Can You Be Good Without God? Only 45% Agree That “Belief in God is Necessary in Order to Be Moral and Have Good Values”

From Dr. Jim Denison:

Can you be good without God? 

I wrote earlier this week about the decision by Somerville, Massachusetts, to legally recognize polyamorous “families.” With a median income of $91,168, Somerville is 50 percent wealthier than Boston and significantly wealthier than Massachusetts, which is the fourth-wealthiest state in the US. I make that point to pivot to this one: the wealthier people are, the less they reportedly think they need God to be moral.

A study released this week by the Pew Research Center surveyed 38,426 people in 34 countries last year. Overall, only 45 percent agreed that “belief in God is necessary in order to be moral and have good values.”

Here’s the finding for which the report is generating headlines: the higher a country’s GDP per capita, the less likely its people are to tie belief in God to morality.

In Kenya, for example, which has the lowest GDP per capita of all thirty-four nations included in the analysis, 95 percent of respondents agreed that belief in God is integral to being moral. In Sweden, by contrast, with one of the highest GDP per capita of the nations surveyed, only 9 percent said belief in God is necessary to be moral.

Why liberty is “self-evident” to us 

The takeaway seems simple: the wealthier people are, the less they believe religion is necessary for morality. But there’s a caveat that is vital to understanding America’s post-Christian culture.

The Pew survey did not distinguish between religions, which is a major problem with its logic. The poorer countries included in the research are almost all Muslim. In the Islamic worldview, Sharia law is how morality is defined and practiced. For Muslims, it is implausible that one could be moral but not be religious.

By contrast, the richer countries tended toward the Christian (or post-Christian) worldview. Our theology, unlike that of Islam, does not enforce a particular set of legal standards. Rather, it offers a relationship with God and a set of values empowered by this relationship.

If we live in a culture that has inherited these values, we experience a kind of “baked-in” cultural morality. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, such values are “self-evident” to us. Even if we no longer ascribe to the worldview that fostered these values, we can still live in the morality it produced.

As the sun’s rays enlighten the sky for a time after it sets, so a Christian morality can remain for a time after Christianity is forsaken.

The question we each must answer 

There’s a second aspect to this story as well: the parts of biblical morality that are easy to affirm are the parts our culture still affirms. God’s unconditional love for us and our call to love each other in the same way is an example.

But the parts that challenge our fallen, sinful nature are the parts we have jettisoned. God’s requirement that we reserve sex for marriage between a man and a woman is an example.

We can claim to be “moral” without religion, but we mean the morality we define in our postmodern, relativistic way. To live by the biblical values that challenge our sin nature, we need the God whose word teaches these values.

Here is Jesus’ invitation: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4). We “abide” in Jesus by connecting to his life-giving power in prayer, Bible study, worship, and submission to his Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

Then, when lightning strikes, we can stand tall in the liberty that is ours in Christ.

Would Jesus say you are abiding in him today?

NOTE: This is the last note about my newest book, The Greater Work, where I discuss how prayer positions you to receive all that grace intends to give. I also cover why we should pray, how we should pray, and provide suggestions on what we should pray about. I hope that the words within our newest book help prayer become “the greater work” of your life. Please request The Greater Work today.

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