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Does Christianity lead to true morality or just obedience from fear?

Published: 11 August 2012 (GMT+10)
Flickr: D Sharon Pruitt Is Christianity a religion of fear?
Is Christianity a religion of fear?

S.A. from the United Kingdom wrote in response to our article Is God watching?:

Looking at this article, it doesn’t sound like morality comes from Christianity, only obedience and fear. I don’t steal or murder people because that is wrong, not because I might be punished for it.

And to suggest evolution and random mutations would be all it took to make murder, adultery or theft acceptable just makes you sound like you don’t truly value human life.

CMI’s Dominic Statham responds below:

Dear S.,

‘Looking at this article, it doesn’t sound like morality comes from Christianity, only obedience and fear. I don’t steal or murder people because that is wrong, not because I might be punished for it.’

In the Bible, the ‘fear of God’ has a number of meanings. There is the fear of God, meaning the fear of judgement, ‘if we’re bad’. With this is also the hope of reward ‘if we’re good’. Unfortunately, most people think that Christianity has little more to offer than this. There is, however, much more to it.

In Christ, the son of God became a perfect man. When He died on the cross, He paid the penalty for our sin so that we could receive the forgiveness of God. He then rose again from the dead so that we might be empowered to live a new life. Just as we became one with him in His death, we become one with Him in His resurrection. (See Romans 6.) Our new life is His life. We can then start to know His goodness and perfect nature lived out in us. It’s not that we become more like Him, but that He becomes more manifest in us. (See Galatians 2:20.) According to the Bible, this is the only answer to our problem with sin.

As Christ is formed within us (Galatians 4:19), a different ‘fear of God’ becomes known, arising from a much more adequate God-consciousness. We become aware of God’s true nature and begin to glimpse His holiness, beauty and goodness. The clearer we see God, the more unthinkable it becomes to sin against Him. Just as we might fear dropping a priceless vase that we own, and take great care when moving it, so we fear doing anything that might show disrespect towards God. This knowledge then turns an immature fear of God (the fear of punishment) to a mature ‘fear’, which is really ‘a labour of love’. God becomes so wonderful in our thinking that we grow to love Him and desire to serve and bless Him. The apostle John wrote, ‘There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love’ (1 John 4:18). According to Proverbs 9:10, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One [God] is understanding.

You also wrote ‘And to suggest evolution and random mutations would be all it took to make murder, adultery or theft acceptable just makes you sound like you don’t truly value human life.’

Surely, if there is no God and there is only matter and energy, we are no more than biochemical machines. As Richard Dawkins put it, we are no more than ‘survival mechanisms—robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.’1 Moreover, if we are just survival mechanisms programmed to preserve our genes, then we are not responsible for our actions.2 Can you imagine a society in which people behave as if this is really true?

Referring to Adolf Hitler, the prominent British evolutionist, Sir Arthur Keith wrote,

“The German Fuhrer, as I have consistently maintained, is an evolutionist; he has consciously sought to make the practice of Germany conform to the theory of evolution.”3

In chapter 4 of Mein Kampf (My Struggle), Hitler argued that Darwinism was the only basis for a successful Germany and, in a party rally in 1933, he proclaimed that “higher race subjects to itself a lower race … a right which we see in nature”.4 It is hard to deny that, in seeking to subjugate Eastern Europe to the ‘superior Aryan race’, and in his attempts to wipe out the Jews, Hitler acted entirely consistently with his beliefs.

It is surely evolution that devalues human life, rather than the Christian belief that we are all made in the image of God.

Kind regards,

Dominic Statham


  1. Dawkins, R., The Selfish Gene, 1989, p. 5. Return to text.
  2. Cashmore, A., The Lucretian swerve: The biological basis of human behavior and the criminal justice system, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107(10):4499-4504, 2010; http://www.pnas.org. Return to text.
  3. Keith, A., Evolution and Ethics, Putnam, NY, USA, 1947, p. 230. Return to text.
  4. Bergman, J., Darwinism and the Nazi race holocaust, Journal of Creation 13(2):101-111, November 1999. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Donar A.
I was raised an athiest and with a strong moral fiber. I do NOT base my morality on Scripture. Id rather defend those I love then turn the other cheeck, I make my own judgement and do not wait for God to, I try to right wrongs around me because I see that as my duty. For all your talk about how great christianity is for morality, the average athiest seems a better person then the average christian. If only for one simple reason, they don't draw God in to defend their own opinions. If they have a problem with say homosexuality, they don't pretend it is because the cosmos thinks it is evil and as proof cite some desert-wandering people from a very different time and society.

