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Monday, October 16, 2006 - 11:15amSanction this postReply
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Not so fast. Rand may be guilty of some things but sacrificing truth for PR isn't one of them, not evidently so. The quote you give could be understood as saying that for some people, given their individual circumstances, education, background, opportunities for development, etc., religion could be a kind of shortcut to some important ideas, ideas, however, they probably haven't the chance to figure out for themselves. Most religions, after all, contain some pretty decent (as well as lousy) ideas. Their ethics may be theoretically altruistic, for example, but practically they may make good sense. Take the Ten Commandments--most of them are good ideas (mostly prohibitions, actually rather than guidance).
        When I started to teach back in 1970 I was asked to give a guest lecture on whether religion could be rational and I answered, "yes," for some people in some cases. And I haven't changed my mind on this. It was Hegel, I think, who argued that Christianity, for example, is simplified true metaphysics! 




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Monday, October 16, 2006 - 11:15amSanction this postReply
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This article was largely inspired by the following quote from Ayn Rand Answers, The Best of her Q & A, edited by Robert Mayhew:

 

“In America, religion is relatively nonmystical. Religious teachers here are predominantly good, healthy materialists.  They follow common sense…There are many historical and philosophical connections between altruism and religion.  You would find too much opposition to Objectivism among religious Americans.  There are rational religious people.  In fact, I was pleased and astonished to discover that some religious people support Objectivism.  If you want to be a full Objectivist, you cannot reconcile that with religion; but that doesn’t mean religious people cannot be individualists and fight for freedom.  ..Further, it’s not difficult to fight religion when you have a good philosophy…In America, you would not find it difficult to divorce religion from altruism.  After all, Christ said: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’…” (p. 63)

(Ayn Rand made this comment in 1961.)

 

Dennis

(Edited by Dennis Hardin on 10/16, 11:35am)




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Monday, October 16, 2006 - 12:35pmSanction this postReply
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"....religion is the enemy of everything they value in this world...."

There are several on this board who share this thought, and I just don't see it.  The most religious people I know are also the most objective people I know.  They aren't Objectivists, but they are far from the evil influence that some Objectivists make them out to be.  What exactly are these religious people supposedly doing to doom our world?




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Post 3

Monday, October 16, 2006 - 1:43pmSanction this postReply
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I think one thing that can lead to "religion is the enemy" is a BRE (Bad Religious Experience).  Whether it was at the hands (or ruler) of a seemingly sadistic nun in Catholic school, or indoctrination into a group like the Church of Christ (of which I have first-hand experience), I can see why many people (Objectivist or otherwise) recoil at the mention of religion not being the great evil they remember it to be.  

I can see how Objectivist people would see belief in some religion is antithetical to a reasonable look on the nature of the cosmos, and perhaps they see any view that undermines critical thinking of the nature of things as a threat.  I'd be interested, Deanna, to hear you justify the statement that, "(t)he most religious people I know are also the most objective people I know."
 
Bauer   

An interesting note: The above was previewed with Spell Check and "Christ" was highlighted.  Is this an "Anti-Religious" Objectivist conspiracy? ;)p

(Edited by Bauer Westeren on 10/16, 1:46pm)

(Edited by Bauer Westeren on 10/16, 1:50pm)

(Edited by Bauer Westeren on 10/16, 1:50pm)




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Monday, October 16, 2006 - 2:04pmSanction this postReply
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Random thoughts that may be over-generalizations:

Religious people believe in a supernatural power that controls their destiny and they look for "divine intervention" instead of looking to what they, themselves, can do. It may calm themselves in times of crisis, but that's all.

They are made to feel guilty for actions that are often natural. Their morality is based on commandments without any philosophical understanding of why certain actions harm themselves.

They are generally collectivists and altruists. Even Muslims sacrifice themselves to the greater good of Allah.

Their beliefs are totally based on "faith." They can't be described as being Objectivists, by definition.




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Monday, October 16, 2006 - 2:49pmSanction this postReply
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The thing is that what people think and what they actually do are often quite different.



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Monday, October 16, 2006 - 2:48pmSanction this postReply
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"What exactly are these religious people supposedly doing to doom our world?"
Well, from a practical standpoint (and just off the top of my head), I can think of the following political areas that fanatical religious individuals wish to change:

1)  The elimination of abortion (i.e., making abortion illegal);
2)  The elimination of embryonic stem-cell research;
3)  The incursion into a person's sexual choices (e.g., birth control, the "rights" of homosexuals);
4)  The incarceration of people for engaging in prostitution;
5)  The forced welfare or wealth redistribution programs based on altruistic principles.

