Do You Really Have to Believe in God?

Throughout my academic life, the question of faith has been a constant one. For many believers, they struggle comprehending the notion of the intellectual gravitas of nonbelievers in a societal order. Further, it is fully incomprehensible for nonbelievers to grasp the religious thinking of believers. I once worked with a person who could not help but note when I was contemplating a decision or a thought, it was the norm for me to reference that I was in thought over the matter. This person told me that you are just not like many in our community in that you do not reference “prayer.” Yes, this is silly. Again, one does not have to believe in a god, nor must one be a nonbeliever to be a big thinker.

That said, I am a big believer in “religious” thought. It is crucial that we as a society honor and respect the values of others. I try not to group all Christians, Muslims, and atheists into a generalized box. That would be false — and to an extent, anti-intellectual; however, I do believe in the nature of a plural society: One’s religious dogma should not dictate nor legislate a societal order.

Great scene here

This is best represented in the movie Contact, a work written by the Carl Sagan. In what is the most interesting scene in the movie, the character portrayed by Jodi Foster, a scientist who is also a nonbeliever, admits her lack of faith in a god. By doing so, her conclusion works against her challenge to represent earth in making contact with aliens. The conversation about why the panel rejected her is most interesting, which presents the following questions: Should a nonbeliever be a representative of a planet in which a majority of its inhabitants believe in a god? Why should a nonbeliever be denied the opportunity when most people of faith cannot agree on civil peace and understanding among a diversity of believers? I contend that one does not have to believe in a god. Nonbelievers are honest and moral people. Being a believer does not make one more just nor moral than the other.

I do believe that if one is truly educated, he or she will have an understanding of religious constructs outside of doctrinal beliefs. If Jodi Foster’s character or anyone for that matter lacked an understanding of world beliefs, they should not be a representative of a planet in which the majority of folks believe in a god or gods.

Religious Test

As reflected above with my score, I recently took this (click on link here) religious literacy test. In truth, it was very easy. Though I am highly versed and educated on global beliefs, I realize many are not. I cannot believe I missed the question that I missed.


34 thoughts on “Do You Really Have to Believe in God?

  1. My Religion degree from Baylor served me well on that quiz, fwiw. Had it not, my mom might have wanted a refund.

    I liked your comment “Being a believer does not make one more just nor moral than the other.”

    But it should–and I think that’s what’s really wrong with our society. If the world can’t see any difference between the lives of non-Christians and professing believers, then why in the world would someone want to join up? We don’t have a very compelling argument if all we really care about is fire insurance for ourselves and maybe a couple of hours of free babysitting on Sunday mornings.

  2. I got one question wrong (I thought Abraham when the answer was Job). Not bad for a godless, heathen anti-theist, huh?

    Michele, I’m curious as to why you think that believers “should” be more moral and just than nonbelievers. Can you elaborate on that idea, please?

  3. For morals to exist there must be a standard from which they come. Without a standard greater than ourselves, nothing can be right or wrong, only felt.

  4. Bryan, why are we insufficient? Why do we need something “greater than ourselves”?

    I think that this is part of where some of the mistrust of believers toward non-believers comes from. I don’t NEED a god to tell me how to treat people, and I wonder if those who feel they do don’t understand how someone can be the originator of their own compassion. I don’t NEED to fear a divine punishment (or seek a divine reward) to be a good person. My morality is centered on my humanity and my capacity for empathy; it is not driven by a desire for Heaven or a fear of Hell, and it is certainly not based on the edicts of an ancient text which contradicts itself more than it makes sense.

  5. It seems that the key element here is that believers believe due to their faith and that those who do not want to contribute to the goodness of being human. I see what Michele is saying, but a persons faith should tell the world who they are and why they are good people, but to say non believers are less is not the case.

  6. I would suggest that the question which comprises the title of this blog post is an incomplete one. “Do you really have to believe in God?” Well, it depends…in order to do/be what?”

