Theists often have a significant difference from atheists regarding how they approach the question of God’s existence. An atheist, in the vast majority of cases, looks simply at whether or not there is evidence to support the proposition “God exists.” (The biggest exception to this generalization is Christopher Hitchens, who not only sees no evidence for God’s existence, but also makes a large to-do about how he “doesn’t even wish it were true.”) A theist, on the other hand, looks for evidence (or more usually — via the field of study known as apologetics — tries to explain why there is none) but also puts a large amount of effort into describing the societal benefits of belief in God.

This non-evidential form of argument does nothing more than frustrate atheists. Not because it is difficult to deal with (all one must do is steer the debate back to the topic at hand) but because it is not relevant to the conversation. What does it matter if people are happier when they believe in God? As George Bernard Shaw said, “the fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.”

This tendency of theists is also the reason Hitler is brought up in debates between creationism and evolution. (Unfortunately for the theists, causing an automatic loss due to Godwin’s Law.) That acceptance of evolutionary theory as fact by the vast majority of a population (or, more likely, its leaders) could lead to genocide, eugenics, and “evil” has no bearing on whether evolution is true or not. But again, the reason theists bring up the argument is because they do not care solely about evidence. They, for whatever reason, think the outcome of holding a belief is as important as whether the belief is true.

A great example of this is the quote from Dostoevsky’s novel “The Brothers Karamazov” which states “if God doesn’t exist, everything is permitted.” Basically, the theist is claiming, by using this quote, that if people don’t believe in God, everyone would be raping and killing one another, and they would be objectively allowed to do so. Sounds pretty scary, huh?

Of course, like most theistic claims, only a few moments of thought are required to see right through this inanity. Say God was disproved tomorrow. Would you be free the day after tomorrow to murder your neighbor? Not if you want to stay out of prison. Would it be okay to park in the handicapped spot in the parking lot? Not unless you want a $500 fine. Not only would laws still exist even if God didn’t, I don’t think people would even want to murder and rape and steal just because God wasn’t about to punish them for it. Or at least, I hope not. As Einstein said, “if people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.”

But I don’t want to use this post to refute this oh-so-easily-refuted yet oh-so-often-used quote. It’s been done before. I want to explain why I think the statement isn’t just wrong, but backwards. It isn’t that everything would be permitted if God didn’t exist. No, no, no. Rather, if God exists, everything is permitted. I’m going to start generally with theism, and then hone in on some specific grievances I have with Christianity and the specific sect of Evangelical Protestantism.

Alright, so God exists. What does this mean? Well for starters, it means that there is now an avenue to knowledge that is completely unverifiable. Since God intervenes in human affairs, there is no reason why he can’t tell anyone something in secret, as in the case of Moses. Want that piece of pizza? Just say “God told me I could have that.” Think that 12 year old will make a perfect wife? Tell the mother that their lord GOD has decreed the marriage will occur this afternoon. There’s no way to verify any of these things, but hey, God exists, and it’s possible he did say them, and you don’t want to piss off God by not listening to his newest prophet!

Moving on to Christianity and all the religions that say Hell exists. Okay, what the hell do we need laws for, then? You can outline what will and will not send you to Hell, and that should be it. If that rapist would really enjoy raping everyone he sees for the rest of his life, and he’s okay with going to Hell, well Hell should be punishment enough. (Being everlasting suffering of infinite magnitude, and all.) The threat of Hell should be much more of a deterrent than prison or other punishments exacted in this life. But for those who don’t buy it, they will be free to do whatever they want.

Then there is quite possibly the most dangerous belief of all. The idea that, just by accepting Jesus as your personal savior, you can be absolved of all your crimes and be “born again,” giving you a VIP ticket through the pearly gates. How does this not permit anything and everything? Murder your family, rape your grandmother, kill every single person in the state of Idaho, and will you go to Hell? Not if you just BELIEVE IN JESUS. This belief, which is rampant in Evangelical Protestantism, is the most insane moral proclamation ever made. It completely removes intent, action, and consequence from the ethical equation. Good means “anything plus Jesus” and bad means “anything without Jesus.” Ridiculous.

On the other hand, if God doesn’t exist, we are forced to find reasons for our actions. Consequences mean something. Intent means something. It isn’t what you believe, but what you do that makes you good or bad. To say that everything would be permissible in God’s absence completely ignores what goes in to moral decisions. Because adding God to the equation forces you to remove everything else (reasons, intents, actions, and consequences) from morality, you are truly free to do whatever you want if God exists.

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