Is How We Live More Important Than What We Believe? (Bad Secular Wisdom Series #1)

By Natasha Crain

Today I’m starting a blog series called, “Bad Secular Wisdom.” If you’re not familiar with the term, a blog series is where an author writes multiple posts on a related subject. I’m not normally a fan of such series because I think they get old fast, but in this case there are so many interesting and important topics for Christian parents that fall under the umbrella of “Bad Secular Wisdom,” I’m excited to do it. I’ll be posting once per month in the series, with remaining posts on other subjects.

The reason this series is so important is that our world is filled with bad secular wisdom…little pieces of a godless worldview that spread like a virus and infect the minds of young people before they even realize it. They sound good, but are harmful narratives that kids too often attach to their Christian worldview without understanding the great inconsistencies. My hope is that this series will inspire you to challenge your kids to think critically about each of the subjects we cover.

For the first post, we’re going to tackle the illogical idea that how we live is more important than what we believe.

Behavior and Believe

Is How We Live More Important Than What We Believe?

I first came across the phrase “how we live is more important than what we believe” on a chalkboard outside of a coffee shop last year. I shook my head, thinking the baristas should stick to coffee making. Since then, however, I’ve seen the idea pop up in all kinds of places.

One well-known person who actively promotes this notion is Gretta Vosper. Vosper is a United Church of Canada minister…who’s also an atheist.

In 2015, a review committee from her denomination found that she was “not suitable” to continue in her role because she doesn’t believe in God (a shocking committee conclusion, I know). But Vosper’s congregation has insisted on keeping her as pastor, despite the fact she no longer preaches about Christianity.

If that sounds hard to believe, this quote from one loyal church member will help you understand the mentality of the congregation: “It’s not about coming to hear that I’m a sinner. That is so yuck. This fulfills my need to feel upbeat. The services are more happy and joyful, more interested in community and justice.”

Vosper has authored several books, including one called, With or Without God: Why the Way We Live is More Important Than What We Believe. On her website, she emphasizes, “We’re not going to stop trying to make the world a better place. We hope you don’t either.”

Vosper and her church community are clearly committed to living lives that benefit the Earth and those who live on it. They’re presumably doing many good things for society, and that’s commendable. But is Vosper’s claim true, that how we live is more important than what we believe?

As we’ll see in this post, this is bad secular wisdom.

It’s not consistent with atheism or Christianity!

Inconsistent with Atheism

Saying how we live is more important than what we believe presumes there is some way all people should live. No one has an objective basis for claiming that, however, if God doesn’t exist—should implies a moral obligation. But if humans are nothing more than a bunch of molecules in motion, to whom would we be morally obliged? To other molecules in motion? Clearly not. In a world without God, no one can prescribe a way of living for anyone else because there’s no moral authority, and, therefore, no objective basis for doing so. How a person “should” live can only be a matter of opinion.

An atheist who chooses a life of crime because he or she doesn’t believe there’s any moral significance to our existence is living more consistently within the atheistic worldview than one who claims all people should live in a particular way.

Inconsistent with Christianity

The Bible says that what you believe about Jesus has eternal significance:

  • John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
  • Romans 10:9: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
  • And John 14:6 says Jesus is the only way to God: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

From a Christian perspective, how you live cannot be more important than what you believe—what you believe determines where you will spend eternity. To be clear, however, that doesn’t mean the way in which a Christian lives his or her life doesn’t matter. The Bible says that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17).

A genuine love for God results in a life of good works for God’s glory. Belief and action go hand-in-hand.

Furthermore, only Christians and other theists have an objective basis for determining what it means to do “good” works in the first place. In a godless world, there’s no objective moral standard by which works can even be called good.

The Bottom Line

Anyone, regardless of what they believe about God, can do good things with their life. Christians, atheists, and people with all kinds of other beliefs help the homeless, give money to charities, participate in environmental causes, fight child abuse, advocate for crime victims, and much more. For atheists, doing things like these that Christians and other theists would call good is a matter of preference…one as morally legitimate as a life of crime. While some atheists, like Vosper, might say all people should live to make the world a better place, that’s an objective claim that’s inconsistent with an atheistic worldview. “How you live is more important than what you believe” is a belief itself, and ironically determines how a person lives.

