What good action can a Christian do that a non-Christian cannot?

What good action can a Christian do that a non-Christian cannot?

To begin, forgive me if this is not the correct wording. I only recorded it in my phone as ‘Hitchens’, since Christopher Hitchens is a familiar proponent of this question (or at least something similar). I assume that the question was borrowed from his work, or we have at St Hugh’s someone with very similar thought to one of the most popular atheists around!

As was mentioned briefly at the session, there definitely needs to be some clarification to the statement. There is nothing, according to the generally accepted standard of morality (that is, basically secular) which Christians can do but atheists cannot. There are good, moral things which Christians may do more than atheists (e.g. tithing towards a particular charity), and there may similarly be good, moral things which atheists do more than Christians. But there is nothing in common morality which, in principle, Christians can do but atheists cannot. This must be admitted by all. If that is the basic meaning of the question, then we can answer it with a straight ‘none’. It would also be worth saying that this is in no way contrary to Christian belief. Christianity holds not that Christians are better people than atheists, nor even that they *usually* are. Rather, Christianity would hold that, if a person is particularly open to God’s transforming Spirit (that is, His Spirit which would cause transformation to a more moral way of life, among other things) then that person will become morally better than what they would have otherwise been. This is not to say that they will be better than anyone else regardless of religious persuasion, only that one particular individual will become a better person than that same individual would be if they were not open to being transformed by God’s Spirit. Though not agreed on by all Christians, I would personally want to suggest that this Spirit may indeed be operative in those who have not explicitly professed faith in Christ. This may imply that it is now much more difficult to tell who is open to that transforming power and who is not, and hence whether it is efficacious. So be it. A Christian worldview which makes a split between those who explicitly claim faith in Christ and those who do not, in terms of common morality, are mistaken in my opinion.

This does, of course, leave open questions of specifically Christian morality. For example, only one who explicitly claims faith in Christ and expresses that faith through some form of praise can, by tautology, claim faith in Christ and express that faith through some form of praise. To the secularist, this will (quite rightly) not be seen as a morally good act. Perhaps morally bad to some, but generally morally indifferent. On a Christian worldview this may be seen as a moral act, although to most theologians it would probably be in a different category to morality altogether. At this point, it really depends on what we mean by morality. If by morality we mean a generally accepted standard of behaviour towards others, then the Christian has no problem with affirming that atheists and Christians can be moral alike, with no significant difference between the groups. If we allow some other definition of morality where confessional acts such as those outlined above are relevant, then clearly there are some things that can only apply to Christians. I would want to suggest, however, that such a definition would not be helpful in discussing what I believe to be the point of this question.

As ever, if you want to discuss further or receive clarification, feel free.

Calum

Responses

  1. Anybody can effect good deeds. It is where the good deed(s) stem from that is different.
    Even the most evil person can “perform” outward good deeds. But what is their motive. To deceive others could be one of them.
    A secular person (without any faith whatsover) can also perform good deeds, but again what is causing their good deeds – so that their conscience will not nag them or to live up to the expectations of others around them so as not to be frowned upon, criticised, ostracised?
    A person who has the life of God in them carries out good deeds as a spontaneous expression of the Holy Spirit within them. God is love. Love begets love.

  2. An atheist performs good deeds based on human compassion and an understanding of cause and effect.

    It is ironic that you mention conscience to back up your point; would the conscience of theists not nag them when they do not live up to what they interpret as the expectation of their god(s)? Would they not act to be frowned upon, criticised, and ostracised by their fellow theists?

  3. to not be*

  4. Hi Kevin,

    I’m not entirely sure I understand your point. The conscience of theists generally does “nag” them when they fail to live up to their perceived expectations, yes.

  5. I don’t think that Christians should argue that morality comes from the bible and is therefore only accessible to Christians (what Hitchins implies) but rather that God invented morality and implanted that idea into all humans which is why we all know basic right and wrong and that therefore there is no good action that a Christian can do but an Athiest cannot.


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