“If there is no God, everything is permitted.” 1

The novels of Dostoevsky are haunted by the bleakest of “What ifs.” What if there is no God? Though an Orthodox Christian, Dostoevsky wrote to a friend that the matter of God’s existence was the “very question with which I have consciously and unconsciously tormented myself all through my life.”2 He could see the psychological and moral implications of atheism, and these implications are reflected in his novels.

“Dostoevsky was the first writer to describe the outlook of the militant atheist,” and he did so in deeply unsettling ways.3 When, in the last chapter of The Devils, he had Kirilov question “how an atheist could know that there is no god and not kill himself at once,” the journal in which Dostoevsky’s novel was being serialized, the Russian Messenger,refused to publish the chapter, requiring him to change the ending.4 5

Not so changed was The Brothers Karamazov. Though the famous “Dostoevsky quote” at the top of this article is actually Sartre’s wording, the theme of atheistic absolute moral freedom is a key theme explored in the book. Dmitri Karamazov understands that “If [God] doesn’t exist then man is the master of the earth;” there are no moral laws other than what each man chooses for himself, as there is no moral lawgiver above man.6 He sees that if there is no God above every culture, then morality is culturally relative — and, ultimately, if morality is man-made, then each man can make his own, as there is nobody above man to say “Oh, but this is actually and really wrong.” His brother Ivan Karamazov concurs, recognizing that on purely naturalistic terms, ‘there [is] no law in nature that man should love mankind.’7 8 On the contrary, he says: “self-interest” is the “law of nature.”9 If man is highest, and self-interest is the natural order of things (voices Ivan), “there would be nothing immoral then, everything would be permitted.”10 This, as the character Ratitin perceives, is “an attractive theory for scoundrels,” but it’s not so attractive for the victims of those unaccountable scoundrels, as we shall see below.11

“In the absence of God,” writes Yale law professor Arthur Leff, whenever anyone claims that something or other is not permitted or that some law “ought to be obeyed,” one devastating “schoolyard” reply fits all: “Sez Who?” Leff continues, “Either God exists or He does not, but if He does not, nothing and no one else can take his place.”12 We are so used to speaking of “right” and “wrong,” and of “human rights,” but Dostoevsky knew that these concepts stand or fall with God. In his book Without God, is Everything Permitted?, philosopher Julian Baggini explains that

Rights don’t just exist, they need to be granted by someone with the power and authority to do so. Whether you believe in God or not, this makes rights non-natural, in that they would not exist unless the deity or human institutions endowed us with them. In neither case are rights simply there. Nature can endow us with evolved capacities, but not something abstract like a right.13

It is this “Karamazov principle” that I am going to explore in this paper: the implications of everything being permitted if there is no God. After plumbing the depths of this bleak theme as found in various authors, we shall return to the novels of Dostoevsky and note the psychological strain that this atheistic idea places on his characters. Finally, we shall see how the Christian hope can resolve that strain, both by promising a freedom truer than moral permissiveness, and also by telling a better story of man’s place under a good, law-giving God.

The Dark Champion of the Karamazov Principle

I choose as my focus a thinker who explored the “everything is permitted” idea more starkly — and more honestly — than has anyone since. Through letters, essays, and (chiefly) through the characters in his novels, this author was unflinchingly bleak in his exploration of the logical conclusions of atheism. This writer is the Marquis de Sade.

Donatien Alphonse François de Sade (1740-1814) was born into the French aristocracy and lived through the Revolution. He had a front seat to the tumultuous events of the day, having been transferred from imprisonment in the Bastille just a week before it was famously “stormed” (1789). Sade spent a lot of his life in prison, in part because he made enemies in high places, but mostly because he was a violent, perverted and wicked man. He took the radical ideas of his day to their rational endpoint. Accordingly, his views are more consistent in their atheism than the more palatable versions of atheism both in his age and ours.

