This discussion has grown out of the Does God Exist? prison ministry. For over 40 years now, we have offered correspondence courses free of charge to inmates all over the United States. Some 15,000 students have taken these courses, and many of them have taken our more advanced course. In these courses we have a lesson dealing with how we make moral choices. One of the things I have found interesting about this particular lesson is that inmates do very poorly on that lesson. People in prison have struggled with how to make moral decisions and have a poor understanding about how they should do it. I would suggest that this may be a real factor in their choice of lifestyle, and may be at least part of the reason why they are in prison.

The notion that there are moral absolutes, and that the Bible has a useful and functional basis by which we make decisions is ridiculed by the media and held in contempt by a variety of public figures in today’s world. In fact, this onslaught against Christianity seems to be escalating on many fronts. In the past, such abuse has come from atheist and skeptic magazines and spokespersons. Now ridicule of Christians is becoming common in other media. Comedians and comic strips are now running routines and columns that do nothing but make fun of those who express belief in God. In Funny Times there is now a column with a four-color comic called “Super-God.” It features a superman-like figure wearing a cape and looking like an old Caucasian male. The strip makes fun of any notion of God or of justice or morality.

Making fun of people who believe in God is not new, and attacks on Christians who demonstrate a high level of hypocrisy may even have some positive results. Making fun of positions on moral issues is a different matter. In recent months the Christian view on abortion, euthanasia, sex, civil disobedience, drug use, and benevolence have been targets of ridicule and abuse in the media. The interesting thing about this is that these areas are strong apologetics for the Christian system of life and moral choices. We would like to demonstrate that concept in this article by looking at some of these areas of concern and considering the logical results of the choices people make. We are simply talking about evidence and common sense thinking in this discussion.

As the parent of a child with multiple handicaps, I heard the opposing views of atheists and Christians and had to make a decision about my child—and then live with that decision. My atheist friends and family made it clear that my child was not fit, and in a world of “survival of the fittest” what I should have done was to abort the baby, or at least “send him away” to an institution, and go on with my life. My parents even attempted to force this latter solution, believing that this child would do nothing but deplete my financial and emotional resources.

There is no question that having a child with multiple birth defects can exhaust the family resources, and consume all free time. Some marriages cannot survive such a situation, especially if the home is not religiously united. People who believe that abortion or institutionalization of children with multiple handicaps is the only solution may have the best interest of the care givers at heart, but this view is based on a lack of understanding of what these children can offer.

As dedicated Christians, my wife and I believed that all humans have incredible value, because they are created in the image of God. The fact that our child’s soul was locked into a body that had cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, with blindness and mental retardation did not mean that he was without value. To maintain that position created great conflict with my parents, caused some friends to shun us, and consumed a large amount of our time and energy. This conflict united us as husband and wife, and strengthened our marriage. It caused us to value our “normal” children more. Our son Tim grew up to be a gentle, loving, kind adult who has brought great joy not only to us as his parents, but to others as well. We have developed incredibly rewarding friendships with other parents of disabled children.

Abortion and institutionalization are not good answers to this issue. The biblical system brings good things out of even the worst of situations, and huge love and meaningful friendships are associated with kids who start out with major struggles in life. When specialized help is needed, Christians are usually the ones involved in giving it. Care outside what the family can give can be a road to independence for the child. Our son is now an independent adult and is proud of the fact that he has a level of independence.

Some years ago a man named Randy Becton wrote a book titled We’re All Terminal. Randy had cancer and was a very young man with a family. The title of Randy’s book raises an interesting question about the definition of terminal illness. Many diseases like cancer, leukemia, and heart disease can take many years before the patient dies. The question of how to deal with the end of life is heavily debated in today’s world. If you believe that this life is all you have, then you will do anything to avoid death unless the pain becomes severe. In today’s world with the medical knowledge that we have, there is no need for people to have unending pain, so the question of quality of life also becomes an even greater issue.

From an atheistic perspective, euthanasia is an individual right. The idea is that when a person decides life is not worth living, euthanasia should be an option. Immediately we are faced with the question, “What if a patient is simply depressed or mentally incompetent, does the family decide if euthanasia is the answer, or should that decision be made by the doctor?” Countries like Holland where euthanasia is legal have had significant problems with these choices, and horror stories of abuse and bad decisions continue to appear in the media.

The Christian system teaches that man is created in the image of God, and that the body is the temple of God (see 1 Corinthians 3:16-17). From a Christian perspective, death is not the ultimate tragedy. Euthanasia is never an answer from a Christian view. What does need to be done is to make the last days of life as good as possible. No decision about terminating life can be made based upon the emotions of the moment. Nor can the death decision be made by a disinterested doctor or a relative with ulterior motives. Abuse can happen very easily in any decision about euthanasia. If fear of death is minimized, as we have already discussed, and if family and friends rally to the terminal individual, the last days can be the best.

When I was an atheist, my experiences with death were extremely limited. My parents worked hard to avoid death discussions or experiences. It was not until I was a junior in high school that I saw a dead person or attended a funeral or wake. My girlfriend’s mother took me and her daughter to a visitation of a classmate’s father. When my mother found out about it, there was an ugly confrontation, because my mother did not want me exposed to “that kind of thing.” Death was the ultimate tragedy—the end of existence to be avoided at all costs. The only redeeming part of death was to put someone “out of their misery” and provide financial relief for those left behind.

