Is it Necessary to Believe in God to be an Ethical Person?

Many Christian evangelists think that if belief in God declines, there will be social chaos, crime and disorder. Michael Gowens, in his book Ready to Answer, states that disbelief in God “produces, first of all, moral collapse and degeneracy. . . . The resulting social chaos will eventually destroy that society. Excessive violence and crime, unrestrained sexual perversion, drug addition, child abuse, abortion, and virtually every form of debauchery and decadence known to man will eat away at the foundations of life until the civilization like Ancient Rome, will crumble.” (Lexington, Ky: Sovereign Grace Publications, 2011, p. 59). A video from a Harvard professor states that “if you take away religion, you can’t hire enough police.” (https://www.huffingtonpost. com/ronald-a-lindsay/atheism-leads-to-moral-de_b_6423018.html.)

It seems important to find whether this is true because, offhand, there are many societies as well as religions that do not believe in God. Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Bhutan, for example, which have large populations of non-theistic Buddhists, have remarkably low crime rates.

A useful source to find out if such a hypothesis is true are the crime statistics of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Here are the incidences of murders in four countries that are overwhelmingly Catholic and Protestant: There are 9.84 murders per 100,000 population in the Philippines, 26.74 in Brazil, 57.15 in Venezuela, and 108.64 in El Salvador. How about countries who generally do not believe in a God, either because of atheism, agnosticism or Buddhism? The crime rate of Hongkong is just 0.3 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, while Japan has 0.31.

In 2005, an American sociologist, Phil Zuckerman, went to and stayed in Scandinavia for 14 months and made a study of the relationship between belief in God and quality of life in Denmark and Sweden. He published his findings in a book entitled Society Without God. The reason he chose Denmark and Sweden was that they were “probably the least religious countries in the world, and possibly in the history of the world.” A 20-year old grocery clerk in Jutland, Denmark, told the author: “Young people think that religion is kind of taboo. As a young person, you don’t say, ‘I‘m a Christian and I‘m proud of it.’ If you do that, you often get picked on.” This is in spite of the fact that three-fourths of the people in Denmark nominally belong to the official Church of Denmark with is Lutheran.

The first thing that the author noticed when he came to Scandinavia was that there were no policemen anywhere. In Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark, he saw the first cop only after 31 days of staying. “In Aarhus, the violent crime rate there is among the lowest in the world for a city of that size. For example, in 2004, the total number of murders in the city of Aarhus was one.” Compare this to cities of similar population size: Victoria, Mexico, has 293 murders in 2006, St. Louis in the US had 188, and Vitoria da Conquista in Brazil had 208.

Zuckerman listed various facets of the social condition of Denmark and Sweden as compared to the rest of the world. He wrote:

“Despite their relative secularity, Denmark and Sweden are not bastions of depravity and anarchy. In fact, they are just the opposite: impressive models of societal health.”

Based on the United Nations Human Development Index of 2006, Sweden ranked 5th among 175 countries listed, Denmark was 15th. In terms of Gross Domestic Product per capita, Denmark ranked 4th and Sweden 8th in the world. In terms of absence of corruption, Denmark is 4th and Sweden is 6th in the world. Their crime rates are among the lowest in the world. (In 2016, Denmark has a crime rate of 0.99 per 100,000 people, while Sweden has only 1.15, compared to the rates mentioned above.) How about happiness of the people? Based on a study of Erasmus University, Denmark ranked number one in happiness among 91 countries.

Zuckerman wrote: “The fact is, the majority of the most irreligious democracies are among the most prosperous and successful nations on earth.”

All these studies show that it is not necessary to believe in a God in order for a society to live peacefully and ethically.

A recent study by Pew Research Center shows a clear correlation between national economic progress and their view that belief in God is necessary for people to be ethical. Those who rank highest in the view that in order to be good, belief in God is necessary, rank lowest in terms of economic development, such as Ghana, Pakistan, Jordan, Nigeria, Uganda, Indonesia, Philippines, etc. Those who rank low in this view, that is, they believe one can be good without belief in God, are among the most progressive in the world: Australia, Canada, France, Britain, Germany, Japan, etc.

Research and statistics do not therefore support the view that societies that do not believe in God or religion would fall into chaos and depravity. The opposite seems to be true. The least religious nations are the ones who rank high in important benchmarks of an ideal society: high income, low crime rate, well-established democratic institutions, high in gender equality, low in mortality rates, and high in the happiness scale.

Albert Einstein wrote: “A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.”

Author J. K. Rowling similarly wrote: “It is perfectly possible to live a very moral life without a belief in God, and I think it’s perfectly possible to live a life peppered with ill-doing and believe in God.”

Pope Francis has similarly stated that even atheists can go to heaven provided that they are good or ethical persons.

Who Are We?

There are two kinds of knowledge that are most important in life: knowledge about the world, and knowledge about the self. In the long run, the second one is the more significant. Without self-knowledge, we will just be carried away by the pressures of the outer world. With self-knowledge, we are able to determine our own destiny. Laozi wrote: “He who knows others is wise, he who knows himself is enlightened. He who conquers others is strong, he who conquers himself is powerful.”

Gurdjieff wrote: “Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.”

How do we start in our quest for self-knowledge?

