Morality 1: Can we really get by without God?

In The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky the character Ivan Karamazov points out that “If there is no God, everything is permitted.” 
 My question then is: Is it true that if you get rid of God, then morality begins to fall apart?  
I think the answer is that it depends on which morality we are talking about.  If we are talking about objective morality then yes we need God. 
Objective morality refers to that order in the universe about what is right and wrong.  I experience this order through my conscience.  A conscience, which pushes me and prods me to do what is right even though I may not want to. 
 This is that objective morality, which we discover through prayer, effort, searching,  and much discussion. It is this morality, which strikes beauty in us whenever we see it in either a Ghandi, a Mother Theresa, or a Jean Luc Picard.  This morality is outside of me and therefore I can be right or wrong about it. 
 In this view, even if a poll tomorrow shows that 98% of the Canadian population believes that abortion is ok, they can still be wrong.  This is because in this objective view of morality, abortion is wrong irrespective of what I or the Canadian population thinks.
 But in the subjective view, we can make morality into whatever we want.  In this view, I can say murder is right.  You can say murder is wrong.  We can disagree with each other because at the end of the day all we have are our opinions. 
 Sure this seems fine.  “You have your values, and I have mine,”  so says the world.  But what about when your values go completely against my own? Then we have conflict.   What about when your values advocate stealing, censorship, lying, and murder?  Then we have the destruction of human life. 
 We are in a scary stage of human civilization if all I can say in the face or murder, theft and adultery, is  “to each his own.”
I once believed that morality was subjective and that we can make it into whatever we want it to be.  Then I faced the reality that actions have consequences.  What’s more, in this life and in the next life these consequences arn’t pretty. 
 Indeed I will be called before the One whose “…judgments are true and just” (Revelation 19:2).  I don’t know about you, but the thought of being judged in absolute truth and justice causes not a little fear in me.    
 If there is no God, no being of supreme goodness, love and intelligence, then all we have are our opinions; for God can be the only source of an objective morality.  
 Our modern culture, in its near abandonment of God, is at a major crossroads.   After all, how can we continue to live in the house when the foundation is no longer there?  

Raj Vijayakumar is working at a retreat centre in Montreal.

  • Peter bisson
    Posted at 07:30h, 01 October Reply

    Thank you Raj!

  • Bernard Hudon
    Posted at 11:06h, 01 October Reply

    Je ne suis pas d’accord avec votre texte. Les non-croyants peuvent avoir aussi une bonne moralité. D’où tirez-vous votre concept de moralité objective?
    Bernard Hudon SJ M.A. éthique

    • Raj
      Posted at 08:06h, 13 October Reply

      Salut Bernard – L’argument vient de CS Lewis. But I think the argument stands for itself. If without God, where can we get an objective morality?

  • suzanne renaud
    Posted at 14:24h, 01 October Reply

    I agree with you Raj! I was wondering what you thought about the fact that many people under the age of 45 are no longer raising their children within the church community. So, we have a generation not receiving holy communion or confirmation anymore. And, there are now so many other spiritual philosophies being promoted via the internet. Also, the christians who are older than 45 and were raised in the church are teaching their children to be “good, kind, compassionate people”. I just wonder how many generations it will take to completely reverse this kind of philosophy of “doing unto other as you would like done unto you”. I would appreciate your comments or articles that you might be able to share about this query. Many thanks.

    • Raj
      Posted at 09:00h, 13 October Reply

      Hi Suzanne – Thank you for your thoughts and reactions. For me as a first generation Canadian and a child of immigrants I can see some of the dangers the West is going through right now. Peter Kreeft’s book after Virtue may provide some helpful insights including the fact that the culture we are living in right now is not “pagan” or non Christian, but is more so “post-Christian.” People like Nietzsche and Freud have most certainly made their mark on the way we think about things today (including morality). Keep well!

  • Greg Schmidt
    Posted at 19:21h, 01 October Reply

    Thank you for that essay.

    Today we see major protesting with violent and destructive consequences.

    Yes we are all free to have our own opinions…

    my opinion is that Freedom without responsibility is chaos!

    • Raj
      Posted at 09:01h, 13 October Reply

      I agree!

    • Raj
      Posted at 09:01h, 13 October Reply

      I agree!

  • Bernard Hudon
    Posted at 12:45h, 02 October Reply

    La prière seule n’est pas un critère éthique. Preuve : la plupart des terroristes musulmans prient.

    Bernard Hudon SJ, B.Th., M.A. éthique, B.Sc

    • Raj
      Posted at 09:03h, 13 October Reply

      Very Interesting point. I wonder is it possible to pray and not encounter God? After all, if God is goodness and love, and if overtime I pray I do not encounter this love and goodness more, am I really praying? Just a thought,

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