While the morality of items three and four have been debated, I doubt that an objectivist style government would regulate those areas of personal choice.

Are we doomed as the result of these limitations?  Each time we lose a little bit of freedom, both personal and economic, we lose ground to those that wish to see reason, as a basis for understanding reality, diminished or eliminated.

Rick




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Monday, October 16, 2006 - 3:35pmSanction this postReply
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Yes, indeed, folks are quite irregular about the beliefs they accept, even when they do so, even where they do so. Most religions people wouldn't try to solve a flat tire by means of prayer. Many confine their seriousness about their faith to Sunday mornings. Many out and out violate their religious convictions and think little of it, most of the time. People are very often just all over the place about what they think, especially at the higher abstract levels.
       I once noticed how much agreement there is among them as they barrel down on the LIE, with none or few disagreeing about where the dividing line is and how fast the car is going in front of them. No problems here. But come politics, religion, child raising, etc., and so forth, and they are all over the place. (To explain this you will need to wait for my new book, Why Everyone Else is Wrong.)




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Monday, October 16, 2006 - 4:19pmSanction this postReply
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Why Everyone Else is Wrong
Tibor, I love that title!




Post 9

Monday, October 16, 2006 - 7:35pmSanction this postReply
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Dennis Hardin wrote:

During most of her adult life, Ayn Rand regarded religion as an unworthy opponent.  She rarely addressed the issue of religion as such, preferring to invest her intellectual energy in fighting the philosophical influence of Immanuel Kant.  I think it’s probable that she considered religion as such to be largely a dead issue, and chose not to attack its many remaining adherents in the hope that it would soon be obvious to them that she offered a much better set of guiding principles for their lives.  She frequently attacked mysticism—but rarely set her sights on religion.

...In every fundamental area, as Walsh vividly demonstrates, religion is the antithesis of Objectivism.  Unless the current generation of Objectivists succeed in helping people see that religion is the enemy of everything they value in this world, the consequences could well spell doom for capitalism and the world as we know it.

I agree with this interpretation of Ayn Rand and religion. Religion has been overwhelmingly important and influential in the West for 1800 years. It absolutely dominates the history of Western philosophy. It mostly dominates our whole culture still. This phenomenon may be very quiet and subtle, but it's utterly pervasive and deadly.

And it's been very important for our culture and world from the very beginning of Western liberalism about 2600 years ago. It began right after philosophy, science, and reason did. It was a vivid, powerful, and horrific opponent.

Such is its power and influence that most Americans -- altho' perhaps not most Europeans --  regard religion as simple, uncontroversial, common sense. In turn, they logically regard atheists as close-minded folks or flat-earthers or even fanatics. The power of "god" today in the West is absolutely extraordinary. Defeating this evil entity and concept is similarly extraordinarily important.

Still, Rand was largely right. The foundation and roots of this falsity and depravity are found in Kant. Or, as I would have it, in the skeptics and irrationalists known as Pythagoras and Plato.  




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Post 10

Monday, October 16, 2006 - 7:58pmSanction this postReply
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Rand was absolutely right about this.

Most religious people I know "cherry pick" from their sacred texts those doctrines they find most palatable. Often, their existing sense of life determines what doctrines (and religions) they are attracted to in the first place. Most of them also compartmentalize the role of various doctrines in their lives. There are many millions of self-described Catholics who do NOT accept -- or practice -- the Church's views on birth control and abortion, for example.

Face it: When "scripture" consists largely of ambiguous parables, people can interpret them as they wish. For every Christian who believes in fatalism and predestination, there is another who believes that "God helps those who help themselves" and that we each "earn" our place in a heavenly afterlife by living good, responsible, productive lives.

For example, it was Augustine, not the New Testament, who was the source of the notion in some Christian (e.g., Calvinistic) circles that sexual gratification is sinful and degrading. I know of almost no contemporary Christians who buy this, certainly not in America. At one local Methodist church, the minister's wife leads women's discussion groups on the joys of sexual pleasure in marriage. Yes, they do believe that sexual relations should take place within marriage; but they do NOT believe that the body and physical pleasure are evil per se.