While the lives of atheists and Christians sometimes look similar in the good works they do, the Bible is clear that those similarities don’t make believing in Jesus any less important.

Belief matters…in an eternally significant way.

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2oM0gDt


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22 replies
  1. John B. Moore says:

    You wrote, “If humans are nothing more than a bunch of molecules in motion, to whom would we be morally obliged?” It’s not that we need someone to be morally obliged to. Morality can be like a push from behind into the vast expanse, rather than a pull from in front.

    If a river is just molecules in motion, then why does the river necessarily flow to the sea? Because of the laws of nature, of course.

    Human morality is also like the laws of nature. We are driven by our evolutionary history to strive toward survival and flourishing. That’s the basis of morality.

    Reply
    • Brian says:

      That philosophy frees up rape, slavery and murder as possible “good” things under certain circumstances. But the molecules in motion in my head are telling me those are bad things.

      Reply
    • dc says:

      Hi John, your premise is that human morality is based on laws of nature the same as rivers flowing to the sea ie. accords with determinism and so truly volitional acts are out. Under your analysis, do you truly believe the way humans act is solely based on survival and flourishing? My question is whose survival and flourishing do you refer? One tribe over the other? Or in a unitary sense within the group where 2 are to be killed for the betterment of the rest? Nazi Germany wanted to their survive and flourish for a 1000 years. Why did they world hold the to account? They were just biological out-workings of their molecules in motion after all…

      Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        Why did the rest of the world have an interest in not being taken over by a murderous regime? Surely you can work this out yourself, dc, it’s not a tough question!

        Reply
        • dc says:

          sure, no doubt stopping a murderous regime helped with the rest of the world surviving, but it is more than that isnt it? why didn’t the allies see it through and exterminate all the 1000s of POWs and their children to ensure their genes didn’t persist to the next generation (as Hitler wanted re the jews), and why bother with the trials and prisons and waste resources, under your philosophy we cant defer to the concepts of “ought” “mercy” or “justice” , right?

          Reply
  2. Andy Ryan says:

    “Saying how we live is more important than what we believe presumes there is some way all people should live.”

    It kind of presumes actions have consequences and how we act can affect other people. It suggests that if someone does good works and helps people and is kind, then you should focus more on that than whether they have the same sub-section of the same religion as you.

    It seems that the meaning of all of this has flown over your head, which is a big pity – obviously you are one of the people the message was aimed at.

    Reply
    • toby says:

      Andy, Theists are so tied up arguing for their circular objective morals/god that they can’t get past it. That’s why they continually push it and sneak it into any debate or argument. It’s powerful to them because they’re blinded by their belief. They’ll talk you blue in the face with definitional gymnastics “Well, what’s good? How do you know what’s good? You don’t know what good is.” They are so “spiritual” and other worldly minded that they can’t see that the basic function of life is continued life and this is made more complex by humans being sort of dual nature creatures that constantly have to weigh the society vs individual in all choices. Their objective morality conjecturing is a bandaid they paste over more complex thought on the issue because it’s easier. They always like that easy answer: “‘Cuz God.”

      Reply
      • David says:

        You may not like the question, Toby, but you haven’t answered it. Do you think it is unimportant? Plato and Aristotle had more respect for the question, though their answers were not identical to what a Christian would say. But they took the question seriously. Either there is an objective morality, or moral values signify an arbitrary choice. All you want to do is to make fun of the question: “They are so ‘spiritual’ and other worldly-minded that they can’t see that the basic function of life is continued life.”

