Being good for goodness’ sake?

It seems that the organization, American Atheists, have recently begun a billboard campaign urging people to skip church at Christmas and to just be good for goodness’ sake. Many people have liked the image on their Facebook pages and shared it with their friends. I am curious though if most of the people “liking” the image took the time to thoughtfully consider the advertisement, or if they simply clicked on the picture without using their mind at all.

Admittedly, the ad is quite catchy. And, to a culture that has so often forsaken the enlightenment that comes from books for the mind-numbing light emitted from electronic amusement, such a snazzy advertisement is simply too tempting to consider critically. It has all the qualities that one would expect from a meme, one of those trustworthy sources of knowledge readily found on the internet. A catchy picture and somewhat humorous phrasing is all that is necessary to draw in the casual passerby. But be careful my friend, the path of wisdom by meme may be better left untrod.

Children used to be warned not to accept candy from strangers in cars. The fear was that the one giving the candy may have an ulterior motive, something far more sinister in mind than simply handing out a tasty treat. Yet, here so many of us are, readily accepting wisdom from billboards without question.

I obviously want people to attend church, but that is not the focus of what I am writing at this moment. Instead, I want to help those who received wisdom from a billboard and are figuratively having their minds driven off in a car bound for some unexpected, and unwelcome, terror.

You see, the atheists want you to be good for goodness’ sake. But what does that even mean? Now, I understand that it sounds catchy and that is a strong argument for its truth. However, I do think we should ask ourselves what exactly goodness is. After all, the sign does say that we should be good for goodness’ sake. So, what is goodness?

If goodness is defined as what most people consider is right, then it can be changed whenever public opinion sways. In such a system, what is right and good today could be wrong tomorrow or the other way around. In many ways this is what we see in modern western society. What was good is starting to be seen as bad and what was bad is now increasingly being called good.

But, that brings us to a new question: is good simply a matter of opinion? On a certain level, the answer is yes. For instance, there are items that are a matter of personal taste. So, I can say that pumpkin pie tastes good while someone else says that it tastes bad. However, when it comes to moral issues the same does not hold. The goodness or badness of a moral issue is inherent to that issue and not simply a matter of opinion. Sure, you can have an opinion, but that will not change the goodness or badness of a moral matter.

“But!” Some might protest, positions have changed on moral issues throughout history. At this point someone will often roll out the issue of slavery and say, “look at this shiny example!” However, before running away screaming that the relativist is right and there are no absolutes we should stop to consider the question: was slavery ever good?

You see, the moral goodness or badness of something is inherent to the item or issue itself. And, since this is the case, whether or not something is morally good or bad is discovered and not determined by popular vote. So, in the case of slavery, one can easily argue that it was never good. Throughout history people have called for the release of slaves. But, slavery is not the focus of this article and there are many good resources available for someone to read if they are interested in further study.

Without God goodness is simply a matter of opinion and can change in a moment. What you think is good today can be bad tomorrow. You may be considered a good person today only to find in the near future that you are evil and filled with hatred, all the while you have not changed a thing about yourself.

Goodness is grounded in God. It does not change. Something is good or bad as it stands in relation to Him. A matter is bad if it stands in opposition to the nature and revealed will of God. In the same way, things are morally good because of their consistency with the Lord’s nature and revealed will. If a person wants to know whether or not something is good or bad, the best method is to study the Scriptures and learn as much as possible about God and then apply that knowledge to the issue at hand.

So, as a believer in Jesus Christ, I can say that I will do something for goodness’ sake and it will have a meaning that goes far beyond this fleeting moment in time. It will be the same yesterday, today, and forever. However, when the person who refuses to know and follow God says these words, they have all the firmness and meaning of a tumbleweed being blown along by the fickle winds of a changing culture.

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