It's the same with success and wealth. The reason that the self-abnegating Mother Teresa stood out among Christians is precisely because she was such a rarity. Just a few weeks ago, Time magazine did a cover feature on the rise of Christian preachers like the hugely popular Joel Osteen, who preaches a "Christianity" of self-actualization, success, and happiness on earth -- what some call "the gospel of wealth." Robert Schuller of Garden Grove, California's "Crystal Cathedral" is another TV minister cut of similar cloth. Such men have very Western, modern, American outlooks that are diametrically opposite the sense of life and attitude of the Calvinistic/Augustinian/fundamentalist sorts of Christians. And it's extremely significant that in preaching these upbeat, life-affirming views, they have acquired vast national followings, and their books have been on top of the national bestseller lists.

Look: If some deist, confused about the "First Cause Argument" or the "Argument from Design," wants to believe that a benevolent Creator launched the universe into motion, and that "He" wants each individual to use his "God-given potential" to live his "earthly" time as happily and productively as he can, it is difficult for me to see how that outlook would lead the believer to a life of abject self-sacrifice, guilt over worldly wealth, and sympathy for collectivism.

All this is not to say that faith as such is cognitively valid, or that faith-based doctrines never have harmful effects. But the "devil" is usually in the details of each person's individual belief system. What "Catholicism" or "piety" or even "sacrifice" mean to one man may be entirely different from what they mean to the person sitting next to him in the same pew.

In fact, I'll go farther:

A man who "has faith" that he was created by God to be successful, productive, and happy on earth will most probably live a far better, more fulfilling, more creative life than will a self-defined Objectivist misanthrope who believes, deep down, that the modern world is irrational, that the good are doomed to be unjustly sacrificed to the evil, and that he demonstrates his "passion for values" through incessant outbursts of anger and denunciation.

Furthermore, in my experience, knowing that someone calls himself a Catholic or an Objectivist tells me virtually nothing about that individual's personal character, sense of life, productivity, or even daily commitment to rationality. Those labels also tell me very little about which person I will like best, or choose to spend time with.

I did not come to these conclusions happily.

I am dismayed that self-styled individualists would be so eager (the choice of word is deliberate) to dismiss -- as an undifferentiated, mindless collective -- all individuals who claim a church affiliation, and to assume that they necessarily accept the worst, most extremely fundamentalist versions of their religions.

That's exactly what I believe Ayn Rand was driving at in her comment -- and, therefore, it is not an inconsistency. Her comment implies that instead of writing off people simply because of a label, we should try to understand what that label actually means to them, as individuals.

Shouldn't we "individualists" practice what we preach, and judge all individuals as individuals?





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Monday, October 16, 2006 - 8:19pmSanction this postReply
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Shouldn't we "individualists" practice what we preach, and judge all individuals as individuals?

Precisely the point - and the essence of Objectivism as a social system of behavior....

Good call, Robert....[as usual]




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Post 12

Monday, October 16, 2006 - 8:24pmSanction this postReply
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What Bob said. That's exactly how I take the comment from Rand.

She said "inspiration," not "motivation."




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Post 13

Monday, October 16, 2006 - 11:45pmSanction this postReply
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Dennis, thanks for the article.  Your last paragraph summed it up well.  Objectivists must recognize religion as an enemy, and work to communicate the alternative.

Robert Bidinotto, you say:
I am dismayed that self-styled individualists would be so eager (the choice of word is deliberate) to dismiss -- as an undifferentiated, mindless collective -- all individuals who claim a church affiliation, and to assume that they necessarily accept the worst, most extremely fundamentalist versions of their religions.
I'm not sure who you're referring to here.  If the intent of your post is to argue against this kind of blindness, I could happily agree with that point.  Those people who have decided to base their judgments of people on poor generalizations are clearly a problem, and one worth arguing against.  I even agree that just because someone calls themselves an Objectivist doesn't mean they're better people.  Many are worse. 

And yet I find myself disagreeing with your post.  You talk about religion as if anything goes, and people take it to mean almost anything.  The tone of your post makes it seem like religion is nothing to worry about, and those nutcases out there are nutcases on their own, not because of religion.  I have no idea if you'd really try to defend this position, but I read it as an attempt to minimize the evils of religion.

My own position is that it's probably true that most religious people don't take it too seriously.  Great.  Except that doesn't excuse religion.  Religion isn't transformed into something innocuous or benevolent.  It's just not put into practice consistently.

