Moral atheists (Mondays with MacDonald)

In his novel, Paul Faber, Surgeon, George MacDonald indicated that he would have agreed with a substantial part of Pope Francis’s recent positive remarks about moral atheists:

But such as Faber was, he was both loved and honored by all whom he had ever attended; and, with his fine tastes, his genial nature, his quiet conscience, his good health, his enjoyment of life, his knowledge and love of his profession, his activity, his tender heart–especially to women and children, his keen intellect, and his devising though not embodying imagination, if any man could get on without a God, Faber was that man. He was now trying it, and as yet the trial had cost him no effort: he seemed to himself to be doing very well indeed. And why should he not do as well as the thousands, who counting themselves religious people, get through the business of the hour, the day, the week, the year, without one reference in any thing they do or abstain from doing, to the will of God, or the words of Christ? If he was more helpful to his fellows than they, he fared better; for actions in themselves good, however imperfect the motives that give rise to them, react blissfully upon character and nature. It is better to be an atheist who does the will of God, than a so-called Christian who does not. [It is not] the atheist [who] will…be dismissed because he said Lord, Lord, and did not obey.

The thing that God loves is the only lovely thing, and he who does it, does well, and is upon the way to discover that he does it very badly. When he comes to do it as the will of the perfect Good, then is he on the road to do it perfectly–that is, from love of its own inherent self-constituted goodness, born in the heart of the Perfect. The doing of things from duty is but a stage on the road to the kingdom of truth and love. Not the less must the stage be journeyed; every path diverging from it is “the flowery way that leads to the broad gate and the great fire.”

If loving what is good for its own sake is indeed the path to the perfect, then many a moral atheist is further along the narrow way to redemption than those Christians who think that goodness is defined by God’s arbitrary whims and who obey out of the belief that God demands it. Good is done either way, but the faithful child of God will seek not only to obey, but to love what is commanded and recognize its intrinsic goodness.

The objectiveness of goodness that apologists speak of is touted as unaccountable in atheistic morality–yet ironically it is the atheist (or believer) behaving morally just because it’s the unmotivated “right thing to do” who is closer to God’s heart. Believers should certainly find common ground with those who act in the interests of Goodness, which is God, and find that these who are with Him in that way are not at all against Him.

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