I read with a slight chuckle this recent news story about the bus ads planned for the Christmas season by the American Humanist Association. Starting next week and running through December will be ads placed on the sides of buses which state, “Why believe in a God? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” Of course, the reference is to the lyrics of the children’s holiday song, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
It seems the athiests and agnostics are feeling a little left out and lonely during the Christmas holidays. According to a spokesman for the humanist group:We are trying to reach our audience, and sometimes in order to reach an audience, everybody has to hear you…
Our reason for doing it during the holidays is there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of nontheists who feel a little alone during the holidays because of its association with traditional religion.
The Humanist Manifesto III (available at the AHA website) defines humanism as…… a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
Barry than spends some time making a couple of points about goodness that I encourage readers to read in full.
For my part, I found the use of the quote -- "be good for goodness sake" -- to be an interesting choice. Generally, when someone says to do something "for goodness sake", that phrase is an idiom. It means roughly the same as "for crying out loud". To be "good for goodness sake" is not an exhortation to be good for the sake of goodness. However, that is exactly how the humanists appear to be using the phrase in their bus advertisement.
This is the age old question of whether the atheists have a basis for their moral position. Keep in mind that no one is disputing the atheists are capable of acting morally. In fact, the Book of Romans says that all men have the law of God written on their hearts so that they know what is right and wrong -- men just suppress the truth that they already know as the result of the fact that God has written it on their hearts.
But here, the atheists are asking us to be good. Why? For the sake of goodness. Really? Is that really a reason to be good? It certainly doesn't seem like a strong reason to me.
Consider: Since there is no God, the questions that arise from the slogan become (1) what is good, and (2) what is the moral mandate for being good? In response to the first question there is no answer -- only a vague notion that being "good" is simply what the atheist believes, in his subjective, relativitic view, is good. Without a clear vision of what "goodness" means, there is no way to have any certainty which acts are good and which are not.
The answer to the second question is even murkier. It could be "so that we have a better world." But this doesn't answer the question of why I should care if we have a better world. That assumes that goodness means caring what happens to others, but since we haven't come up with any objective standard of goodness there is no compelling reason to believe that caring about what happens to others is "goodness."
Of course, we all have a notion of what it means to be good in the general sense. We all know that helping an old lady across the street is good and stealing her handbag is not good. But there are many areas in between those two extremes that are less clear as to what is actually "good". And even if we could all agree as to what it means to be good, is being good for "goodness sake" a motivation to be good?
Maybe I am happy being evil and I'd rather be "happy for happiness' sake."
Regardless, I think that the real motivation for this bumper sticker is what the humanist says about the reason for the slogan: "there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of nontheists who feel a little alone during the holidays...." Yup. They don't experience the deep joy that many of us feel when we remember that Jesus came into the world because "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." So rather than allow those of us who celebrate the real meaning of the holiday to do so in peace, they want the rest of us to feel as miserable as they are. (Phil. 1:27-28)