Goodness Comes from God, or Does It?

On my Facebook page, an acquaintance posted an interesting comment. She wrote:

(T)here is spirituality in doing goodness. We must have faith, which comes through God, and we are to do good works through faith. Otherwise good works alone on our part mean nothing – but to God doing goodness in our works through faith means everything.

My sense is that she isn’t alone in these beliefs. I’m no expert, so I’d love to hear from those who know more than I do about traditional religion. At the very least, these few short sentences raise important questions.

  • Can we only be good if we believe in God? If so, can only one kind of religious belief lead us to goodness, or can any religious belief do that?
  • Can we only have faith through believing in God, or can faith be found through other means? If God is the only path to faith, then does only one church have the right kind of faith, or will any church/denomination/religion do?
  • Are our good works meaningless if we don’t do them through faith or in the name of God? In other words, if I save the life of a drowning woman, but I’m an atheist, is the woman’s life not saved, or is my action somehow not “good?”
  • Do good works mean more if they are done in God’s name? In other words, is there something special about doing good works in God’s name?

I truly want to understand, and I welcome input from anyone: believer, atheist, cleric, layperson or academic. What is God’s role in creating or sustaining goodness?

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One Response to Goodness Comes from God, or Does It?

  1. I don’t believe that goodness is contingent on believing in God. In fact, I feel that implies that goodness is something people will only do out of fear that God will punish them if they aren’t good, or out of the desire for the reward of heaven — both base motives for goodness, in my opinion.

    I’m sure some people are motivated by their love of God to love their fellow human beings, but throughout history far too many people have been motivated by their love of a particular god to kill their fellow human beings. A great deal of the evil in the world has been done in the name of God, from the Crusades to the Spanish Inquisition to the actions of the Taliban.

    Relying on God and religion for goodness also implies that people need some kind of outside force to make them be good. As with laws legislating behavior, it comes with the assumption that people are not naturally inclined to be good. And the more I think about it, the more I believe that people’s natural state is goodness.

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