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I asked the new super-artificially-intelligent ChatGPT this question: “Can a Christian be moral?” Here’s what the entity immediately spat out:

Yes, a Christian can be moral. Christianity teaches that morality is grounded in the teachings and example of Jesus Christ, and that believers should strive to follow his example and teachings in their own lives. This includes living according to moral principles such as love, compassion, honesty, and respect for others. Many Christians believe that living a moral life is essential to being a faithful follower of Jesus and to fulfilling their purpose in life.

I in turn spat out the following suggested update for the ChatGPT programmers:

Can a Christian be moral?  That question must sound absurd to a Christian, but Christians pose the same absurd question to atheists: Can an atheist be moral?

For the Christian, the absurdity of the question “Can a Christian be moral?” lies in the Christian belief that God is the source of morality and therefore the theist has the best chance of being moral. This too is why the Christian fails to imagine that a non-religious person can be moral.

But religion did not invent morality. The seeds of morality predate religion by tens of thousands of years, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years.

Go back to Darwin and with him acknowledge the sociability of our species, the tendency in natural selection to prefer cooperation in early humanity in order to render our species successful, the gift of inhibitions granted by natural selection to prevent us from killing each other off, the rise of empathy, which was also naturally selected to aid in the ascendancy of our species. All these traits, early infused in early humanity as survival aids, are the origins of moral feeling.

And even the thing we call conscience was bequeathed to us by natural selection. All the sociable species have something like morality at work in them. Humans are not the only animals with a conscience. Dogs, monkeys and apes have a conscience: they experience a mental state of guilt when they are caught doing something wrong, and they evince an attitude of guiltiness in bodily posture, facial expression, and gesture. Just look at your dog when you catch him doing something he knows is wrong. Look at his body, his tail, his face. Your dog has a conscience.

The moral impulse is antique equipment for humanity, much older than religion.

Religion came along later and, yes, religion did become a significant world historical vehicle for the inculcation of morality. That’s true. And we owe religion a nod of thanks for that. But religion did not originate, invent, contrive, or think up morality.

And that’s why the non-religious have always been able to behave morally. The instinct to behave morally and to abide by inbuilt inhibitions is biological, not theological.

Can a Christian be moral?  Well, the Christian has as good a chance as anyone to be moral. But no religion ever inoculated its practitioners from behaving immorally. And so the question remains open.

 Your friend, and source for all college essays, ChatGPT

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J. H. McKenna (Ph.D.) has taught the history of religion since 1999 at the University of California, where he has won teaching awards. He has published in academic journals and the LA Times, Huffington...