    *Do you really have to believe in God…in order to be a good teacher? to make good decisions? to be kind to other people? to be a smart person?

    Clearly, “no”. There are plenty of examples to the contrary.

    *Do you really have to believe in God in order to be a representative of humanity to aliens (the example given in the post)?

    Carson’s answer here seems to be a fair one…if the answer is “yes”, which particular view on God is representative of the diverse views on the planet?

    *Do you really have to believe in God…in order to be pleasing to God? In order to figure out what life on this planet is really all about? To have the highest level of concern for one’s neighbors and mankind in general?

    The Christian perspective (which is the only one for which I can speak) would give an unabashed “yes” to those types of questions. And, I think, that last question gets toward the point that Michele was making in her response.

    • For this who believe in their faith, your points are so right. However, there is that contention of folks who will continue to contend that being a good person and respecting the moral good of that constitutes this world which we live in is of the highest value. With 7 billion people on the earth, there will never be a consensus on what is truth; yet, there will be one on the respect and honor for others and what they do believe.

      • While there will never be a consensus on what the truth is, that doesn’t mean that all truth claims are equally valid. Which also should not be construed as disrespect towards those who differ.

  7. What kind of standard are we Christians using when we allow a deity who is credited with the Ten Commandments to allow (i.e., command) infanticide, kidnapping and probable rape, genocide, and theft in Numbers 31:17-18 and 1 Samuel 15:3 for starters? Maybe we are using our imagination to define this so-called holy standard. Either that or we are picking and choosing which parts of the Bible to set as the standard. Open question, which is it? God said “Don’t murder,” or God said “don’t murder*”?

    *unless God told you to murder…

    • Jimmy,

      The problem with your point is that it draws from the old covenant (Old Testament). With the Torah and hence Jews, you do have a bit of a point regarding what is seemingly a contradiction. However, in the examples you are thinking about, God is testing the faith of his people. For Christians, under the new covenant, God test their faith in different ways. He does not ask for those things. I only defend this because I would do the same for any group in which there might be a misrepresentation.

  8. But we’re back to good and bad being individual decisions if there is no higher power. You like to serve at the soup kitchen and I like to run a sweatshop. By what standard can you call my action wrong and your action right?

    I decide what’s right for me. All we have are opinions.

    • I do not like your example Bryan. It is too conflated with modern capitalism. It is not a sin nor really wrong to exploit the labor of those in a sweatshop. And, working in a soup kitchen does not define good. Yet, in the end, it is about making a world work for 7 billion people, who in truth, many define goodness based on the rules of their beliefs. Hence, how does a civil society allow for the many rules of being good to exist, without defining society according to their definition or laws? This takes us back to the example noted on the video clip of Contact. Jodi Foster’s character was denied an opportunity because she did not believe what 95% of the world believed. But was she a bad person? Not at all.

      • Sin and bad do not exist if there is no higher power. Likes and dislikes do, but not sin.

        Your question is a great one. “Hence, how does a civil society allow for the many rules of being good to exist, without defining society according to their definition or laws?”

        Without a general consensus among those laws are made to govern, I’m not sure the society will endure. If there’s no agreed-upon arbiter of what is civil and what is not the dissolution is inevitable.

  9. I’m still not sure I understand the problem with not having a “god” as an originator of morality (and I really resent the idea that, like Foster’s character, I am somehow discounted by believers as a human being simply because I do not share in their beliefs).

    Society creates morality. We determine, as a collective, what’s right and what’s wrong. We teach children to feel good when they do good (becuase we praise them) and to feel bad when they do bad (because we scold them – or, at least, we should, and too few people do, but that’s a conversation for another post); those are the standards by which we judge behavior, Bryan.

    Are there going to be outliers and rule-breakers? Of course there are; people are individuals and are going to behave in ways that they feel best meet their own needs (and, I think, too few people truly understand the idea that “everyone does better when everyone does better;” that my needs are often best served by seeing to it that your needs are met as well, but again, that’s a conversation for another post). That this is true does not change the fact that there ARE standards in every social group about what is and is not acceptable (in terms of behavior, practice, and morality), and that efforts will be made on the part of the majority to compel the outliers to conform to those standards.

