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A Reason for Faith: 6 Fatal Misconceptions

As a dialogue begins between advocates of Ayn Rand's objectivist philosophy and professing Christians, it's vitally important to clarify terms.

Walter Hudson


February 21, 2013 - 8:40 am
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Biddle concluded his talk by turning a critical eye toward faith, religion, and Christianity in particular. He argued that Christianity promotes altruism, which is the opposite of the egoism required for human survival. A castaway employs egoism, living for himself, seeking that which perpetuates and improves his life. An altruist lives for others – for the poor, for the tribe, for the state, for God. The path of altruistic sacrifice leads to destruction, Biddle argued. With that, he lost me. As a Christian, I was not about to renounce my faith in support of a compelling political argument.

It was roughly a year from that first exposure to objectivist philosophy that I was confronted with it again, this time in a breakout session at the Tea Party Patriots American Policy Summit in Phoenix, Arizona. Yaron Brook, president and executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute, offered a presentation on how morality informs the cultural battles in our political discourse. Like Biddle, he laid out the case for the objectivist ethic. Unlike Biddle, he avoided the topic of religion. That was until I rained on the parade by asking him about God during the Q & A. Forced to disclose his atheism, he lost most of his audience.

After his talk, I approached Brook and told him that I thought the arguments he and other objectivists were making in support of individual rights were fantastic, but doomed to obscurity so long as they were tied to criticism of religion. When you come after Jesus, you turn off a huge segment of your audience. Brook shrugged and unapologetically declared that, as an atheist, reconciling faith with reason was not his job. It is up to the Christian to examine their faith and determine whether it makes any logical sense.

That exchange stuck with me and motivated a study of Objectivism and a review of Christian apologetics. What I found was, far more often than not, Christian critics of Ayn Rand do not understand what Objectivism really is. Likewise, far more often than not, Objectivist critics of Christianity do not discern between what professing Christians have said or done and what the Bible actually teaches. Here are 6 fatal misconceptions which prevent an essential dialogue.

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All Comments   (29)
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I feel compelled to state:
1) Defining acting in love as self-interest is debatable at best. What about Duty? Say a soldier hates the people he's with but throws himself on the grenade out of a sense of duty. Or honor. Or self-image. Etc. Do ALL of those motivations comprise "self-interest"?
2) You make a distinction of "rational" self-interest. Who decides what is "rational"? If a grenade is thrown into a squad of soldiers, and one faints, one runs, one ducks behind another as a shield, one falls to the ground, one freezes, and one throws himself on the grenade, they all acted in "rational self-interest". A rationalization that explains all behaviors explains none, and is essentially worthless. Ayn Rand's elevation of "rational self-interest" only makes sense if you more narrowly define it to materialistic "objective" pursuits, and if you define it as she did, it is in conflict with Christian philosophy.
3) Christianity is supposed to be altruistic, and another definition for altruistic is "from love". So if altruistic = out of love, and selfishness = out of love, then altruistic = selfishness. This seems illogical to me.
3a) Support for #3: The Good Samaritan. The (altruistic) Good Samaritan had no self-interest in caring for the injured Jew. Jesus held him up as the ultimate example of "love thy neighbor as thyself". Love = altruism = Christian philosophy = fulfillment of the Law and scripture <> self-interest.

Just some random thoughts...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"evidence of divine revelation."
That's when you lost me. That's an oxymoron. By definition faith is belief apart or against evidence. If we had evidence of the divine, it wouldn't be claimed as supernatural.