        Really? Now, who told you that? Most of the greatest philosophers of history would disagree with that conclusion. Moreover, what do you mean by those words? Are you saying that morality is unnecessary for human life? Again, that puts you at odds with the West’s intellectual tradition–both pagan and Christian. The opinion you express is itself a moral claim that affirms that Christian and non-Christian thinkers have not been able to see the truth behind reality, a truth you find simple to articulate–life simply functions to create continued life. I am sure that nature did not tell you that personally. (If it did, we have medication that can help you.) Instead, you, yourself, have drawn that as an empirical inference. If you know anything about such inferences, what makes you so sure that you are correct?

        It seems that traditional moral theories, whether Christian or not, seek to answer complex questions about how people should treat one another. Typically, a foundation for such moral theories is sought outside of variable human opinion. That is what you call an “easy answer.” Have your read any of the world’s great moral theorists? Founding morality on the transcendent, as opposed to social opinion, seems a reasonable thing if it is possible. You, on the other hand, would have us found our ethical decisions upon your subjective inference (life’s purpose in continued life). I am relatively sure that your contention is a massive oversimplification, a reduction of all human experience to a function you can express in eight words. If you are correct, your brilliance could have saved Aristotle a lot of time and Socrates might have escaped execution. For I don’t see how your eight words necessarily imply a cultural, intellectual, or scientific history in order to achieve it. So to have an intellectual tradition at all, you might have to unpack those eight words a bit. Moreover, you might also want some other things, such as law, civil government, education, civil engineering and a host of other things that civilizations do. But be careful. You might be forced to start making your own band-aids to paste over something so obviously simple. Or you could just go without these things as irrelevant baubles in the quest for continued life by continuing human life in caves.

        Were I you, I would take some classes in intellectual history. Your scorn of Christianity really isn’t the issue. Your scorn is directed at the very project of civilization. That’s why you are at odds with the greatest intellects of history–Christian and not-Christian. Consequently, if I were to become an object of your scorn, then thank you. Historically, I am in very good company. Tell me, what company are you keeping?

        Reply
      • Brian says:

        Ah, but materialism implies that we have no choice on whether we believe in God or not. We have no free will to do what you might prefer to be good or bad or believe what you believe. It has nothing to do with intelligence but is simply a chemical reaction in our brains. So arguing from an atheist perspective is a little ironic since you must believe you and I have no choice in the matter of what we believe. The mind doesn’t exist, only the brain and that is controlled simply by chemicals reacting. For us to choose our belief you must first presuppose that we have that ability but you’ve argued against that through materialism.

        Reply
  3. John B. Moore says:

    It sure would be nice to have some Christians participating in the comments here. Maybe the OP herself could respond. Or have Christians pretty much given up? Come on, you guys.

    Reply
    • Peter says:

      Hey John, i can see what you mean with the argument with the flood and the law of nature but then I have to intervine and say that if human morals are driven by survival and flourishing, is killing a handicapped or mentally disabled person humanely moral?

      It depends on how you look at it, if we as a species are going to survive and in your words flourish then we lessen the chances of physical and mental genes and therefore kill these people. That actually happened in Sweden a couple of hundred years ago.

      Now you and I know that is not right and that doing that would be cruel so why do we feel this? Obviously we have never met but we come from the same Creator who put his moral laws into us and we are all given this life and will stand to account for how we have lived, either denying our God and live an eternity absent from Him and all Good or accept the gift of salvation when Jesus died for you so you can get to know your Creator and receive eternal life and fulfillment in this life

      Reply
      • John B. Moore says:

        Christians themselves typically believe in some kind of natural law. Just recently I saw this other blogpost, for example. He’s arguing that man-woman marriage is just the natural thing.

        So both Christians and atheists seem to agree that morality should come from our nature. The disagreement is just about what our true nature is, or where it came from.

        You seem to bring up the topic of eugenics, which most people agree is bad. I think eugenics is bad because we don’t really know what is the best kind of person, and we don’t know the value of others like handicapped people. Also, it’s probably true that diversity is important, so it simply wouldn’t work to try to find the best kind of people and get rid of all the other kinds of people. We need flawed people!

        Anyway, I’m glad to see some good discussions again on CrossExamined.org. Thoughtful people who really consider different ideas instead of rejecting them out of hand.

