Atheism is a legacy worth fighting for

More than a century ago, in « The Brothers Karamazov » and other works, Dostoyevsky warned against the dangers of godless moral nihilism, arguing in essence that if God doesn’t exist, then everything is permitted. The French philosopher André Glucksmann even applied Dostoyevsky’s critique of godless nihilism to 9/11, as the title of his book, « Dostoyevsky in Manhattan, » suggests.

This argument couldn’t have been more wrong: The lesson of today’s terrorism is that if God exists, then everything, including blowing up thousands of innocent bystanders, is permitted – at least to those who claim to act directly on behalf of God, since, clearly, a direct link to God justifies the violation of any merely human constraints and considerations. In short, fundamentalists have become no different than the « godless » Stalinist Communists, to whom everything was permitted, since they perceived themselves as direct instruments of their divinity, the Historical Necessity of Progress Toward Communism.
Fundamentalists do what they perceive as good deeds in order to fulfill God’s will and to earn salvation; atheists do them simply because it is the right thing to do. Is this also not our most elementary experience of morality? When I do a good deed, I do so not with an eye toward gaining God’s favor; I do it because if I did not, I could not look at myself in the mirror. A moral deed is by definition its own reward. David Hume made this point poignantly when he wrote that the only way to show true respect for God is to act morally while ignoring God’s existence.

Two years ago, Europeans were debating whether the preamble of the European Constitution should mention Christianity. As usual, a compromise was worked out, a reference in general terms to the « religious inheritance » of Europe. But where was modern Europe’s most precious legacy, that of atheism? What makes modern Europe unique is that it is the first and only civilization in which atheism is a fully legitimate option, not an obstacle to any public post.
Atheism is a European legacy worth fighting for, not least because it creates a safe public space for believers. (…)

To read more about this Slavoj Zizek article

14/3/2006

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