Was Ivan Right?

“Generally, again, I ask your permission to drop the subject,” Pyotr Alexandrovich repeated, “and instead let me tell you another anecdote, gentlemen, about Ivan Fyodorvich himself, a most typical and interesting one. No more than five days ago, at a local gathering, predominantly of ladies, he solemnly announced in the discussion that there is decidedly nothing in the whole world that would make men love their fellow men; that there exists no law of nature that man should love mankind, and that if there is and has been any love on earth up to now, it has come not from natural law but solely from people’s belief in their immortality. Ivan Fyodorvich added parenthetically that this is what all natural law consists of, so that were mankind’s belief in its immortality to be destroyed, not only love but also any living power to continue the life of the world would at once dry up in it. Not only that, but then nothing would be immoral any longer, everything would be permitted, even anthropophagy. And even that is not all: he ended with the assertion that for every separate person, like ourselves for instance, who believes neither in God nor in his own immortality, the moral law of nature ought to change immediately into the exact opposite of the former religious law, and that egoism, even to the point of evildoing, should not only be permitted to man but should be acknowledged as the necessary, the most reasonable, and all but the noblest result of his situation… .”

I should add:

  • it’s not enough to simply point to self-professing atheists who also seem to love their fellow human beings, because Christianity (and Dostoevsky) also says that everyone actually knows God exists, despite what they say (cf. Rom. 1)
  • it seems to me that the bible teaches that the human subject’s awareness of the moral worth of the other is the same as his/her awareness of (the likeness of) God in the other, so that knowing what is right is the same thing as knowing God (which means: just because someone, even a Christian, might think they would still have moral intuitions even if they did not believe God existed, they would not necessarily have those intuitions if they were not actually knowing God in the other when they have those intuitions; in other words, if the bible is right, if they did not in fact know/believe that God existed, they would cease to have any awareness of right and wrong)