In an age where thinkers were toying with atheism and calling themselves Deists, Sade took his atheism seriously.14 Sade commentator John Philips claims that

[I]n the absence of any god the only governing force in Sade’s universe is Nature, and conventional, religion-based morality, as Nietzsche and Fyodor Dostoevsky were to conclude at the end of the 19th century, can have no meaning in such a universe, since there is no deity to define absolutes of right and wrong.15 16

Anticipating Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karamazov, Sade held that as there is no God everything is indeed permitted; thus seeing above him only sky he proclaimed that “whatever [Nature] lets us do is permissible.”17 18

Sade took Naturalism as a carte blanche, seeing that since nature cannot be wronged, it cannot be offended.19 Man, he wrote, is not answerable” to Nature.20 Nature does not care what man does to his fellow man, any more than Nature cares what lizards do to lizards. Indeed, there is “obviously” no qualitative difference between man and lizards, “between him and other plants, between him and all the other animals of the world.”21 As a Naturalist he considered it unjustifiable “pride” to put man in a separate category; “the rot-spawned worm is of no less nor more considerable value . . . than the mightiest king on earth.”22 23 It follows that it is absurd to consider the death of a plant, animal or man as anything at all, as even to “take a life” is merely to “alter forms.”24 25 In taking a life, “nothing is lost; man today, worm tomorrow, the day after tomorrow a fly.”26 Everything is permitted because all is mere matter, and matter doesn’t matter.

Different countries have had different laws and customs, but these are all “naught but local ideas.” Sade argues that “all is relative . . . what is a crime here is often a virtue several hundred leagues hence. . . . [G]eography alone decides whether an action be worthy of praise or blame.”27 It logically follows that “No wrong is real,” that “virtue is but a chimera,” and that “all man-made laws which would contravene Nature’s are made for naught but our contempt.”28 29 30

Sade’s notion of Nature holds natural “law” to be that of uninhibited natural dispositions. In other words, whatever feels right to a person must be right: “no inclinations or tastes can exist in us save the ones we have from Nature.”31 We should “harken only to these delicious promptings.”32 Whatever our inclinations are, Nature herself has put them “into our head” and “dictates” that we live according to our nature; we have been born this way.33 With what feels like a very modern sentiment one character asks: “Have we the power to remake ourselves? Can we become other than what we are?”34 Different people are born with different desires, in accordance with how “Nature wished it to be” and as “the result of the dispositions she formed in” us.35 We are “no more responsible for having come into the world with tendencies unlike” those of others than we are for being born with varied physical traits.36

For Sade it is “absurd” to fight against our predilections, as this is to fight and “rebel” against “Nature’s fundamental designs.”37 38 39 Speaking of a man who reputedly delighted to torture and kill “Seven or eight hundred” young children, Sade argued that this person merely “submitted” to the “designs” of Nature.40 Although “all men are born isolated, envious, cruel and despotic,” it is “perverse” to try and “modify” our human nature, as whilst “cruelty is natural,” “education does not belong to Nature.”41 42 43 Like Augustine, Sade bids us to look at children as an example of what is “natural”: “the child’s behavior proves that ferocity is natural.”44 45 Which is right in Nature’s eyes: to listen to man or to Nature?

Sade tries to follow his atheism honestly to its logical conclusion, and finds indeed that without God, everything is permitted. He ends up concluding that egoism is Nature’s fundamental commandment;” that “the foremost of the laws of Nature decrees to me is to enjoy myself, no matter at whose expense.”46 47 This, as is Sade’s wont, is pushed to its utmost: the enjoyment of self is to be chosen at whatever the cost to others, even if it “it rewarded us with only a very small quantity of pleasure” and were “harmful to a very great quantity of individuals.”48 The same character expands upon this idea: “the heaviest dose of agony in others ought, assuredly, to be as naught to us, and the faintest quickening of pleasure, registered in us, does touch us; therefore, we should, at whatever the price, prefer this most minor excitation which enchants us, to the immense sum of others’ miseries.”49 This principle being “one of the most equitable of laws, against which there can be no sane or rightful complaint,” pleasure should be taken by force without qualm.50 Coercion is permitted by nature, and the wellbeing of others is nothing to the point.51 “But the man you describe is a monster,” replies one character, only to be told that “The man I describe is in tune with Nature.”52 It is unnatural “to prefer others to ourselves.”53

Like Nietzsche’s later critique of Christianity, Sade says that the notion of compassion is a “ridiculous doctrine” that is only preached by the weak, a doctrine dreamt up by Christians when being persecuted.54 55 To “love one’s brethren as oneself . . . [is] in defiance of all the laws of Nature;”56 it is “a fiction we owe to Christianity and not to Nature.”57 “Be ever mindful,” Nature says to us instead, “that all which thou wouldst not have done unto thyself, being the grave harm done a neighbor whence there is much profit to be had, is precisely that which thou must do to be happy.”58

At the far end of Karamazov’s atheistic “everything is permitted” principle, Sade has it that Nature gives authority for the strong to dominate and coerce the weak.59 This is bad news especially for women. He claims that as it is “incontestable that we [men] have received from Nature the right indiscriminately to express our wishes to all women, it likewise becomes incontestable that we have the right to compel their submission;” “women [exist] only to provide pleasure for men.”60 61 This is “Nature’s intention;” this is why men are physically stronger.62 63 For a man to show compassion to a woman “disrupts the natural order and perverts the natural law” that the strong should always love himself above his neighbor.64 Above us is only sky, unblinking, uncaring, unjudging.

