Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Objectivist Religion

So, I've been away from the blog for a while. I had been reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and I really want to finish it. I was so mesmerized by the subjects and the similarities between what was going on in the story and the real life events going on in our world today. It is staggering to see the parallels between events. No doubt, there are a ton of things that I really disagree with her on, but I truly believe that the number of things that she is right about and how she presents them bring so much value to the reader that I would highly encourage reading it. In light of this, there are a few things I'm going to write about over the next few posts.

First, there is a very pressing one, which many conservative/republican…etc. people focus on and unjustly so. Even as she used this topic as what I view as sort of a marketing tactic to be controversial, I think that it really is sort of irrelevant. That is her issues with religion. It is relevant in that she attacks it and in bringing it up, therefore I guess it must be discussed. However, I'm going to just throw out my thoughts, address it and it get on down the road. There are many more issues that are much more important and relevant.

I feel that I've been driven to address the religious issue of Ayn Rand by a good friend of mine. He strikes me as an "Atheist-lite." By that term, I guess I maybe mean a person who is not sure, but is trying to convince himself based on some gut feeling. However, his nature is that he likes things to be black and white and with proof. Due to this nature, he loves logical arguments and like I said wants to prove his gut feeling. In this gut feeling, Rand resonates with him through her drive for rational objective thought and especially her anti-theism.

However, my friends ideas, coupled with her Christian symbolism in the story has really driven my mind to consider some points a lot more that I had initially set out to consider. I guess it is actually fitting in that she is an icon of Republican/Libertarian economics but really is at odds with the religious belief of most American's today and even more so at the time she was writing Atlas Shrugged.

Everything that Ayn Rand uses to sell her ideas is stolen from Christianity. The allusions used in the story coincide with central themes from Christian tales. It is funny, that she calls Galt, Prometheus when he is clearly her Jesus figure. Even when one of the characters is discussing Galt he talks of him in Greek mythological terms as springing forth. From the very beginning, this hints at a virginal birth. Such trends continue on throughout the story from Galt's Gulch representing heaven to Galt's final scene as the sacrificed due to the "betrayal" of one of his disciples.

There is no doubt that these similarities were intentional at the hands of Rand, but my question is why? Why would this person who is so adamant against religion and Christianity specifically, want to even grant them favor in her story. I also find it sort of perplexing in light of the conversation in Galt's Gulch when Kay Ludow talks about there not being stories which were new and creative and hadn't been taken from older themes. She obviously must have not that point to valuable.

Anyway, the structure of the story is one thing, but her attack on religion and its worthlessness is another. To be fair, she doesn't criticize the story of Christ, it is the religion as whole that she discounts. Personally, I feel that she has some merit in that religion today has many of the things wrong with it that are endemic to organizations throughout society. Those attacks are fair. Men of the cloth should strive for knowledge; strive for ideas…should think. Instead we have institutions that are run for some other goal than truth. This I think is a flaw, not of religion alone, but of most organizations run by man. However, I would say that growth of knowledge, the search for truth, and the like are more imperative in religion than any other. Religion falls into a nasty trap when it tries to hide and lie and the truth and facts … and needless to point out, lying isn't very Christian, anyways. Joking aside, I think that her search for facts and truth or I guess more appropriately, her value of those items is a value that all religions should not be afraid of and should embrace. If your religion is true, then it will stand the test. If God created something, it is not something that religion should hide from, but should more intensely strive to understand.

My friend likened her attack of religion to a slap in the face. That she had somehow taken her idea of the mystic lying for personal gain and validated so that it was discredited. This proverbial slap in the face, to me, is more of a slap that should awaken men of religion and not cause them to cower in the corner. As Fransico took the slap of Reardon and as Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, it is not a sign of weakness or acceptance of an insult that one should take the slap – it is strength. In this case, the slap should be to wake up the men of religion and take into consideration some things. Of these things, rational thought and fact are tools to be use and not threats to power as the pre-reform church believed. Where religions are losing the battles is in trying to mystify ideas and thoughts. These are not the times of man when we were denied the ability to read the bible or had to cower at the feet of a animatronics Zeus. We are in an unparalleled time of information and when people see these mystical practices the credibility of the religion is undermined.