When I became a Christian, I had a major change to make in how I thought about death. I remember visiting a man in the hospital who was terminally ill. I asked him if I could pray with him, and he nodded positively. As I prayed, I asked God to extend his life. He interrupted my prayer by telling God he was ready to die and that he did not want his life extended.

To the Christian, death is not an end, but a beginning. The older I get and the more my body aches and limits what I can do, the more I look forward to death. I do not look forward to dying, but I do look forward to a new beginning free of the limitations that this life brings to me. I live to accomplish the things I think God has given me to do, and I rejoice that I do not have to fear leaving this earth. The Christian view of death reduces fear, and makes the future a positive thing. What a huge difference there is between atheism and Christianity in this area, and how strongly it will impact how we approach the later stages of life.

The changes that have taken place in our culture as far as sexual conduct is beyond dispute. The Christian teaching that sex should be reserved for a committed, monogamous relationship is viewed as an archaic notion in what some writers have referred to as the “Post-Christian era.” The idea is that we now live in a time when such beliefs are not applicable. There can be no debate about whether technology has given people the possibility of being able to avoid pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), but the rate of children born to unwed mothers and the rate of STDs continues to be astronomical. Atheists say this is just because of ignorance and because people are still following religious beliefs that limit the use of contraceptives and things that inhibit STDs.

Without even discussing those highly debatable claims, let us point out that people who only want to discuss the mechanical aspects of sex and the physical consequences of sexual activity have a very limited understanding of sex. Sex does not just involve pleasure, babies, and diseases. The biblical concept of sex is a union of a man and a woman into a relationship that involves a complete sharing of everything that has meaning. Our emotional, mental, spiritual, and psychological needs are met in such a relationship. We are not rabbits, nor are we creatures of dominance and control. We do not just reproduce or try to establish ourselves as individuals in a cold survival-of-the-fittest world. The most meaningful of our relationships come in committed, intimate, personal relationships in marriage.

When I was an atheist, I made a lot of arguments about how I was as moral and as law abiding as any religious person. Whether that was true or not is not the issue. Atheists will argue that if people do not obey the law, anarchy and chaos will result, so an atheist will be law abiding and moral. For many, that is undoubtedly true. When I was an atheist claiming that I was moral and law abiding, I really believed that survival of the fittest involved being strong enough and sly enough to do what I wanted without getting caught. Modern moral theories like existentialism, situation ethics, and sociobiology allow individuals to violate laws that they do not believe are valid or applicable to them.

For the Christian who is following the Bible there is no choice about whether or not to obey the law. Romans 13 spells out the responsibility of Christians to civil rule. This passage was written while Christians were living under a totalitarian, abusive government and yet Christians were told that civil rulers were appointed by God to minister to their good. Pure Christianity is not political, and Christians are expected to live in obedience to the law. There is a practical difference between Christianity and atheism in this area of life.

One of the major differences between Christianity and atheism is in how drugs are to be used. Timothy was told to take some wine for his stomach’s sake in 1 Timothy 5:23, and that is consistent with the Christian view of the body. The body is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) and whatever we do should be for the benefit of the body. Doing anything that harms the body or does damage to the body is in violation of the Christian system.

From the atheist viewpoint anything that brings you joy or pleasure is permissible. The only limitations would be not harming others or bringing harm to yourself. The fact of the matter is that no one can ever know the long term results of putting a particular drug into the human body. Any recreational drug has a very high potential for bringing harm to the body.

If you really believe in survival of the fittest, why would you do anything that would promote the existence of those considered “unfit” and potentially reduce the viability of your life? People who are in need can be identified as the unfit if your view of existence is totally mechanical. There are those like Peter Singer, a leading ethics professor at Harvard, who have portrayed human existence in this way. Atheists usually maintain that they do altruistic things, but studies of charitable giving and service organizations show that Christian church organizations do a massive percentage of the giving worldwide.

The fact still remains that the basic approach to giving is radically different between atheists and Christians. While atheism would logically discourage giving that might put the individual at risk, Christianity urges its followers to serve and give as a fundamental part of the system. Jesus gave the example of service in John 13:5–17 as He washed the feet of His disciples, and taught about the spirit of Christian giving in Mark 12:41–44 in the story of the widow’s mite. It takes a lot of Christians a whole lifetime to learn that it really is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), and some never learn it. Atheism would argue that they would rather receive.

The Bible’s moral code and philosophical foundation makes good sense. Even those who criticize it admit it will produce good results; they just think it is too restrictive and confining. The evidence is that when the biblical system is not followed, pain, hardship, abuse, frustration, isolation, and indifference result. Our prisons are full of people who were never taught discipline, self control, or a sense of absolute standards of what is right and wrong. The inability of prisoners to do well on questions about the process of decision making is a testimony to that fact and a lesson to the rest of us.

In 2 Timothy 3:17 we learn that we have been given the scriptures for the purpose of bringing us completeness—the potential for perfection. Verse 16 tells us that the road to the best of everything in life (the completeness that verse 17 talks about) comes through “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (NIV). It is important for Christians to insist that we have a moral code that works, that brings the best of everything to mankind. It is not our desire to control others or restrict happiness, but to bring the best of life to every human on the planet.
--John N. Clayton

Back to Contents Does God Exist?, JanFeb 2010.