Stop me if you’ve heard this one: atheists are moral nihilists.
To dispel this common misconception, I decided to take a test.
The Way of the Master (WOTM), the evangelizing ministy of Ray Comfort (Banana Man) and Kirk Cameron (Crocoduck-oholic) were kind enough to provide me with “the ultimate test…” of whether or not I am “a ‘good’ person.” Read on to find out how I did.
WOTM’s test of “good”-ness is based on how well you follow the Ten Commandments. As they acknowledge, most people will probably say they’ve disobeyed one or two on occasion, but most of us have not committed murder.
The way to find out is to ask yourself if you have obeyed the Ten Commandments.
Most people say, “Well, I’ve broken one or two, but nothing too serious, like murder, etc.”
So, let’s go through them and see how you do…
WOTM’s set up is ominous. I mean, being based on the Ten Commandments, I’m already pretty fucked what with the first four. But, WOTM seems to imply everybody is quite the sinner. Well, let’s begin.
The First Commandment
The basic layout of the quiz is to present the commandment and provide a brief explanation. You are given four options: (1) admit guilt, (2) proclaim innocence, (3) continue without answering the question, and (4) starting over.
1. “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
Have you always put God first in your life? Jesus said to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength– so much, that your love for your parents, brothers and sisters, and even your own life is like hatred compared to your love and devotion for God. Have you ever failed to put Him first in your life?
Well, needless to say, I am totally guilty of breaking this commandment. In fact, I have never not broken this commandment. The thing is, doesn’t everybody spend a good portion of their early lives breaking this commandment? It demands a pretty high level of cognitive understanding (like considering self-esteem ‘hatred’ in comparison to devotion to God). 3 year olds aren’t devoted to God in that way. I suppose we can give children a pass because they aren’t developed enough, but this is pure conjecture. The description WOTM provides seems unequivocal and implies babies break this commandment all the time. Little heathens.
Also, when we sleep, can we be considered in devotion to God? Can we really be devoting our hearts, minds, and souls to God when we’re dreaming about eating ice cream sandwiches while naked in our offices? Isn’t sleep pretty much elevating the self above God? Instead of being in devotion to God, you are providing your body with needed rest. So, I am left to conclude that WOTM thinks “good” people do not sleep.
(By the way, I keep using scare quotes on good because WOTM used them in the link to the quiz. Since I don’t know the contextual definition of good that necessitated the use of scare quotes, I’m just keeping them.)
The Second Commandment
2. “You shall not make yourself any idol.”
Who is God to you? Is he only a god of love and mercy who would never judge anyone and never cast anyone into Hell? If that’s your god, then you’re right. Your god couldn’t cast anyone into Hell because he doesn’t exist. He’s a figment of your imagination. You’ve created a god in your own mind that you’re more comfortable with. You may call it “personal belief,” but God calls it idolatry. It’s the oldest sin in the Book, and the Bible warns that idolaters will not inherit the kingdom of heaven.
Perhaps it’s needlessly said, but my image of God is that he doesn’t exist. So, I’m definitely guilty of idolatry. I have to say, though, this is a fascinating definition of idolatry. Basically, if you actively hold an image of God that is inaccurate, you’re not going to heaven. This raises the question, what is an acceptable level of inaccuracy before “idolatry” is achieved?
For example, the God of the Bible is described as “he”. However, it seems like God having a gender is unnecessary. Yes, God is the “father” of Jesus, but God’s paternity is not of the sort of human fathers. God did not copulate with Mary, fertilizing her egg with his sperm. Therefore, God does not need to be an actual male. Moreover, the textual use of masculine pronouns in association with God could easily be linguistic artifacts that are in no way meant to be factual descriptions of God’s gender. If someone willfully holds steadfast to an image of God as male, is this person an idolater for such a misconception? If not, why doesn’t this misconception result in idolatry but the loving, merciful misconception does?
Furthermore, if an accurate image of God is needed to be “good” and worthy of the kingdom of heaven, why isn’t God’s true image made more explicit? I mean, there’s a whole lot of theological speculation about God going on, risking the elimination of a lot of people from accessing the kingdom of heaven due to their passionate devotion. Being “good” is pretty hard work in the WOTM world.
The Third Commandment
3. “You shall not take the name of God in vain.”
Have you ever used God’s name as a curse word? If you have, you’ve taken the holy name of God– who gave you your life, your family, and everything precious to you– and used it as a filthy four-letter word. Hitler’s name wasn’t even despised enough to be used as a curse word! If you have used God’s holy name in that manner, you are a blasphemer and the Bible says “God will not hold him guiltless who takes the name of the Lord in vain.”
First, a pedantic point, if you do not hold that there are any “filthy four-letter words,” can you ever use God’s name as such?