Religion has a lot of serious problems.  To name a few:
1.)  It attacks the idea of objective morality, and the arbitrary "will of god".
2.)  It's upholds a destructive altruistic morality.  The fact that people "balance" it with their daily lives, essentially ignoring it for the most part, doesn't solve anything because:
2a.)  In times of crisis or tough decisions, your explicit morality will become more dominant than your implicit morality.  You'll use it when it hurts the most.
2b.)  By distracting you from your real day to day decision making process (morality), it leaves you unable to explicitly define and analyze how you live your life.
3.)  It promotes the idea of faith or "spirituality" being an important part of your life, which you can "balance" with reason.
4.)  It promotes the idea that you can believe in something without reason, and that it can be a beneficial part of life.
5.)  It promotes the idea that insane ideas are okay, if most people believe them.
6.)  It can be used as an excuse for any atrocity or immorality.  The real political danger is probably not that we'll have a bunch of wacko religious nuts as the majority of the US.  More likely, it'll be a few crazies, and a mass of people who are morally and epistemologically disarmed.

You say:
All this is not to say that faith as such is cognitively valid, or that faith-based doctrines never have harmful effects.
Does a faith-based doctrine ever not have harmful effects?  Yes, there are many ways to be irrational and destroy your life, as your "Objectivist misanthrope" example describes.  That doesn't make the less harmful varieties good.  Especially when the less harmful ones are less harmful only because people don't take them too seriously.

It's fine to recognize that people aren't very serious about religion.  It's fine to show that they ignore it most of the time, or just go along to not rock the boat.  And certainly we need to judge an individual by the full context of his beliefs and actions, and not just whether he accepts the title of some "ism".  But Dennis is right that religion is our enemy, and a dominant one at that.




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Tuesday, October 17, 2006 - 2:14amSanction this postReply
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Andre said:

 

Such is its power and influence that most Americans -- altho' perhaps not most Europeans --  regard religion as simple, uncontroversial, common sense. In turn, they logically regard atheists as close-minded folks or flat-earthers or even fanatics. The power of "god" today in the West is absolutely extraordinary. Defeating this evil entity and concept is similarly extraordinarily important.

 

Excellent point.  It is because they regard it as “simple, uncontroversial common sense” that we must challenge it explicitly and help them to understand that it is anything but that.

 

Robert said:

 

I am dismayed that self-styled individualists would be so eager (the choice of word is deliberate) to dismiss -- as an undifferentiated, mindless collective -- all individuals who claim a church affiliation, and to assume that they necessarily accept the worst, most extremely fundamentalist versions of their religions.

That's exactly what I believe Ayn Rand was driving at in her comment -- and, therefore, it is not an inconsistency. Her comment implies that instead of writing off people simply because of a label, we should try to understand what that label actually means to them, as individuals.

 

Shouldn't we "individualists" practice what we preach, and judge all individuals as individuals?

 

I don’t disagree with this last statement.  Of course we should judge individuals as individuals.  This is sadly typical of Robert to attack the writer instead of the content.  My essay has nothing to do with evaluating individuals.  It has to do with evaluating ideas—whether implicit or explicit--and their impact on our culture.

 

Religious individuals who are likely to be receptive to certain Objectivist ideas are religious people who do not take their religion seriously.  In other words, they are inconsistent.  But they nonetheless, to one degree or another, pay lip service to a philosophy that is utterly destructive to human life and happiness.  And insidious ideas are every bit as destructive—perhaps more so, because they are left unchallenged..

 

Here are just a few examples of “benevolent” Christian theology (partially adapted from Edwin Locke’s excellent lecture on “Religion vs. Healthy Cognition”):

 

Metaphysics: An all-powerful, incomprehensible God created the heavens and the earth from nothingness—invalidating the axioms of existence, identity and causality.  Primacy of consciousness: God as pure consciousness which precedes and creates existence, invalidating the entire concept of consciousness. The evil of the flesh assumed to be at war with the purity of the spirit (a lovely contribution from St. Paul by way of Plato). Man as a half-good, half-evil creature whose only choice is to obey God or suffer eternal damnation

 

Epistemology:  God as an invalid concept which cannot be derived by integrating sensory evidence, thereby subverting the entire process of rational concept-formation. The tyranny of arbitrary concepts—(god, heaven, hell, the Bible as revelation, etc)—all based on faith as a primary tool of cognition—the total rejection of reason and evidence. The sin of questioning (i.e., independent thinking) as blasphemy. The power of prayer—the primacy of consciousness squared—one consciousness trying to influence the other one that controls the universe. The embrace of contradiction—e.g., God’s omniscience (predestination) clearly conflicts with volition, but we must give lip service to free will so that man may choose to love God.

