One of our pastors today preached on Christians and civil law in Romans 13, which is always an interesting if controversial topic. However, the topic started me thinking.
Can a non-religious person act morally? Certainly. Can a religious person act immorally? Again, without a doubt. What, then, is significantly different? I would argue that a religious (i.e. Christian) person is less likely to act immorally. What does government have to do with this?
I think a good example might be the difference between western democracies and communist governments. All the communist governments I can think of work very hard to stamp out religion, or at least keep it hard-pressed under the government's thumb. This results in a society, or at least a government, that is mostly non-religious. The end result? Well, communist governments tend to be hopelessly corrupt, ruthlessly brutal, and ceaselessly paranoid. Is this a consequence of being non-religious or just communist? I suppose it's hard to say, given that the latter is always accompanied by the former.
This isn't to discount corruption in western democracies. There's a degree of corruption in every government, no question. I'd wager that communist governments end up being more corrupt than religiously neutral western democracies.
Not that that's a good argument for religion. I wouldn't find it convincing that the religious are 37% less corrupt than the non-religious (just making up numbers here). If you think about the philosphy, though, there's at least something worth grabbing onto here.
Plato wrote about a farmer who finds a ring that grants the wearer invisibility. With said invisibility, the farmer could commit any misdeed without fear of repurcussion. He could even, if he were clever enough, dethrone the king and set himself up as ruler. Plato wondered what it was that might prevent a man in such a position from acting out on the darker desires of human nature.
I think the religious person, thus, has the advantage there in that there is a moral system instituting a level of control in their life. Fail-proof, no, but it is there nonetheless to deter the religious man from doing whatever he can get away with. What deters the non-religious man from doing whatever he can get away with?
That's it. I'm just thinking out loud, so to speak.