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  • Eric Kampmann

Everything Is Permitted

See Proverbs 20:26–29

In the nineteenth century, many members of the intelligentsia decided that the God of the Bible was false and irrelevant. Whether it was through the work of Darwin, Marx, or Nietzsche, God, for the most part, was ushered off the stage. This created a new problem: Who would lead the way in establishing the new world order? If mankind were to continue to climb to ever-higher levels of technological and scientific achievement, then a substitute standard and standard bearer would be required. It was Nietzsche who proposed the idea of the Overlord or Ubermensch.

Another nineteenth-century writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, saw a darker side to the “God Is Dead” movement. He wrote in The Brothers Karamazov, “If God does not exist, then everything is permitted.” It would not be until the twentieth century that the world would be able to test the practical applications underpinning the godless Overlord. And by then it was too late. The hope of the nineteenth century devolved into the horrific political and scientific perversions of the twentieth. It turns out that, when everything is permitted, “everything” inevitably includes Nazi death camps and Soviet Gulags. In the hands of the dictatorial Ubermensch, whether Hitler or Stalin or Mao, the people would be liberated into a demonic level of suffering.

David Berlinski in his book, The Devil’s Delusion, describes how German extermination squads swept into Eastern European villages, rounded up people, had them dig their own graves, and then shot them. One man, an elderly Hasidic Jew, turned to his executioner and said, “God is watching what you are doing.” He was then shot dead. Berlinski then goes on to say this: “What Hitler did not believe and what Stalin did not believe and what Mao did not believe and what the SS did not believe and what the Gestapo did not believe and what the NKVD did not believe and what the commissars, functionaries, swaggering executioners, Nazi doctors, Communist Party theoreticians, intellectuals, Brown Shirts, Black Shirts, gauleiters, and a thousand party hacks did not believe was that God was watching what they were doing. And as far as we can tell, very few of those carrying out the horrors of the twentieth century worried overmuch that God was watching what they were doing either.”

Have we learned anything from the nightmares of the last century? Do we continue to look to mortals for a pathway to a better life? Or do we adhere to the words of the Psalmist: “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes” (Psalm 118:8–9).

—Eric Kampmann, Signposts

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