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Sunday, September 4, 2011 - 6:01amSanction this postReply
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Thank you for sharing this. It is not in Letters of Ayn Rand. This respectful exchange I find refreshing, much more than the usual shrill atheist rants about religion. She was truly a classy woman.



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Sunday, September 4, 2011 - 6:18amSanction this postReply
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The first question would be: is this letter in the archives at ARI?  Maybe Rand simply failed to keep a copy.  It's a genuine contribution to our knowledge and far more interesting than most of the fan replies that got into the book.  The writer may have been the first in a long and usually lowbrow tradition of people who tried to reconcile Objectivism (before anybody called it that) with religion because except for the atheism they really liked her stuff.

Second question: what else might still be out there, waiting to come to light?




Post 2

Sunday, September 4, 2011 - 12:17pmSanction this postReply
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I don't recall the source right now, but I remember reading that Rand really liked some things (the things mentioned) about Christianity. I have most (>50%) of the non-fiction Objectivist books in existence, and several of the fiction books, too. I don't know where I first learned that Rand liked some aspects of Christianity.

Ed




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Sunday, September 4, 2011 - 1:03pmSanction this postReply
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That's an extraordinary letter. I've never seen any of those thoughts anywhere else in her works.

The areas of common ground between Christians and Objectivists that I've seen are these:
- Man has free will,
- Man is, and should be held, responsible for his own actions,
- Good and evil and right and wrong have objective existence,
- Beliefs matter (as opposed to moral/ethical relativism),
- Honesty is a virtue (as opposed to hidden agendas are okay because the ends justify the means).



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Post 4

Sunday, September 4, 2011 - 1:33pmSanction this postReply
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Ed, here are some examples of Rand talking positively about religion, without endorsing it:

Rand explained to Tom Snyder her appreciation of the phrase "God Bless You": "Thank god, or god bless you, it means the highest possible, to me..."

(youtube clip of said interview)

She also mentions Jesus favorably in an excised portion of Roark's courtroom speech;

"...for example, Rand's letter to Sylvia Austin (9 July 1946), where she notes the different moral ideas represented by Roark and Jesus, even as she admits "that both…are held as embodiments of the perfect man" (Rand 1995, 287). Interestingly, in an earlier draft of The Fountainhead , Rand included a whole passage, later cut, in which Roark, standing before a jury of his peers, sings the praises of Jesus. Jesus, like other great figures in human history, "comes[s] close to the truth," even as his ideal is inverted. Thus, writes Rand, "Christ proclaimed the untouchable integrity of Man's spirit [stating] the first rights of the Ego. He placed the salvation of one's own soul above all other concerns. But men distorted it into altruism." On the antithetical relationship between Christ and his successors (such as Paul), compares Nietzsche's Antichrist, Chapters 39, 40, and 42 in Nietzsche 1976, 612-17. Rand argues, however, that "Nietzsche, who loved man, fought against altruism--and destroyed his own case by preaching the Will to Power, a second-hander's pursuit" (Ayn Rand Manuscripts, box 20, folder5, 588-588a, quoted in Milgram 2001a, 18)."

Here is the excised portion:

"Socrates, poisoned by order of the democracy of Athens. Jesus Christ against the majority of [indecipherable] crucified. Joan D'Arc, who was burned at the stake. Galilieo, made to renounce his soul. Spinoza, excommunicated. Luther, hounded. Victor Hugo, exiled for twenty years. Richard Wagner, writing musical comedies for a living, denounced by the musicians of his time, hissed, opposed, pronounced unmusical. Tchaikovsky, struggling through years of loneliness without recognition. Nietzsche, dying in an insane asylum, friendless and unheard. Ibsen [indecipherable] his own country. Dostoevsky, facing an execution squad and pardoned to a Siberian prison. The list is endless." (Ayn Rand Manuscripts, box 20, folder 5, 570, quoted in Milgram 2001a, 17)



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Tuesday, September 6, 2011 - 3:28pmSanction this postReply
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Here is some further history of Rand's thinking about Christianity and religion more generally.

From Objectivism Reference Center, the following excerpt is from a letter to Sylvia Austin dated July 9, 1946, in Letters of Ayn Rand, p. 287.
    There is a great, basic contradiction in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus was one of the first great teachers to proclaim the basic principle of individualism -- the inviolate sanctity of man's soul, and the salvation of one's soul as one's first concern and highest goal; this means -- one's ego and the integrity of one's ego. But when it came to the next question, a code of ethics to observe for the salvation of one's soul -- (this means: what must one do in actual practice in order to save one's soul?) -- Jesus (or perhaps His interpreters) gave men a code of altruism, that is, a code which told them that in order to save one's soul, one must love or help or live for others. This means, the subordination of one's soul (or ego) to the wishes, desires or needs of others, which means the subordination of one's soul to the souls of others.

