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Help With Dostoevsky Quote


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I don’t have a full understanding of this idea and I’m curious if anyone could shed some light on it. I ran across this in a Sam Keen book:

 

"When all things are permissible, as Dostoevsky pointed out a century ago, when nothing is forbidden, when there are no taboos, both God and the human spirit die."

 

Why would that be?

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The human spirit dies because a part of what makes us human is that we observe and obey behavioral boundaries. Without those boundaries, we'd be no better than animals. Likewise, God is defined by boundaries He expects humans to obey, without them He doesn't exist.

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Interesting response. I hadn’t thought of it like that. When reading the Dostoevsky quote I get a vague image of everything flattening out- life flattens out, everything becomes blah, sapped of energy, nobody caring anymore.

 

The human spirit dies because a part of what makes us human is that we observe and obey behavioral boundaries. Without those boundaries, we'd be no better than animals.

 

Your take on it is that he is referring to our specifically human spirit as opposed to our animal nature. Not sure about that one!

 

 

Likewise, God is defined by boundaries He expects humans to obey, without them He doesn't exist.

 

So when we don’t obey God’s boundaries, he disappears? … Hmm…I guess that make sense- we don’t acknowledge God (the Christian version of God I should say), slowly forget about him and he disappears from our lives in that way.

 

Not sure I totally get it but that helps. So no matter where the boundaries come from – human society or God or ? – without them the human spirit collapses. But that brings another question: what is worse, no boundaries or the wrong boundaries? For example if the Christian worldview, with all its rules which have no meaning to me, was imposed by the state that would be a real spirit killer.

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I believe it was Betrand Russell who wrote "A Memorial Service", which was an exploration of the idea that gods die when they have no more believers. He went on to list a hundred or so gods that at one time were considered everything that God is today, they were all powerful creators and overlords, that were worshipped unquestioningly by countless believers...and today all of them are dead.

 

How does one explain the Christian God? You will find it hard to describe Him and His religion without the rules He set forth. Without His rules, there is nothing unique about Him, nothing with which to specifically identify Him. Stripping away the rules, unmakes God, just as it unmakes our humanity. I'm pretty sure that's what Dostoyevsky meant. Russell would tell you, that without the rules He wouldn't be identifiable as a specific entity, and subsequently could not have believers, which would render Him dead.

 

But that brings another question: what is worse, no boundaries or the wrong boundaries? For example if the Christian worldview, with all its rules which have no meaning to me, was imposed by the state that would be a real spirit killer.

 

'No rules' would be much worse...people would simply be responding to their basest impulses, which would be a fairly depraved state of affairs. Humanity is above animals because we are 'civilized', we are civilized because we have rules.

 

Imposed Christianity..just think the Dark Ages, not a very enlightened time, but not totally barbaric either.

 

Does this make any sense?

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Does this make any sense?
It does, thanks. Another thing that would help is an analogy of some kind.

 

I believe it was Betrand Russell who wrote "A Memorial Service"

I'll be adding that one to my list. Too many good books out there to keep up with.

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I talked to Fedor about this this morning, and he said he was misquoted.

You got me curious about the original quote- I searched it and it should be the other way around: “If there is no God, then everything is permissible.” Either way I find it intriguing. Technically the quote is from Ivan Karamavoz, one of Dostoevsky's fictional characters.

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I talked to Fedor about this this morning, and he said he was misquoted.

You got me curious about the original quote- I searched it and it should be the other way around: “If there is no God, then everything is permissible.” Either way I find it intriguing. Technically the quote is from Ivan Karamavoz, one of Dostoevsky's fictional characters.

 

These words from the character of Ivan Karamazov reminded me immediately of these words of St. Paul: "Everything is lawful, but not everything is beneficial." Another translation puts Paul's words (I Cor. 10.23) this way: "Everything is lawful, but not everything builds others up." One translation substitues permissible for lawful, even more closely resembling the words of the brother Karamazov.

 

So the agnostic/atheist character of Dostoevsky's creation and the very-much-so theistic Paul seem to agree: Everything is permissible.

 

This morning while teaching a GED class at the local community college, I noticed that there were three wads of chewing gum on the underside of one of the desks. Why, I wondered, would anyone leave gum behind? Couldn't they have wrapped it in a piece of paper and thrown it away as they left the room? I wonder the same thing when I see hundreds of pieces of gum ground into a sidewalk, and I definitely think about the rule of law surrounding the disposal of chewing gum when I step in it! Same with dog crap. And with cigarette butts thrown out of car windows.

 

Do laws make us more lawful? Do we need a law around disposing of one's chewing gum, as we have laws about disposing of one's dog's doo-doo?

 

Do the laws against armed robbery make anyone less likely to rob someone at the barrel of a gun -- if they really want to do so? Last year, 17,000 Americans were murdered, yet murder is not permissible. What about anti-drug laws? What would happen if we did away with all of them? Would it increase or decrease the use of currently-illegal drugs?