        Reply
        • dc says:

          Well said John, thoughtful discussion can be achieved despite different worldviews.

          As a lawyer, naturally skeptical of uncorrobrated claims, I find the argument for the existence of God gains much traction once one sits and wrestles with the preponderance of historical evidence (religious scholars and non religious) relating to the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The best explanation for the explosion of Christianity and conviction of those few powerless, poor and fearful jewish followers is that Jesus indeed rose from the dead after 3 days. If that is so and he clearly claimed to be God of the OT (and creator of everything) then surely this miracle alone shows us his divinity and the rest becomes somewhat academic. This does digress off the topic at hand, but is still relevant.

          Reply
          • Ed Vaessen says:

            dc says:
            “The best explanation for the explosion of Christianity and conviction of those few powerless, poor and fearful jewish followers is that Jesus indeed rose from the dead after 3 days. If that is so and he clearly claimed to be God of the OT (and creator of everything) then surely this miracle alone shows us his divinity and the rest becomes somewhat academic. This does digress off the topic at hand, but is still relevant.”

            Bullshit.

  4. St Lee says:

    When I read this quote from Vosper: ““We’re not going to stop trying to make the world a better place.” my mind immediately went to Mark 8:36 “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

    Or, applying it to Vosper, For what shall it profit a woman, if she shall make the whole world a better place, and lose her own soul?

    Reply
  5. Ed Vaessen says:

    Natash Crain:
    “While the lives of atheists and Christians sometimes look similar in the good works they do, the Bible is clear that those similarities don’t make believing in Jesus any less important.”

    The christian world view too is no more than an opinion about what is good moral.

    Reply
    • dc says:

      Ed, what particular point of my comment do you disagree with? The conclusions being drawn by the best NT scholars and historians are certainly pointing in that direction more than any other. Your response of “bullshit” is not very compelling. I could resort to one liners and move on also. What is your theory of the evidence? Welcome your reasoned critique.

      Reply
    • Ed Vaessen says:

      dc says:
      “Your response of “bullshit” is not very compelling. I could resort to one liners and move on also. What is your theory of the evidence? Welcome your reasoned critique.”

      Bullshit because the explosion of their religion need have nothing to do with the perceived the truth of a religion. Muslims will use the same bad reasoning for explaining the success of the spread of Islam.
      It is far more reasonable to assume that a religion that promises it followers a reward in the hereafter is attractive to those who find no justice in this life.

      Reply
          • Jacob Schwartz says:

            So you are saying in derogatory tone that since it is a website for hosting videos, the content of said videos isn’t credible? Interesting claim. Not sure many would agree. I doubt at this point your true intentions are to come to what may or may not be true, but to stroke your self-arbitrated sense of righteousness. I recommend people follow what Jesus did in Luke 20:8. Do not waste your time.

  6. Luke says:

    A couple of thoughts on this.

    1. I genuinely wonder if this author, and many like her, are simply unaware of the many arguments and systems of objective morality without a deity, or does not want to mention them lest readers discover them and find them convincing. I understand not believing arguments, but in any honest writing, they deserve mention. (“There are arguments that base objective ethical systems without a deity, but I don’t find them persuasive for reasons outside of the scope of this article” is all it takes.) I think an awareness (if that’s what’s missing), or a deeper engagement with these ideas would only help make the author’s arguments stronger.

    2. The mantra being discussed here could easily be said to be consistent with Christianity by quoting Mathew 25 (or many other words of Jesus). It doesn’t take much to argue that if one believes in Jesus, one will DO what Jesus asks (and He asks a lot). “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

    3. I’m mystified by the negative tone of articles like this one. I don’t understand the drive to say negative words about the well meaning ideas of others. I understand that many well meaning ideas are detrimental, but I fail to see the point of pointing and saying “well, that’s dumb!”. Surely there is some common ground to be found and to build from. It just strikes me as so much more productive than to build up than to tear down.

    Peace,

    Luke

    Reply

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