Thus far we have seen, through the works of the Marquis de Sade, how wide and dark and nasty and brutish this theme can be. The theme was just flirted with by Dostoevsky, and even so light a touch of such a dark theme was enough to color many of his works. It is one of the ultimate themes: if no God, then what? In the centuries before Christ the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon has the ungodly “[reason] unsoundly, saying to themselves” that since there is no God “let our might be our law of right,” “let us not spare the widow or regard the gray hairs of the aged.”65 Many others have explored this theme. Nietzsche, for instance, could have served as our worked example instead of Sade.66 But we have further space just to touch upon how a few current atheistic writers approach Karamazov’s problem.

Professor Richard Dawkins

One of the most celebrated champions of atheism of recent decades is the British evolutionary biologist, Professor Richard Dawkins. His book The Selfish Gene is an exploration of human behavior without reference to God, and his conclusions are not dissimilar, in many ways, to those of Sade. He writes about behavior in terms of evolutionary success, marking that natural selection favors “ruthless selfishness,” and that compassion, love and generosity “simply do not make evolutionary sense.”67 68

Dawkins is careful to say that he is “not advocating a morality based on evolution,” commenting that “a human society based” on such “would be a very nasty society in which to live.”69 70 Yet in saying this he is very clear that he is therefore urging man to act “unnaturally” (in just the way that Sade despised); urging us to educate ourselves away from and to disobey our “biological nature,” as “we are born selfish.”71

He demonstrates that from an evolutionary standpoint siblings ‘“should’ try to grab more than [their] fair share,”72 and that even killing and eating siblings is “natural” and beneficial: “dead brothers do not compete for food!”73 Over the course of this book Professor Dawkins shows that it is sometimes “best” (from a purely evolutionary perspective) for parents to kill and eat their offspring; for step-fathers to kill their step-children; to philander; to cheat; be racist; and lie.74 In another book, sounding strikingly like Sade, he writes that “So long as DNA is passed on, it does not matter who or what gets hurt in the process. . . . Genes don’t care about suffering, because they don’t care about anything.”75 If the natural world is all that there is, anything is permissible.

Dawkins knows that this all “sounds savagely cruel but . . . nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent.”76 Or again, “Nature is neither kind nor unkind. She is neither against suffering nor for it.”77 Nature doesn’t care if we suffer; Nature doesn’t care if we cause suffering. Without a super-natural God, there is “nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”78

Sapiens

One of the internationally best-selling works of the last few years is Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens. Like Ivan Karamazov, Harari grapples with the ethical implications of atheism. Like Sade and Dawkins, he recognizes that, without God, justice and human rights are imaginary; that man, without God, has no claim to be somehow “unique and sacred;” that “unnatural” behavior is literally impossible for humans as we in no way transcend nature; that “Mother Nature does not mind” how we behave to each other; that the notion of “equality” has no meaning within an atheistic framework.79 80 81 82 83 Again, like Sade, he recognizes that there is no such thing, really, as destruction or “the balance of nature;” there is only change. If humans become extinct there is no “loss” in any real sense.84 (Further, as Dawkins explains, without God, there is no longer any real distinction between “living material” and “non-living material.”85 In the end matter is matter is matter.)

Harari recognizes that concepts such as equality, morality and human value are built on “monotheist foundations” which have now been “undermined,” and he questions how long we can on ignoring this “huge gulf” between an atheistic anthropology and “the departments of law and political science.”86 87 “Without recourse to eternal souls and a Creator God, it becomes embarrassingly difficult for liberals to explain what is so special about individual Sapiens.”88 Today, mutually contradictory things are being believed about man. How long can Western culture continue to operate with such a fundamental contradiction at its heart? How long can this exercise of doublethink continue before the inherent tension becomes too embarrassing to be borne?