Pedantry aside, this is one I don’t do very often. I ceased a long time ago when a close friend, and Christian, asked me to stop out of respect to him. These days, I let my atheism do my blaspheming for me. But this brings up an important question, what is the minimum number of times you can use God’s name in vain before you can no longer be a “good” person?
Look, I get it, the response will be that it is a matter of intent and persistence, not of number. But, without a solid number, this risks becoming a sorites paradox. Consider a man who used God’s name in vain every day of his life from the first time he learned the curse to the day of his final breath. Surely this man is not a “good” person. Begin removing days in which this man used God’s name in vain. Does one less use make him “good”? Two fewer uses? At what point can we safely describe this man as “good”? Without a clearly defined threshold, you will inevitably work backwards to a single use resulting in the man being unworthy of the descriptor “good”.
Alternatively, imagine a man who, when he was 13 years old, stubbed his toe and yelled out “God dammit” in pain and frustration. This was the only time this man used God’s name in vain his entire life. Does this person’s single use of God’s name in vain rule him out as a “good” person?” My guess is that you would not think so. This is where the paradox lies. On the one hand, a single use does not end one’s ability to be “good”. On the other hand, a single use must make end one’s ability to be “good.”
Alright, maybe I’m being picky. That’s a fair retort. But if being a “good” person is important, and not using God’s name in vain makes the top ten list, is it unreasonable to want some clarity?
Also, the Hitler’s name comment made me laugh out loud. That shit was silly.
The Forth Commandment
4. “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.”
God commands that we set aside one day in seven. Have you ever been guilty of breaking this Commandment?
Another “guilty as charged” for me. I have never remembered the Sabbath Day. Now, being a lifelong nonbeliever, I’m not entirely sure what constitutes “remembering the Sabbath Day.” I’ve read about conservative, Orthodox Jews going out of their way to avoid work, but it’s my understanding that this is not how Christians remember the Sabbath Day.
My best guess is that remembering the Sabbath Day is attending church once a week. If this is correct, surely there are acceptable absences for illness and tragedy?
Well, long story short, I’m not getting any closer to being a “good” person.
The Fifth Commandment
5. “Honor your father and your mother.”
Have you always honored your parents in a way that’s pleasing in the sight of God? Ask Him to remind you of the sins of your youth. You may have forgotten them, but God hasn’t.
Well, I gave myself a “guilty” here because– though I do not feel like I’ve been troublesome to my parents (I didn’t get into trouble; I got good grades; I was not very angsty)– I doubt those aspects are sufficient to be “pleasing in the sight of God.”
What strikes me most about this commandment is that the description seemingly implies everyone should just choose “guilty.” The description is, in a nutshell: “you didn’t always honor your parents, so just choose guilty.” But, this opens up a meta”good”ness question.
First, is “good”-ness one part of a binary? In other words, if one is not “good,” do we describe them as “bad” (where “bad” is defined as the logical opposite of “good”)? If this is the case, then including the unattainable Fifth Commandment in the list of requirements to be “good” makes “good”-ness unattainable. It being unattainable strips “good”-ness of value.
Surely this is not the case. So, “good”-ness must be part of a spectrum. We put “good” on one end and “bad” on the other. Perhaps we can never actually achieve the level of “good”-ness that can be found at the spectrum’s end, but we can still find value in striving for it because it maximizes our relative “good”-ness. Not being “good” no longer dooms us to being “bad.” Instead, we can become very very very very close to “good,” and this is more valuable than only being close to “good” or close to “bad”.
When we talk about a “good” person, we are not referring to someone at the end of the spectrum, specifically. Instead, a “good” person is someone who falls within a certain range of the “good” end–perhaps above close to “good”.
The Sixth Commandment
6. “You shall not murder.”
Jesus warned “Whoever is angry with his brother without cause, is in danger of judgment.” (Matthew 5:22) and the Bible says, “He who hates his brother is a murderer, ” (1 John 3:15). God sees hatred in the heart to be as wicked as murder. We can violate His Law by attitude and intent.
Wait, let me get this straight:
P1: Devotion to God makes love for your parents, brothers and sisters, and yourself like hatred (per First Commandment)
P2: Hatred is murder (per Sixth Commandment)
C1 (from P1 and P2): Loving your parents, brothers and sisters, and yourself is murder (modus ponens)
P3: Not loving your parents is not “good” (per Fifth Commandment)
C2 (from C1 and P3): You’re fucked either way (modus ponens)
P4: God wants you to honor your parents (per Fifth Commandment)
P5: God does not want you to murder (per Sixth Commandment)
C3 (from C1, P4, and P5): Loving your parents is not honoring your parents
C4 (from C1 and C3): God does not want you to love your parents (modus ponens)
I have no formal training in logical form. I hope that is structurally accurate. Also, I selected “guilty” because I’m pretty sure I’m just supposed to at this point.
