“If God does not exist, then everything is permitted.” Fyodor Dostoevsky
This is a fairly common quotation, that is, it is still in circulation. I suspect you have heard it before. In any case, it applies to a situation few of us give any thought to. As an atheist, I am unconvinced that God exists. I go farther and say that the God described by most Christians is an impossibility, so I know that the god they claim does not exist. But few go any length at all to consider what the world would be like if we all believed this. The typical theist reaction was that people would become ravening beasts: pillaging, murdering, raping, etc. They claim that without God there would be no morality. Now that a sizeable portion of this country is atheist, I hope we could put that ridiculous idea to rest. In fact, if you look at Europe, consisting of older civilizations than ours, the degree of religiosity of any European country is inversely correlated with the happiness of its citizens. It also is positively correlated with violence in those societies.
So, if we aren’t to become ravening beasts when God no longer controls our lives, then what? Apparently Dostoevsky did give this some thought as his quotation shows. But it is a rather curious. The wording is “everything is permitted” and not “nothing is denied.” I have to ask: what was not permitted when God existed? Murder was outlawed and Christians murdered right along with every other group. Adultery was not permitted and Christians were as adulterous as any other group. Blasphemy was not permitted but Christians blasphemed right along with everybody else. So, what?
In fact, what does permission or prohibition have to do with any limitation on human behavior? It has been shown fairly conclusively that the people sitting on death row in our prisons were not deterred from crimes that could receive the death penalty. If the death penalty does not deter crime, how effective might “God’s permission or prohibition” be? Apparently, not very much. During the inquisition, people being put to the question readily gave up testimony that lead to them being burned at the stake (or tortured, dismembered, etc.). Most of that was probably due to ignorance of “the law” and of the religion itself (quoting the Bible in the vernacular of any culture would also get one burned at the stake, so I don’t think you could count on a bunch of ignorant serfs and craftsmen knowing Catholic dogma at all well).
I think Dostoevsky was in the “men are ravening beasts” category, that man’s essential nature was rapin’ and pillaging’. Apparently no amount of social conditioning could possibly work for those people, they needed the heavy had of a supernatural deity backing them up. Interestingly, as the religiosity of people is on the wane, violence is also … worldwide … and has been for centuries.
So, all of the northern Europeans who are leading calm, productive, happy lives without God? Are they the exception that proves the rule or could it be there never was such a God and the clergy just made up their own rules and we broke them like we would any other nonsensical, meaningless rules?
You know, God could have solved all of these problems. All he had to do was drop a known dead person on some government building steps, preferably with third degree burns, who would tell everyone about how real Hell was (Hitler would be good). Maybe another could be brought down from Heaven to supply a balanced report. (“No, there are no bathrooms in Heaven, we don’t shit any more … and we can eat all we want and we don’t gain weight!”) Instead, in His infinite wisdom (which means He fully understands human nature) He continues to keep us guessing as to whether He, Heaven, and Hell are real. Why use an ocean of faith when a teaspoon of evidence is more powerful? Ah, He certainly works in mysterious ways, so mysterious that people are choosing not to believe the bushwa in ever increasing numbers. And we are better off for it.