Are you a good person?

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In discussing the necessity of accepting God and/or Jesus, apologists will often pose the question, "Are you a good person?" The idea is to sow the seeds of doubt in the listener's mind by using the Ten Commandments and play on the fear of eternal damnation to make belief in God more attractive. (See also Pascal's Wager.)

One version of the argument, as used by Ray Comfort for example, goes something like this:

  • Apologist: Do you think you are a good person?
    • Unbeliever: (Does not matter whether they answer yes or no or anything in-between, or even point out the errors in the question or present their own views on how to identify a good/bad person)
  • Apologist: Well, let's find out if you are a good person. Have you ever told a lie?
    • Unbeliever: Well yes, everybody has at some point...
  • Ap: What are you called if you tell a lie?
    • Un: A liar.
  • Ap: Have you ever stolen anything, regardless of its value?
    • Un: A little thing when I was young.
  • Ap: What do you call a person who steals?
    • Un: A thief.
  • Ap: Jesus said that anybody who looked at a women in lust is guilty of adultery in his heart. Have you ever looked at a woman with lust?
    • Un: Well, yeah.
  • Ap: Have you ever used God's name in vain?
    • Un: Yes.
  • Ap: You've taken the name of the God who gave you life as a cuss word and that's called blasphemy.
  • Ap: So, by your own admission, you are a lying, thieving, adulterous, blasphemer, and when Jesus comes again on judgment day, how do you think he's going to treat you? Would you go to heaven or hell?
  • Ap: Now imagine you are in a court standing before the judge. You plead with the judge to have mercy and you point out that you have done many good things in your life, but since he is a righteous judge and you have violated the law, he must punish you. You are found guilty, but then suddenly a man you do not know walks in, approaches the judge and pays your fine. That is what Jesus Christ did for you. He died on the cross, and paid the fine for your sins.

The Apologist may include the following analogy,

  • Ap: If you were flying on a plane and knew it was going to crash and you had a parachute under your seat? What would you do?
    • Un: Put it on.
  • Ap: You wouldn't just believe in it, you'd put your trust in it.
  • Ap: Jesus is that parachute.

The Apologist will then usually proceed to mention how Jesus, in his mercy and love, will forgive us sinners and let us into heaven anyway if we glorify him.

The apologist's goal of the "Have you ever told a lie?" question of this argument is to get the person to call themselves a liar. Should the mark not answer "liar" when the apologist asks the mark "What does that make you?", perhaps answering with "human", or "normal", etc., the apologist will counter with "If I told many lies, what would you call me?", and this usually draws out the word "liar" from the mark.

The lying part is supposedly connected to the 9th commandment; thou shalt not bear false witness. It should also be noted that Ray Comfort has no problem with lying should it suit his purposes. He has 'born false witness' against evolution and atheism on countless occasions knowing that what he was saying to be false.

Different Version of the Ten Commandments

Another, substantially different version of the Ten Commandments appears in Exodus 34:12-26 Bible-icon.png. This latter version is believed by scholars to predate the other two. It is explicitly labeled as "the Ten Commandments" (in Exodus 34:28 Bible-icon.png), whereas the better known version is not:

  1. Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee: But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves:
  2. For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God: Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice; And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods.
  3. Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
  4. The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.
  5. All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male. But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck. All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.
  6. Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.
  7. And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end. Thrice in the year shall all your menchildren appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel. For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the LORD thy God thrice in the year.
  8. Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.
  9. The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God.
  10. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.

These are the original Ten Commandments, the only ones written in stone. As you can see, none of them say anything about lying, thievery, adultery, and such. The Commandments in Exodus 20 God simply spoke of them, but did not call them the "Ten Commandments" nor did he write them down in stone. Apologists dishonestly cherry-pick which version of the Commandments to fit their agenda without providing proper information.


