For everything we do, we have a reason. Sometimes we do not think through the reason, but there is a reason none the same. So, when it comes to the discussion of morals and why we do what we do, it is important to recognize this fact if we are going to have a good discussion.
Nature vs. Nurture
Many divide this discussion up into nature vs. nurture– was I born this way or did I become this way. I will mention Nature in passing (as I believe it is relevant) though a majority of this post will cover the Nurture section.
I believe that each and every one of us is born with a sin nature1 . This does not mean that we will each commit every sin that there is, but it does mean that we are capable of every kind of sin and incapable of preventing sin of our own will.
I agree with Freud on only this point– that man in his natural state is not good. He does good things, but he is trained that way from his youth up. Which gets me to nurture.
Whether you are a Christian or not, I believe that we are influenced in what we do primarily by our parents and teachers in young grades. It is the discipline in the early years that has a tremendous influence on who we will become as we age. It is our parents that teach us how much we will be able to exercise our will, how much we can get away with and who model noble virtues.
For the most part, I believe that many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, act out a moral code without giving any thought to it based on discipline and self-discipline that has happened throughout their life– especially when they are young.
What Would Happen if America Dropped Christian Morality?
So, with that as the backdrop, I do not believe that if America decided to drop Christian ethics from their code tomorrow that the world would immediately become lawless. I do not believe that the Atheist is, by his lack of belief, any more likely to commit crime because he does not respect a Higher Authority than a Christian is– with a caveat.
I believe the reason behind this is that even the current generation of Atheists were raised with the value system of Christian moral standards, and therefore will continue to exercise these standards by the fact (as I stated above) that they will believe it natural to behave the way they were brought up.
And this is the point in which we draw the line.
There is a line of difference between the practicing Atheist and Atheistic teaching just as their a line of difference between the practicing Christian and Christian teachings. Just as the practicing Christian may do things that are not characteristic to Christianity (i.e. the Crusades, witch burnings, etc.), Atheists may do those things which are not characteristic of Atheism (i.e. adhering to a theistic moral set when there is no reason to consider any option better than another option2.
So, while I do not expect an Atheist to be a bad parent, I do expect that if a child grows up with less respect for Christian morality, then each subsequent generation will have more problems reasoning why they should be charitable, why human life should be respected (or be considered more valuable than that of animal life), etc. since they will have no basis in that belief.
Why Do We Do What We Do?
Again, I think it’s a combination of factors. I believe that it’s part of who we were raised to be. I believe that it’s part of who we respect. I also believe there’s a fear component, whether that’s fear of the law, fear of death, or fear of judgement.
I believe that the Christian’s desire to please God can be an influence for behavior, but I believe that too few Christians actually think through this concept to make it have the impact that it should (and I’m guilty of this more than I’d like to admit!). I believe that if Christians actually acted out their faith this world would be a different place, and we would not be having this discussion, but I digress and probably assume too much.
- sin being a moral failing
- something I will dig deeper into in a later post