It seems impossible for many seriously religious monotheists to believe that an atheist or agnostic would do the good. Not the supernatural good; rather, the natural good. The good for the sake of the other. Even at cost to oneself. On one specific occasion, to do a genuinely naturally good deed. Such as take off his coat for his freezing neighbor in the midst of a storm.
The argument, so it seems, is: What benefit for the one sacrificing? It seems there would be no benefit. Hence, why should he do such a thing?
On the other hand, others would say that the motive of the theist in doing the sacrificial good must be selfish. For it seems that the theist is virtuous only for the sake of delayed gratification. The theist is the real hedonist, a careful, calculating hedonist. An investor. Instead, proponents of this perspective claim, one should simply do the good. One is obliged to do the good. “Oughts” do not follow “what is”, do not follow the “desire for happiness”. They just are.
But perhaps both perspectives are wrong.
If The Good is attractive and draws us, and if to act in the above manner is indeed good, then the sacrificing man is indeed being drawn towards the good. Don’t confuse The Good with private welfare, with treasure that grows old and rots, which thieves can steal and moths eat. The Good transcends us and draws us into communion with itself – with himself. With the Blessed Trinity.
Now, in acting on any particular occasion for the good, the atheist is being drawn towards The Good. He is seeking it, knocking on its door. Not for the sake of some crass reward tomorrow. Rather, for the sake of its higher excellence today. He knows that this is better than to hole up in his own limited good. He knows that man is relational. Thus, he undertakes on this occasion to enter into this claim his nature makes upon him in a personal way (since this is rational nature).
We could say then that “even if there were no tomorrow” he would enter this door of The Good. He would do that sacrifice, even without the promise of a better tomorrow.
Yet, on the other hand, we should observe that in entering the door of The Good, he would be seeking The Good. But in seeking The Good one must seek for it the more, for ever. For it is The Good. Its years do not grow old, nor does it change like the grass in the field. It is its own goodness. It does not have it on loan. In approaching then The Good one wants it the way it is. One wants it forever. Thus, even the atheist wants it forever.
Hence, that postmodern belief – superstition – that the genuine pursuit of true good must not be for any end, must be for the isolated individual moment, the gift that no one saw and all shall forget – that belief is foolish nonsense. It betrays The Good not because it rightly denies the sufficiency of a crass reward tomorrow to justify a righteous sacrifice today. No. But it betrays The Good because it refuses to allow it to be as it is. It turns genuine love into a tease.