First, we need to realize that we are not just this physical body. Materialists say that there is no soul, and that our thoughts and feelings are just the byproducts of our physical brain. When we die, it’s the end, there is nothing else.

Evidence shows that this is not the case. We have higher levels of consciousness quite independent from our physical body. Scientific studies have demonstrate this, such as in near-death experiences. This has been affirmed since the ancient times in mystical and religious traditions, whether Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, or Jewish Kabbalism. St. Paul speaks of the triune distinction of the body, soul and spirit. St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of the three kinds of souls, the vegetative, the animal and the rational. But what is important is that these can be validated by our own personal experience. Let us look through them:

1. Next to our body, there is an etheric body or etheric double which can separate itself from the physical body at certain times, such as during near-death experiences. Doctors all over the world have reported authenticated cases of people who had no pulse or breath, and yet these people found themselves floating above their bodies able to see and hear what was going on. This double is the vehicle for prana or qi energy that flows through the meridians and which can be manipulated by acupuncture. The energy emanation of this body can be photographed using Kirlian photography. When it is seen by the human eye, it is described as the human aura.

2. Finer than our body and etheric double is our emotional nature, sometimes called desire body. This is the center of our feelings. It is closely connected with the etheric double, such that when we feel a feeling, energy in the etheric double surges up. For example, when we are angry, we feel this energy in our head, chest and hands.

3. Then we have a mind that has two parts: (a) the lower mind, which is also called the concrete mind. Thoughts on this level have images, sizes, colors or shapes. They are closely connected with feelings, and hence are part of our personality. (b) the higher mind or abstract mind. This is capable of understanding concepts that are abstract such as infinity or square root. This level of thinking is impersonal, and transcends what we personally like or dislike.

4. Above the mind is our transcendent consciousness. This level of experience has been described by thousands of people who have attained it since the ancient times till today. It is called mystical experience. Christians call it contemplative or spiritual consciousness, Buddhism and Hinduism call it prajna or buddhi. Many great people, whether religious or non-religious, have reported to have attained this, such as Alfred Tennyson. The psychologist Abraham Maslow called this self-transcendence.

5. Universal Consciousness. This level is spoken of by many mystics but few appear to have attained it. It is called Nirvana by Buddhists, Union by Christians, fana by Sufis and Moksha by Hindus. It entails the dissolution of the ego and the merging into one of the individual consciousness and the cosmos.

The above divisions help us in understanding many important things, such as the explanations to paranormal phenomena, such as healing, apparitions, life after death, etc. It also shows us what is our higher potential as a human being, which is the awakening of these higher inner potentials within us. It enables to gain self-mastery and thus be able to attain our life goals.

The Benefits of Meditation

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Many large companies today in the United States, Japan and other countries, are encouraging their employees to learn meditation or mindfulness. One example is Google. Why? Because they found that their employees become more productive, focused and less stressed. According to the website SOS, “a 1993 study conducted in four companies in the United States and Japan showed that regular practice of meditation among employees resulted in significant improvements in job satisfaction, efficiency and productivity, as well as in work and personal relationships. Who can argue with a technique that offers such excellent benefits to both the individual and the corporation?” Steve Jobs of Apple had been practicing meditation for many years and had influenced many other CEOs among US corporations. An article in the Harvard Business Review states that “research has shown that meditation can decrease anxiety, which allows practitioners to be more resilient and handle stress better.”

More than being productive in work, meditation has important effects in one’s life. It makes us aware of our true life directions and we notice thoughts, reactions and behaviors that are not aligned to such basic directions. We do not get carried away by the patterns of our past habits and the pressure of our environment. We thus are able to live a more meaningful life. The deeper purpose of meditation is to be able to attain the highest potentials of our growth. It is what is called self-actualization or self-transcendence by the psychologist Abraham Maslow. It enables a person to enter into the mystical stages of human growth to our highest level of maturity.

How do we practice meditation? There are a number of well-known classic meditational approaches. Their  basic principles are essentially similar. Below is one standard method:

1. Start with twenty minutes of self-awareness each day, preferably in the morning upon waking up. Sit cross-legged on your bed or sit on a chair at a location of your choice where you will not be disturbed by people coming and going.

2. Keep your spine straight; breathing normal; with eyes closed or half-open.

3. Be aware of your body and check whether there is any discomfort or tension. If there is, then feel it and allow it to relax when you breathe out. When the body gets relaxed, you will notice that your emotions also calm down naturally.

4. Then be aware of your breathing. As you breathe in, mentally count “one.” When you breathe out, mentally count “two.” Breathe in, count “three,” breathe out, count “four.” Continue counting up to “ten,” after which start again from “one.”

5. When your mind gets distracted by other thoughts, just return to the counting. If the mind goes away a hundred times, then be aware of it and just gently return to the counting a hundred times. Later you will notice that it will get less and less distracted. While you are meditating you will notice that there is an inner space in our consciousness that has no boundary. This space is awareness itself, something that we usually don’t notice.

6. When you end the meditation session, try to sustain this inward awareness for a minute or so while you are back to normal activity.

After you have practiced meditation for a week or two, you will notice a difference in the way that you interact with the world and with people. You are no longer as reactive to things as before, and you will tend to respond in a more calm and balanced way. You will be less prone to anger and less impatient. You will be more capable of spontaneous joy.