You know that saying about how there are no stupid questions? There are exceptions . . .
This may sound naive, but what keeps an atheist from committing adultery and doing other things that a Christian wouldn’t do because it is a sin?
Where to start?
Let’s begin with the assumption that adultery and other sins are “things a Christian wouldn’t do.”
More troubling than the profound theological error (“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” – I John 1:8), is the smug superiority inherent in the question. Christians are just better than unChristians. We gather on Sunday mornings to celebrate our transcendent nobility, to rejoice that we are not like those unclean folks outside.
This self-deluded attitude lurks wherever Christians gather. We want to believe that “we” are better than “them.”
As many people who responded to the “naïve” questioner pointed out, Christians consistently – and famously – commit adultery and do “other things” just like everyone else.
The truth is that athiests – and agnostics, and Muslims, and Hindus, and Wiccans, and so on – can be, and are, just as “moral” as Christians. Many unChristians I know live lives of compassion and service beyond that of most Christians of my acquaintance. A person’s professed religion, or lack thereof, is not a great predictor of adultery or “other things.” Christian marriages, for example, are just as likely to end in divorce as those of unChristians.
Both inside and outside the church, Christian identity is misunderstood as being – or trying to be – the “good people.” Actually, the opposite is true – Christians confess that we are sinners, not just in the past but in the present and future, over and over again. That’s why we confess that we need – not just needed – forgiveness.
The Quora question illustrates a fundamental error about following Jesus common to Christians and unChristians:
Christians try to do the right stuff because they are scared of God. That is something atheists do not experience. Therefore, Christians behave better.
You can see that assumption not only underlying the question but also in the Quora responses by unChristians:
One of the things that scares atheists about Christians is that it’s often your fear of God that makes you behave.
We choose to behave in an appropriate manner because it’s the right thing to do, not out of fear of going to hell or being denied heaven.
This is something Christians can’t seem to understand, living as they do with big dad in the sky running their lives. You fear punishment
The unfortunate implication of your questions, is that you as as a Christian, only behave because you believe god is watching you. If so, that makes a law abiding or ethical atheist, morally superior to a Christian.
It is true that many Christians, misunderstanding the Gospel, live in constant fear of God’s punishment. Their picture of an angry, judgmental God waiting to smite them leads them to act in angry, judgmental ways toward those who do not believe as they do.
But the truth about following Christ is that we try to act in ways that reflect God’s love because we are loved, not because we fear. God is not waiting to smite us; God has already forgiven us. Comprehending the gracious loving God who suffered and died to show us how much we are loved leads us to act in ways that are gracious and loving, even toward those who do not believe as we do.
Realizing that we receive love and forgiveness as gifts rather than earning them with our obedience leaves no room for superiority, only humble love for God and others.
The Quora question and responses reflect what I have identified before as my biggest misunderstanding when I was an unChristian, unfortunately a misunderstanding many Christians share:
I thought Christians tried to do the right thing and avoid the wrong things because they wanted God to love them and forgive them.
Now I know that followers of Christ try to love God and love their neighbors because we are already loved and forgiven.
And forgiven, and forgiven, and forgiven . . .