    All that being said, “God” has nothing to do with it (or, perhaps more accurately stated), “God” doesn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with it. If you happen to participate in a social group which posits its moral center in a religious tradition, then that’s your reality. It is no more or less than the reality of those of us who find our moral center in ourselves, each other, and our common humanity.

    • Mrs. Chili, I’m not clear how you’re being discounted as a human. The belief system to which I subscribe places supreme value on all people.

      What I will discount is the idea right or wrong exist sans a greater being. An individual might like something, but he is left with feelings, not anything with universal application.

      The collective determination of right and wrong is nothing more than might makes right. If the majority (however defined) wants to subjugate the minority that’s collective determination. On the other hand, if there are moral absolutes to which all humans must adhere, it matters not how those fare in an opinion poll. They are right or wrong.

      • The belief system to which you subscribe damns people like me to eternal torture simply because I do not accept its prerequisites for “salvation.” That seems a pretty big discount of my humanity.

      • My belief system says the second greatest command is to love my neighbor as myself. That’s pretty big for naturally narcissistic loons such as myself. It also states God alone will sit in judgement.

        If God is a fairy tale this is no biggie. On the day of judgement I will need abundant mercy, so I’ll be the rightfully accused, not the judge.

  10. As an atheist I would propose that that there is no higher power, no supreme being, no supernatural force that has provided a moral compass. I believe that we have made up a “higher being” to comfort ourselves in times of stress. We hate the idea that good things may happen to bad people or that bad things could happen to good people. Many need to believe there is some karma at work. If it is true that there is no god then our perceptions of right and wrong are made up human concepts that we have accepted. If this can be considered as truth then we don’t need a “god” to provide those things.

    • Excellent point Marc. Society decides what is right and what is wrong. In many ways, that is why we have diverse societies. People who decide to make values that fit their norms live with such calls.

      • In a number of societies right now it’s not only acceptable to kill Jews. Many of these same societies also deprive women of all rights.

        In my belief system such stances are morally reprehensible, regardless of what percentage of society deems them appropriate. Moral absolutes must come from a higher power in order to bind all humans. Otherwise, it’s fine to to consider females as chattel depending on the situation.

  11. Brian – “Might makes right” is all religion has. A god is mighty and can “threaten” us or promise a “reward” because of that might. Being good for god is not “for god.” It is really about avoiding punishment or earning rewards. I expect that if we felt that we could defeat this “god” then we would not submit to it or the teachings of the religion ascribed to it. Animals “as far as we can tell” don’t believe in a god, but do things that we describe as “good” consistently. They “care” for one another, many even take in the young of other species. That may be put down to instinct, but I would then suggest that human animals do the same thing, only we have the language with which to discuss, debate, and deny that we have simply rationalized our instinctual behaviors.

    • I disagree. I can only speak for the faith to which I subscribe (Christianity) but it is NOT about “Might makes right” at all. The bottom line is love. Unconditional, unfathomably deep, scandalous love from a Creator who loved His creation so much that He gave them free will to chose what they believe and then, when they chose to go astray, He sacrificed the life of His Own Son so that they could be reunited with Him for eternity.

      I do not believe in Him because I fear consequences or because I seek reward but because I find in Him, true safety and boundless love that brings peace in the midst of desperate life storms. I love Him because He loved me first and His love is irresistible!

      I am an educated woman. I continually seek learning in all forms. And honestly, the more I know and learn about the world around me, the more I see His Hand!

      And by the way, I think we see “care” and “good” in animals because they are the work of His Hands and a reflection of His Nature.

      If you believe the scriptures as I do, then there will definitely come a time when all of creation will sign His praises. 🙂 Even the rocks! 🙂

  12. Is it ever OK to torture babies for the fun of it?
    Is it ever OK to lie for the fun of it?
    Is it ever OK to kill for the fun of it?
    Is it ever OK to steal for the fun of it?