  • Have you ever told a lie in your life? Yes. What does that make you? Ray Comfort.
  • Have you ever told the truth in your life? Yes? Then you're a truth-teller. God loves truth-tellers... Have you ever told a lie? You have? Wow, you really are honest!
  • Being imperfect isn't the same as being evil.
  • The Commandment "Thou shall not lie" is not there. Period. Thou shall not lie is completely incorrect. The correct Commandment is that "thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor." That is, you shall not produce false testimony against your neighbor. Bearing false witness actually has to do with property and dealing in the courts, not just simply lying about someone else.
    • It should be noted that the bible does, in fact, condemn liars in Revelations 21:8. But it doesn't do so in the ten commandments.
  • I once stole some candy as a kid. "What do you call someone who steals?" A thief. Actually, in Christian doctrine called Age of Accountability. It is not explicit in the Bible, but it is implicit and explains even though a child is born in sin, they really cannot be held accountable for their sin. Nice try Ray.
  • Do not take God's name in vain is not simply cursing or shouting "Oh my God" or "OMG." There are verses that explain what counts as blasphemy that Ray Comfort does not tell you. Taking the Lord God's name in vain actually has more to do with false promises and oaths, or more specifically false promises and oaths that have not been kept in the name of Yahweh. See the Oxford Bible commentary and the Jewish Study Bible.
  • "Adultery" in the Bible did not depend on the man's marital status, but the woman's. Bloodline was reckoned through the male. "To adulterate" means to introduce a foreign substance into something, thus adultery meant corrupting another man's bloodline by having sex with another man's wife.
  • All humans perform acts in their lifetimes that could be described as bad, good and every shade of gray in between. The truth is, one action does not define an individual's entire character. Furthermore, this act of "spot judgment" is the very thing the Bible prohibits Christians from doing to others in Matthew 7:1-5 Bible-icon.png, Mark 4:24 Bible-icon.png and Luke 6:37-42 Bible-icon.png.
  • The argument relies on drawing an equivalence between minor imperfections and grave crimes: shoplifting a piece of candy from a store when one was a child is equivalent to robbing a bank as an adult. Because the crime (sin) is against an infinite God, it demands an infinite punishment, regardless of the severity.
  • The words "liar", "thief", etc. apply to those who lie or steal habitually or more than average, or in reference to a specific instance that negatively affected the speaker. To apply the word "liar" to all who have ever lied would not only render the word meaningless, but is a dishonest use of words.
  • In the book of Genesis, Jacob steals from his brother, lies to his father, and is continually rewarded by god.
  • Jesus himself in Mark 11:2-4, Matt 21:2-3, and Luke 19:30-31, Jesus instructs two of his disciples to go into a village - perhaps Bethany. They were to locate a colt tied up near the entrance, and to return with it. If someone stopped them they were to explain that the Lord had need of it. Otherwise, they were simply to steal the colt without paying for it or obtaining permission. Thus, Jesus would be guilty of thievery.
  • Taking the Lord's name in vain to mean cursing is a mistranslation of the 3rd commandment. The more proper translation (seen in many better translations) is takes the name of God in a false oath, or in a vain oath. It is a prohibition against swearing to God falsely, effectively turning the third commandment into grounds on which a trustworthy contract could be made.
  • Bearing false witness against your neighbor is a misinterpretation of the 9th commandment. Most ancient systems of justice were "guilty until proven innocent". After an accusation was made, one would be asked to prove his or her innocence or be punished for the presumed act. If a person could prove their innocence, their accuser would be guilty of false witness and might be put to death. The act of accusing a person of a crime was a more serious one in the past than it is today with our "innocent until proven guilty" standard; the closest analogy would be filing a false police report, rather than simply lying.
  • Looking at a woman in lust is a thought crime. Lust isn't a conscious action, and one is to be punished for human nature.
  • The argument is a poor one to use on atheists since they don't believe that any gods exist and so don't give the opinions and judgments of purported gods any weight at all.
  • An honest person would not answer if he or she was a "good person" as it is an subjective opinion. It would be similar to asking, "Are you a handsome person?" or "Are you an intelligent person?"
  • "What are you called if you tell a lie?" "Well, since everybody lies at some point, I suppose I would be called a human being."
  • "Have you ever looked at a woman with lust?" Think about what this commandment is saying: "God has to punish you because the sex drive He put in you is working properly", which makes absolutely no logical sense. Another rebuttal could be: "Of course I did. If I didn't, I wouldn't have wanted to marry her. How long would the human race surive if people didn't want have sex with each other?"
  • Given the choice between a certain death by plane crash and using a parachute that might save one's life, the rational decision would be to use the parachute. What one believes about the parachute is irrelevant. If someone did not know what a parachute was, then they wouldn't believe it would be useful. Knowledge is always superior to blind faith.
  • A country in which a person was tortured for the rest of their life for a single lie or a thought-crime would be considered absolutely barbaric. A God who uses this sort of penal system is just as barbaric, yet the believers twist their logic and their sense of morality to assume that he is perfect and therefore so is his system. They might argue that he must punish us because he is so perfect and he can't stand one sin. But this makes no sense. A grownup is more civilized than a child, and this doesn't give him reason to punish children more severely. If your teacher is a mathematical genius, that's no reason for her to give you stricter marks than if she was just an average teacher.
  • Brainwashing works by first lowering a person's self-esteem, and then raising them back up. Which is what is done here: make the unbeliever feel guilty and small, then bring out the good news of how Jesus will forgive him anyway. Some sects can use similar tactics to lure unsuspecting people in: Give them a personality test, the results of which supposedly show how completely messed up the person is, then say "Fortunately, we can help you."
  • The biblical God is also guilty of lying (told Abraham that he had to kill Issac, made it appear that Lazarus was dead, etc.), stealing (at least by proxy... See pretty much all of the Book of Joshua), adultery (um... Mary anyone? anyone?) and even murder (everybody really, but of course specifically Canaanites, Amorites, Pretty tough for a "Just Judge" to sentence someone to eternal punishment for sins he himself is guilty of... right?
  • Often, people who use this mantra are basing this on the idea that God will judge one based on the ten commandments. Yet they never ask: "Have you ever worked on a sunday?" Most likely, few of them would consider the latter immoral.

See also

  • Ray Comfort, who often uses this argument has has a problem with the truth himself.
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