 

Add to this: Non-integration as a basic, guiding epistemological principle for life on earth, because most of the fundamental values and virtues conflict with the requirements of life. 

 

Ethics: Original sin—Man’s fundamental sin was to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge.  His sentence was to become rational; to earn his fruit by his labor (i.e., to be productive), and to experience desire and the capacity for sexual pleasure—reason, creativeness and pleasure are the evils by which man is to be damned.

 

So what is the base of the Christian ethics?  An all-powerful, incomprehensible God who must be appeased and obeyed, and man as a creature who is evil and corrupt by nature, who is prevented from using reason to guide his most fundamental choices and actions. 

 

What is man left with?  Faith & self-sacrifice.  (Remember that self-sacrifice is fundamentally mind-sacrifice.)  Motivation by duty—not motivation by values.  Humility—not pride.  Mercy and forgiveness instead of justice.  In other words, man as a being totally unfit to live on earth.  The Ten Commandments: The first four strictly involve the pathetic believer’s helpless relationship to a vindictive God. The other six—honor your parents, don’t murder, commit adultery, steal, lie or covet—are hopelessly arbitrary.  The single rational virtue—honesty—is totally divorced from respect for reality.  Again, it is a commandment obeyed to please God.

 

Religion and Objectivism are compatible?  Gee.  I sort of thought Objectivism argued that you use reason to form your philosophy of life—you know, that thing that guides the choices and actions that control your life.  But if you can’t use reason to do that, what do you do?  You pray for guidance to a ghost in the sky, thereby reinforcing a fundamental sense of helplessness and passivity.

 

Of course, as Edwin Locke explains, if you do not take religion seriously, you can sustain the non-integration by using defense mechanisms—compartmentalization, as Robert acknowledged (daily life vs church on Sunday), evasion, rationalization, projection (“It’s God’s will”).  But any therapist will tell you that, ultimately, defense mechanisms don’t work, and inevitably your mind becomes crippled, corrupted by faith, with the eventual suspension of your will to understand the world around you.

 

And then there are the other psychological consequences: Chronic guilt about being unable to practice religious virtues.  Repression—introspection and self-awareness are a threat because they will likely reveal values and desires—the evil demons represented by all those things you want but know you should not want.   The resultant fear of the self eventually and inevitably translates to hatred of the self because of all the values you have forsaken.

 

These are the ideas which Ayn Rand, through much of her writing career, thought of as an unworthy adversary.  She thought she did not need to confront them, because they would whither away on their own.  But she was wrong.  These are the ideas which are encroaching on our freedoms more and more every day.  No doubt many religious people hold them only implicitly.  Objectivists must challenge them explicitly.  We cannot pretend that, because many so-called religious people are terrific human beings, the ideas they embrace—in varying forms, with widely varying degrees of explicitness--are not to be taken seriously.   They may choose not to take them seriously.  We have to.

 

In 1961, Ayn Rand made the comment that, when faith is a private matter, it’s no problem.  She did not say 'religion,' per se.  She said 'faith,' and she said it should be private because it departed from reason.  Some people here have suggested she was right to say this. (I think she was being overly polite.)  Here’s somebody else who agreed:

 

“Men have a weapon against you—reason—so you must be very sure to take it away from them.  Be careful.  Don’t deny it outright.  You give your hand away.  Don’t say reason is evil—just say reason is limited.  By what?  You don’t have to be too clear about that.  The field is inexhaustible.  Feeling, intuition, dialectical materialism.  Then, if you get caught at some crucial point, and somebody tells you your doctrine doesn’t make sense.  You’re ready for them.  You tell them there’s something above sense.  He must not think—he must feel, he must believe.  Suspend reason and you play it deuces wild.  Anything goes in any manner you wish whenever you need it.  You’ve got him.”

 

The guy talking is Ellsworth Toohey.  Here’s a slightly different perspective on the issue:

 

“The alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind.”

 

That was John Galt speaking.

