From the comment box:
It is all very well to say that without God there is no real morality. But even introducing God does not solve the problem entirely. Are things good because God commands them? Or does God command them because they are good?
Either option throws up problems for the traditional Christian understanding of God.
There are a couple of problems with this analysis: Last one first– the author does not explain what he means by ‘the traditional Christian understanding of God.’ The traditional Christian understanding of God is very complex. It has been developing for 2000 years of meditation by Christian mystics, saints and theologians. I suspect what the author means by ‘traditional Christian understanding of God’ is really the traditional misunderstanding of what Christians believe about God. The traditional misunderstanding is held by many who call themselves Christians and it is held by even more people who do not call themselves Christians, but who have had some sort of Christian input in their lives at some point. So until we actually know what the author means by ‘the traditional Christian understanding of God’ we can’t really answer the question fully.
The first problem stated here is linked with the first problem as stated in the author’s question: “Are things good because God commands them or does God command them because they’re good?” With respect to the commenter, who wrote in a very civil and polite manner, this does evidence a rather simplistic understanding of the relationships between God and goodness.
Neither of the propositions are right. God does not command good things because they’re good, neither are they good because God commands them. Instead what is good flows from the very nature of God himself. God is good. It is who God is. It is what God is. What we call ‘good’ is not so much an action or the obedience to a particular command, but it flows from a state or condition of God’s Being.
God commands us to love (for example) not because God thinks it’s a good thing for us to love others and neither is love a good thing because God says so. Love is good because God is love and God is good. It is all part of his nature. He commands us to love as the sun produces light. The love he commands is good as light gives life to the world.
Christian morality is simply the particular application of the force theologians call Love–which flows from God and which is the energy force that actually binds together the three persons of the Trinity. This Love which flows from God and is commanded by God is the energy and driving force and reason and rationale and ground of all particular Christian morality.
So all the Christian commandments: most of all to Love God and Love our Neighbor–flow from the existence and Being of God. All other particular Christian rules and regulations are only the application and out working of this greater cosmic force of love. The applications become very specific. They have to do with what we do with our money, what we do with our bodies, how we treat others, what we do about sex, how we treat the poor, how we treat the weak and vulnerable etc etc etc. It even comes down to things like honesty, good manners, being polite, being tolerant and all the other social graces we expect in a civilized society.
So does ‘introducing God’ solve the problem? This is the wrong way around. Christians don’t ‘introduce God’ to solve a problem. We say God was there first, and everything else flows from that. What it means to be human, what it means to love another human, how we behave as humans toward one another: all of that is determined by the pre existent nature of God himself (who is pure outgoing, creative and unconditional Love) Because we are created in His image and destined to find our ultimate fulfillment in Him, this means we are destined–programed if you like–to become more like Him. That is why he commands us to do certain things–not to be good as if there was something intrinsically right in his commands–but to become (through our obedience to his commands) more like him, and therefore fulfilled and completed as human beings.