Atheism Removes the Basis for Law

“We are never going to get anywhere (assuming for the moment that there is somewhere to get) in ethical or legal theory unless we finally face the fact that, in the Psalmist’s words, there is no one like unto the Lord. If He does not exist, there is no metaphoric equivalent. No person, no combination of people, no document however hallowed by time, no process, no premise, nothing is equivalent to an actual God in this central function as the unexaminable examiner of good and evil. The so-called death of God turns out not to have been just His funeral; it also seems to have effected the total elimination of any coherent, or even more-than-momentarily extrasystematic premises. . . .

Put briefly, if the law is ‘not a brooding omnipresence in the sky,’ then it can be only one place: in us. If we are trying to find a substitute final evaluator, it must be one of us, some of us, all of us — but it cannot be anything else. The result of that realization is what might be called an exhilarated vertigo, a simultaneous combination of an exultant ‘We’re free of God’ and a despairing ‘Oh God, we’re free.'”

~ Arthur Leff, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law,” in Duke Law Journal (December 1979 issue), 1232-1233.

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