Goodness and Godliness go hand in hand (National Post May 18, 2007)

Barbara Kay: Goodness and Godliness go hand in hand – a response to John Moore

In his op ed today, "Goodness without Godliness," John Moore strikes a characteristically feisty pose in defence of atheism. Being an atheist,  however,  John is a little rusty on his biblical history, so I begin by correcting a factual error in his argument. He says, “The golden rule was understood in even the most rudimentary of societies long before it was enunciated by Jesus.”
The golden rule as enunciated by Jesus, was “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But he was by no means the first to articulate it. The “Old Testament”, as Christians call the Bible, proposed the golden rule in its original, and what I consider to be its superior manifestation (because easier for ordinary people with no spiritual ambition to imagine and practice), “Do not do unto others that which you would not have done unto you.” This was around 1200 years before Jesus.
As for John’s eye-popping contention that the most rudimentary societies understood this rule – whoa, just not true. The most rudimentary societies of the day were performing child sacrifice to appease their “gods”, and recognized no rules of what we would call “morality,” but took their marching orders from tribal leaders. The golden rule and in fact most of the morality-based laws in the Bible were revolutionary and of course history-altering, to say the least.
John quite rightly affirms that one needn’t believe in God to be a humanitarian or a lover of culture. Of course not, in exactly the same way that the great-grandchild of a multi-millionaire who has set up a wonderful trust fund has no need to worry about paying his rent. It was the original capital that provided the revenues. Atheists  committed to morality and social justice are simply people who chose not to grow the equity, but to live off the returns of the beliefs of their forebears. If morality and the notion of universal justice had not come down from “on high” to begin with – or rather if people did not believe it had come down from on high – we would not have the Mozart “you don’t need God to revel in.” The greatest aesthetic achievements of western civilization – music, art, architecture, writing – not to mention our entire legal system, sprang from  feelings of awe at the miracle of life, a belief that man was made in the image of God, and the yearning to glorify God’s name in earthly homage through upwardly striving efforts to meet the standards imposed by religious texts .
It would be very difficult to find any humanitarian of achievement – and in fact the one John cites, June  Callwood is a prime example – who did not grow up in a household that was tself inhabited by the rubrics and ideals of a religion – and if we are talking humanitarian, let’s admit that most of the great ones are from the Judeo-Christian strain – or was one generation removed from people who lived according to strict religious principles. I know many atheists who are passionate advocates for social justice. In every case they grew up in homes drenched in the morality and ideals of Judaism or Christianity.
Atheists are the grasshoppers in the old fable of the ant and the grasshoppers. Since atheism is relatively new as a socially approved way to go about life, the grasshoppers are enjoying a pleasant summer, in which it is easy to mock the unimaginative and slavelike ants, always consumed with building their nests and propagating the next generation of workers. Remember in the fable the boring, industrious ants took pity on the grasshopper in the winter and saved his life by giving him sanctuary. The chill of an atheist winter – a cooling generated by the preoccupation with gratifying the needs and desires of one’s own little life because what else is there, which leads in turn to indifference to propagation of the species – is already upon us, and I fear we shall soon see that it is a particularly malignant strain of ants – ants whose troubled history gives scant evidence of impulses towards pity, forgiveness and observance of the golden rule – who will have the last laugh in this so-far theoretical debate.

Barbara Kay is a columnist with The National Post.

The National Post, May 18, 2007.