Dominion

In his book Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, top historian Tom Holland shows how the foundations of Western culture are Christian.89 “To live in a Western country is to live in a society still utterly saturated by Christian concepts and assumptions.”90 And, though not a Christian himself, he finds that he cannot but think with a Christian mindset: “The more years I spent immersed in the study of classical antiquity, so the more alien I increasingly found it.”91 He finds non-Christian cultures alien because of their lack of Christian values: values including compassion for the weak, a belief in the dignity of man and the concept of equality.92 93 Holland also points out that, though Christian anthropology clashes with their evolutionary model of man, Darwin “remained sufficiently a Christian” and Dawkins retains “the instincts of someone brought up in a Christian civilisation” to the degree that even these leaders in evolutionary thought cannot help but think and live as if their own theory were false.94 95 96

The Tension Inherent in Dostoevsky

We have seen that if there is no God, everything really is permitted. We have seen that atheistic man has not lived this way. And we have also seen that there is a tension at the heart of atheism — that even the most hardened of atheists lives in somewhat a Christian manner. In his erudite book Dostoevsky: Language, Faith and Fiction, Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, concludes that “the death of God . . . [leaves] . . . a terrifying gap in the coherence of the human mind.”97 It is this gap and this tension that is felt in the novels of Dostoevsky.

For all his “bold” atheism, ultimately Ivan Karamazov cannot live as if everything were permitted. He hates his father; he wants to kill him; he claims that murder is a legitimate option; and yet he doesn’t follow through. In the end, Smerdyakov essentially calls Ivan’s bluff, “Everything, you said, is permitted, and look how frightened you are now!”98 Ivan “speaks a good game,” but he cannot play this game with no rules. “Why do I keep on trembling?” Ivan asks. He trembles because he is a man made in the image of God, with the law of God written on his heart.99 The fool may say in his heart that there is no God, but his heart knows better, and trembles so to live.100 In the end, Ivan goes mad, and Smerdyakov kills himself.

This tension is seen even more clearly in Crime and Punishment. Rodion Raskolnikov is surrounded by “fashionable” atheistic ideas. He overhears an academic discussion, asking “what value has the life” of the pawnbroker Alyona Ivanovna? The answer — similar to that of Sade — is that her life is worth “no more than the life of a louse.”101 He also hears the utilitarian “simple arithmetic” voiced that the one murder of Ivanovna would lead to the greater good of many.102 Further, he hears such “modern ideas” as “that compassion is forbidden nowadays by science itself,” and that “science now tells us, love yourself before all men, for everything in the world rests on self-interest.”103 104 These ideas are consistent with the ideas outlined above. But when Raskolnikov takes steps to live out his creed, (as Dostoevsky wrote in his schema for the book) “unexpected feelings torment his heart.”105 In short, he falls to pieces. The very name “Raskolnikov” means “one who is split in two.”106 He simply cannot live as if everything were permissible.107

What lessons are there for us as Christians, as we consider the Karamazov principle?

Increase the tension. We should thank God that few men are as sadistic as “Nature” would permit!108 But one apologetic strategy is actually to encourage atheists to consider being more atheistic!

Consider Nietzsche. He saw that many had “sought to do away with God but [had] refused to deal with the legitimate consequences of meaninglessness.”109 He knew that this was intellectually cowardly, dishonest and inconsistent, and “he compelled the philosopher to pay the full fare of his ticket to atheism and to see where it was going to let him off.”110 Only there are very few people who wish to “take their atheism that far.”

Twentieth-century pastor and apologist Francis Schaeffer saw this. He saw that “no non-Christian can be consistent to the logic of his presuppositions” and that this being so, “every man is in a place of tension.”111 ‘He [the non-Christian] stands in a position which he cannot pursue to the end’ and so he “has the pull of two consistencies, the pull towards the real world and the pull towards the logic of his system.”112 Bryan Follis describes what Schaeffer then did:

Schaeffer’s first move was to push the non-Christian toward the logical conclusions of his or her non-Christian presuppositions. He believed that the non-Christian enjoys a false optimism by living partly on the basis of Christian presuppositions. Schaeffer aimed to destroy that by pushing the person toward the despair and darkness to which his or her non-Christian presuppositions logically led. Rather than allowing the non-Christian to live in a halfway house, Schaeffer was convinced that we have to confront him or her with the logical conclusions of his or her beliefs. 113