    This is a contradiction that cannot be resolved. This is why men have never succeeded in applying Christianity in practice, while they have preached it in theory for two thousand years. The reason of their failure was not men's natural depravity or hypocrisy, which is the superficial (and vicious) explanation usually given. The reason is that a contradiction cannot be made to work. That is why the history of Christianity has been a continuous civil war -- both literally (between sects and nations), and spiritually (within each man's soul).


From my writings:
On 1936
    . . .
    In We the Living, Rand has Kira and Andrei converse on atheism. They each easily say they do not believe in God. Kira goes on to say belief in God means lack of belief in life. Furthermore, “God—whatever anyone chooses to call God—is one’s highest conception of the highest possible. And whoever places his highest conception above his own possibility thinks very little of himself and his life. It’s a rare gift, you know, to feel reverence for your own life and to want the best, the greatest, the highest possible, here, now, for your very own” (WL 107). At the root of their selves, Kira and Andrei share belief in life.

    In this atheist perspective, Rand had some in common with Nietzsche. “The Christian idea of God – . . . is one of the most corrupt conceptions of God the world has ever seen . . . . God having degenerated into a contradiction of life instead of its transfiguration and eternal yes! God as declared aversion to life, to nature, to the will to life! God as every slander against the ‘here and now’ . . .” (AC 18).
    . . .

On 1943
    . . .
    We have seen that Kira counter poses belief in God to belief in life. Similarly, Roark counter poses belief in God to love of the earth (PK III 45). This much Rand coincides with Nietzsche. “My brothers, remain faithful to the earth and do not believe those who speak of extraterrestrial hopes! . . . / They are despisers of life . . . .” (Z I “Zarathustra’s Prologue” 3).
    . . .

On 1943
    . . .
    Hopton Stoddard tells Roark the Temple of the Human Spirit shall be to “‘the human spirit as the creator and the conqueror of the ideal. The great life-giving force of the universe. . . . What I want in the building is your spirit. Your spirit, Mr. Roark’” (ET X 340).

    Henry Cameron had said to Roark: “‘May God bless you—or whoever it is alone to see the best, the highest possible to human hearts’” (PK XI 137). Roark is one who pursues the best in his creations. He needs others of a certain character in order to create his buildings. He needs men of independent judgment, of honesty, of courage—men of integrity (PK XIII 166). For his buildings, Roark tracks down the best sculptor, one who is capable of showing in sculpture what men could and should be. Rand 1943 takes seeking the best, the highest, as a law of healthy, selfish life (ET XI 349). This law she calls a first law, this law to seek the best (ET XI 352; cf. Summa Theologica XIII Q94 A2).
    . . .
    At sixteen Toohey let go of religion and turned to socialism. Instead of God and the nobility of suffering, he talked about the masses. He preached love of the masses and profound self-sacrifice for them. He argued “that religion bred selfishness; because . . . religion over-emphasized the importance of the individual spirit; religion preached nothing but a single concern—the salvation of one’s own soul” (ET IX 319).

    In a personal letter in 1946, Rand related her idea of Jesus as proclaiming “the basic principle of individualism—the inviolate sanctity of man’s soul, and the salvation of one’s soul as one’s first concern and highest goal; this means—one’s ego and the integrity of one’s ego.” One great corruption of that individualism in Jesus’ teachings comes with the code of ethics put forth as the means of saving one’s soul: “One must love or help or live for others.” Who put forth this second doctrine? “Jesus (or His interpreters).”

    One of the first books Rand bought after coming to America was Nietzsche’s The Anti-Christ. Within this work, Nietzsche sets down differences he sees between the exemplar to be read from the life of Jesus and morality proclaimed by institutional Christianity. One difference is Christianity’s exaggeration of the amount of pity needed in the world. “Christianity is called the religion of pity. . . . Pity makes suffering into something infectious; sometimes it can even cause a total loss of life and of vital energy wildly disproportionate to the magnitude of the cause (—the case of the Nazarene). . . . Pity wins people over to nothingness! You do not say ‘nothingness’: instead you say ‘the beyond’; or ‘God’; or . . .” (AC 7; further, 17, 18, 26, 32, 33, 39–43).

