The question is not whether believing in God is necessary for establishing some elementary moral foundation, it seems to be fairly obvious that an individual has the capacity for honest and forthright living apart from any credence to the transcendent. Yet for me a larger question still remains; that is, are we inherently moral beings because God made us in his image? I think often the public misconception is that Christians such as myself believe that in order to be morally inclined you need to have faith in God. While I do believe something can be said for the moral instability of an ideology that establishes it self without any recourse to a higher power, I don’t believe that religion, i.e. belief in God, is a prerequisite to being a fundamentally ‘good’ person.
Those who reject moral absolutes and adhere to moral relativism typically argue that morality is simply a measure of good posturing, that ethics can be explained by some social Darwinism, in which we cooperatively coexist for the mutual benefit of our species. This seems to be fairly plausible on some elementary levels. We often see this among’st various species in the animal kingdom, a group working together as one for the survival of all. Yet for all the observation of this peaceful Darwinian coexistence, there is the occasional barbarism. For example, in order to coerce the female to mate with them, male chimps and lions are known to kill their own infants (male chimps will even go as far as to cannibalize the baby chimps.)
In a land void of moral absolutes there is really no grounds for deterring the more dominant individuals from assuming their power over others. Just as there is no grounds to say that lions and chimps committing infanticide are wrong, from the evolutionary standpoint there is nothing inherently wicked about killing the infants. After all such minor atrocities really have nothing to do with the overall survival of the species. Thus while social Darwinism seemingly offers a congruent framework for the overall cooperation of a species, it does little to repress the internal selfish instincts that characterize our day to day lifestyle. This is merely to suggest that the atheistic paradigm is inadequate for establishing a solid moral infrastructure.
On a similar note what grounds would we have to criticize the Nazi regime for seeking to establish the dominant supremacy of a modern utopia? Hitlers implementation of eugenics was simply a matter of self consciously applying principles of Darwinian evolution. There’s nothing inherently wrong with obliterating weaker atomic particles in order to establish a seamless social structure. This is simply following suit with the struggle for supremacy and survival that follows from Darwinian logic. For it is precisely the logic of social Darwinism that brings us to such moral ambiguities. I find the reality that we are uniquely aware of such injustices seems to indicate an underlining and overriding moral consciousness.
Now I fully understand that people have rationalized evil in the name of Christianity; in a similar way many have also rationalized evil in the name of liberty. However, in no way does this diminish the integrity of either in their own respect. After all, it isn’t Christianity that should be judged off it’s followers, rather it’s followers ought to be judged off Christianity. You see, no religion or set of moral codes in of it self has the power to transform someone from the inside. In the scriptures the law was given to the Israelites as mirror in which their internal wickedness was to be accentuated, that they might realize their need for forgiveness; ultimately we are to understand the righteous requirement of the law surpasses our capacity for adhering to it. Alas, it is not a religion or a code of ethics we are in need of, but rather a savior! in this way Jesus came that we might pick up our crosses and follow after Him in faith.
We do have the capacity to be modestly “good” people apart from belief in God, just as we have the capacity to be modestly “good” people who believe in God. Either way, whether your an atheist or a law abiding theist, you can never be good enough. For the wages of sin is death, and because God is a righteous God he must punish all sin. Thus if you live by the measure of your own goodness, you will die by the measure of your own inadequacy. Only when we put our faith in God will we ever be able to fulfill the requirements of righteousness.
The late Christopher Hitchens use to pose a moral challenge to believers, he would say “name me a moral action committed by a believer that could not be made by a non-believer.” The fallacy of Mr. Hitchens argument is that it’s predicated on the assumption that Christianity is false, for in doing so he precludes the obvious answer, for clearly the saving of ones soul by the preaching of the Gospel is the greatest moral action that we can accomplish, one that can only be committed by a believer.