Rebirth of Reason


An Objectivist-Christian Dialogue
by Neil Parille

             In recent years there has been much dialogue between adherents of different religions.  There has even been Christian-Marxist and Christian-Humanist dialogue.  There has not been, to the best of my knowledge, Christian-Objectivist dialogue.  In fact, Christians and Objectivists have been rather hostile to one another.  Leonard Peikoff blamed the holocaust, in part, on Christianity.  Whittaker Chambers wrote a scathing critique of Atlas Shrugged in National Review in 1957.  Christian philosopher John Robbins has written two critiques of Objectivism, which were harsh and at times unfair to Objectivism.

            Given that such dialogue would be unprecedented and not likely to change anyone’s mind, I offer two areas in which dialogue would be fruitful in the narrow sense of helping to clarify opposing ideas.

Immanuel Kant
             Immanuel Kant is frequently discussed in the Objectivist world.  Ayn Rand is famous for her statement that Kant was the most evil man in history.  The Objectivist critique of Kant is clear enough.  Kant was living during the end of the Enlightenment era when science and reason were undercutting religion at every turn.  Kant set out to save religion and religious morality by devising a philosophy that enshrined irrationalism at every turn.  Kant is the mystic par excellence.[1]

            Kant is an interesting character.  Although not a completely irreligious man, his religion was not of the traditional kind.  Although raised in a pietist Lutheran home, he did not pray or attend church.  He also advocated a secular government and ran into trouble with the Prussian Lutheran Church because many considered his writings irreligious.  His most famous book on religion was entitled Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone.  There he advanced the position that religion is correct only to the extent that it conforms itself to the dictates of reason.

            In the eyes of many Christians, Kant is not the champion of traditional religion and morality that Objectivists make him out to be.  In fact, they tend to view Kant as a thinker whose goal was to create a religion (so to speak) of reason in which man replaces God.  Christian philosopher John Frame says of Kant: “In many ways, in Kant’s philosophy, man replaces God as both the ultimate source and the ultimate interpreter of reality.”  [Frame, The Doctrine of God, p. 112.]  Evangelical theologian Clark Pinnock writes that “Christian apologetics has only barely survived the tremendous influence of this one man.”  [Pinnock, Biblical Revelation, p. 39.]  A. E. Taylor argued that Kant saw religion as valuable only insofar as it encouraged morality.  To pray for “grace” to live morally was no better than “superstition.”  [Taylor, The Faith of a Moralist, Vol. 2, pp. 65 & 67.]

            Christians and Objectivists might profitably discuss why the ideas and influence of Kant are viewed so differently.

Objective Reality
             Objectivism is famous for placing a premium on rationality.  Truth is the conformity of the mind to objective reality.  Objectivists view religious believers seeking to substitute a world of their own making in place of reality.  However, many religious believers have a similar hard-headed belief in the objectivity of the world.  Christian philosopher Paul Helm writes:
Reality is not a human construct, though it is no doubt unavoidable in practice that any understanding of reality is affected and even distorted by the particular circumstances and natures of the knowers, by errors and ignorance.  But if the universe is God’s creation then it exists, as such, in an intelligible and orderly manner . . . . there is an objective state of affairs to which, as far as possible, we ought to make our beliefs conform and which, because of its objective character, often corrects our beliefs in unexpected ways.  [Helm, Faith and Understanding, p. 54.]
             Christians and Objectivists might discuss the implications of taking a Christian view of creation versus a naturalistic view.  For example, many Christians have argued that the belief that God created an orderly universe governed by laws was essential to the birth of science.


             There are many areas where Objectivists and Christians could engage in fruitful dialogue.  I have suggested two as a starting point.

[1] Objectivists often quote Kant’s statement that “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.”  Fred Seddon argues that taking “faith” here in the Randian sense doesn’t do justice to Kant’s position. He points out that Nicholas Rescher suggests a better translation might be “rationally justified belief.”  [Seddon, “Kant on Faith,” JARS, Vol. 7., No. 1.]  Seddon says that Kant was either an atheist or close to one.
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