Earlier this year, one of my cyberfriends sent me a link to an article saying that atheists were better behaved than Christians.

My friend asked, ‘Why is this? Your observations would be helpful.’

Well, I’ll be darned if I can find the original correspondence or the link, which is unusual for me, as I squirrel everything away for future use. So, my apologies to my correspondent for a late online response (although I recall sending a brief reply at the time). I also apologise for being unable to give you the link to the article he sent.

However, there is an element of truth in this notion.  Furthermore, the atheist loses no time in endlessly pointing out the Christian’s faults.  It happened to me many times with one of my ex-colleagues, over 15 years ago.  Often, it’s a battle a believer cannot win.  At some point, after offering all your apologetic arguments, you just have to ignore the jibes.

That said, I published observations on this subject on July 12, 2010 — ‘The perceived dichotomy between unbelievers and Christians’.  The post discusses Anglican and Catholic perspectives, with the following salient points:

First, an Episcopal priest offered a summary of the dichotomy as the Revd Bernard Tyrrell, a Jesuit, sees it:

While moral conversion is interrelated with religious conversion they are also different. He also includes conversion from addiction and conversion from neurosis. This is why a pagan can be a moral person and a Christian can be an addict …

I think it goes a long way in explaining how people who sincerely believe themselves to be born again Christians can think and behave the way they do. That is why monastics are involved in what is called “conversion of manners”.

Second, another Jesuit, a Fr Lonergan — also named Bernard — explains a three-fold conversion.  A biography featured on the Boston University website says this:

Conversion as Lonergan understands it is three-fold … It is about coming to the realization that one’s knowing is commonly a mixture of two different kinds of knowing, and about the process of learning to distinguish between the two and to discern their proper roles. To this … [add] moral and religious conversion. Moral conversion is the shift from self-satisfaction to value as the criterion of one’s decision-making and action. Finally, Lonergan conceives of religious conversion as a being-in-love in an unrestricted fashion. It is the gift of God’s grace flooding our hearts.

I offered an analysis of these observations as well as of the atheist’s outlook.  What follows is a summary — more at the aforementioned link to my 2010 post (emphases mine):

So, one might say that moral conversion — no sinful excesses — is the individual’s move from self-gratification to love.  In an unbeliever, this would translate as valuing oneself, one’s family and friends as well as one’s neighbour.  A Christian would do the same, but above these would be a love of God informing all of his decisions.  Again, the St Augustine quote: ‘Love God and do as you will’.

Yet, because all of us – Christians or not — are fallen men in a fallen world, some of us struggle with progressing from religious conversion to moral conversion.  Moral conversion for the Christian, however, is not legalism, which follows man’s laws, but a grace-filled love of God which translates towards himself and his fellow man. 

Conversely, unbelievers have a moral conversion without a religious one.  This is why they often ‘look better’ in their social acceptability than a Christian who struggles with substance abuse or sexual addiction

To be an ideal Christian requires a combination of the two.  Unbelievers have only one (moral conversion) and many Christians have only one (religious conversion).  To be regenerate is to have the blessings of both.  It’s the reason why so many Christians say that conversion takes a lifetime.

This is a topic worth revisiting from time to time.  It raises good questions.  I hope that these quotations go some way to answering them.