    There are several views of Nietzsche expressed in this work that Rand maintained in The Fountainhead, while leaving aside other Nietzchean doctrines, such as those I have replaced with ellipses points in the preceding quotation. Rand’s sensitivity to the possibility of incongruity between Jesus’ life and teachings, on the one hand, and Christianity, on the other, may have been taken home from The Anti-Christ. The particular doctrines in conflict in Rand’s eye, stated paragraph before last, are not among those in Nietzsche’s eye in Anti-Christ, but there is a prelude to the particular opponent-doctrines Rand stresses in Daybreak (132).

    Notwithstanding Toohey’s omitting talk of God, his socialist sayings are generally warmly familiar to the religious. Hopton Stoddard found everything Toohey preached “in line with God’s law: charity, sacrifice, help to the poor” (ET X 335). Toohey continued to preach the blessedness of belief over understanding, belief over thought (ET X 388; GW VI 507; HR XIV 692). Mysticism and dialectical materialism, Toohey says, “are two superficially varied manifestations of the same thing. Of the same intention” (HR VI 600). Toohey is speaking for Rand when speaking of the continuity of religion and socialism. This idea was big with Nietzsche. “Who do I hate most among the rabble today? The socialist rabble . . . . The anarchist and the Christian are descended from the same lineage . . . . / Christians are perfectly identical with anarchists: their only goal, their only instinct is to destroy” (AC 57–58; see also D 132; Z IV “The Last Supper” 16; BGE 202).

    Notice that Rand does not take religion to be uniformly against thought. Like Leibniz before her, Rand is pleased with the story and idea of humans being created in the image of God, specifically, in their capability for reason. “‘Man’s first frown is the first touch of God on his forehead. The touch of thought’” (HR XIV 693). Though he would not say it publicly, Toohey in no way intends to carry that value forward: “‘We’ll have neither God nor thought’” (ibid.).
    . . .

On 1943/1957
    . . .
    [Rand] expresses the radiant aspect of religion in what Toohey tells Stoddard to tell Roark in order to persuade Roark to build the Temple of the Human Spirit. She again expresses that radiant aspect in Dominique’s testimony at the court case over the temple. Dark aspects of religion are also not neglected in Fountainhead. The testimonies of Toohey and Keating at the trial express them, and the link between religion and socialism is remarked in several places in the novel.

    In Atlas Shrugged . . . Rand tells the religionist: “Whenever you committed the evil of refusing to think and to see, of exempting from the absolute of reality some one small wish of yours, whenever you chose to say: Let me withdraw from the judgment of reason . . . the existence of God, let me have my one irrational whim and I will be a man of reason about all else—that was the act of subverting your consciousness, the act of corrupting your mind” (1037).

    Rand was not opposed to feelings. She was not against the idea of the human soul, provided it is thought of as naturally part of one’s living body and mortal as one’s body. In Fountainhead she has dialogue between Keating and his wife Dominique in which soul is given the expressly nonreligious meaning: that in one that is one’s genuine person—not only one’s body—one’s will and meaning, that in one which independently thinks, values, decides, and feels (GW II 454–55; cf. 1957, 1057).

    In Fountainhead religion that entails belief in the supernatural is taken to be false. It is not presented, however, as something needing to be abandoned for the sake of human independence and freedom. It is not expressly taken as subversive of those good things. That changes in Atlas, wherein all religion holding forth the supernatural is openly opposed as inimical to human life and freedom. There religion is proclaimed to be mysticism. I agree. (See also Peikoff 1991, 183–84; Underhill 1925.)

    In Fountainhead the classification mysticism had not been given directly to the Judeo-Christian belief in God. It was given to religion of the ancient Egyptians. It was maintained that such mysticism and atheistic dialectical materialism were only “‘superficially varied manifestations of the same thing’” (HR VI 600). Earlier in the novel, Rand had Toohey iterate and reiterate that the central moral teachings of Jesus and socialism were like peas in a pod. Rand had made clear that belief in God was mistaken and partly at odds with human life and achievement on earth (PK III 45). She had stopped short of pronouncing belief in God mystical.

    Early in Galt’s radio speech in Atlas, Rand attacks as mystical the common belief that there is a supernatural power called God, who issues moral commands based on whim, and to whom one must dedicate one’s life (1011). There are no ghosts in heaven (1012). There is no “mystic God with some incomprehensible design” (1025).

On 1957
    Rand introduces her most fundamental axiom on page 1015 of Atlas Shrugged (hb). That is the assertion existence exists. As she introduces the axiom, she says that the moral code that she is overturning and replacing attempts to escape the axiom existence exists. She has already said that the code she means to overturn comes in a variety based on dictates of a supernatural being known as God (1011-12). One of the purposes of Rand's axiom existence exists is to foreclose the possibility of the existence of God.

