Does it matter whether you believe in God, heaven, and hell or conclude that this life is it and we’re pretty much on our own? My dad thought it did. “If people don’t believe in God, what’s to keep them from killing other people and taking what they want?” he asked. And he had a point—some people are held in check only by promise of heaven or threat of hell
A flaw in Dad’s premise, though, is the number of professed believers who still kill and plunder—both as criminal individuals and as warmongering nations. Dad’s philosophy did not take into account the human propensity to rationalize bad behavior—sometimes even justifying violence as a way of pleasing God.
Dad was a kind, generous man, but he let his true-believer mask slip with George once—admitting that, “Even if Mormonism’s not true, it’s a good way to live.” Dad mowed widows’ lawns, hoed weeds, trimmed shrubbery, and hauled away trash—refusing to accept pay beyond a plate of cookies. He put in long hours at the church welfare farm and cannery to help the poor. Besides paying Church offerings, Dad slipped a little cash into the hands of single mothers and other people struggling to make ends meet or to recover from personal disasters like fire. He routinely performed acts of kindness without a certitude that his Mormon faith was true.
While Dad had no problem living the Golden Rule without expectation of eternal reward or punishment, he couldn’t believe that other people will behave well without a carrot/stick motivation— and for some people—that is true. I do wish Dad’s world had been a little larger than his Provo neighborhood. I wish he could have met some of the many people who live benevolently without religious belief.