Acton Institute Powerblog

Taking God Out of Good

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In a world apparently dominated by Christian footwear, a Berlin-based company has come to the rescue of atheists. Atheist Shoes boast a line of footwear that proudly announces the wearer’s lack of faith. The soles of the shoes (not to be confused with “souls”, mind you) state “Ich bin Atheist” (“I am an atheist”). The company  thinks the world needed a “nice, understated way for people to profess their godlessness”, and the founders of the company wanted to help atheists proclaim their unbelief, especially in a world hostile to non-believers (despite the fact that Christians are now among the most persecuted people on the planet right now.)

We’re lucky to live in Berlin, a city where roughly two thirds of the population are atheists, but we’re conscious there are still places where it’s difficult to be godless.


One page of the company’s website is entitled “Taking The God Out of Good“. Noting that atheism is not opposed to being charitable, the page states they just want to do it in a way that doesn’t support any religious charities.

[O]rganised religion has a historical monopoly on ‘good’ and continues to be proud of its ‘do-gooding’, in preach and practice, despite the strong likelihood that it has done far more harm than good in it’s long, yarn-spinning history.

We find this sad. Not only because organised religion survives, scandal after scandal, unscathed, but because the atheists we know are amongst the kindest, most caring people we’ve met, each capable of being moral and good without god stories to show them how.

We want to challenge the lowest-common-denominator view of atheism, to demonstrate that you don’t need god to be good.

The owners of this company understand that business is not simply about making money, but that business has social aspects: employing people, offering a product to consumers, using profit to benefit others. The irony of taking a religious ideal – being charitable to the less fortunate – and putting an atheistic “spin” on it seems lost on the shoe-makers.

However, once one tosses God out of the picture, then “good” is impossible to define. There are no parameters or boundaries, no definitions for “good”. “Good” becomes whatever one decides it to be. While the atheists of this shoe company want to pin scandal and damage on religion, one must accept the fact that the majority of 20th century genocides took place at the hands of atheists: Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and others. These men all cheerfully believed they were doing “good”. And in a world where God is removed from “good”, they were – because they got to define “good”. As Fr. Robert Sirico writes in his book Defending the Free Market: the Moral Case for a Free Economy:

Those who claim that right and wrong have no stable meaning promise to liberate us from old structures, but in reality relativism undermines the rule of law and invites tyranny. Princeton professor Robert George has noted that people who imagine that relativism is the best guarantor of tolerance and freedom of belief couldn’t be more wrong. If everything is relative in matters of morality, how can one make the case against a Stalin or Hitler? Without moral absolutes, would we be able to speak of universal human rights, or
denounce female genital mutilation or child sacrifice, incest or rape? A firm belief in a transcendent moral order is the only guarantee of the “unalienable rights” of all people.

Atheist Shoes wants to have it both ways: a free market to create and enjoy the fruits of one’s labors, but with no acknowledgment of the true source of human creativity. They want to be good and charitable, but only on terms they define. What is to stop them from, in the future, deciding that charitably funding Al Qaeda is good? When you take God out of good, you don’t get a different shade of good. You get evil. Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, knew this:

In the city of man, there is no moral consensus, and without a moral consensus there can be no law. Chairman Mao expressed the alternative well: in his view, morality begins at the muzzle of a gun.

There has never been a case in history in which a society has been able to survive for long without a strong moral code. And there has never been a time when a moral code has not been informed by religious truth. Recovering our moral code – our religious truth – is the only way our society can survive. The heaping ash remains at Auschwitz, the killing fields of Southeast Asia, and the frozen wastes of the gulag remind us that the city of man is not enough; we must also seek the city of God.

Atheist Shoes is the perfect shoe store for Main Street in the City of Man. In the City of God, though, it just isn’t good business.

Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.

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