Morality as described in the Bible is horrible, sure there are good christians, plenty of them, but they are not good because of their faith. They are good because they make the right moral choices. Athiests (and heathens like myself) do not need God to be good people.
Dominic Statham
I have little doubt that the decency we see in society today exists only because God acts so as to restrain evil. As I mention in my article The myth of neutrality, God only has to lift his restraining hand briefly and millions will die, as was seen in atheist states such as Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China and Pol Pots’ Cambodia. According to the Bible, the world that existed prior to the great Flood was a dreadful place. We’re told of mankind that “every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). The judgement that followed, that destroyed all but eight people, is attested to by hundreds/thousands of Flood legends throughout the world and overwhelming geological evidence of global watery catastrophe.

Christ’s moral teaching is absolutely unmatched, particularly the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7). Unfortunately, western society has now departed so much from Christianity that people no longer understand it. Take your example of turning the other cheek. Christ never intended this to mean that we should not defend our family or friends—or even ourselves. Turning the other cheek is about the heart. The person who turns the other cheek when wronged does not desire revenge. He forgives and loves the person, wanting only their good, and shows mercy. I have little doubt that this attitude has caused many wars and bitter family conflicts to be avoided. If we continue to jettison Christianity we have little hope of this for future generations.

I ask you this: If you were fleeing from the country of your birth, what part of the world would you seek to live in? I suspect it would be a country that had a Christian heritage.

People hate the Old Testament because, in it, we see the wrath of God. God is totally intolerant of sin and the Old Testament makes this very clear, as He commands the Israelites to destroy nations that practice evil. God is a God of love, as was seen in Christ dying to bring us salvation. But God is also a God of justice and those that reject God’s salvation in Christ will face his judgement instead.

The Bible tells us that the heart of man is desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), and the evidence for this can be seen daily—and, indeed, it fills our history books. Mankind desperately needs the Saviour.
Bob H.
To argue that Hitler and Stalin did what they did because of Darwin is ridiculous in the extreme. Hitler and Stalin have been written about extensively but it is only on Creationist web sites that these unsubstantiated allegations are ever made. What possible evidence do you have for this?
Dominic Statham
You'll find plenty of references on our website. See, for example,



Wieland, C., One Human Family, Creation Book Publishers, USA, pp. 66-71, 2011.

The link between Darwinism, Nazism and the Holocaust is the elephant in the room and is ignored.
G. R.
Is this someone's idea of a joke? Christianity does not lead to morality. One is either moral or not via their upbringing and personality. There are many people who claim to be Christians who are most certainly NOT moral.
Dominic Statham
"Christianity does not lead to morality. One is either moral or not via their upbringing and personality." How then do you account for radically transformed lives following conversion to Christianity?

"There are many people who claim to be Christians who are most certainly NOT moral." Unfortunately this is true. However, people who claim to be Christian but behave as if they're not simply demonstrate the emptiness of their profession. Jesus said, "By their fruit you will know them" (Matthew 7:16).
Miki T.
One can be a Darwinist (evolutionist) without adopting irrationality, as with Karl Marx, who considered 'Evolution of Species' to represent dialectical materialism in the field of human origins, but rejected 'survival of the fittest' as social philosophy on account of the fact that humans are endowed with intelligence. That someone like Frederick Nietzsche (a master thinker for Nazism) chose to also accept 'survival of the fittest' was only due to circumstance, to find the 'iron will' (an old notion in German philosophy and politics) to turn the tide against the French, by first 'purifying' the German people. It was class struggle in that the big banks, industry and also intellectuals were Jewish, so a racist populism in like manner as today's 'one percent' harangue led by Joseph Stiglitz could in a different environment bring out, as to who (racially) is this one per cent, or the world's Freemasons controlling everything, etc. So any philosophy can be used to suit the bestial needs of the time, the Hegelian Zeitgeist, and Christianity is no more saintly on this than Darwinism, free enterprise or Marxism.
Dominic Statham
As I understand it, Darwinism wasn't just used to justify Nazi atrocities, but underpinned them in a fundamental way. You say, "any philosophy can be used to suit the bestial needs of the time". It is difficult to see how the view that we are all made in the image of God and, as descendants Adam, are really one human family could have been used to promote Nazi policies.
Vinny R.
While you may disagree with the Catholic Church, fear causing morality is NOT how we think, when we are perfected.
Richard H.
I don't think you'll find any mainstream scientist who claims that so-called social Darwinism would be a pleasant way to govern a society.

The scientific Darwinian theory of evolution is a scientific fact (whether you wish to acknowledge this or not), but that does not mean that scientists (and "evolutionists" as you are so fond of saying) wish that we emulate this particular facet of the natural world in our society structures. So please stop conflating the warped views of dictators on how society should be run with scientific theories of how life develops.

