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A Minnesota atheist and a local pastor will go head to head Sunday and debate whether a person can be good without God.

The La Crosse Secular Student Society and the La Crosse Area Freethought Society will host a morality debate at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to show both perspectives on basic religious questions. The deliberation will feature Dr. Scott McMurray, pastor at Faith United Methodist Church, and August Berkshire, past president of Minnesota Atheists.

Hank Zumach, president of the La Crosse Area Freethought Society, said the series of debates was created because serious, religious questions are often not debated. And if these kinds of questions were discussed, they were likely done in private rather than in public.

“The point of the debate has been to raise these kinds of questions because we’re at a point here in our society where religious groups of one kind or another have been more active than in the past,” he said. “Having these sorts of debates out there gives people an opportunity to see both sides.”

The debates also allow people who are firm in their beliefs to discover why they trust what they trust. People often believe in something because it’s what they learned as a child and they rarely consider the opposing side, Zumach said.

“If you sincerely believe and there’s never been any questions that religion is a positive force in society, why would anybody not believe that?” he said. “Well, there are many reasons why that would be questioned. It’s the opportunity to hear perhaps the other side of what you have been taught or heard your whole life.”

After attending morality debates in the past, McMurray decided to step up and represent the Christian point of view this year. He said he liked the idea of “exchanging ideas in mutual respect” and saw the debate as an opportunity to spread the word of God.

“As a Methodist preacher, you take every opportunity to get a chance to proclaim the Gospel,” he said. “This is what’s led me.”

McMurray will refer to the Bible and present-day issues to argue that people cannot be good with God.

“Can we be good without God is basically impossible to answer,” he said. “We’ve had so much influence by Christian ethics, how can you say I can be good without God when God is everywhere and present in so many things?”

Berkshire, on the other hand, will argue that God isn’t real.

“We evolved as a social species,” he said. “It was to our benefit to cooperate (with each other).”

Berkshire has been a part of the Minnesota Atheists since 1984 and remains an active member of the atheist community. He debated whether God existed during the 2010 morality debate in La Crosse.

“The problem with basing your morality on God is if you lose your God you lose your basis for morality,” he said. “I’m here to say don’t worry about it.”


(21) comments

David Jarzemski

Mike Hammer, since the Eternal God created all, we would not be here without Him.

Mike Hammer

No need to convince me, David. I am quite aware of Our Creator.

I am also painfully aware that certain Christians do far more harm than good when they identify their faith and quickly break out the beating stick to bring others into compliance.

When the day comes that you are in front of The Father , things may go very badly for you unless you discover a way to trade in the love of Christ for the venom of religion.

The spirit of religion is demonic and has led to the death of countless humans and turned many away form Christ. I've been in your shoes and all I can say is "there but for the grace of God go I"

Try this book for starters:

Mike Hammer

"debate whether a person can be good without God."

Not much of a debate. There are atheists that are exceptional human beings and will give you the shirt off their back. I will happily concede that point with or without a publicized debate.

A better question would be "whether a person is whole without God". My personal experience suggests otherwise, but I am wise enough to realize my blathering isn't going to convince anyone of anything. My hope is that those that have erased God from their lives experience Him at some point while they are still here to enjoy it.

David Jarzemski

777 Rebel, the reason non believers keep trying to justify their non belief is actually quite simple:

They know there is an Eternal Being who created all, seen, and unseen, but they have closed their mind to that ultimate Truth.

The clock had a creator. Ditto all physical existence had a Creator God. Case Closed.

Mike Hammer

What does "case closed" mean? Everyone has to shut up and return to their corner?

Being closed-minded can emerge in many forms.

"You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."


David, I never knew that you had acquired mind-reading powers. Knowing what's in the minds of everyone must be quite a burden.....;-) ;-)

777 Rebel

Here we go again-- a bunch of people flapping at the jaw, feverishly typing as fast they can telling us why we shouldn't believe in something that they don't even believe exists. If God doesn't exist why do you have to work so hard in trying to persuade us? Go on your way and quit taking a few select verses of the bible out of context. By the way, there is something called the New Testament that removes old Jewish laws because of a sacrifice of someone called Jesus Christ... I know you like to select the most intriguing verses from the Old Testament and try to build your case of a hateful God, but when you KNOW the entire Bible and understand the love that has been displayed by Christ (which is what CHRISTianity is...) then maybe I will read your blogs with some seriousness. Napoleon--I see that you don't include TRUE Christians like Billy Graham to your list of 'religionists' do realize the difference between true Christianity and religion don't you? Actually you don't.

Maybe You're Wrong

I agree that the jaw flapping is a waste of time, from BOTH sides of this debate. Some atheists tend to impose their non-belief on those who believe by banning and obstructing Christians (primarily) from practicing their beliefs and customs. At the same time, the true believers attempt to impose their morals and beliefs upon those who may not share those beliefs, e.g. laws dealing with gay marriage, abortion, sales of cars on the sabbath, alcohol consumption. The jaw flapping won't stop because the interference from either side hasn't stopped. Now add Mormons, Scientologists, Muslims, Jews, Hari Krishna, Buddhists, Hindus, Jehovah's Witnesses, Rastafarians, Sikhs, Pagans, Santerians, Jainists and every other variation of each of these interfering and arguing one with the other seeking to prove how wrong the others are. What a gigantic waste of time, energy, intellect and ironically, peace. Practice your beliefs or non-beliefs and respect other's right to practice theirs.


