Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"If there is no God, everything is permitted" in Woody Allen's movies

I think Allen's films (Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point) provide a forceful rebuttal to sanguine claims that are made on behalf of "Ethics Without God." It seems to me that, if we take Allen's message seriously, atheism, even if it is true (and Allen thinks it is true), atheism is ethically damaging in a significant range of cases, in that people can get involved in "everything is permitted" reasoning and never be held accountable by anyone, including themselves. 

It isn't that he thinks that ethics can come only from God. It is just that on an atheistic view it is perfectly possible for them to "get away with murder" and avoid punishment, even the internally imposed punishment of guilt feelings, which, it seems, can be overcome.

Particularly interesting is the difference between the outcome of Allen's movies and Crime and Punishment, which can only be explained in terms of the difference between Allen's atheism and Dostoyevsky's Russian Orthodox Christianity.

There is an ugly side to all of this, in that Allen has been accused of his own crimes and misdemeanors. Not murder, of course, but being a pedophile

Of course, Allen has not been proven guilty, but then, neither were his protagonists in the two movies. Did he fall into "everything is permitted" reasoning in his own life? 

Surely, a belief in ultimate moral accountability is hardly the only motive for being moral. More often than we realize, it does deter the evil in the hearts of men (and women). 

Papalinton likes this quote: "If religion cannot restrain evil. it cannot claim effective power for good." M Cohen, American professor of Philosophy and Law.

But I think that in many many, many instances, it does restrain evil. Of course, when it does restrain evil, it doesn't make it onto the evening news.

See also this discussion. .


Heuristics said...

There are two levels of morality.

The first is to correctly follow the rules set out by your social community.

The second is to find and follow the correct moral laws, those higher then mere social convention.

Both levels are needed. We cannot expect every man to be a moral philosopher. But the correctness of the first level does not mean that the second level is pointless for it is through it that the first level holds purpose.

unkleE said...

CS Lewis said that if religion didn't make someone better then it made them worse, and I think he was right. For most christians, believing in Jesus leads us to realise that some things were thought were OK are in fact wrong (e.g. unforgiveness or hating enemies), plus it gives us a motivation to try to live up to jesus' high standards.

But religion (the studies show it is more often extrinsic religion than intrinsic religion or spirituality) can make people prejudiced and uncaring about people outside their in-group.

The studies also show that religious people are generally more prosocial ("the data that religion has social and individual benefits is so overwhelming that saying that religion has no benefits is active science denial." - Science on religion, so the balance is clearly in favour of religion, but when it goes bad it can be very ugly indeed.

B. Prokop said...

"but when it goes bad it can be very ugly indeed"

This is true of every aspect of human activity that makes life worthwhile. The alternative to breathtaking beauty and truly horrifying evil is a bland, gray mush of apathy, inertia, and torpidity.

Just take a look at Canto III of Dante's Inferno, where we come upon the souls of people who had never made a decision for anything in their lives. Virgil expresses more contempt for them than for any of the far more evil sinners in the circles below. "These are the nearly soulless, whose lives concluded neither blame nor praise ... in their blind and unattaining state their miserable lives have sunk so low that they must envy every other fate."

So when some enemy of religion ("God Hater" in Ilion's parlance) imagines he's scored a point by pointing out the truly regrettable crimes committed at times in the name of religion, he's actually offering a backhanded compliment. As humankind rises toward perfection, he will increase in the capacity to do both good and evil.

I can't recall the exact quote, but I remember C.S. Lewis saying something like, "You don't make demons out of bad mice, but out of bad archangels." (Does anybody here know the precise wording?)

Jezu ufam tobie!

oozzielionel said...

"If religion cannot restrain evil. it cannot claim effective power for good." misses the more important point. The effective power for good comes from promoting good actions. Restraining evil only gets you moral neutral. It is the promotion of right living, pursuing the benefit of others that must be the measure. If Woody Allen thinks that jettisoning guilt feelings is producing any type of morality, he only moves the bar lower and has done nothing to promote goodness.

Steve Lovell said...

A quick Google suggests the quote is from "The Great Divorce"

"There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him. And the higher and mightier it is in the natural order, the more demoniac it will be if it rebels. It’s not out of bad mice or bad fleas you make demons, but out of bad archangels."

Anonymous said...

I think he said something similar in Mere Christianity, although I can't remember the reference offhand.

unkleE said...

There is some science on all this. Connor Wood reports that people that believe in hell and a judgmental God are more likely to behave morally, whereas people who focus more on heaven and a loving God are more likely to be happier and satisfied with life.

I don't think that makes things totally clear, but it shows that what we believe about these things generally makes a difference to how we behave.

Saints and Sceptics said...

Good post Vic
Inspired us to put this up



Hal said...

"There is an ugly side to all of this, in that Allen has been accused of his own crimes and misdemeanors. Not murder, of course, but being a pedophile. "

The only ugly side I see is your suggestion that Allen is a pedophile based on accusations that have never been substantiated. Shame on you.

Victor Reppert said...

His own admitted behavior is morally problematic enough to suggest that his world-view is not shown to be morally ennobling in his own life, however brilliant a film-maker he really is.


Papalinton said...

"His own admitted behavior is morally problematic enough to suggest that his world-view is not shown to be morally ennobling in his own life ..."

Victor is passing judgement.

Victor Reppert said...

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

im-skeptical said...

"Not that there's anything wrong with that. "

Unless, of course, you believe what the bible says about it.