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Christianty plus Objectivism

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I've read over a portion of the posts on this site, and have been moderately intimidated by the concepts discussed, so I think I will choose this section as the platform for my first real post.

I have read Atlas Shrugged twice and also The Fountainhead. Atlas Shrugged profoundly changed my life by destroying the mounting guilt that I felt for never caring about anyone.

However, over the past two years I have struggled with my religious beliefs due to the enlightenment showered upon me by Rand's books. I presently agree with most of the simple concepts presented in the aforementioned books, but I am having trouble discarding my religion. Questions of creation and afterlife constantly echo in what seems at times my mindless skull.

I am sure that everyone here has spent some time in the situation in which I find myself stuck. Any thoughts or advice would be much welcomed, and ongoing dialogue in an AIM or MSN setting would be great.

AIM:Whoisbateman

MSN: p_cake02

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First, Objectivism is NOT about "never caring about anyone." I care about many people – my family, friends, heroes. I just don’t think that anyone has a claim to my life or my undeserved “care.”

Second, once I discovered Objectivism, everything I knew of religious dogma seemed like drug-induced hallucination from a “mindless skull.” I suggest that you re-read Galt’s speech and then read Ayn Rand’s nonfiction, starting with The New Intellectual and the Virtue of Selfishness. Not only does Ayn Rand conclusively refute all forms of mysticism, but her self-centered, pro-life philosophy makes it utterly unnecessary.

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Closed_Pockets--

Having been in your situation myself, the best advice I can give you is to just keep studying with a focus toward the truth, and you will ultimately be able to resolve all the contradictions in your thinking.

To quote Leonard Peikoff: "You cannot process all the relevant material...in a day or a week; a major reorganization of one's thoughts is a demanding task" (OPAR 126). It took me nearly a year from the time I first began reading Ayn Rand until I finally fully rejected religion. Looking back, the idea is almost laughable to me. Now, the idea of God strikes me the same way as does the idea of Santa Claus or the Easter bunny.

One area in particular that I recommend you study to help you with this issue is Objectivist epistemology. When you understand the role of evidence in gaining knowledge, and the proper way to deal with the arbitrary, the idea of God will no longer hold any sway over your mind. Also, that together with a proper understanding of metaphysics will help you answer some of your specific questions such as those regarding "creation" and an "afterlife" (or, help you realize that the questions themselves are misguided).

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Closed_Pockets))))

I have read Atlas Shrugged twice and also The Fountainhead. Atlas Shrugged profoundly changed my life by destroying the mounting guilt that I felt for never caring about anyone.
A morality that professes the belief that the values of the spirit are more precious than matter, a morality that teaches you to scorn a whore who gives her body indiscriminately to all men -- the same morality demands that you surrender your soul in promiscuous love for all comers. --Ayn Rand

You had been thought that loving one's enemies was the ideal thing to do. But since you could not in good conscience love those who did not share your values or who were unworthy of your love in general you felt guilty for not living up to the ideal (the god approved ideal). Then when you became acquainted with Rand's writings it was demonstrated to you that it is immoral to sanction evil or give to those who were not deserving of your time or money. I doubt that it is the case now that you care for no one. I think that now you care only for those people that you value as opposed to any Tom, Dick or Harry. Am I correct?.

However, over the past two years I have struggled with my religious beliefs due to the enlightenment showered upon me by Rand's books. I presently agree with most of the simple concepts presented in the aforementioned books, but I am having trouble discarding my religion. Questions of creation and afterlife constantly echo in what seems at times my mindless skull.

I recommend you read books that focus on atheism primarily (by author such as George H. Smith, Michael Martin, et al). In this way you can be "assured" that the existence of a god is far from evident. I must say that it is good that you found Objectivism because instead of being some (future) nihilistic or subjectivist atheist you would be a man who holds reason as his only absolute. In any event, religion has been pounded into your mind since you were born (I assume) and it would not take a day for you to get rid of your mystic inclinations. At times you would find yourself holding contradictory views but once you work to correct the errors in your thinking then you are on the right course. If however, you willfully reject reason and the task of correcting contradictory views then you will be hopelessly lost trying to juggle mysticism while you are under the pretense of being a rational individual.

