Jordan Peterson: The Problem With Atheism

“If God does not exist, everything is permitted.”

  Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov




A civilization where belief in God is on the wane, is a civilization where people are merely objects and will be treated as such.  The greatest thinkers of the human race have understood this.  Benjamin Franklin, who was far from being an orthodox Christian, saw what the world would be like without religion in a letter dated December 13, 1757:

Dear Sir,

I have read your manuscript with some attention. By the argument it contains against a particular Providence, though you allow a general Providence, you strike at the foundations of all religion. For, without the belief of a Providence that takes cognisance of, guards, and guides, and may favor particular persons, there is no motive to worship a Deity, to fear his displeasure, or to pray for his protection. I will not enter into any discussion of your principles, though you seem to desire it. At present I shall only give you my opinion that, though your reasons are subtle, and may prevail with some readers, you will not succeed so as to change the general sentiments of mankind on that subject, and the consequence of printing this piece will be, a great deal of odium drawn upon yourself, mischief to you, and no benefit to others. He that spits against the wind spits in his own face.

But were you to succeed, do you imagine any good would be done by it? You yourself may find it easy to live a virtuous life, without the assistance afforded by religion; you having a clear perception of the advantage of virtue, and the disadvantages of vice, and possessing a strength of resolution sufficient to enable you to resist common temptations. But think how great a portion of mankind consists of weak and ignorant men and women, and of inexperienced, inconsiderate youth of both sexes, who have need of the motives of religion to restrain them from vice, to support their virtue, and retain them in the practice of it till it becomes habitual, which is the great point for its security. And perhaps you are indebted to her originally, that is to your religious education, for the habits of virtue upon which you now justly value yourself. You might easily display your excellent talents of reasoning upon a less hazardous subject, and thereby obtain a rank with our most distinguished authors. For among us it is not necessary, as among the Hottentots, that a youth, to be raised into the company of men, should prove his manhood by beating his mother.

I would advise you, therefore, not to attempt unchaining the tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any other person, whereby you will save yourself a great deal of mortification by the enemies it may raise against you, and perhaps a great deal of regret and repentance. If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be if without it?

We found out in the last bloody century the answer to that question.  When we believe in God a dignity is conferred on each man and woman as a fellow child of a loving God.  Abraham Lincoln saw this clearly:

These communities, by their representatives in old  Independence Hall, said to the whole world of men: “We  hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are  created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with  certain unalienable rights; that among these are life,  liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This was their majestic  interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their  lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of  the Creator to His creatures. [Applause.] Yes, gentlemen, to  all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their  enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and  likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded,  and imbruted by its fellows. They grasped not only the whole  race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized  upon the farthest posterity. They erected a beacon to guide  their children and their children’s children, and the countless  myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages. Wise  statesmen as they were, they knew the tendency of prosperity  to breed tyrants, and so they established these great  self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man,  some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that  none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life,  liberty and the pursuit of happiness, their posterity might look  up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to  renew the battle which their fathers began — so that truth,  and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues  might not be extinguished from the land; so that no man would  hereafter dare to limit and circumscribe the great principles  on which the temple of liberty was being built.

Abraham Lincoln, August 17, 1858

If men are fellow children of a loving God, then our worth is infinite.  If we are merely animals with pretensions, our lives of no more significance than those of gnats, we should not be surprised that men who believe this rubbish will act as if their lives, and the lives of their fellow men, are very cheap, and very meaningless, indeed.


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  1. The eagle is the symbol of the swiftness of God’s Justice, The eagle is the symbol of America’s freedom. Justice is defined as giving to every one what he truly deserves. The Supreme Sovereign Being, in Justice, deserves to be acknowledged.

  2. Interesting that men who profess that humanity is just a form of the animal kingdom live themselves like apes. Yet the men who profess humanity is comprised of spirit and flesh try to live their lives just lower than the holy Angels, knowing that the flesh and spirit are in continual warfare.

    Archbishop Fulton Sheen made this distinction years ago while defending the truth relating to intelligent design v. Darwinism.

    Today we see the animal clearly in the actions of our neighbor. Abortion.. promiscuity… and on and on.

    Mexico’s National flag is a great reminder of our fight and the victory to come.
    The dead serpent in the talons of the eagle. Virtue over vice. Freedom over slavery. Life over death. Happy Eastertide everyone!

  3. Umm… I’m confused.

    “Benjamin Franklin, who was far from being an orthodox Christian, saw what the world would be like without religion in a letter dated December 13, 1757:”

    But at the bottom of the letter you have:
    “Abraham Lincoln, August 17, 1858”

    Was it Lincoln or Franklin who wrote the letter?

  4. “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” There is a parallel scenario in which this quote would be just as comfortable residing, and that is “Once Saved, Always Saved” Protestantism. I would think that at least some of the good visitors to this venerable site know personally some such men. I know I have known some. I have personally known men who loudly proclaimed that since they accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, no matter what they do, they cannot lose their salvation. Some of these men were also bragging about bouncing to and fro among various women’s bedrooms, while their wives sat at home. After all, since they are saved anyway, why not have some fun along the way to heaven. From what I have observed over the years, that quote could be adjusted to say: “If God does not exist, or if Once Saved, Always Saved does exist, everything is permitted.”

  5. I am a different James, although I agree with the first one on “Once Saved, Always Saved.” OSAS Protestantism allows one to maintain a Christian veneer and the social benefits that come with it without any real sacrifice. OSAS Protestantism is a largely, though not entirely, North American phenomenon.

    That being said, that religion is useful does not mean that it is true. That atheism is problematic does not mean that it is false. Life has many problems. Religion could be thought of as the solution to the problem of atheism.

    Is religion a form of Plato’s “Noble Lie” and, if so, would it be right or wrong to debunk it?

  6. “Is religion a form of Plato’s “Noble Lie” and, if so, would it be right or wrong to debunk it?”

    Anything that is a lie may be debunked although sometimes it is cruel to do so. Anyone who tells a seven year old child for example that there is no Santa Claus is a sadist. In regard to religion it represents the deepest truth about reality which is that the material world is only a miniscule portion of what God has created and that this life does not end but is merely a gateway to eternal life. All religions have some elements of the Truth Faith and hence the power of religions, a power completely ignored by most of the current buffoonish lot of “new” atheists.

  7. James…the latter said; “That being said, that religion is useful does not mean that it is true.”

    Pontus Pilate asked; What is truth?
    “Pilate therefore said to him: Art thou a king then? Jesus answered: Thou sayest that I am a king. For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth. Every one that is of the truth, heareth my voice. 38Pilate saith to him: What is truth? And when he said this, he went out again to the Jews, and saith to them: I find no cause in him.”

    What is truth is one of the greatest questions ever to be asked by any serious inquirer.

    When the seeker finds the truth he will be changed forever. He will be liberated from a life of continual emptiness since the truth has finally filled the void of not knowing…a doubt that only truth can remove.
    This is grace.
    It’s amazing because it’s real, He is real, and the only question left is why didn’t I believe before now?

    What is truth?
    Pray to know it.
    If you do, you will not be disappointed.
    If you honestly want to know the truth He will not hold back. He will reveal himself to you. He will open the door if you just knock.

  8. The bottom is from a speech by Lincoln on August 17, 1858. The top portion is the letter from Franklin.

    I see my mistake now. Somehow I kept missing the division. My bad.

  9. Philip: “Pontius Pilate asked; “What is truth?” Jesus gave no answer. If Pontius Pilate had asked “WHO is truth?” Jesus may have said.”I AM HE.”

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