:


    You don’t know it, I’m guessing, but all this talk of motive proves you are a relativist. An absolutist would say that hugs and kisses from children are always nice, no matter the motive.

    You’ll be a liberal before long.

    • So you’re saying feeding a baby for the sole purpose of feeding it to a lion is morally equal to feeding a baby for the sole purpose of nurturing it? If it is only the action regardless of the motive, then this is exactly what you’re saying.


  1. […] The first (which was written back in October) and second post (his most recent), respectively, are For Goodness Sake and What A Relief. I want to respond to both of these posts, so I will be tackling the first post […]

  2. […] on January 16, 2012 This will be my second response to fellow blogger John’s two posts For Goodness Sake and What A Relief (note: these two posts were  not necessarily written as a two-part series. I […]

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