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I had the good fortune to be brought up without religion. So my beliefs have stayed essentially the same since I was 12 years old and first starting thinking about religion and ethics. So I can't empathize at all, but here are a couple of things to think about.

You mention creation as one of the tough issues for you to deal with. Some of the questions you might ask are:

The usual argument for creation is that the universe is so complex, so amazing, that it must have been created by a really impressive being, namely God. So, couldn't you say the same thing about God? Musn't he have been created, too? Based on all the evidence available to us, the universe just IS; there is no creator. Often, when you look up at the sky at night, or think about our robotic exploration of Mars, this can be a little unsettling to contemplate. Based on all the evidence we have, we are the only intelligent lifeform existing in the galaxy, and perhaps the universe, and we just got here SOMEHOW, through evolution most likely. Unsettling, perhaps, but true and comprehensible. I always thought it would be much stranger to think of a mystical being watching over me all the time.

As for an afterlife, the only thing I can say that is helpful is that there is no evidence of the existence of an afterlife. Moreover, people who believe in an afterlife tend to place less value on the actual life that we DO have. One should not squander the actual life one has on the basis of an arbitrary assertion of an afterlife.

Hope this is helpful. I also second Capleton's point about why you would characterize yourself as "not caring about anyone." A professor once asked me why it was that Objectivists were so nice. Based on whatever he heard he thought they would be mean, unpleasant people. I told him that, because we don't feel that others have a mortgage on us, or that we have a mortgage on them (an unpaid one), this frees us to be truly benevolent.

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Sorry for the mistake, but as I am sure you all could have guessed, I care for a great many people in my life, however there are a great many people that I care nothing for, and this was the basis of my rather rudimentary worded statement.

I do intend on continuing my quest for the truth. This past year I took a night course at a local college dealing with ethics, and I was quite happy when we came to the ethics of Rand. The teacher was a liberal who depicted Ayn Rand as a silly woman whose ideals were flawed and evil. I was aghast, and spoke up, and eventually pointed out that the man knew nothing of the subject and he apologized to the class. It's hard to find people to discuss her views with, because they are difficult to grasp if you haven't read her books, not because they are too difficult for the average person, just that most don't follow logical pathways in their thinking.

Thanks for the replies, and as I love to read, I'll try to tackle some of those books that were mentioned.

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...based on all the evidence available to us, the universe just IS; there is no creator.

...there is no evidence of the existence of an afterlife.

Amy,

While I think all your comments are true, I don't think that they're quite strong enough. After all it's not just that there's no evidence of a creator, making it an arbitrary claim, it's that there couldn't be a creator, because of the primacy of existence principle. Since the nature of consciousness is to perceive or identify reality, not to create it, consciousness as such presupposes an external existence. Therefore, the universe had to have just existed without having been caused by a conscious creator. So not only is there no evidence to the contrary, but there could not be any such evidence.

Of course, as you mentioned, it also leads to the infinite regress problem. But I don't think that's as fundamental as the primacy of existence issue.

Regarding the afterlife, well, the idea of an afterlife contradicts the very concept of death. But in this case, I suppose it is conceivably possible that that concept could be modified on the basis of new evidence. But since there is no such evidence, it's just arbitrary, as you said.

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...This past year I took a night course at a local college dealing with ethics, and I was quite happy when we came to the ethics of Rand.  The teacher was a liberal who depicted Ayn Rand as a silly woman whose ideals were flawed and evil.  I was aghast, and spoke up, and eventually pointed out that the man knew nothing of the subject and he apologized to the class...

