Readers Respond


December 04, 2009

Billboards make us ask: What does it mean to be good?

What incredible irony! A group of atheists and agnostics calling themselves the Coalition of Reason has put up billboards around town which use God's name to attract nonbelievers ("Seeking out a community of nonbelievers," Dec. 3). "Are you good without God?" they ask. "Millions are."

How you answer that question depends on what you mean by the word "good." If by "good" you mean "Have I done more positive things than negative things?" most people would tend to answer in the affirmative.

But what if "good" means something entirely different? Christians in particular believe that in order to be good, one has to be without fault or blameless. We don't ask ourselves whether we are good enough to get by in this world according to our own standards of social acceptability but whether we are good enough to go to heaven using God's standard of absolute goodness. We ask ourselves such things as: Have we have ever told a lie, been disrespectful toward our parents, stolen anything or used God's name as a curse word. We question our attitudes and feelings. Do we covet other people's possessions and achievements, have we ever looked at anyone with lust, and do we love people or things more than we love God?

These two differing views of what "good" means are especially relevant to the current discussions about whether Mayor Sheila Dixon should resign after being convicted of embezzling gift cards. Some think she should remain in office because she has done more good than bad. Others think that she should resign for having abused the public trust. The Maryland Constitution speaks of such things as moral turpitude and community standards of just behavior. We're right back to that question of goodness again. Whose view will prevail? Who should get to decide?

Christians believe in a God who is both just and merciful. Sometimes we are tempted to judge ourselves by the "good enough" standard. We can become lazy and complacent, trusting in God's mercy to make up for sins which we in our half-hearted, spiritual lethargy don't really see as that big of a deal. We forget the God of justice who takes our sins so seriously that he gave his son Jesus Christ who willingly died in our place so that we wouldn't have to suffer the eternal punishment in hell that we actually deserve.

God doesn't grade on a curve (Romans 3:10-18). We are all guilty by his standards of absolute goodness. God wants us to take our sins seriously, repent of them, and accept salvation through Jesus Christ. God wants to transform our lives. He expects us to hold ourselves to a higher standard than "good enough."

So many times, however, we take the easy way out by telling ourselves that God will be happy if we just love one another in that mushy kind of way that doesn't ask for personal sacrifice or adherence to any sort of harsh rules that might make us stand out from the crowd. That kind of attitude on the part of Christians is why atheists can get away with asking if we are good without God. The average Christian isn't that much different from the average nonbeliever. Our mediocrity makes our God look small and our religion look like just one more lackluster option in today's spiritual smorgasbord.

If Mayor Dixon ends up resigning, it will be over actions which she considered at the time to be good in her own eyes. The citizens of Baltimore and the state of Maryland will be left to grapple with the moral and ethical implications of her actions for years to come. We will have to come to some kind of public consensus on what it means to be good.

Vicki Boorman, Baltimore

You can be good without God

I was thrilled to see the article "Seeking out a community of nonbelievers" (Dec. 3). It's about time this sector of society started reaching out to people like me. I am a 42-year-old mother of two children who is definitely "good without God." I live a moral, ethical life and have taught my children right from wrong and to treat others the way they want to be treated - with kindness, respect and compassion.

Living as an agnostic or secular humanist is isolating. Several years ago, a friend of mine actually said to me, "I can't believe you are not religious because I've never heard you curse and you are so good with children." Like somehow these things are mutually exclusive. Another time, after the birth of my second son, a hospital worker came around to ask questions. When she asked my religion, I told her, "I'm agnostic." She thought I said "diagnostic" and looked very confused. I just had to say "no religion," which elicited a look of disappointment.

I hope the shock value of getting married, raising kids and being a moral person, all without believing in God, is diminished as more people join this movement.

Kelly Moore, Towson

Being good isn't enough

In response to the article on the Baltimore Coalition on Reason's gathering of nonbelievers, I say with love in my heart that they're missing the point. Being good is not the point. Our final resting place is.

Christians struggle minute by minute against their flesh to be good. The difference is that we don't go it alone. We have a loving Father who equips us with his Spirit to succeed. Followers of Christ come to know that it is only by God's grace that we are saved and not through our own righteous deeds. Jesus' work on the cross was complete, and we are forgiven (John 3:16).

If Christians are wrong and there is no life after death, we've lost nothing. If nonbelievers are wrong? Uh-oh.

Riza Winsom, Jarrettsville

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