Rebirth of Reason

War for Men's Minds

The Fundamentalist Right: Why Objectivists Can't Afford to Spar with Liberal Religion
by Richard D. Engle

Part of what set me to writing this piece was reading an article called Creationism: God’s gift to the Ignorant (Timesonline, May 21) that appears on the SOLO Forum under the name God’s Gift to Kansas, a piece that I agree with in its content, if not entirely its spirit.

Objectivists, on the whole, are atheists. Ortho-Objectivists say that atheism is a requirement, a statement that I am not sure about. In either case, the issue doesn’t concern me, other than to say I am glad that the right to hold that belief exists.

There are enough Objectivists who are contemptuous of religious folk (often referring to them as “religionists,” for some reason) and communicate their disdain very clearly. For instance, in a recent online SOLO discussion, initiated by a Christian who reads Ayn Rand, the comment was made that “With religionists Objectivists have to deal with a mentality that, on the evolutionary ladder, is on a lower level. It’s a mentality that has not reached the state of independent thinking.” Well, get to the back of the bus, and be sure to use the Colored water fountain on the way.

The above quote is not an exceptional example, and shares the same superior bravado of the fire-and-brimstoner proclaiming whatever he proclaims about all you Godless freaks who are, of course, on the fast track to the subterranean tanning salon.

While sacrifice, being as it is an exchange of a value for a non-value, isn’t valid in Objectivism, benevolence certainly is - it just seems like it is in short supply at times. We could question the motivations that lie behind this state of affairs, but it would serve little positive purpose and is more appropriately left to each individual for contemplation.

The religious world is an odd (and sometimes totally alien) one to Objectivists. These days, our ever-narrowing bandwidth creates very real pressure to evaluate, tag a person, place them into the proper pigeonhole, and move on. Spending cycles determining the diverse, complex, ideological makeup within the individual is time-consuming, and unfriendly to the process of rapid camp-building. For politicians, doing so would create additional difficulties. Fast judgment is a seductive thing; even for the most critical mind evidence becomes available quickly, and can look sufficient. In the case of religion, those within its doors have long been aware of the problems. Emerson (himself a minister) had it in the 1800’s:

“Our young people are diseased with the theological problems of original sin, origin of evil, predestination, and the like. These never presented a practical difficulty to any man - never darkened across any man’s road, who did not go out of his way to seek them. These are the soul’s mumps, and measles, and whooping coughs.” (Spiritual Laws)

Objectivists don’t even resort to these ends, dismissing the entire business on rational grounds. In the case of Creationism, the normal refutations are well-known: who created the Creator, and so on. With that, the baby is usually thrown out with the bath water. Like it or not, though, there is a fact to be faced by both sides when looking at things in practice: Logic is equally ineffective whether it argues for or against religion. There are concrete reasons why, and I will leave it to the reader to determine what those two very different reasons really are - it does not matter, what does is that the situation simply exists in human relations. Even the religious practice of the common man, which is sometimes a second-hand, distilled, inherited one that resembles more of a habit than anything else, is not worthy of inquiry and argument because of the threatening issues at hand. The pertinent thing to be determined is if a person, religious or not, is keeping their ethical house in order: this is where the common ground must be mined.

Fundamentalism of any kind is always dangerous on some level, much more so than mysticism can be. True mystics are the heavy hitters of the religious world, but more often than not they present a fragile, volatile psychology, and behave oddly at times. This is why mysticism is now called “spirituality,” which is a much more user-friendly, accessible way of allowing for the same sort of thing, but staying under the radar.  Mystics can scare people out of the pews.

The Fundamentalists, along with the rest of the radical religious right in the United States, now constitute a major threat to the welfare and freedom of any person or organization that operates outside of their agenda, which by proxy is a fascist one. That includes anyone who is not them. In this, you are comrades-in-arms with a mass population of religious people. The religious right is encouraged, and efficaciously empowered by the current administration, which is entangled with, dependent upon, and obligated to them.

Fundamentalists, on the whole, to the street level, have no more understanding of the mechanics or structure of their belief system than an average person would understand what the philosophical origins are of a phrase like “the ends justify the means” when they say it. If they did, it might or might not make a difference, but it invites some inquiry on our part.

Modern Fundamentalism in the United States (and the relationship of Christianity to oil) dates back to 1890, when the ever-devout Lyman Stewart, and his brother Milton, who together started Union Oil Company, ponied up $300,000.00 to fund the publication of a series of pamphlets called The Fundamentals as a response to liberal theology, Darwinism, and other undesirable forces at play. If you’re up for crossing the neutral zone, one place to read them is
www.xmission.com/~fidelis/ , but be careful you don't get anything stuck on you while you're there . It must have been lost on the Stewarts that they were funding a publication repudiating evolutionary theory with money made from fossil fuel. There's a fine treatment of this and other horrors over at http://www.jesus21.com/content/faith/index.php?s=in_his_name.

Christian Fundamentalism flounders, not flies, in the face of even the amateur theological historian. When the Fundamentalist goes on about original sin, these people might be looking at the Old Testament and its angry, contrary God from a different scholarly perspective. For instance, some Gnostics held that the Yahweh of the Old Testament was a mutant Deity called Ialdabaoth, the son of Sophia, and that the snake was not malevolent at all, but simply trying to warn Eve about the con-job. Gnostics aren’t the only ones who thought that the Supreme Being put up with this for a time, and then sent his son to temporarily take over the body of a man named Jesus, and free the world from the teachings of Moses. If you want to publicly discredit a Fundamentalist, one way to do it is simply by having a strong knowledge of philosophy, history, and theology  and be able to take them to the interpretive mat. For more full-flavored action, start talking about Gnostic Scripture. Convincing them to embrace tolerance is, sadly, another matter. As true as it is that the real evil is ignorance, sitting behind fear, we have moved past the point of gentle persuasion and education, and must move on to responsible activism in order to stop this machine.

Fundamentalism is no different than fascism - its dogma came from creating a static, slanted interpretation of a body of work that was never meant to be used for purposes of power and control. No existing major religion in the world actually endorses intolerance. Believe it, take it to the bank.

Your spiritual neighbors are beginning to fight Fundamentalists for the tolerance of individual religious freedom (that includes the right not to believe), along with other rights we all hold dear. One organization doing so is The Christian Alliance (
www.christianalliance.org ). Take a look at their Jacksonville Declaration. Another is the Unitarian Universalist Church, and their social justice programs (www.uua.org). Look for the commonalities. Practice the benevolence. Look at the Big Picture.  
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