This is exactly the same as when in your eyes, terrorists or fanatics "misuse" religion to commit atrocities.
Dominic Statham
I’m sure you’re right in thinking that most scientists would not want Darwinian principles guiding society. The problem is, if we keep telling everyone that we are the product of a Darwinian process, and that we’re nothing more than bags of chemicals, this is very likely what we’ll get. In order not to repeat the crimes of the Nazi’s, a society raised believing Darwinism must continuously resist that which its belief system implies. Realistically, how long do you think we can keep this up? What we believe about our origins is absolutely foundational to our thinking in all other areas of life.

People believe that Darwin’s theory is scientific, and can explain how microbes evolved into man, because they are fed only the data which at first sight appear to support this view. However, when confronted by the overwhelming evidence against the theory, people can only go on believing it by pushing the facts out of their minds and applying blind faith.
B. T.
I remember the catholics having a term for the issue described in this article: "Imperfect Contrition" (aka "Attrition"). Fear is considered to be the weakest form of belief, as it encourages faith and actions to be governed by self-interest instead of out of compassion, faith, and a rational understanding of both morality and God.

So in response to the UK letter, I would say that organised religion has long considered the issue of faith through fear, and has always disparaged it.
Jack M.
So you're saying that Darwin would have approved of Nazism?
Dominic Statham
Probabably not, but he predicted that evolution would give rise to something similar. In his Descent of Man he wrote that “the civilised races of man [i.e. white caucasians] will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races throughout the world [e.g. the black Africans].”

Jack M.
But why not cite all the historical atrocities that have been founded on misinterpretations of Christian philosophy? The Crusades, the many pogroms against Jews, the Inquisition, the English martyrs on both the Protestant and Catholic sides and many, many more. All of these are as relevant and as irrelevant as Nazism, since they all involve men twisting particular philosophies to support their own self-serving beliefs.
You say evolution was fundamental to Nazi thinking. Even if it was, that does not mean that Nazism is fundamental to evolutionist thinking, any more than Christian thinking is based on the blood libel.
Dominic Statham
In applying Darwinism to humanity and society, the Nazis were acting consistently with their belief system. In fact, they often referred to German society as having sinned against natural selection by allowing inferiors to live and breed. When so-called Christians persecute others, they are acting in a way that is at variance with the teaching of Christ and His apostles.

The number of victims of distortions of Christianity (e.g. the Inquisition) pale into insignificance compared with those of the murderous regimes that have been built upon atheism and evolution—thousands v. millions. The Inquisition, for example, put to death around 3,000 people, fewer than the number murdered by the communist secret police in the first year following the Russian revolution. In the twentieth century, around 100 million were murdered by atheist regimes, fuelled by evolutionary beliefs. (See charles-darwins-impact-the-bloodstained-legacy-of-evolution and images/pdfs/tj/j24_2/j24_2_35-37.pdf.)
Jesse M.
S.A. is only one of many people who wrongly caricature us Christians as people who do good only out of fear. I hear this straw-man attack all the time from skeptics. My question is where did this straw man come from? Why does it exist? It certainly has no biblical or theological basis, and to my knowledge, there are no Christians who do good out of fear. I eagerly await the day when I no longer have to refute this straw man, as I am getting very tired of doing it over and over and over again.
Dominic Statham
My guess is that it originated with those groups claiming to be Chrisitian, but teaching salvation by faith and works, rather than faith alone.
Mark A.
Morality seems incidental to Christianity - what's important is not what you do in life, but what you believe at the moment of death. Hell is not for sinners; it is for unrepentent sinners.

All transgressions will be forgiven (except apostacy), so there is no incentive from Chrsitianity to behave morally - there is the facility do ANYTHING, repent, and you're right with Yahweh. "By their fruits..." makes no sense in light of this "get out of jail free" card.

The vast majority of Christians behave morally DESPITE their religion, not because of it. If Christians didn't believe in Yahweh, would they become solipsistic sociopaths? If so, then I (an atheist) am more moral than they are, and I sincerely hope they stay in their faith.
Dominic Statham
The Bible makes clear that salvation comes to those who believe (Romans ch. 3-5) and that true believers are recognised by their lifestyles (James 2:14-25). Someone who claims to believe but says, “I’ll live as I wish and repent just before I die” shows that they don’t really believe. For example, Jesus taught that living rightly before God is in our own best interests. So, if someone ignores this counsel, they clearly don’t believe the words of Christ. Such people, then, are not of the faith and are not saved.

