There was a great opinion piece in the Sunday Times by Slavoj Zizek (behind the subscription firewall here). An atheist from the former Yugoslavia, Zizek criticizes the “Karamozov fallacy” in which Christians have long-argued that without God everything is permitted. As he points out, the Enlightenment principles in Europe that led to large numbers of atheists over the past few centuries (a demographic that is still fast growing) has shown the opposite to be true. Post-Enlightenment humanistic principles have contributed substantially toward gains in human rights, free speech, greater understanding and tolerance of other faiths, and liberal democracy. But increasingly, Christian and Muslim fundamentalism — flip sides of the same coin — have brought us to the point where under God everything is permitted. Here’s the money quote:
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.
Religion was supposed to bring peace but it has brought a sword. Fundamentalists, shouting “God is great!”, are gunning down anyone they perceive to be an infidel or a heretic. In the name of God, other religious zealots are strapping bombs to themselves and blowing up thousands of innocents. Everything immoral and evil does seem to be permitted but it is not due to the lack of religion; rather because of it.