This is a question raised by Richard Dawkins and others in arguments about whether athiests have any good foundation for their ethics. The argument goes that Christian (or other religious people) say they wouldn’t rape or murder even if they weren’t Chrstians, and therefore their faith has no impact on their ethics. In reality, Christians simply do what everyone does – follow the moral zeitgeist.
The thing about this argument is that in part it relies on an element of surprised shame. If you’re suddenly confronted with the question of ‘Would you rape and murder if you weren’t a Christian?’ Of course your immediate response is ‘No I wouldn’t.’ If you’re not murderous now, it’s hard to imagine becoming so. And no one wants to be thought of as a murderer being held back by a thin veneer of religion.
But as I’ve thought about this a bit, I’m convinced that my ethics would be different if I wasn’t a Christian. It’s hard to say exactly how. But knowing myself and also looking at our society, I think I would be more judgmental, less generous and I’m pretty sure I’d have the ‘do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone’ attitude to sex.
I perhaps wouldn’t immediately be rushing out to murder, rape or rob a bank. There are some very strong external motivations against those things. But I think I would lose my key motivation for resisting the root causes of murder, rape and robbery – hatred, lust and greed, and I’m sure they would begin to flourish in my life. And you never know where it would end up.
What do you think? Does faith make a difference to your ethics?