    In her later essay "The Metaphysical v. The Man-Made" (1973), she tells us that her axiom existence exists means that the universe exists independently of consciousness (24) and that the universe as a whole "cannot be created or annihilated, that it cannot come into or go out of existence" (25). She says that her fundamental axiom invalidates the question "If there is no God, who created the universe?"

    Immediately after introducing he axiom existence exists in AS, Rand introduces axioms concerning consciousness, which are corollaries of grasping the statement existence exists. These are "that something exists which one perceives and that one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists" (1015). This characterization of consciousness and self-consciousness rules out the possibility of God as a mind existing before the existence of anything else. "A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something" (1015). . . .

    Readers here know that Rand articulated another axiom: "To exist is to be something, as distinguished from the nothing of non-existence, it is to be an entity of a specific nature made of specific attributes. Centuries ago, the man who was---no matter what his errors---the greatest of your philosophers, has stated the formula defining the concept of existence and the rule of all knowledge: A is A. A thing is itself. You have never grasped the meaning of his statement. I am here to complete it: Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification" (1016).
    . . .
    With her full complement of axioms on the table, Rand puts them to the purpose of refuting the method of faith and revelation (1018, 1035-36) . . . .
    . . .
    Oh, I almost forgot another purpose to which Rand put her axiom of identity. She used it to bar the "negative way" of approaching God (1035). In Christianity that was an approach going back to Pseudo-Dionysius (c. 500).
    . . .






Post 6

Tuesday, September 6, 2011 - 3:54pmSanction this postReply
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Well done, Stephen!