The second part is : Christianity is altruistic. For example there's the sermon of the mount, there's "love your enemy" (love is selfish. Loving those who don't deserve it is altruistic), Jesus sacrificing himself (you said it was for his self-interest but if Jesus was truly selfish and perfect, he would refuse to sacrifice himself, his virtues, his life for the flawed, the sinful, the wicked).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I would suggest fulfillment of prophecy as evidence of divine revelation (c.f. prophecies of Daniel). Creation itself might be considered evidence of the divine (c.f. Romans 1:20).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The children of the common ancestor of monkeys etc. diverged. Some females experimented in controlling sex. One group made no changes and became Chimpanzees. One group changed sex into something done with anyone for the comfort of everyone and became Bonobos. One group changed sex into secret ovulation plus ability to do sex at the time of choice and ability to ration it to the males. We are the latter. The Bonobos are Communists and humans are Capitalists of sex. This natural, sexual capitalism led to tool making, use of fire, and 747s, all on the rocket fuel of sex and nagging.

The natural home of Deductive reasoning is the spiritual life, where Inductive reasoning functions poorly. Inductive reasoning belongs in daily life and in the World of Work. One must sometimes pay attention to which system is at work in almost every sentence.

In following atheism by tracking reasoning systems present, it appears to break down into individuals who lack the mental machinery for religious feelings, much like being tone deaf; and, individuals who are following a Deductive reasoning structure condemning Judeo-Christianity. The latter group appears to avidly follow the Third Commandment of thou being devoid of other gods. If it is a Deductive reasoning structure with a Third Commandment outlook, it functions like a religion.

The religious person has an internal separation of church and state, so to speak, in that they have Deductive reasoning in their spiritual matters, and shifting unconsciously to Inductive reasoning in daily life and the World of Work. The holistic person and the “non-believer” sometimes have Deductive reasoning spread all over the place, replicating the outlook of a person from the 12th Century.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This concern with the basic condition of freedom — the absence of physical constraint — is unquestionably necessary, but is not all that is necessary. It is perfectly possible for a man to be out of prison and yet not free — to be under no physical constraint and yet to be a psychological captive, compelled to think, feel and act as the representatives of the national State, or of some private interest within the nation, want him to think, feel and act.”

Aldous Huxley
Chapter twelve
Brave New World Revisited 1958

This is true of both sides of this debate.

Freedom and liberty. Start there.

'He' came to set you free, remember? Your job is not to enslave others, or to somehow coerce them (through the force of government) into believing what you believe. Your jov is not to argue endlessly about who is right, or who is going to hell, or even about who is responsible for what. Your job, as was his, is to set people free.

It's was his message.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
One more point, perhaps off-topic. I've been reading Jeremiah and I can't tell if the words are from Scripture or the headlines.

I've been struggling to understand how the current government can lead us down the path of backruptcy, denial of the Constitution, incipient dictatorship, and subversion by muslims -- whom even Egyptians recognize are in power within our government. My mind shouts out: How can they do this?!

My wife took 5/16ths of a second to say: For the money.

And I look in Jeremiah, and it says (along with many other currently-applicable anecdotes) Jeremiah 8:10-11 says for every one from the least even unto the greatest is given to covetousness, from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely… saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace (KJV).

And the politicians dole billions from public coffers to friends who then return a portion to their campaigns, while the muslim world rallies against us. And yet we are told: Don’t worry, the United States is too big to fail.

Jeremiah 18:18 reads Then said they, Come, and let us devise devices against Jeremiah; for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, and let us smite him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words. (KJV)

These 2,600-year-old words could be written today. And in common parlance the rulers are saying all will go on as it has. The rule of law shall not perish from our politicians, nor wisdom from our pundits and policy wonks, nor words of good news and encouragement from our media. Come and let us smear and slander the very character of every conservative in the eyes of the people before he can gain any credibility in the eyes of the people.

Jeremiah 28:10-11 reads, Then Hananiah the [false] prophet took the yoke from off the prophet Jeremiah's neck, and brake it. And Hananiah spake in the presence of all the people, saying, Thus saith the Lord; Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all nations within the space of two full years(KJV).

And President Obama says that Al Qaeda is broken and almost gone. And Brennan says that the muslim Brotherhood is now a moderate organization. And everyone, including the media, says that we can live with a nuclear Iran.