The Seventh Commandment
7. “You shall not commit adultery.”
Jesus warned, “You have heard… ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Have you ever looked at another person with lust? The Bible says that adulterers and fornicators (those who have had sex before marriage) will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Well, since I was once a teenager, I’ve committed a whole lot of fornication. So… “guilty?”
I wonder, can one commit the lust-looking form of adultery if one is single? Adultery implies a form of cheating on one’s partner, so such lust-looking is only fornication, right?
Well, let’s be honest, I’m 8+ years into my current relationship, and there have been plenty of occasions when I’ve seen a woman and thought, “God damn!” (shit, Third Commandment). So, I’ve definitely committed adultery on my partner. Have I ever come close to any actual physically inappropriate activities? No. But that doesn’t matter. Like gifts, it’s the thought that counts.
The Eighth Commandment
8. “You shall not steal.”
Have you ever stolen anything (even if it was something small)? The value of the thing stolen doesn’t matter; petty theft is still theft. Have you ever taken anything that belonged to someone else (from the office, school, parents, etc.)? If you have, that makes you a thief.
Just yesterday, I used an office pen to write a note on an office post-it to remind myself that I needed to pay a bill when I got home. Yes, that is a very small amount to take from work, but it is “still theft.” So, I am a thief.
As that filthy criminal, Martin Luther King Jr noted: the perpetrators of the Boston Tea Party were unlawful riff-raff and Adolf Hitler was a law-abiding head of state. This is because only the most strict definitions of negative descriptors can be used. WOTM won’t let you weasel out of your “bad”-ness: no way, no how.
The Ninth Commandment
9. “You shall not lie.”
Have you ever told a lie? Then you are a liar. How many murders do you have to commit to be a murderer? Just one. If you have told even one lie, that makes you a liar. The Bible warns that all liars will have their part in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 21:8). You may not think deceitfulness is a serious sin, but God does.
Case closed, everyone ends up in “the Lake of Fire.” Let’s be honest, who didn’t tell a lie as a child. Since only one lie makes you a liar, and all liars will have their part in the Lake of Fire, your fate is sealed.
I’ll see you there. Don’t bring any salty snacks.
The Tenth Commandment
10. “You shall not covet.”
This means we should never desire anything that belongs to another person. Not their house, nor their car, nor their money, nor their wife, nor their lifestyle, nor anything that belongs to our neighbor.
The trend has been that WOTM already knows you are not a “good” person. Slowly, but surely, they’ve made this point clear. With the final Commandment, they didn’t even ask a question. They simply tell you how you’re supposed to act. They know you’re not “good.”
How did I do, overall? Well I was “guilty” on all Ten Commandments. I was only kinda guilty on a few, but there seemed to be an “all or nothing” aspect to the quiz that led me to default to guilt.
It’s a Trap!
When discussing the premise of the quiz, I mentioned that WOTM’s intro seemed ominous. This was for good reason. The whole quiz is a set up. You are not a “good” person, and you were never supposed to think you are a “good” person. WOTM makes this transparently clear when you finish the quiz. Even if you claim to be innocent on all counts, you get the same message explaining than all are sinners and that you should feel guilty about being a sinner.
Who of us can say we are not guilty of breaking these Commandments?
This is what the Bible means when it says, “All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.”
Can you see your predicament? You are guilty of sinning against God Himself, and, because you have a conscience, (con-with, science-knowledge) you have sinned “with knowledge.”
Isn’t it true that every time you lied, stole, or lusted, etc., you knew it was wrong?
You probably noticed this, but all of the WOTM questions (if they were actually questions) were set up so that you could never reasonably claim innocence. You are supposed to come away from this with the understanding that you are a filthy, horrible, guilty person. They made it a point to ensure you feel guilty, and they tell you so.
Does the fact the you have sinned against God scare you? It should.
You have actually angered Him by your sin.
The Bible says His wrath abides on you, that you an “enemy of God in your mind through wicked works.”
I appreciate WOTM’s honesty. There IS something frightening about a deity that would deem me an “enemy” for using a work post-it note for personal reasons.
That God would be “angry” about this is disconcerting. If God were human, we would send him to anger management courses. Since God is a deity, “who gave [me my] life, [my] family, and everything precious to [me],” I am supposed to be scared of God.
Perhaps you think God is good and because of his goodness He will overlook your sins?
But if you knew a human judge who turned a blind eye to the crimes of a guilty rapist… would you describe him as a “good” judge?
Bet you wishy-washy progressive Christians can’t work around that air-tight logic.
That would be a “corrupt” judge.
…in case you didn’t know the answer to their rhetorical question.
