In the novel, The Brothers Karamazov, one of the characters exclaims, “Without God, everything is permitted!” This is the traditional view of believers, that faith in God gives order and structure to our ethical world, such as it is, and that without God, humans will just degenerate into a pack of howling, selfish, criminal beasts.Wait a minute…sounds like a description of much of what passes for humanity today! Well, even the great sceptic Voltaire sort of believed it – isn’t that the meaning of his quip, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him?” Why would it be necessary, if not to keep the social order in reasonable shape. That was something about which Voltaire was quite conservative, indeed.
I would like to take a leaf from Richard Dawkins and propose that, on the contrary, the mirror proposition to Karamazov’s is true: “With God, anything is permitted.” That is, it is the belief in God that permits and sanctions the beheading of kidnapped non-combatants, the flying of airliners into skyscrapers to kill thousands of innocent people, the mass murder of dissident sect members or those who profess a completely different religion, and so on.
On the other hand, it is the acceptance of the notion of limited human knowledge, human rights, tolerance of minorities, and the right to speech that restrains people from these barbaric activities.
So, which culture breeds permissiveness? Humanist secularism or deistic faith?