Running errands downtown the other day, I came upon one of those proselytizing billboards. Proselytizing, but not in the usual way. The sign asked, "Good without God?" It was sponsored by the "Chicago Coalition of Reason."
I have to say that the billboard got me thinking, although not in the vein that the question was surely intended to. Instead I was wondering, "Where is Flannery O'Connor when we need her?" She would have found the perfect way to highlight the short-sightedness of the self-evaluation implied in the billboard copy (as well as the image of God and religion).
The humanists behind the billboard are trying to overcome the negative stereotypes of atheism--but relying on a stereotype of religion worthy of Miss O'Connor herself: the image of religion that sees itself as the exclusive arena for all things "true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy" (Phil. 4:8) and condemns or dismisses any such quality that might be found outside of the visible confines of the fold.
Not that the members of the "Coalition of Reason" aren't truly upright, fine people by every typical measure. St. Paul (Rom. 2: 13-15) himself wrote about people who, without the Torah, live by a Torah in their hearts. But uprightness apart from "religion" does not disprove the existence and praiseworthiness of transcendent Goodness.
And ultimately, that is what "religion" is all about: the love and praise of the source of all Good, by whom we can even have some inkling of the good in the first place.