    I’ll go out on a limb here and assume that no one here would say that in any of those cases it would be OK. These are transcendent, objective truths, not merely subjective morals created by society.

    • Though I personally agree with you whole heartedly, I have ,sadly, met people who would disagree with you. These are not transcendent objective truths to everyone.

      I agree with Bryan above, “For morals to exist, there must be a standard from which they come.”

      • Belle:

        You do not feel that human nature has created such moralistic values? I would say that our society creates such values by way of laws, but human nature can be evil. We have seen the atrocities of slavery or Jim Crow laws in the US. And those who created such institutions did so believing it was the will of God. Now, we know that was not the case. My point is human society finds a way to correct moral injustices that hurt others.

        Do you believe that believers of a faith can exist with nonbelievers and believers of other faiths? I think we do it. Sad, but not always true. Just look to the Middle East. The lack of being a Christian nation is what makes the US a great place. We all are afforded opportunities; however that was not the case in the video Contact.Then again, she represented a world not a country.

  13. On the religion quiz, I made a 14 out of 15. missed the Finney question about the Great Awakening.

    Just a thought on the topic of heaven. Those who seek to go to heaven only for reward or out of fear of hell have missed the point. They are self seeking. The point of heaven is to be with God. No one who is in hell will actually want to be in heaven. Heaven is a place where God will be primary, He will be the entire focus, He will be glorified and worshipped. If you have spent your entire life not wanting anything to do with loving, serving and worshipping Christ, why would you want to go to heaven where that is the whole purpose? You wont. Hell is actually a measure of grace. God wont force you to be with him if you don’t want him. Unfortunately, where God removes His influence, there is no good thing. If as the Bible teaches, God is love , remove all love, if God is peace, then remove all peace. If God is unity and harmony, remove all of that. If God is justice, then take away all of that. A world with no love, peace, joy, grace, unity, harmony, etc. is hell.

    As for morality. Only a fool would say that the atheists and unbeliever cant be moral. Of course they can be moral, in fact, many of them are more moral, altruistic, philanthropic, etc. than I will ever be. From a worldly position, they are much better people than I could be. The Christian position Biblically says that self righteousness is what leads people to believe they don’t need God. Thus they reject Him and are rejected by him. Even Jesus said He didn’t come to save people who think they don’t need His sacrifice. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick, I did not come to save the righteous, but sinners.” (Jesus to a self righteous Pharisee) I am glad to admit I am not a good person morally because I am not saved by my own personal goodness, but the amazing grace and love of God. That is the Gospel. God saves us IN SPITE of us, rather than because of us.

    On the topic of society constructing morality, lets hope not. Otherwise genocide is OK because WWII Nazi German policy sanctioned it. On a practical note, how relative is your truth when you approach a red light at a busy intersection? It is self defeating and relegates truth to personal preference. Why should I do good for society? If humanism is true, then the only true good is what benefits me, even if its at the expense of you. Maybe murdering you and raping your small children behooves me. You cant tell me it doesnt, b/c then you would be referring to an absolute truth. Again, this is obviously flawed thinking.

    Lastly, IF God exists and that is a big IF for people like Mrs. Chili, then the question becomes ‘good compared to what?’ Since you cannot technically PROVE that God does or doesn’t exist, everyone has a measure of faith. Yes, even atheists have faith. That being said, you have to at least allow for the possibility of a god. In fact, a god is really nothing more than the primary thing in your life that you worship, give allegiance too, serve, etc. That is either an official deity or Darwinism, or humanistic thought or yourself. Everyone worships something. that is their god, so is it even possible to be an atheist or are you just a self worshipper? God is perfect and if perfection is his standard, then good doesn’t cut it, you must be flawless. As tainted paint cannot mix with perfectly pure paint without soiling the nature of the perfect paint, so God cannot be in the presence of sin. That is the bad news of the human condition.

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