Morality debate questions human behavior without God

by Samantha Luhmann

Published in the La Crosse Tribune

A Minnesota atheist and a local pastor will go head to head Sunday and debate whether a person can be good without God.

The La Crosse Secular Student Society and the La Crosse Area Freethought Society will host a morality debate at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to show both perspectives on basic religious questions. The deliberation will feature Dr. Scott McMurray, pastor at Faith United Methodist Church, and August Berkshire, past president of Minnesota Atheists.

Hank Zumach, president of the La Crosse Area Freethought Society, said the series of debates was created because serious, religious questions are often not debated. And if these kinds of questions were discussed, they were likely done in private rather than in public.

“The point of the debate has been to raise these kinds of questions because we’re at a point here in our society where religious groups of one kind or another have been more active than in the past,” he said. “Having these sorts of debates out there gives people an opportunity to see both sides.”

The debates also allow people who are firm in their beliefs to discover why they trust what they trust. People often believe in something because it’s what they learned as a child and they rarely consider the opposing side, Zumach said.

“If you sincerely believe and there’s never been any questions that religion is a positive force in society, why would anybody not believe that?” he said. “Well, there are many reasons why that would be questioned. It’s the opportunity to hear perhaps the other side of what you have been taught or heard your whole life.”

After attending morality debates in the past, McMurray decided to step up and represent the Christian point of view this year. He said he liked the idea of “exchanging ideas in mutual respect” and saw the debate as an opportunity to spread the word of God.

“As a Methodist preacher, you take every opportunity to get a chance to proclaim the Gospel,” he said. “This is what’s led me.”

McMurray will refer to the Bible and present-day issues to argue that people cannot be good with God.

“Can we be good without God is basically impossible to answer,” he said. “We’ve had so much influence by Christian ethics, how can you say I can be good without God when God is everywhere and present in so many things?”

Berkshire, on the other hand, will argue that God isn’t real.

“We evolved as a social species,” he said. “It was to our benefit to cooperate (with each other).”

Berkshire has been a part of the Minnesota Atheists since 1984 and remains an active member of the atheist community. He debated whether God existed during the 2010 morality debate in La Crosse.

“The problem with basing your morality on God is if you lose your God you lose your basis for morality,” he said. “I’m here to say don’t worry about it.”

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