 

Dennis




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Tuesday, October 17, 2006 - 2:31amSanction this postReply
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Joseph,

Thanks very much for the feedback.  I think you nailed it exactly.  I'm pleased that you understood that my essay was directed against certain crucial religious ideas--and Ayn Rand's "benign neglect" of those ideas--not religious people in general.

Dennis




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Post 16

Tuesday, October 17, 2006 - 8:47amSanction this postReply
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The purpose of my comment was to point out that the Objectivist case against "religion" -- which I wholeheartedly endorse -- is constantly being morphed into assaults on the religious, as if each person who nominally accepts a religious designation buys into all the moral-philosophical agenda outlined by Joe and Dennis.

Am I wrong? Just go reread posts #4 and #6, above, where specific onerous views are attributed to "religious people" generally, as a collective. (At least Sam Erica acknowledges his assertions as possible overgeneralizations). This happens all the time in Objectivist circles, and it is no small problem. How do we possibly persuade people of the value of rational ideas if we misunderstand or caricature their own particular beliefs? For example, what persuasive value can there possibly be in setting up and knocking down a "Christianity" that for many contemporary Christians is a Calvinist/Augustinian straw man?

Try an experiment: pick about five American Christians at random, and go down your list of onerous "religious" beliefs with them, asking, "Do you believe that...[fill in the blank]?" See what happens.

Joe complains to me, "You talk about religion as if anything goes, and people take it to mean almost anything."

Yes, Joe. In religion, ANYTHING GOES -- precisely because religious beliefs are so utterly arbitrary in source and content. Look at any major religion and you'll find that the content and interpretations shift and change over time. Is Catholicism after Vatican II the same religion it was before then? Look at any major religion at any given time and you'll find that its meaning varies from person to person. Is Joel Osteen less "Christian" than Jerry Falwell or Pope Benedict? Who is to say? Precisely because religions are based on arbitrary beliefs, who, exactly, is the designated interpreter? Who is the authority figure for "Christianity"?

For each of the specific beliefs in your list that you attribute to "religion," I can cite examples of individual believers who reject it. Now, you'd think certain religious doctrines are set in cement, but very few are. I've heard the most amazingly creative and benign interpretations even of such things as the Sermon on the Mount, which -- in its literal language -- promotes a malignant, abject form of altruism. Interpreted by the benevolent Robert Schuller, however, it somehow becomes a guide to self-assertion and self-actualization! Don't ask me how he does it; but the significant thing is that many believe him, and call themselves "Christians." For "believers," faith provides a wonderful elasticity.

Recall the quotation from George Walsh cited by Dennis in the article that heads this thread:
In the first half of the twentieth century, the leaders of many of the Protestant churches in America had basically lost their faith in supernatural Christianity. This loss of faith was intellectual. It was due to their knowledge of science and of the critical study of the Bible. They asked themselves what was left of Christianity. They answered: the values it teaches. The values of altruism and self-sacrifice...” In the aftermath of this trend, “there was little to distinguish Christianity from Judaism. It was at this time that the term ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’ became current…” (George Walsh, The Role of Religion in History, p. 163)

Now I ask you: If "the leaders of many of the Protestant churhes in America" have dismissed even something so fundamental as supernaturalism in the face of modern science, then what in Christianity, pray, is not subject to alteration or dismissal? And if Joel Osteen & Co. are reinterpreting Christianity even to water down or dismiss altruism, then I ask you: What is Christianity?

Far from supporting the position of Dennis or Joe regarding the supposed inherent content of religion, Walsh's quotation actually supports my own view that religion must be view as completely arbitrary in content. Precisely because they are non-objective, religious beliefs are no more fixed and specific than the interpretation of any particular "believer." For when it comes to angels, burning bushes, and virgin births, can the views of rank-and-file "believers" have any more or less validity than those of the religion's most erudite theologians?

My conclusion? That the most fruitful approach in dealing with a person whose premises are religious rather than scientifically/objectively based is (1) to show him that the basis of his beliefs is arbitrary and non-objective, and (2) to challenge any of his specific beliefs that that are irrational, destructive, and contradictory to his other more rational and benign ideas.

Yes, by all means, attack religion -- but chiefly as a completely arbitrary grounding for one's life. Attack it as a false method for providing objective moral guidance and certainty. Attack it as having nothing but arbitrary, ever-shifting, contradictory, and irrational content that cannot stand up to rational scrutiny. Attack it as permitting -- precisely because of its arbitrariness -- many evils in the world, including authoritarianism, fanaticism, and bloodshed.

