November 3, 2018

Holding Christians to a Higher Moral Standard

Christian grave marker

Is it fair to hold Christians to a higher moral standard than everyone else just because they are Christians? Initially, I'd have to say no. This does not seem fair. Morality has nothing to do with supernatural entities, and both Christians and atheists are perfectly capable of operating in a moral way (or not).

And yet, many Christians are quick to claim that they (or at least other Christians) should be held to a higher moral standard because they are Christians. It would seem that this sort of increased moral responsibility for Christians is precisely what Billy Graham advocated in this 2006 column. Here is what Graham told a Christian who had written into his column:
Because you understand more clearly than some people do what God expects of you, in one way you are even more guilty in God's eyes than they are.
While Graham rightly concluded that non-believers are not free from responsibility for committing immoral acts, he suggested that believers are even less so.
You have even less excuse than someone with no understanding of God's Word, because you know what is right. But do you also understand how spiritually dangerous it is for you to keep living in sin? Perhaps in the back of your mind you think you'll repent and turn to Christ someday -- but how do you know that day will ever come? One of the most sobering verses in all the Bible is this: "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31).
I think Graham's description of the god in which he believes was an appropriate one. I would not want to "fall into the hands" of such a cruel and monstrous entity either. Good thing that no such horror exists, isn't it?

If one believes, as I suspect Graham did, that the Christian god is the source of all morality, then I suppose it might be difficult to escape his conclusion that a Christian somehow deserves more punishment than a non-believer for committing an immoral act. Still, I prefer to see the common humanity shared by Christians and atheists and recognize that we share the need to be moral and the consequences for failing to do so.


An earlier version of this post appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2008. It was revised in 2018.