God could never be a corrupt judge.
He will punish all the rapists, murderers, and thieves… But he won’t stop there. He will also punish all liars, the lustful, adulterers, idolaters, and blasphemers.
The place of eternal punishment is Hell.
In short, we’re all fucked. Seriously, that post-it was sufficient to deem me worthy of the same punishment as a rapist.
WOTM wraps up with the pitch–
God does not want you to perish. He is rich in mercy and compassion, and has provided a way for you to be forgiven. He has invited you to come to Him for a full pardon and receive the free gift of Eternal Life. You cannot earn it, and you do not deserve it, but God is offering it to you as proof of His love for you.
Imagine you are standing in front of a judge, guilty of multiple serious crimes. All the evidence has been presented and there is no doubt about your guilt. Your apologies and good works cannot erase your crimes; therefore you must be punished. The fine for your crime is $250,000 or imprisonment, but you don’t have two pennies to rub together. The judge is about to pass sentence when someone you don’t even know steps in and pays your fine for you! The court accepts the money and declares that you are free to go. The law has been satisfied, your debt has been paid in full, and the stranger’s sacrifice was a demonstration of his love for you. That’s what God did for you 2000 years ago.
The Bible says that the God of the Universe become a man (Jesus Christ), and suffered and died on the cross for your sins and mine so that we could be set free. It’s as simple as this–we broke the Law, and Jesus paid our fine.
[Passages from Romans and Galatians]
Do you see God’s great love for you? Do you see your need for His forgiveness? Do what He commands and “Repent…that your sins may be wiped out and times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” (Acts 3:19) You must turn away from sin and turn to God. Desire to have NOTHING to do with sin, and surrender your life of the One who can save you. Jesus died to set you free, and then he rose from death to be your Lord. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Mo one comes to the Father except through me.” If you will confess and forsake your sins (repent) and trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, God will forgive you and you’ll pass from death to life. If you are not sure how to pray, read Psalm 51 and make it your prayer.
What does it mean to “put your faith in Jesus Christ?” It means to personally trust in Jesus the same way you’d trust in a parachute if you had to jump 25,000 feet out of an airplane. you wouldn’t just “believe” in the parachute; you would put it on! In the same way, the Bible says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ…” and you will be saved. There are millions of people “believe” Jesus exists…but they have not put on the Savior–there’s a BIG difference. And the difference will be obvious when you “jump” through the door of death.
Today with all your heart–turn away from sin, and surrender your life to Jesus Christ. Please don’t put it off till later. You may die today and then it will be too late. You may not have all the answers to your questions, but better to put on the parachute first and then ask questions, than to pass through the door unprepared, grasping for the parachute when it’s too late. You can pray something like this–[Prayer]. There is nothing magic about these words–it is the attitude of your heart that God cares about.
God will transform you from the inside out. You will think and feel differently as you learn to trust and obey Him. God will give you new strength to live right and love Him above all else. Read your Bible daily and obey His Word. You can trust God–He loves you and will always be faithful. [Skipping hyperlink]
If you’ve decided to reject the gift of forgiveness and you die in your sins, here is no hope for you. There is no purgatory. The wrath of God abides on you and you will spend eternity in Hell. Please take the time to read what the Bible says Hell is like.
I am genuinely curious, how is this not abuse?
So, God lays forth a Law that cannot be met. Then God threatens to punish, eternally, those who fail to meet this Law (read: everyone). But, God provides a way out, servitude to God.
This is called “mercy,” “compassion,” and “great love?” It sounds like thuggish bribery. You know, when the mob destroys your shop to get you to pay them a monthly fee to “protect” your shop.
Look, I’m not a Christian, so I cannot speak to whether or not WOTM’s version is in any way representative of how most Christians experience and understand their relationship with God. But, as a lifelong nonbeliever, I feel like I should be calling the cops on God. He is a monster. He acts like a violent dictator or someone who commits domestic abuse.
Final Thoughts and Questions
This quiz was premised on the idea of determining whether or not someone is “good.” Typically, when we talk about being “good” we are referencing one’s moral and ethical character. In the WOTM premise, we determine “good”-ness (one’s moral and ethical character) by assessing one’s ability to fulfill the Law (the Ten Commandments) as established by God.
From this premise, morality lacks purpose. There is no reason to have the Law since those who are governed by it cannot fulfill it. The Law is obsolete. It merely serves as the hollow justification God uses to threaten us with punishment. We are not given a reason to be “good.” We can’t be “good.” Instead, we are expected to pay up, to obey.
I get that after putting on the Jesus Christ parachute we’re supposed to be better at abiding the Law, but the Law has no intrinsic value. It is the vehicle to demand human obedience.
What is morality in such a conception of one’s relationship to God?