Thursday, April 30, 2009

When man killed God

I've seen a couple of posts on other blogs that have prompted me to trot out one of my favourite sayings. I've mentioned before that I am in part a liberal, hold certain libertarian views and would prefer a more liberal society (liberal in the traditional British sense - not progressive) where people are free to act, speak and think how they want without fear of upsetting some politically correct nerd who will report them for racism/sexism/xenophobia/homophobia etc. (delete as appropriate).

However, there are problems with this free, libertarian approach. The first question I always ask is how do you prevent libertarianism descending into libertinism?

The usual answer is by the application of the rule of law - but that raises my second question. How is the rule of law supposed to be effective when there isn't an expectation that anyone will be caught and appropriately punished for illegal or immoral behaviour?

And, in particular, if someone knows they can commit a crime for which they know they will never be caught and punished for - what is to stop them doing it?

Before progressivism took hold and while Britain still had an overwhelmingly law-abiding and moral society the rule of law worked fine. There was nothing like the amount of surveillance and state monitoring of every one's business - no CCTV, no local council snoopers, no bugs in your dustbin - and yet most people still chose to obey the law.

Why? Why then, but not now?

Because of God, of course. Most people still believed in God and still believed that even if the government could not catch or punish them - God would. But the progressive movement has set about killing God. He's not wanted in a progressive, secular society - which brings me to one of my favourite sayings.

In the absence of an omnipresent God, the only alternative to restrain immoral and illegal behaviour is an omnipresent state.

This is why we have to have more and more laws and restrictions on what we can and can not do and why the state requires more and more methods for monitoring and surveying what we get up to as we go about our everyday lawful business.

If you don't like God then don't complain about the surveillance society and state intrusion - or if you do complain, put forward a reasonable alternative. Don't give me that bullshit about "you don't have to believe in God to be moral" either. Whilst that is true, it is wrong to assume that just because you can be moral and not believe in God everyone else can as well.

And before everyone reminds me that most people don't commit crimes, let me remind you that 70% of the nation - according to the last census - still believe in God in some shape or form. And don't forget also that smoking a spliff is still a crime (for now, anyway) - as is speeding, being drunk and disorderly or urinating in shop doorways.

I'm not trying to force anyone who doesn't believe in God to change their ways - I'm just pointing out some basic facts about human behaviour. They aren't particularly nice facts, but they are true enough in my opinion. People are not fundamentally good or bad but they are fundamentally weak willed and easily tempted. Morality and restraint are not inherent characteristics of humans - they are behaviours learned from societal norms.

When progressives set about changing those norms they did so by taking God out of the equation - secularisation - wihtout any consideration for what would replace Him. Instead there was just a moral relativity based around the sixties ethic of "if it feels good, do it".

I'm always loathe to make these posts about religion for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because religion is, for me, an intensely personal and private thing and something which I have no desire to foist on others in any way shape or form (although, when confronted I will defend it) - and secondly because I really don't want to alienate what few readers I have who are often secular non-believers.

All I really want to do is get people thinking about it a bit more rather than just airily suggesting that the rule of law will somehow magically impose some sort of restraint on immoral and illegal behaviour. It won't - surely that is obvious from the state of society today? Believe me, I've tried to think of alternatives to an omnipresent God or an omnipresent state - but I really can't find one.

If you can, by all means let me know.


bernard said...

I assume Stan that the central thrust of your post is that atheist empires seldom last? No?
Everyone knows the old Chesterton quote about belief, but are you arguing that a society that becomes Godless also becomes a prey to an omniscient state?
Whilst it is sometimes true that atheist 'civilisations' seldom last (the old USSR is a case in point) the Roman Empire only started to decline when it became Christianised. At least this was Gibbon's conclusion.
My own feeling about the State moving in to fill the vacuum left by the abandonment of religion has more to do with the 'cult of individualism' that afflicts ALL old societies in the end.
That's probably the reason China (officially atheist) still thrives to this day; it has assiduously kept the West at bay in order to preserve its 'collectivist' way of life.

