Here’s a letter I wrote in response to a letter from a close Christian relative. I don’t have the liberty to post his original message, but you can understand enough about what he said by reading my reply:
I am glad that you are trusting your own personal revelation rather than the revelation mass-produced by your church, which is inconsistent with yours. Would that you could find more personal revelations on other things, and that most of what you believe become based on personal choice rather than incidental obedience.
That said, since you are on this road, please accept the following thoughts as gifts to guide you, either to receive new revelations, or confirm old ones.
You are trying to argue that doing good does not change how often you receive god’s gifts. It then follows that even if you do evil, you will still receive the same amount of gifts had you done good instead.
Thus you have effectively taken external blessings out of the morality equation, which I highly applaud. Indeed, the more one’s morality is based on objective effects it has on your own life and on others, the better one can benefit a world with different external criteria: Because of subjective morality, one man’s good is another’s evil, and vice versa. This subjective, supernatural morality, based on standards out of this world, has been the cause of the continued suffering of billions.
But you have brought the external back in to the equation when you asserted that one does good to please an external, subjective, out of this world source. You have thus robbed some of the intrinsic value of doing good, the same value you have given it when you removed external reward as a motive. People who do good for its own sake, who see the action itself as the reward, tend to do more good than those who have external motivations.
There was a study about this in a book called Punished by Rewards. Here is the experiment they performed, in simplest terms. A person loves doing something for its own sake. They introduce external reward into the equation. The person’s love for the action lessened. Even when they removed the reward, the love for that something got even less. This is the reason why turning a hobby into something you do for profit often turns out removing the passion you once had.
Compare the atheist who does good for its own sake to the Christian who does good to receive blessings from God. I’m sure the point of your argument above gives more value to the motive of the atheist. What then is the difference with the case of the Christian who does good to please an external agent?
Compare a son who does good for its own sake with a son who does it to please Mommy and Daddy. With the second son, if you take away Mommy and Daddy’s approval, will he still do good? Maybe, maybe not. But for son no. 1, it was never a factor in the first place. He will continue doing good regardless.
It’s about time that people realize the value of doing good for good’s sake, not for god’s sake.