|For me, this has been a great thread. Maybe the best one I've ever seen, mainly because it is dialogue that is getting the work done.|
If Objectivism ever resembles or behaves anything along the cult line, it is as a cult of personality. This is a finer distinction, and putting some think on it might bear us some new fruit. The interesting thing about cults of personality, if you break them down, is that they come in two main flavors, to my way of thinking.
The first is the kind that is consciously, purposefully created (Stalin, Hitler, et al). They are almost always created for malevolent purposes (occasionally, just misguided and goofy ones). This is evil- they are driven by deeply hateful thoughts of one kind or another, and are satisfying their perverse psychological needs, hopefully on a global level before they get done. Meglomania. In short, the COP is created by the creator, for certain purposes, usually not ones that are going to bode well for anyone else. People will start to disappear at night.
The second, more populated flavor is the kind that people come to identify with on their own- nowadays, that can be just about anyone. This latter variety is most commonly found centered on someone who came out of the liberal arts/entertainment area. Actors. Musicians. Writers. I don't think it can be completely equated with straight old idolatry, because it displays more complexity. It is more about identification than idolatry, for sure. And so, it follows that these cults are not limited to malevolent purposes; in fact, they usually aren't malevolent. It used to be called "hero worship", but again, that term isn't quite enough either.
Most people here should know what I'm talking about here- I am talking about the profound experience that can happen upon exposure to Ayn Rand's novels, and Ayn Rand the philosopher. That experience was what I would call a transformative one, or paradigm shift if you prefer, for most people here. I have only experienced one other happening that was of that magnitude. For each, if I were to be forced to pick only one word to describe them, it would be the same: liberating. If I were allowed two, the second would be "affirmation".
There are some things that seem logical to bring to bear, at this point, and I will only brush by them lightly, because they lead to length if you let them.
Myth does not equate to mysticism. As to mysticism, I will refrain from comment on that topic now, other than to say that virtually everything I have seen written here at SOLO on the topic is generalized, incomplete, misinterpreted, or just flat out wrong. Another time for that.
Myth serves deep and noble purposes for human beings. And, there come times where the old myths will not fully reflect, and serve. New myths must be made, and people re-mythologize. Atlas Shrugged is such a case. In the modern era, in my opinion it is the case. Re-mythologized. The nature of the heroes, the nature of the journey. The purpose of the journey. All changed. What did not change is what myths are to man. All this went down only fifty years ago.
People also identified with the myth-maker. It is common practice to model oneself after someone who represents your ideals. There are two things here. The first is that they will always not be the bigger-than-life thing you long for. Not necessary, who they are is sufficient, but that is a lesson to learn. The second is that there must come a point where you separate from that model and become your own man. Fortunately, that is pretty much the most implicit thing in her work, but even so, it presents a difficulty to virtually everyone. It is part of the process.
There are times when I find myself thinking that it might have actually been better if the nuts and bolts of her philosophical system had not been rolled out. It contributes to credal thinking, and I believe credal thinking is unhealthy from a growth perspective, both personally and socially. Covenants do not create dogma, creeds do. To my eye, people who were deeply affected by the books but never screwed into the philosophy might have gotten the better lot, as things stand now. If there were no Intro to O'ist Epistemology, and so on, we'd all be here still going on, propelled from the fire of those books. There would be less churn, less nastiness. Credal thinking, dogmatic thinking, linear thinking would have far less to attach itself to here. Credal thinking asks: "What does your (organization, party, philsophy) believe in?" Covenantial thinking asks "What is your (organization, party, philsophy) doing out there with the world?" The first invites compliance, the second invites traveling the journey together.
But she did write the philosophical treatises, and that is the fact of it. Do we dogmatize it? Some will. Some have made this their religion. They have rejected religion, and replaced it, religiously, with a non-religion that they practice as religion. Which kind?
They (we) also have a community, much as religions have parishes. A sense of community offers many advantages to all, and this is good. SOLO is particularly good. It is not unlike the breakoffs that have happened in the religious world. Make no mistake, there are resemblances, because we are talking about a way of living.