And then Follis quotes Schaeffer, “You must take the roof off his house, and let the rain come in. You must take away his walls, and let him feel the blowing and the coldness of the wind — the wind of no meaningfulness, of blackness, the whole problem of being, and the whole problem of morals.”114

This, in the ultimate (though undeliberate) sense, is what Smerdyakov did to Ivan Karamazov: he confronted Ivan with the awful reality of his own philosophy. Ivan shows that he was already there to a degree when he says that “I know that [determinism is true] and I refuse to live by it! What do I care that no one is to blame, that effect follows cause simply and directly and that I know it — I must have retribution or I shall destroy myself.”115 He already knows that his atheism is unlivable. Others, in love and with gentleness, need to be shown that “there is a gap here between theory and life. You entertain and support in argument an intellectual position that you could not possibly live.”116 And if you can’t live here, in an unroofed house, in the dark and the rain — perhaps you should move house.

Speak a better story. Thankfully, we have a better house into which our non-Christian friends are very welcome to move! Their “better instincts” of kindness, equality and love were right all along. Their (and our) egoistic tendencies are part of a world, not simply “red in tooth and claw,” but a broken world that one day will be renewed, and our acts of unnatural egoism forgiven. Sadism is a perversion of good gifts that one day will be tasted true.117 118

Rebecca McLaughlin tells the story of Sarah Irving-Stonebraker. Irving-Stonebraker went to a lecture by atheist moral philosopher Peter Singer, who outlined what Darwinism means for human rights and value. Though an atheist herself, she found herself feeling a “strange intellectual vertigo” as she “realised that the implications of [her] atheism were incompatible with almost every value [she] held dear.”119 As Singer unflinchingly told his listeners the uncensored story of atheism, Irving-Stonebraker found herself longing for a better story. She writes that “I was compelled to confront . . . my most deeply held beliefs,” and as she did so she found that unvarnished atheism was untenable.120 Irving-Stonebraker is not the only former atheist to have had her “roof taken off” by more intellectually honest atheistic writers; she tells her story in the recent publication: Coming to Faith Through Dawkins: 12 Essays on the Pathway from New Atheism to Christianity.121

Many readers of AUJ will be familiar with the similar story of C.S. Lewis. Before coming to faith in the Lord Jesus, Lewis found that “the two hemispheres of my mind were in the sharpest contrast. On the one side a many-islanded sea of poetry and myth; on the other a glib and shallow ‘rationalism.’ Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.”122 It was only in coming home to Jesus that this awful tension between heart and head was resolved.

Lewis features in one other recent example of a woman who rejected the Karamazov principle. Rachael Denhollander led the fight to see justice brought to Larry Nassar, the infamous sexual abuser of many young gymnasts. Having been abused by Nassar herself, she found herself questioning the goodness and even the existence of God. But, she realized, “if there is no God, and no real good and evil, I can’t even call what Larry did to me wrong. Not really. Not if ‘right and wrong’ are only constructs of human opinion.”123 Denhollander saw that “if truth’s parameters were established by people alone, I had no way to define evil, or even justice for that matter. Something from C.S. Lewis’s writings rang in my mind, ‘A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.’ Removing God didn’t fix the problem of evil. It actually made it worse.”124

It is this “removal of God,” this open-eyed entering into a “worse” story that has made many people sit up and reconsider their presuppositions. This is perhaps why Bishop Tikhon in Dostoevsky’s The Devils claims that “complete atheism is much more acceptable than worldly indifference.” And why? — because “the absolute atheist stands on the last rung but one before most absolute faith.”125 To be livable, atheism must borrow concepts from Christianity. But where atheists have really taken their atheism seriously, many of them have found it to be unlivable, because it is a philosophy so untrue to real life.

Further reading. Any serious topic is a natural gateway to good theology, and I am delighted to note (what feels to me to be) an increased recognition of this in both academic and popular culture. Holland and Harari are big names to be calling out our culture on its inherent contradictions. Whatever the sins of modern Western culture, it has not been guilty of thinking too much about God, nor of the ramifications of theism/atheism.