Jesus also taught that he will return at a time when we least expect it and there may then be no opportunity to repent (see Matthew ch. 25).
Peter H.
Hitler also said.
"Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord."
"My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice... And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.

-Adolf Hitler, in a speech on 12 April 1922 (Norman H. Baynes, ed. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939, Vol. 1 of 2, pp. 19-20, Oxford University Press, 1942)

That was two quotes from a very simple google, its sad that this hitler/stalin were atheists nonsence perpetuates itself on your site, its very easy to see that their were many influences that effected some of the "great dictators" Stalin trained to be a priest for instence. But these are meaningless, both these men and many others were profoundly sociopathic, evil if you will. we could find many Believers and non believers who did imense good, it is meaningless. We are an evolved species, we are obviously still evolving, our fundemental understanding of the mores of society and how we behave towards eachother, the Golden rule if you like, has been built upon through our physical and social evolution, We can point to many recent advances in our social evolution that are not yet universal, Equality of genders for instance or equality of adults irispective of sexuality. Most resistence to equality comes from religious sources, but we continue to grow and socialy evolve in spite of the negative influences. Look back at the history of social progress, you will find that the true leaps in our recent understanding of equality have been made despite the resistence of an overly influentual church, as faiths influence wanes then equality will thrive, Using countries that practice severe cults of personality or worship of party over individual rights will not help your case as these are just equivilents of religion and not secular or free in the public space. Imagine a secular Hitler rather than one with the warped version of faith that existed.

Dominic Statham
Hitler's world-view was based on Darwinism and Stalin's on Darwinism/atheism.

That fact that someone claims to be a Christian does not mean they are one. Jesus said, "By their fruit you will know them" (Matthew 7:16).

Regarding the tremendously positive impact that Christianity has had upon the world, I would refer you to Dinesh D'Souza's book, What's so great about Christianity.

The equality movement suffers from many serious misconceptions. For example, it confuses difference with superiority/inferiority and it fails to realise that not all views are equally valid.
Brian H.
Yes we do value human life. But, not because of the chemical reactions in the body/brain, but because we are commanded to. Because God wants it that way. Because He created us in His image. Maybe S.A. doesn't realize that most people value human life because of God. I believe in we are hardwired to value human life. It is only when we turn our backs on God, and the devil really gets hold of us, that we can become rewired to not value human life.
Tim K.
"I don’t steal or murder people because that is wrong, not because I might be punished for it."

Why in your worldview do you adhere to a code of behavior? Why is stealing or murder "wrong?" Can you answer that without being arbitrary?

Only the Christian worldview provides a consistent and objective basis for a universal moral code. Biblical Christianity provides the basis for right and wrong. The reason that S.A, or any skeptic for that matter, adheres to code of conduct is that they are irrational. They borrow biblical concepts that are contradictory to their own worldview. S.A lives by absolutes, "that is wrong" but denies the only worldview that can justify right & wrong. If a person or society decides it's ok to steal or murder, in an evolutionist's universe what objective basis can we argue from that they are right or wrong? Yet the world for the most part adheres to a universal moral code. The unbeliever is irrational because he believes in things that contradict themselves. Like evolution & biblical morality.
Jack C.
Yes, there is no doubt about the fact that evolutionists are the ones that devalue human life to zero. Either there is a God to provide us with absolute value and the forgiveness of our sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, or there is no God, no absolute value and no forgiveness so everything is relative and just a matter of opinion put forward by computers who happen to have meat instead of metal and other materials for their brains, which are all of no value and random. Take your pick. I prefer the former since the both scientific and historical evidence supports it far better than the dumb evolutionary theory.
Jack M.
Godwin's Law in all its glory.
Dominic Statham
Sometimes, however, it is appropriate to refer to Hilter and the Nazis--as in this case, as evolution was so fundamental to their thinking.
Steve B.
Thank you very much for the response you have made to S.A. from the UK. It is a wonderful example you have given in that you started with who God is and built upon that. It is something we all need to be reminded of at times. May God continue to bless you and may He have mercy on those such as S.A.
Chandrasekaran M.
If we do not fear the Lord Jesus Christ, other fear, like fear of CCTV, will fill in. our lives

People who were killed in holocaust, of course, had fear of Hitler who was following whole heartedly the worldview of molecules to moral man evolution but they did not esteem him. But Hitler himself had fear – a fear that his race would be weakened if he did not struggle. This is what Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik did recently without the fear of God.

But the Bible shows that Jesus seeks a different kind of fear from those who love Him. For example, Jeremiah 33:9, where the Lord says 'It will be to Me a name of joy, praise and glory before all the nations of the earth which will hear of all the good that I do for them, and they will fear and tremble because of all the good and all the peace that I make for it.'

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