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.
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.