I’d like to finish with two quick book recommendations. I’m glad to see Christian apologists picking up on these same themes. Glen Scrivener’s 2022 book, The Air We Breathe: How We All Came to Believe in Freedom, Kindness, Progress and Equality,is one of the best books of apologetics that I have ever read, and brilliantly shows how the four values of the subtitle (plus others such as compassion and consent) are firmly rooted in Christian theology. He adds his voice to those of the authors above, giving further evidences that Christianity has revolutionized the way that even atheists think in the West, to the degree that “our problems with Christianity (and we all have problems with it, especially Christians!) turn out to be Christian problems.”126 My other recommended book makes similar points. In her little 2021 book, The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims, Rebecca McLaughlin points out that “we need Christianity to be right for human-rights abuses to be wrong.”127 For example, as the concept of equality is a fundamentally Christian one, where Christians have failed to show proper regard for all persons we have failed by our own standards.128 “But,” says McLaughlin, “this problem isn’t fixed by erasing the basis for equality.”129

Notes:

1 Jean-Paul Sartre “Existentialism” in Walter Kaufmann [ed.] Existentialism: from Dostoevsky to Sartre (London: Plume, 1975), 353.

2 Maïa Stepenberg. Against Nihilism: Nietzsche Meets Dostoevsky (London: Black Rose Books, 2019), 39.

3 Nicolas Zernov, in Stepenberg, Against Nihilism, 137.

4 Fyodor Dostoevsky. The Devils. Trans. David Magarshack (London: Penguin, 1971), 614.

5 Stepenberg, Against Nihilism, fn. 69, page 95.

6 Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov. Trans. David Magarshack (Harmondsworth: Penguin: 1985), 695.

7 Ibid., 696.

8 Ibid., 77

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid., 92.

12 Timothy Keller. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (London: Hodder, 2009), 153. Emphasis original.

13 Julian Baggini. Without God, is Everything Permitted? The 20 Big Questions in Ethics (London: Quercus, 2014), 78.

14 See Sire’s excellent account of this gradual philosophical shift from Theism, through Deism, to Naturalism and then to Nihilism, in James Sire’s The Universe Next Door (5th ed.) (Nottingham: IVP Academic, 2009), chapters 2-5.

15 Upon first discovering Dostoevsky, Nietzsche felt ‘the instinct of kinship… immediately’, in Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science. Trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York City: Vintage, 1974), 200.

16 John Phillips, Marquis de Sade: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: OUP, 2005), 36.

17 Sade capitalizes “Nature” and anthropomorphizes “her”. For the purposes of this essay, I shall follow suit.

18 Marquis de Sade, Juliette. Trans. Austryn Wainhouse (London: Arrow, 1968), 344, emphasis added.

19 E.g. Sade, Juliette, 62; Marquis de Sade, “Philosophy in the Bedroom” in Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and Other Writings. Trans. Austryn Wainhouse (London: Arrow, 1991), 208, 230.

20 Sade, Juliette, 767.

21 Sade, “Bedroom”, 329; cf. Marquis de Sade, “Justine” in Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and Other Writings. Trans. Austryn Wainhouse (London: Arrow, 1991), 518.

22 Sade, “Bedroom”, 237-38.

23 Sade, Juliette, 781; cf. ibid. 792.

24 Sade, “Bedroom”, 330.

25 Sade, “Bedroom”, 237-38.

26 Marquis de Sade, “Dialogue between a Priest and a Dying Man” in Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and Other Writings. Trans. Austryn Wainhouse (London: Arrow, 1991), 173.

27 Sade, “Bedroom”, 217.

28 Marquis de Sade, “Eugénie de Franval” in Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and Other Writings. Trans. Austryn Wainhouse (London: Arrow, 1991), 410.

29 Sade, “Bedroom”, 208.

30 Ibid., 226.

31 Ibid., 326.

32 Marquis de Sade, “To Libertines” in Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and Other Writings. Trans. Austryn Wainhouse (London: Arrow, 1991), 185.

