A few months ago I wrote a post in response to the lecture that I witnessed at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY. The talk was titled “The Ultimate Proof of Creation,” but was actually an attack on the moral character of atheists. Seated among a predominantly atheist audience, I was appalled and embarrassed at what was being said. In my post I made quite a feeble attempt at a response, but wrote out of anger and with a lack of substance.
In the lecture, Dr. Jason Lisle asserted that there is no morality outside of Christianity, and further that an atheist has absolutely no reason to be moral because he does not believe in God. As the king of logical fallacies, Dr. Lisle has been stewed in his own soup with this assertion. It is quite easy, in fact, to discount his claim and give full credence to the atheist on her ability to choose to do the right thing in every circumstance without God’s divine direction.
A Brief History of Morality
In ancient Babylon, approximately the year 1790 BCE, the leaders of that ancient civilization needed to keep order in the kingdom. If left to their own devices, people would likely continue to violate the rights of others, steal personal property, and murder their neighbors for taking food. It was obvious, apart from any sort of divine guidance or intervention, that order needed to be enacted. It was decided that a moral code would be written to instruct people on what was right and wrong. This “document” was called the Code of Hammurabi, named for the king, and carved on a seven-foot four inch tall stele. Several copies have been unearthed including some on smaller stone tablets.
For context, this code was written nearly 400 years prior to God giving the Mosaic Law that is contained in the Hebrew Bible. There is no mention of God handing down or writing another moral code. My critics may remind me that the Bible teaches that every good thing comes from above, and I agree. However, the point here is that in contrast with the giving of the Mosaic Law, the civilization in which the Hammurabi Code was developed and written was not a society based on the belief of the Judeo-Christian God. Christian author Dr. Michael Horton agrees by making this a prominent point in his book Christless Christianity and cites several similar examples of moral codes outside of and prior to the Mosaic Law. In Romans 2:12-16, even the Apostle Paul admits that people who have not heard nor been instructed in the Law still “do by nature things required by the law.”
We can even talk about morality that even predates written language. In his book The God Delusion renowned author and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins talks about memes, units of cultural inheritance. The idea is that just as genes transmit biological information, memes transmit social information, specifically in terms of moral codes and moral laws. In the most primitive of civilizations people could easily figure out how to get along with each other and some basic principles that can help make life better together. These good ideas were transmitted by several different means including oral, written, and by example. No doubt personality traits and biological factors played into this as well, but either way you slice it these are adequate explanations for the development of a moral code apart from the express involvement of the divine.
Christ Not Required
Christianity is a religion, indeed, and religion seems to have become synonymous with “rules for living” or “how to become a good person.” The tragic thing is that at the heart of Christianity, it is really anything but. Rather than taking a perspective of having the full capacity of being good and doing the right thing at all times, throughout the Scriptures it is very clear that this is impossible. In fact, even in the Old Testament there were provisions for sacrifices that a person could make “just in case” there was a sin that he forgot or she did not intend (Leviticus 4). That does not sound like a system that left any possibility of a person being flawless.
Ah! But Jesus changed all of that, didn’t he? Of course, he did. Jesus did the wonderful service of setting up yet other impossibilities that made the Mosaic Law look like a visit to grandma’s house. While the Law of the Old Testament followed much of the moral codes that predated it, emphasizing action or prohibition of action, Jesus claimed that sin was when you had the thought of committing the action. He said that if you hate then you are guilty of murder (Matthew 5:21-26).
The next scandal has been one that has stumped theologians for centuries. Jesus said that the Law and the prophets are summarized in love for God and for others. I have had an increasing number of debates with people about this. They insist that preaching a law of love is so “spiritual” and that it is “freeing” because it eliminates the power of legalism in our lives. But Jesus himself (these are “red letters”) said that love is the same thing as the Law (Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-28) . If we follow the Law then we love and if we love we are following the Law.
Have you ever tried to love someone perfectly? Is it even possible? Loving someone perfectly means that you could never disappoint them and that you would always work to the good of the one you love. Preaching love is not making anything any easier on anyone; it only helps people have a “feel-good legalism.”
Not Morals, Just Christ
The Gospel message is not a message of moralism. The Gospel of Christ is simply this: it doesn’t matter what you have done or what you will ever do. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, came to earth for the full intention of sacrificing himself to make payment for the sins that we have and will commit (Romans 5:1-11). Christ made it so that we do not have to be perfect. In fact, knowing that this was impossible his teaching emphasized this fact so that he would draw all people to himself. Jesus made it possible to have a relationship with God again. He covered our spiritual and moral nakedness with his robes of righteousness. Nothing else is required.
Dr. Lisle, make this clear in your mind: if you think that Christianity is a moral code, then you do not know what Christianity is. If you think that Christianity is doing the right thing and learning how to be a good person, you do not know what Christianity is. If you think that if you work hard enough then you will get to meet God, then you can pick any other world religion, but you will not have Christianity. A moral code does not make Christianity unique. What separates Christianity is a God who comes, a God who cares, and a God who sets things right. Every other faith makes you work for that relationship. The Gospel is free. Period.
The Gospel is even powerful enough to save Christians.