The Moral Outrage of the Unbeliever

By Robin Schumacher

Originally posted on

Without a doubt, there's been a large amount of furious indignation aimed at various Kentucky clerks who have refused to issue same sex marriage licenses. A lot of anger has been directed at the idea of the law being broken, yet as Michael Brown rightly points out, those same voices didn't seem to mind when other government officials broke laws that favored their position on the matter.

Lawbreaking, it seems, is OK as long as you disagree with the particular law in question.

But beyond this double standard is something else worth investigating: the moral outrage in general expressed by non-Christians over this and similar ethical matters (e.g. abortion). Those lining up on any anti-Christian side feel absolutely justified in their position, firmly believe they are on the side of fairness, and are convinced that they are fighting injustice.

Are they correct? They definitely think so and have no issue decrying hate yet hating supposed "haters," fighting intolerance by acting intolerant towards those they think are intolerant, and discriminating against those they think discriminate.

For a recent example you needn't look any further than the Denver city council who feel justified in stopping a Chick-fil-A from opening at the city's airport because of Dan Cathy's long-ago and simple statement of believing in traditional marriage. Never mind that no proof of any discrimination at Chick-fil-A has ever been shown to exist.

The anatomy of this and other such moral muddiness is actually easily explained Biblically with parallels clearly being evident between what Jesus encountered in His day and what we see in ours.

A Moral Handicap

It's humbling to understand that we all start out life in a morally crippled state.

The Bible says we all enter existence dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1), are "by nature children of wrath" (Eph. 2:3), "hostile in mind" towards God (Colossians 1:21), possess a "depraved" (1 Timothy 6:3-5), "futile" (Ephesians 4:17) and "defiled" mind (Titus 1:15), one that is blinded by the enemy (2 Corinthians 4:4) and does not seek God (Romans 3:10-12), is unable to submit itself to God's ways (Romans 8:6-7), sees the plan of salvation as stupid (1 Corinthians 1:18), and cannot understand God's truth (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Martin Luther describes our original moral compass as having "an inclination to evil, a disgust at the good, a disinclination toward light and wisdom, it is love of error and darkness, a fleeing from good works and a loathing of them, a running to what is evil". [1]

Jesus referred to this moral inability when He said simply to his opponents: "Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word" (John 8:43, my emphasis).

Being created in God's image and having God's Law imprinted on our lives while at the same time possessing a morally handicapped mind and heart results in a defective ethical engine. The concepts of justice and right/wrong exist, yet they are aimed away from God and instead are directed towards satisfying the self and the sinful desires within it.

The moral will, apart from God's renewal, is exactly as John Wesley describes: "Such is the freedom of the will; free only to evil; free to drink iniquity like water; to wander farther and farther from the living God, and do more despite the Spirit of grace!" [2]

Thus, the moral complaints that erupt from within that framework are naturally askew.

A Bad Family Tree

We all begin life with not only a morally deficient mind and heart, but also a bad family lineage and taskmaster.

When Jesus confronted His enemies who were riding the wrong moral high horse, He said to them: "You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44).

Of course, few of us ever felt that we were in a position where we needed to "escape from the snare of the devil" and were "held captive by him to do his will" (2 Timothy 2:26), but Jesus and His Word clearly state that's the original position of all of us who at one time or another opposed God's moral Law.

As Christians, we now have a new Father (Galatians 4:6) with Him having "rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son" (Colossians 1:13) so that we see moral issues as God does. By contrast, those who opposed Jesus' teaching do so for this reason: "You do not believe because you are not of My sheep" (John 10:26).

A False Moral Grounding

There's no question that passions (sometimes in the extreme) exist in the non-Christian for the moral positions they assume. There's also passion in the Christian for the ethical stances they hold. What's the difference?

First, as I've discussed elsewhere, the non-Christian has no objective foundation for their morality. It's not that they need God to act morally [3], but without Him, there is no basis for objective moral standards and duties.