33 Sade, “Bedroom”, 230.

34 Sade, “Justine”, 599.

35 Sade, “Dialogue”, 168.

36 Sade, “Bedroom”, 188.

37 Ibid., 230.

38 Ibid., 208.

39 Sade, “Dialogue”, 165.

40 Sade, “Bedroom”, 254.

41 Sade, “Justine”, 494.

42 Sade, Juliette, 177.

43 Sade, “Bedroom”, 253.

44 Augustine of Hippo, Confessions. Trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: OUP, 1992), 7, 9.

45 Sade, Juliette, 788.

46 Sade, “Justine”, 604.

47 Sade, Juliette, 99, emphasis original. Cf. Ibid., 100.

48 Sade, “Bedroom”, 283; cf. Sade, “Justine”, 492.

49 Sade, “Bedroom”, 283.

50 Ibid., 320.

51 E.g. Sade, Juliette, 179-180; Sade, “Bedroom”, 320, 343.

52 Sade, “Justine”, 608.

53 Sade, “Bedroom”, 253.

54 E.g. Friedrich Nietzsche, “Twilight of the Idols” in Twilight of the Idols/The Anti-Christ. Trans. R. J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin, 1990), 66; Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Anti-Christ” in Twilight of the Idols/The Anti-Christ. Trans. R. J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin, 1990), 126, 127, 128-29. ‘For Nietzsche, guilt is a Judaeo-Christian mistake – a useless emotion that should not exist’ Stepenberg, Against Nihilism, 88.

55 Sade, “Bedroom”, 253. Sade elsewhere says that the Christianization of Rome, leading to such things as the abolition of gladiatorial combat, is what led to Rome’s weakening and downfall: ”Rome was mistress of the world all the while she had these cruel spectacles; she sank into decline and from there into slavery as soon as Christian morals managed to persuade her that there was more wrong in watching men slaughtered than beasts.” Sade, Juliette, 784.

56 Sade, “Bedroom”, 309; cf. Sade, Juliette, 52.

57 Sade, “Justine”, 607.

58 Sade, Juliette, 780. This replacement of neighborly love with the more “practical” and “scientific” ethos was of great concern to Dostoevsky, who felt that Russia was following Europe’s bad example in heading in this direction.

59 Sade, “Bedroom”, 254.

60 Ibid., 319.

61 Sade, “Justine”, 487.

62 Ibid., 647.

63 Sade, “Bedroom”, 345.

64 Sade, Juliette, 177; cf. Ibid., 728.

65 Wisdom 2:1, 11, 10 (NRSV).

66 Just a few examples: in Nietzsche, “Twilight,” where we see that if we abandon God then we must abandon Christian morality, 79-80; that the weak and disabled are “parasites” that have no “right to life,” 98; see that morality is fictional, 65; that equality is fictional, 112; that (in Nietzsche, “Anti-Christ”) that “progress” is fictional, 126; and (in Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 93-94) that egoism is right. Nietzsche had a “morality of cruelty” and sought to “extirpate” pity. Stepenberg, Against Nihilism, 48.

67 Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (OUP: Oxford, 1989), 2. The same point can be made about “political success.” In Niccolò Machiavelli’s infamous book The Prince (London: Penguin, 2003), the author writes about how to be an effective ruler. It includes destroying freedom; lying to rivals and murdering them; and keeping the people “stupefied” with “brutality” (18, 57, 25). Like Dawkins (see below), he does not give moral approval to such methods, calling them evil, and yet does insist that “cruelty . . . [can be] used well,” and that “if a prince wants to maintain his rule he must be prepared not to be virtuous”(31, 50).

68 The narrator in Dostoevsky’s “Notes from Underground” (in Kaufmann [ed.] Existentialism) writes about just such a view, saying that if “you are descended from a monkey” then it’s undeniable that “one drop of your own fat must be dearer to you than a hundred thousand of your fellow-creatures” (61). He continues to say (though the narrator himself disagrees with this “evolutionary” model) that “Nature” doesn’t care “whether you like her laws or dislike them” (ibid). Originally published just five years after Darwin’s Origin, Dostoevsky was very quick to see the moral implications of atheistic evolution.

69 Dawkins, Selfish, 2; cf. ibid., 123.

70 Ibid., 3.

71 Ibid. Cf. Ibid., 200-01, 139.

72 Ibid., 128

73 Ibid., 133.

74 Ibid., 125; 147; 154; 184; 100; 65.

75 Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden (London: Science Matters, 1995), 131.

76 Ibid., 95-96.

77 Ibid., 131.

78 Ibid., 133.

79 Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens (London: Vintage, 2011), 31. Cf. ibid., 35-36, 123. Cf. Jeremy Bentham, “Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense – nonsense upon stilts” (in Baggini, Without God, 78).

80 Ibid., 256.

81 Ibid.

82 Ibid., 164.

83 Ibid., 122. See Nietzsche, again, “The masses blink and say: ‘We are all equal — Man is but man, before God we are all equal.’ Before God! But now this God has died.” Nietzsche in Keller, Reason, 154.