Stan said...

"I assume Stan that the central thrust of your post is that atheist empires seldom last? No?"

Not really, bernard - no. Although I suppose that could be the argued. China may be atheist, but it also has an incredibly powerful and intrusive auhoritarian state - even restricting how many children people can have.

My post was really about wanting answers - and mainly from people who espouse libertarian views. How do you stop that liberatarianism becoming libertinism. I suppose you could call it individualism - I've not really thought about it that way. All I ever hear from libertarians is that the "rule of law" will do it - but, despite asking several times, nobody has ever explained how.

I've made this point a number of times on my blog and I don't think anyone really "gets" it. I think that's because I'm not explaining it very well.

All I want to know is this - who or what, if not God or the state, will act as a brake to immoral and illegal behaviour in a free liberal society?

Please don't just say "the rule of law" - explain how that is supposed to work in a society without God or a non-intrusive state. What is there to stop me, for example, commiting some crime or immoral act if I believe I am unlikely to be caught and punished for it?

Anonymous said...

Well your observations haven't put me off reading. Though I have sympathy with libertarian positions and am fiercely anti-socialist I've never been happy to accept libertarianism as a coherent philosophy because (in my view) it requires too many exceptions to be a rule for society. And I do think a willingly cooperative society is more desirable than rampant individualism.

Your analysis that progressive liberalism accompanies a rejection of religious morality is probably correct. Our last prime minister might reject that. But perhaps equally to blame is the acceptance of prog liberalism by representatives of the Christian religion.

Our acquiesence to the lifestyles of foreign born communities has also led to moral uncertainty - but that's another issue.

Our best hope perhaps is a return to social conservatism supported by the majority who do accept a community morality based on some form of divine faith.

Anonymous said...

"In the absence of an omnipresent God, the only alternative to restrain immoral and illegal behaviour is an omnipresent state."

Stan. Please.

Are you really suggesting, that the only possible reasons I'm nice to my children (or anybody else's children) are (1) I might get sent to prison or (2) some old guy up the sky with a big white beard?

Whatever happened to ordinary human decency in your world? To do-as-you-would-be-done-by? To the simple knowledge that other people are, well, people?

Please don't tell me all that only existed because of God. I shall begin not to take you seriously.

Stan said...

"Are you really suggesting, that the only possible reasons I'm nice to my children (or anybody else's children) are (1) I might get sent to prison or (2) some old guy up the sky with a big white beard?"

No - nor do I think I say that anywhere in the post. I'm quite sure that there are plenty of people who are very nice to children, but then go out and commit illegal and/or immoral acts.

What I'm suggesting is that there are plenty of people who do not posess the necessary self-restraint to resist their urges - whatever they mey be. Where this is of particular concern is in young adults and older children who, in the absence of any moral guidance (either in the form of religion or a decent father figure) are increasingly unable to restrain themselves. That manifests itself in many differnt ways - gun, knife, gang culture, rape, gang rape, drug use and trade, prostitution, mugging - you name it.

My argument is that when most people believed in God, they didn't do these things because even if they were never caught by the law, they would be punished by God - who was believed to be all seeing.

Libertarians claim they are in favour of freedom and liberty - and with that a removal of many of the instruments by which the state monitors and watches over us. CCTV, speed cameras, snoopers, intrusive questioning on forms, ID cards, DNA and other databases.

All these things exist because, as I say, in the absence of an omnipresent God the only alternative is an omnipresent state.

The question I'm asking - quite reasonably I think - is in the absence of an omnipresent God, how do they propose to restrain immoral and illegal behaviour?

Their usual argument is by application of the "rule of law" - but how are they going to do this? We have (allegedly) the rule of law in place today, but that has not stopped a massive surge in criminality and immorality even with the instruments of surveillance I mentioned.

Do libertarians seriously believe they can take all those things away and we're all suddenly become decent moral citizens again?