I hold out the same hope for the US now that Jeremiah had for Israel and Judah: destruction and subjugation. Except this time there will be no return after 70 years.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
In agreement with your article, Christianity is the most reasonable, the most logically internally-consistent world view; it also happens to be the Truth, and this is the source of its internal consistency.

God says: Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isa 1:18)

And man says: I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness: (Eccl 7:25)

And beyond that, I would add that salvation itself, that is, repentance and the acceptance of dominion under God, is a self-serving, selfish act: we surrender that which we cannot keep for something greater, and which we cannot lose.

Mark 8:36-37 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

And even in a financial context, Jesus says that it is impossible for a rich man to enter heaven, to which the disciples understood the implication that this same self-centeredness that prevents rich men from entering heaven also prevents the poorest; and they ask who then can be saved? Jesus answers that for God the impossible is possible. To which, the disciples make note that they have given up everything for the Kingdom of Heaven. And to this Jesus informs them that even what they have given up is less than what they will ultimately receive, in this life and in the next.

Even salvation, is ultimately a matter of the greatest self-interest. Matt 19:27-29 says, Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I only read the first page of this very long article, but there is something I don't understand. If the author really likes the Objectivist speaker's argument for free markets, why not use it and not bother about the speaker's views on religion or anything else? Unless, of course, you were trying to start a cult where everyone must agree on everything.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
First, Christianity is not a religion, but a rather a personal relationship with God. Religions are man-made distortions of that God/man grace relationship, generally in pursuit of power or wealth. This is as true of so-called Christian churches as with the institutions of any other "ism".

Further, nothing that can be done by an unbeliever is a fundamental aspect of a genuine Christian way of life. Good works, like creativity or charity, may evidence themselves among Christians or unbelievers, but those altruistic actions are good fruits of spirituality, not the spirituality itself. Can a Bernie Madoff steal money and give it to charitable causes? Obviously yes, so charity itself is not Christian, though it may be an outgrowth of it.

Relationship Christianity is both rational and objective based on first principles that can never be objectively demonstrated. The physical universe came about some way that we will never be able to objectively demonstrate. But some circumstances and activities were required by some entity for that universe to have come into being. Whether you call that entity God, or an "unmoved mover", or even "The Big Bang", something is the causal factor in time immemorial. I cal that entity God; you can call it what you want, but is an obvious necessity for logical consistency..

The only logical failure of the Objectivist philosophy is the denial of that obviously necessary prerequisite. Once the necessary prerequisite(s)[?] are admitted, the logical need for atheism evaporates, and relationship Christianity becomes allowable within Objectivism without contradiction.

Within grace relationship Christianity, pursuing self-interest while avoiding actions contrary to Natural Law wholly supports the capitalist thrust. Natural Law itself must thereby be itself divinely inspired, as is universe.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
He said:

"Relationship Christianity is both rational and objective based on first principles that can never be objectively demonstrated."

And I was like:

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The dichotomy between the objectivist philosophy vis-a-vis the Christian belief could not be more clear, Walter. Good article once again. Thought provoking.

It's a matter of worth.

It certainly would not exclude me from being on board with the same economic principles of an Objectivist/Atheist. If the Objectivist believes in limited government, we share a common trait. If the Objectivist believes in liberty and freedom, we share two more.

However, the difference between an objectivist and the Christian is what does each value? The question was answered with a question: "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"

I am absolutely sure out there that there our Objectivist folks more altruistic than I am. I am sure there are some Objectivists more selfless than I am. I am sure as the world defines good, there are many Objectivists "more good" than I am.

But being good isn't good enough for someone calling themselves Christian. The conclusions by Objectivists may pattern Ayn Rand, but their methods of protest and condemnation are Saul Alinsky: RULE 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”

Once again, I would tell our Objectivist friends, it is not difficult to be like Christ. It is impossible. And that was His point for being here.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Speaking of clarifying nomenclature, I wonder if the term 'capitalism' itself has so much baggage and room for interpretation about its meaning that it becomes nearly impossible to know if people are talking about the same thing?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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