Post 7

Friday, September 9, 2011 - 7:56amSanction this postReply
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.
Thanks, Steve.
~~~~~~~~~~~

Rand on Free Will and Rationality before the 1943 Letter
(and after)


1943
    Zarathustra lightens the load by stopping the climb, having the little monster off his shoulder, and spelling out what is the deep abyss drawing down his spirit: The present moment, and every present moment, is connected to an infinite past and an infinite future. Whatever occurs now must have occurred before in such an infinite past and must occur again in such an infinite future. Over and over, it goes (Z II “On the Vision and the Riddle” 2). “The knot of causes in which I am entangled recurs—it will create me again! I myself belong to the causes of the eternal recurrence. / I will return . . . not to a new life or a better life or a similar life: / —I will return to this same and selfsame life, in what is greatest as well as what is smallest . . . . / . . . / to once again teach the eternal recurrence of all things” (Z III “The Convalescent” 1).
    . . .

    The ringed determinism binding the human will is a very hard one in Nietzsche’s understanding. “If ever a breath came to me of creative breath and of heavenly necessity that forces even accident to dance astral rounds: / If ever I laughed with the laugh of creative lightning that follows rumbling but obediently the long thunder of the deed: / . . . / Oh how then could I not lust for eternity and for the mystical ring of rings—the ring of recurrence! / . . . / For I love you, oh eternity!” (Z III “The Other Dance Song” 3; see also I “On the Three Metamorphoses;” II “On Redemption.”) Nietzsche, loving life and the world, reaches yet for joy even with all the pain and heavy chains of necessity (Z IV “The Sleepwalker’s Song” 8–10; cf. BGE 9).
    . . .

    It is likely Rand had always rejected the Marxist doctrine of economic determinism (Milgram 2004, 12; Ridpath 2004, 91). “The mode of production of material life determines the general character of the social, political, and spiritual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence determines their consciousness” (Marx 1897 [1859]). In Fountainhead, Rand gave to Toohey the proclamation “there was no such thing as free will, since men’s creative impulses were determined, as all else, by the economic structure of the epoch in which they lived” (PK VI 77). To the villains, too, goes proclamation of the type of determinism accepted by Nietzsche. Toohey says “‘we are merely the creatures of our chemical metabolism and of the economic factors of our background . . . . There are, of course, apparent exceptions. Merely apparent. When circumstances delude us into thinking that free action is indicated’” (HR VII 615).

    A writer in Toohey’s circle writes a novel whose point is that there is no such thing as free will (GW I 421). A distinguished critic in Toohey’s circle remarks “‘talent is only a glandular accident” (GW VI 503). Nietzsche, of course, would not make small of the creative individual. He would elevate in spite of the chains of determinism.


1943/1957
    The virtues of the creator in Fountainhead are: independence, creative achievement, loyalty to reason, and integrity, which includes courage (737–40). . . . The choice of independence or dependence “rests upon the alternative of life or death” (739–40). “The code of the creator is built on the needs of the reasoning mind which allows man to survive” (740).

    Within the virtues of the extraordinary creator (such as Howard Roark) are the virtues of good people in general. Rand continues: “Degrees of ability vary, but the basic principle remains the same: the degree of a man’s independence, initiative, and personal love for his work determines his talent as a worker and his worth as a man” (F 740). For every good individual, honesty, courage, and basing one’s self-respect on “personal standards of personal achievement” are virtues (658). For every human being, to suspend one’s faculty of independent judgment is to suspend consciousness, and “to stop consciousness is to stop life” (659).
    . . .
    When we turn from Fountainhead to Atlas, we find Rand’s ethical thought fully developed. Seven moral virtues are articulated, for all individuals: rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, and pride. Here the virtues are argued not only upon a characterization of the kind of individual who makes human existence possible—the individual self-sufficient, self-motivated, self-generated—but upon a characterization of all life preceding and supporting rational, volitional life: organism-life as “a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action” (AS 1013).


1938/1943/1957
    In the manuscript for Anthem (1938), Rand has the protagonist Equality 7-2521 reflect: “I will, for I know my desires, and I am free in that which I desire” (quoted in Milgram 2005, 19). He is not thinking simply that he is presently free from the coercive orders of other men. He is saying that man’s will is free by nature. To be directed by one’s own will is the natural state of human beings. In the 1938 edition, Equality writes: “My will, which chooses, and orders, and creates. My will, the master which knows no masters. My will, the liberator and conqueror. My will, which is the thin flame, still and holy, in the shrine of my body, my body which is but the shrine of my will. Many words have been granted me, and some are wise, and some are false, but only three are holy: ‘I will it’” (quoted in Mayhew 2005b, 40).

    Early Rand held to considerable freedom of the will, contrary Marx and Nietzsche. The will for Rand is spirit. Human will, joy, and thought are of the inner self, which is spirit. If the will were only drives of the body, it would not be free or sacred. This sense of sacredness does not entail belief in the supernatural nor opposition to reason, which is itself part of the holy self.

    We have seen that in The Fountainhead, too, deterministic materialist reduction of human life is rejected by Rand (PK VI 77; HR VII 615; HR X 649). Deeper than the bones, for man, is his soul (GW III 471). Roark says to Wynand “‘we live in our minds, and existence is the attempt to bring that life into physical reality, to state it in gesture and form’” (HR II 558). All living creatures have a life source, which is their constitutional idea. Failure of organism integrity, compromise of its life source, is death (PK XV 205). Similarly, to set against the central constitutional idea particular to one’s self is a failure of an integrity that may be called moral integrity (ibid.). A person of integrity is self-motivated, a self-sufficient spirit (HR XI 660). Life itself for man requires human consciousness, which is independent judgment (HR XI 659). Life itself for man requires creators (HR XVIII 737). The vision, strength, and courage of a creator comes “from his own spirit” (ibid.). Human creators are “a first cause, a fount of energy, a life force . . .” (ibid.).

    For all individuals, not only extraordinary creators, seeking the best, loving one’s work, and choosing independence is seeking, loving, and choosing life—one’s own life—against death (ET XI 349; HR XVIII 739–40). In her fully developed ethical system of Atlas Shrugged, the choice of life or death remains implicit in one’s choices for virtues such as integrity, productiveness, and independence.

    In Fountainhead loyalty to reason had been a virtue alongside virtues such as integrity and independence. In Atlas loyalty to truth in all things by reason, which is termed rationality, is the premier virtue. And the choice to think becomes the life-or-death choice underlying all the life-or-death virtues of Rand’s full system: rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, and pride (see also Wright 2009, 258–62, 265–70). “That which you call your soul or spirit is your consciousness, and that which you call ‘free will’ is your mind’s freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom, the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and character” (AS 1017; see further a, b, c).





Post 8

Sunday, September 9 - 6:46amSanction this postReply
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The letter on page 287 of LETTERS OF AYN RAND is strange in a way that nobody here has mentioned: the phrase " ... or perhaps His interpreters ... " capitalizes a pronoun whose antecedent is Jesus. Why did either Rand or the editor of the LETTERS (Leonard Peikoff) do that?



Post 9

Wednesday, September 12 - 2:27amSanction this postReply
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It is correct English, unless you are making a point. It is like calling the USSR communist which they did not call themselves, or the highways "freeways" rather than "taxways" or the Romaion "Byzantines" (which they did not call themselves).

We write to be understood. Following convention helps.






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