 

We are animal--on this religion and science agree. Religion would assert that we also are spirit. Leaving that aside, do animals behave well if there are no negative consequences for not behaving well? Do we need the threat of the sword or "hellfire" or punishment in order to keep us lawful? If so, does that indicate very little evolution in our character?

 

Tthe father of our Constitution, James Madison, writing in the Federalist Papers said this: "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." Really? Would God, like government, be unnecessary if men and women were angels?

 

I have answered nothing in the post. Just raised more questions. Sorry.

 

-CC in MA

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Do laws make us more lawful? Do we need a law around disposing of one's chewing gum, as we have laws about disposing of one's dog's doo-doo?

 

Do the laws against armed robbery make anyone less likely to rob someone at the barrel of a gun -- if they really want to do so? Last year, 17,000 Americans were murdered, yet murder is not permissible. What about anti-drug laws? What would happen if we did away with all of them? Would it increase or decrease the use of currently-illegal drugs?

 

Maybe we do need laws to keep a basic level of standard of living possible. Not sure if this is a good analogy, but let’s say that traffic lights represent laws- if traffic lights were not there, getting to work would be more dangerous, more time consuming, more frustrating. Without lights, would the more aggressive drivers with the bigger vehicles behave like saints? I doubt it- they would have their way. With traffic lights, as irritating as they are, at least the majority of people can get to their jobs then get home with a moderate degree of safety.

 

With people throwing cigarette butts, chewed gum, etc- I wonder if this idea has been tried with success: have one law about public decency and keep it very simple and general in nature. Then judges or juries interpret it case by case, with the golden rule in mind. We tend to do the opposite with laws- spell everything out very specifically. Which works good until people find a way to misinterpret and slip around the wording of the law. Then laws pile up, there’s too many to keep track of and they end up not being enforced.

 

Similarly, with anti-drug laws, how about get rid of them and just make it something like this: if a drug user harms the public safety, only then have they broken the law. Purposely keep it vague and simple. Do everyone a favor (except maybe lawyers) and reduce the complexity. Yes it will be interpreted in a hundred different ways depending on the jurisdiction, but at least the basic idea would always be there. Over-simplified, but it might be a good way to start over with a clean slate. Then add another layer of complexity as needed but have a process in place to gaurd against massive legal sprawl- for example when you add a new law you have to remove an old one.

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Do laws make us more lawful? Do we need a law around disposing of one's chewing gum, as we have laws about disposing of one's dog's doo-doo?

 

Do the laws against armed robbery make anyone less likely to rob someone at the barrel of a gun -- if they really want to do so? Last year, 17,000 Americans were murdered, yet murder is not permissible. What about anti-drug laws? What would happen if we did away with all of them? Would it increase or decrease the use of currently-illegal drugs?

 

Maybe we do need laws to keep a basic level of standard of living possible. Not sure if this is a good analogy, but let’s say that traffic lights represent laws- if traffic lights were not there, getting to work would be more dangerous, more time consuming, more frustrating. Without lights, would the more aggressive drivers with the bigger vehicles behave like saints? I doubt it- they would have their way. With traffic lights, as irritating as they are, at least the majority of people can get to their jobs then get home with a moderate degree of safety.

 

With people throwing cigarette butts, chewed gum, etc- I wonder if this idea has been tried with success: have one law about public decency and keep it very simple and general in nature. Then judges or juries interpret it case by case, with the golden rule in mind. We tend to do the opposite with laws- spell everything out very specifically. Which works good until people find a way to misinterpret and slip around the wording of the law. Then laws pile up, there’s too many to keep track of and they end up not being enforced.

 

Similarly, with anti-drug laws, how about get rid of them and just make it something like this: if a drug user harms the public safety, only then have they broken the law. Purposely keep it vague and simple. Do everyone a favor (except maybe lawyers) and reduce the complexity. Yes it will be interpreted in a hundred different ways depending on the jurisdiction, but at least the basic idea would always be there. Over-simplified, but it might be a good way to start over with a clean slate. Then add another layer of complexity as needed but have a process in place to gaurd against massive legal sprawl- for example when you add a new law you have to remove an old one.

 

 

Has there ever been a literate civilization that did not create laws prohibiting certain behaviors? That's all law is about: restricting/limiting/prohibiting behavior by means of thou shalt not's. Even positive laws, such as "thou shalt pay taxes," restrict behavior by removing from personal coffers $ that would lead to an increase in personal liberty.

 

It seems to me that law is for the lawful. The lawless care little for law. Why, therefore, do we create law for the lawful? In hope that the lawless might become the lawful and statutory guidelines are meant to show them the way? Martin Luther King often said that law can make no one love his neighbor, but law can convince one to refrain from firebombing his neighbor's house.

 

-CC in MA

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