This fact is not up for debate as various atheists such as Kai Nielsen have pointed out:
We have been unable to show that reason requires the moral point of view or that really rational persons need not be egotists or classical amoralists. Reason doesn't decide here. The picture I have painted for you here is not a pleasant one for me and reflection on this actually depresses me. Pure, practical reason even with the good knowledge of the facts will not take you to morality." [4]
This leaves the non-Christian to their own personal opinions or prevailing cultural mores to draw their always-changing moral lines in the sand. Such is not the case with the Christian who points to a never-changing God and His Word for deciding right from wrong.

Second, the passion the non-Christian has is driven by self and a strong craving to satisfy their desires whereas the Christian is driven by their passion for God and a longing to see His true justice done.

Jesus encountered this same spirit in His enemies whom He scolded for "teaching as doctrines the precepts of men" (Matthew 15:9) and for their selfish longings that detoured them away from carrying out God's real moral Law (e.g. Mark 7:10-13).

A Vindictive Spirit

The last distinction between the moral outrages expressed by non-Christians and Christians is that the first almost always exhibits a vindictive spirit that seeks to destroy those who oppose it. Moreover, this vengeful attitude celebrates the destruction of its enemy and applauds when their businesses are closed, onerous fines are levied, and imprisonments occur.

By contrast, the Christian desires repentance and a restoration of their enemy that leads to a better life — the one that God intends for them. Sadly, not all Christians have acted in this manner but such is the pattern of Scripture, which is modeled by God who reached out to us in love and reconciled us to Himself even "while we were enemies" (Romans 5:10).

The New Testament showcases this contrast between the vindictive and conciliatory spirits well with Jesus' enemies brutalizing and murdering Him while He, on the cross, appealed to His Father for their forgiveness.


Peggy Noonan perfectly characterized today's culture when she wrote that "as we've gotten more open-minded we've gotten more closed-hearted" and her warning of "watch out what you celebrate" is spot on as well. [5] The "celebration" aspect is particularly poignant as society is now at a point of forcing Christians to directly participate in anti-Biblical behavior — the motivation for which is explained well by philosopher J. Budziszewski: "Those who rationalize their sins find it to be so much work that they require other people to support them in it." [6]

The outrage of the unbeliever and of the Christian seems similar at a superficial level, but the truth is they couldn't be more different. One operates from a morally damaged mind and heart whereas the other functions with a renewed mind/heart provided by God's grace. One is in the bonds of the enemy and has a passion fueled by the self while the other is a slave to God's righteousness and has zeal to see His will accomplished. Lastly, one seeks the destruction of its enemy while the other genuinely seeks reconciliation and God's good will for its opponent.

These distinctions will become increasingly apparent as our society pushes more towards commanding evil vs. merely permitting it. Just as a Christian's civil disobedience must manifest when a government moves from permitting abortion to commanding that abortions be performed after a family exceeds a certain "limit" so will a Christian also disobey the government when it forces his or her participation in unbiblical moral situations.

When that refusal occurs, the outrage of the "open-minded" unbeliever will arise with fury, ignore its schizophrenic ethnical reasonings, and demand swift and severe punishment for those trespassing against it. Behind it is the same spirit that pursued Christ.

Although it may celebrate its temporary victory as Christ's enemies did for three days, ultimately it is destined for the same crushing defeat. Maranatha!

1. Sproul, R.C.; What is Reformed Theology?: Understanding the Basics; Baker Books; 2005; pg. 124.

2. Wesley, John; The Sermons of John Wesley; Sermon 9: The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption"; Wesley Center for Applied Theology; 1999.

3. The Apostle Paul makes it clear in Romans 2 that all have God's moral law ingrained within them.

4. Nielsen, Kai; "Why Should I Be Moral?" American Philosophical Quarterly 21 (1984): 90.

5. Noonan, Peggy; "You'd cry too if it happened to you"; Forbes Magazine; September 14, 1992.

6. Colson, Chuck; "Shuttind Down Free Speech"; July 25, 2007.

Published 9-9-15