>>>Some atheists tend to impose their non-belief on those who believe by banning and obstructing Christians (primarily) from practicing their beliefs and customs.<<

Blatantly untrue. Non-religious people in this country have never even tried to prevent religious people from practicing their religion on their own time or on their own property.

Many people who support the separation of church and state have worked towards keeping government institutions (schools, courtrooms, etc.) from promoting or giving preferential treatment to certain religions (mostly Christianity). That is what the Establishment clause of the 1st Amendment is all about.

It's simple. You don't get to make your religion the only religion in a public school, or courthouse, or public park, or any other government-run place. If you refrain from doing this, then you won't have any conflict with anyone of a different religion or any non-religious person.

Maybe You're Wrong

"Blatantly untrue. Non-religious people in this country have never even tried to prevent religious people from practicing their religion on their own time or on their own property. "

'Blatantly' untrue? NEVER? I chose the word obstruct specifically because there are non-religious people and organizations who dedicate their entire existence to this. We routinely see Annie Laurie Gaylor and her organization in the news filing lawsuits because someone has dared to stack some bales of straw, light up a plastic baby doll and place some plywood cutouts in a public park (after obtaining permission) during Christmas. Where is the harm in it?

You'll contend the First Amendment says government cannot promote this; i.e. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...". I AGREE but there is more. They may not stop it either (according to the same amendment); i.e. "...or prohibiting the free exercise thereof".


Maybe You're Wrong (below), if the State is allowing ONLY Christian displays in public parks, then that is unconstitutional. That is the "harm" you're looking for. The State has to allow everyone to make displays in the public park. Equal rights and equal opportunities for all.

The "free exercise" of religion refers to what people do on their own time, on their own property, or on other private property (like a church), or on certain publically-owned property (as long as it's also open to other religions).

Bastiat Boy

They are actually called "Devil-Worshipers". They are frightened to death of Christians as they should be.


LOL.....kind of like a crucifix to a vampire? Wolfsbane or a silver bullet to a werewolf?


The question is, how can you be moral and follow a genocidal slaving torturing god and be good? At least as an atheist or agnostic you have a chance to be moral.

Let me take a minute and worship the "Savior" that plans to torture billions of people for all eternity for not worshiping him enough and I will become a better person??? I don't think so.

I left Christianity because Jesus was too evil for my morals. I refused to worship an evil god that tortures even one person but Jesus plans to torture untold billions.

Good thing is the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are imaginary but to bad foolish people try to make themselves over in his vicious image.

Numbers 31:17-18 "Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man."


"I left Christianity because Jesus was too evil for my morals. I refused to worship an evil god that tortures even one person but Jesus plans to torture untold billions."
Your take on Jesus, hell and eternity comes from a very conservative base. This is not the interpretation of most Christians.
There is nothing in scripture that points to Jesus as vicious.


Mark 11:12-21......Jesus is hungry and finds a fig tree, but the tree bears no fruit. Jesus curses the tree and it withers and dies.

Sounds pretty vicious to me..... ;-)


This passage from Mark is certainly not meant to be taken literally. It is part of a parable involving activities that took place the week before Jesus was crucified. This one sentence signifies many different things, too many to put in this post. If you are interested in learning the true meaning of this passage go to


Kindessmatters (below), how do you know that the passage I cited should not be taken literally? That's just your personal interpretation of the New Testament, is it not? If the fig tree story is just a parable, then all other stories about Jesus are parables, too.....correct? The miracles, the ressurrection.....yes??

There are plenty of Christians who would say that Jesus DID curse the fig tree. They would say that everything Jesus did in the New Testament should be taken literally, because it really happened (because Jesus is God, you know, and Jesus/God can do anything).

In Matthew, Jesus curses the fig tree, and it withers at once. In Mark, it takes a full day for the tree to wither. Why the contradiction? Someone is getting his story mixed up.

This is why Christianity is considered to be fraudulent. You all interpret these ancient stories differently. None of you know what happened 2,000 years ago, so you just make it up as you go along.

Bill O'Rights

Kindnessmatters--OH? Are you saying that there is a site which factually informs us of which Bible verses are to be taken as untrue and which are to be taken as undeniably true? Which are metaphors and which are not?

It would be good if you can also inform us of which denominations have endorsed the "facts" stated at the site. Then we will know which are proper Christian denominations and which are teaching falsehoods.

Maybe You're Wrong

Christianity is not the only religion which men have perverted to justify evil against others. Although you cite several which are specific to the Bible, some Islamists have done the same with the Quran and various Pagan religions throughout the ages have used torture and human sacrifice.

Humans do things for their own reasons. If a man is a self-serving sociopath or has some egomaniacal tendencies, that man will act in accordance with those tendencies whether they are Christian or not. Those tendencies have generally been described as 'evil'.

Laws, whether recorded in religious text or legal text, are written (in theory) to protect society. Evil men throughout time have twisted such laws and used them to injure individuals and groups for their own self-interest; money, power, love, lust, pride... What disillusions some is 'God' permits this to happen.


Actually, godlessness is a prerequisite for morality. Just go read the 'holy' books of the world's two most common religions--you'll find some nasty nasty stuff! We've all followed the antics of the Muslims, the pedophile priests, polygamist crazies like Warren Jeffs, the Westboro Baptist Church, David Koresh, Jim Jones, ... yeah, religionists, that's some morality ya got there!

"Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones."--Psalms 137:9

"Go up, my warriors, against the land of Merathaim and against the people of Pekod. Yes, march against Babylon, the land of rebels, a land that I will judge! Pursue, kill, and completely destroy them, as I have commanded you," says the LORD"--Jeremiah 50:21-22 NLT

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