Some other thoughts on her philosophy and how she holds it up as a discounting religion and in fact essentially calls religion immoral are actually things that are very close to the teachings of Christ. The interesting thing about this is that maybe she is doing a favor in that she is maybe pointing out some things that Christians have gotten away from, but should maybe reconsider. One thought, is that although Christ teachings are very altruistic, they still require man to not expect charity, nor force others to give charity. In fact, Christ teaches that you as an individual should give charity and love your brother. However, I believe that if Christ wanted us to force others into charity, he could very easily have led by example on that count – but he didn't. Additionally, of the idea of not expecting things to be handed down to you, but for you to earn them is a core belief. This is illustrated in the parable of the talents. This is also, apparent in that Christ teaches people to do these things; he never tells people that someone else owes them anything. I fear that we have lost these ideas in not only Christianity, but in society. I think Rand points these interesting phenomena out very well in Ragner's speech about Robin Hood. He is at war against what Robin Hood had become, not what the original idea had been. Robin Hood, had originally been after wealth unfairly taken from the poor, but it had been mangled into an idea that the poor were deserving of wealth they didn't earn.

A couple of other interesting ideas that she blatantly uses from Christianity -The idea that you must earn you interest into Galts' Gulch as Christ says of Heaven. That only the select can get into either. As I pointed out before -the idea that there is one savior out there working for mankind to save them, but only if they save themselves Is essential to both ideas.

A finally, remarkable idea that I think is a bit nuanced is the giving up of material things in the world for a greater treasure once you make the transition to either heaven or Galt's Gulch. She likes to use the disdain for materialism a lot to support her arguments. However, her protagonist requires the giving up of treasures acquired in the world. These treasures are bought and paid for by fiat currency and/ or were earned by the wrong means – an immoral means. I shake my head, because she turns around and uses this as a prod toward religion, but the reasons for disdain are essentially the same – actually, find it sort of interesting the idea of the use of gold in Christian descriptions of heaven. Could the good lord have been trying to say something? =) Anyway, the point is that I think is true in both cases is that gluttonous materialism is not the point of working. Even the so-called selfish heroes all live very Spartan lives. Their wealth is all tied up in production, not consuming. In fact, many people like to use the term the virtue of selfishness, but is James Taggart and Wesley Mouch not living just as selfish, if not more, lives? I really believe that Rand was using a lot of the talk about selfishness as sort of a sarcastic address to the accusers. Really, it is about the proper use of wealth, the idea that without really thinking about things, what seems selfish, actually benefits man as a whole. That profit is not really selfish, it is not immoral, it is actually moral as it allows man to benefit and grow. The ones with the material gluttony were James Taggart and Reardon's family – and is that not the most selfish of all acts? Jesus never taught the average man to not work and earn a living, he never taught that growing a business and wealth were evil. He asked the disciples to sell their things and follow him. Did he ask them to turn around and give away their money from those sales? No, he was telling them to simply pull up their roots. Did Jesus look down on work? No, he and his father were laborers. In fact, when Jesus talks about it is easier for a camel to jump through the head of a pin, than for a wealthy man to get into heaven. . . Maybe we should take Rand's advice and think, what did he mean? He didn't say impossible. But, maybe he had some sort of idea of the nature of man; that we are prone to gluttony, that most wealthy people amass wealth not for growing business or accomplishing anything at all with it, but for selfish gluttony of the type that the Reardon family knew. I find it sort of amusing that she or probably more accurately, her followers champion selfishness as the moral cause of man's actions throughout the book. However, the looters in the book are guilty of the same selfishness that the heroes are "guilty" of. The difference is simple, in that one group is driven by their selfishness and attain their goals of wealth and power, by means of hard honest work, while the other is driven by means not wanting to work.

It is remarkable that I've not seen anything written about these ideas anywhere on the internet. The symbolism she uses is so basic, that it shouts out for the comparison. The fact that there is nothing that I can personally find out there is maybe more of a tribute to her observations than anything. At the most basic start of her ideas is that man doesn't think. The simple labeling of her "school of objectivism" is that we should reason with the use of objective facts and shy away from subjective processes. There resounding level of truth in this idea. I think that this is probably a simple basis for her hate of disdain for religion. In my time, it seems that the people of the church blindly accept what is preached to them. In fact, many people aggressively attempt to turn away from doing any sort of thinking themselves. They refuse to read or research or take in facts in an effort to attain an objective conclusion. What is strange about Rand is that she takes the time to blatantly attack Religion when it really isn't important to her story in Atlas Shrugged. Her quarrel is clearly with any institution where these things are true.