But don't simply assume that because a given person claims to be "religious," he must understand any of this; that he endorses the holding of arbitrary beliefs per se (like Aquinas, he may believe he has sound logical arguments for his beliefs); that he is thus knowingly promoting fraudulent ideas; that he grasps and intends by terms such as "sacrifice" and "faith" the same negative things that Rand ascribed to them; that he accepts and agrees with all the worst ideas of his particular "faith" (e.g., Original Sin); and/or that he supports all the evils done in the name of "religion" generally, or his religion specifically. For any given individual, none of this is necessarily the case.

By focusing our general critique of religion on its arbitrariness (and the consequences), rather than attributing to "it" a laundry list of presumed content, we avoid the problem of having our arguments dismissed as setting up straw men. Moreover, we begin to engage each religious person we encounter as an individual, confronting and addressing his specific personal beliefs in a way that is far more direct, responsive, and persuasive...a way in keeping with our own individualist philosophy.



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Post 17

Tuesday, October 17, 2006 - 10:33amSanction this postReply
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Bauer,
Their belief in an omnipotent God aside, the people I'm refering to are extremely objective people. 

To address a few of the items brought up in this discussion, the religious people in my life:
- do NOT feel guilty for actions that are natural
- are NOT collectivists or altruists
- do NOT oppose embryonic stem-cell research
- do NOT oppose birth control or the rights of homosexuals
- support incarceration for prostitution simply because it is currently illegal
- do NOT support forced welfare or wealth redistribution programs
- would NOT use religion as an excuse for any atrocity or immorality




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Post 18

Tuesday, October 17, 2006 - 11:58amSanction this postReply
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"and those nutcases out there are nutcases on their own, not because of religion"
 
To prove or disprove this statement definitively, each nutcase would have to be psychologically analyzed invididually.  However, I think a true nutcase is indeed a nutcase on his/her own.  Some nutcases become religious fanatics, some become alcoholics, some become serial killers, some become productive members of society after seeking treatment.

Or maybe I'm misunderstanding what you mean by nutcase.  If you mean, for instance, that the WTC bombing pilots were nutcases, then I'd say those particular nutcases, had they not been influenced by religion to perform that act, would have been influenced by something else to perform some equally nutcase-y act.  In the mind of someone like that, there is already something flawed BEFORE religion comes into play.




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Post 19

Tuesday, October 17, 2006 - 12:47pmSanction this postReply
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Excellent two posts Robert. Your identification of the difference between "religion" and "the religious" is extremely important and this type of analysis can be applied to many areas other than religion. There is a huge difference between an abstract idea and the person who professes it.

Although we are a society that was founded upon the idea of individualism, it appears that a true understanding of what this means has faded in our culture to the point where even many Objectivists have a hard time grasping and applying it to the practical world. I think the failure to make this distinction is the most crucial factor leading to so many people being willing to promote wholesale destruction of huge groups of people around the world.

As Robert demonstrates in many examples in his posts, people are complex and there are almost as many ways of interpreting and applying an abstract idea to one's life as there are people doing the interpreting and applying. When I observe what aspects of Objectivism others find most important and how they then use their observations to organize and direct their life, I am constantly amazed at how different this is from what I find most useful. Just because two people say they are Objectivists, this does not necessarily tell you a great deal about either person or make it all that easy to predict how they will act in a variety of circumstances. These types of differences are exactly what Robert is speaking of regarding religion and you cannot (should not) dismiss a person out-of-hand simply for professing allegiance to a particular system of beliefs.

If we are to promote individualism, then let's start by treating one another as individuals. For the purpose of conceptual thought it is often necessary to group people together based upon certain specific attributes. However, when our conceptual thinking is then translated into actions that will directly affect others, it is a critical step that those actions be analyzed in the context of the affected individuals, not just some abstract group, in order to determine their ethical appropriateness. And if we are going to perform an analysis of individuals, then we must have a reasonably clear understanding of their differences as well as their similarities.

While I'm not attempting to equate the following two viewpoint, I suggest that when terrorists are willing to indiscriminately bomb western cities and Objectivists propose wholesale bombing of Iraq or Iran civilian population centers, both are guilty of the same error of failing to properly analyze their actions at the level of the individual.
--
Jeff



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