84 Ibid., 393.

85 Dawkins, River, 17.

86 Harari, Sapiens, 258.

87 Ibid., 263. Cf. Ibid., 122.

88 Ibid., 257-58; cf. Ibid., 256.

89 Tom Holland, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World (London: Abacus, 2020).

90 Holland, Dominion, xxv.

91 Ibid., xxviii.

92 Ibid.

93 Ibid., 478.

94 Holland, Dominion, 426.

95 Ibid., 523.

96 Sade attempted “to effect a complete cleavage with Judeo-Christian morality and its conception of human nature” (Geoffrey Gorer, The Life and Ideas of the Marquis de Sade (London: Panther, 1967), 42. However, as we have seen, he failed: all things may be permitted without God — but we cannot conceive a world without God.

97 Rowan Williams, Dostoevsky: Language, Faith and Fiction (London: Continuum, 2008), 227.

98 Dostoevsky, Karamazov, 733.

99 See Romans 2:15.

100 See Psalm 14:1.

101 Fyodor Dostoevsky. Crime and Punishment. Trans. Constance Garnett (Ware: Wordsworth, Ware, 2000), 59.

102 Ibid.

103 Ibid., 13.

104 Ibid., 129.

105 In Richard Freeborn, Dostoevsky (London: Life&Times:, 2003), 66.

106 Ibid., 68.

107 We find something similar in the concluding chapter of Dostoevsky’s The Devils. The atheistic revolutionary group at the heart of the novel may “speak a good game” — one of them claiming ‘There’s no such thing as moral or immoral’ (399) — but they can’t live this way in God’s moral universe. At the end of the novel they are still claiming that the murders committed by them were required by their principles (e.g. 661), even whilst various of them are going mad or killing themselves as they try to come to terms with their own actions.

108 “Sadisme” first appeared in a French dictionary (Claude Boiste’s Dictionnaire Universel) in 1834.’Philips, Very Short, 115. NB Sade’s thought is “Sadean,” not “sadistic.”

109 Ravi Zacharias, The Real Face of Atheism (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 73. NB. Zacharias is now an awkward author to cite; I don’t commend his person, any more than in quoting the Marquis de Sade I commend him!

110 Zacharias, Face, 27.

111 Francis A. Schaeffer, “The God Who is There” in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Volume 1: A Christian Worldview of Philosophy and Culture, 2nd Ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 1993) , 132.

112 Ibid., 133.

113 Bryan A. Follis, Truth with Love: The Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 65.

114 Ibid.

115 Dostoevsky, Karamazov, 285. Dostoevsky was concerned about the dangers of determinism, contrasting determinism and “slavery” with “individual responsib[ility]” and “moral duty,” see “Environment” (1873) in Russian Soul, 7-8. See also “Anna Karenina as a Fact of Special Importance” in Russian Soul, 115, where he holds that determinism means that “the criminal is not responsible.”

116 William Barrett, Death of the Soul: From Descartes to the Computer (Oxford, OUP, 1987), xiii. See also Timothy Keller: “Though we have been taught that all moral values are relative to individuals and cultures, we can’t live like that.” Keller, Reason, 147.

117 C.S. Lewis uses the ability to rise above egoism as a differentiating factor between man and beast. “Religion and Rocketry” in Fern-seed and Elephants, and other essays on Christianity (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins, 1975) 87.

118 C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (London: Fontana, 1957), 82.

119 Rebecca McLaughlin. Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 65-66. Though even Singer is not unflinchingly consistent, for example writing of behavior that “we ought to do” Peter Singer, A Darwinian Left: Politics, Evolution and Cooperation (London: Yale University Press, 1999), 12.

120 Denis Alexander and Alister McGrath (eds.), Coming to Faith Through Dawkins: 12 Essays on the Pathway from New Atheism to Christianity (Grand Rapids, Kregal, 2023), 48.

121 Ibid.

122 C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (Glasgow: Fount, 1977), 138.

123 Rachael Denhollander, What is a girl worth? One Woman’s Courageous Battle to Protect the Innocent and Stop a Predator – No Matter the Cost (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2019), 102. In her book, this whole quote, as an extract from her journal, is italicised.

124 Ibid., 100

125 Dostoevsky, Devils, 679.

126 Glen Scrivener, The Air we Breathe (Epsom: The Good Book Company, 2022), 14, emphasis original.

127 Rebecca McLaughlin, The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims (Austin: The Gospel Coalition, 2021), 46, emphasis original.

128 E.g. Scrivener, Air, 30, 31, 43.

129 McLaughlin, Creed, 8.