At least the teacher taught Rand in class, and apologized when his criticisms of her were pointed out to be baseless. In most college courses her existence is still scrupulously ignored. I would have loved to have had a chance to discuss Rand in a college ethics course, even if the teacher didn't agree with it.

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Yeah, the teacher was a nice guy, Ash, but he was always trying to pawn off his liberal views on the class. And by liberal, I mean save the poor, feed the hungry, you aren't doing enough for the needy, come to my Methodist church meetings liberal. I would have much preferred a less biased teacher, but it gave me an opportunity to sharpen my wits in defending my own beliefs against his propaganda.

While I think all your comments are true, I don't think that they're quite strong enough. After all it's not just that there's no evidence of a creator, making it an arbitrary claim, it's that there couldn't be a creator, because of the primacy of existence principle. Since the nature of consciousness is to perceive or identify reality, not to create it, consciousness as such presupposes an external existence. Therefore, the universe had to have just existed without having been caused by a conscious creator. So not only is there no evidence to the contrary, but there could not be any such evidence.

As much a blow as this is to my ego, I would really appreciate you stating this so I could understand it more clearly.

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That's amazing that you actually got an apology out of him. If you want to pursue formal study of Objectivism, look into the Objectivist Academic Center. (linked to from the aynrand.org website.) I've been taking classes there for a couple of years, as have some of the other people who post on this forum. It's great.

Ash, I think that Amy hit the fundamental in her response. Sure, there are good reasons to have a positive disbelief in God, but the fundamental is really in epistemology. There's no evidence for God, for an afterlife, etc., and therefore one shouldn't believe in them. Giving positive arguments against it is optional: simply pointing out that religion depends on baseless assertions is sufficient.

I just spent a few minutes trying to think of a context in which you'd be required to give positive arguments against an arbitrary claim. I can't think of any. If somebody attempts to give real arguments for religion and you have good reason to debate them on it, they can be useful. And the very fact of integrating them with a wider body of knowledge can give you a better understanding of your own true principles -- and a better understanding of why the false ones affect people and cultures as they do. For instance, you could just dismiss religion out of hand, and it would be entirely appropriate: but there's much to be gained from identifying that it is based in primacy of consciousness, because then you understand what underlies many of the more specific actions and beliefs of religionists. But all of this is still optional; without it, the case against religion would still be as strong.

Why do you think that the burden of proof issue isn't enough?

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Closed_Pockets--

I'm not sure I could unpack my comments to Amy both in enough detail and briefly enough to be of use to you at this point. Whole lectures can be and have been given on issues such as consciousness as identification. Nevertheless, I will probably try to explain in more detail in a few days when I have a bit more time (right now I need to go get some homework done)--unless of course someone else here does so for me in the meantime.

Right now, though, I can recommend a few sources to look for more information on what I'm talking about. Leonard Peikoff's Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand explains the primacy of existence principle in the first chapter on metaphysics, and contrasts it with the primacy of consciousness viewpoint. The Ayn Rand Lexicon, edited by Harry Binswanger, is also a great resource if you have that or can get it from a local library or something--it has selections of Ayn Rand's writings organized by topic, so you can look up "arbitrary" or whatever and read all in one place most of what she had to say about that to learn what she meant by it.

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Ash, I think that Amy hit the fundamental in her response.  Sure, there are good reasons to have a positive disbelief in God, but the fundamental is really in epistemology...

Matt,

I was thinking that showing something to be inconsistent with what you already know is even stronger than pointing out that it's arbitrary. But when you put it like this:

Giving positive arguments against it is optional: simply pointing out that religion depends on baseless assertions is sufficient.  I just spent a few minutes trying to think of a context in which you'd be required to give positive arguments against an arbitrary claim.  I can't think of any....  Why do you think that the burden of proof issue isn't enough?

I think you're right. That's probably why Amy only mentioned the issue of its being arbitrary.

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By the way, Pockets, I hope you don't take any of that as personal criticism. I was never religious, but I certainly held some major false beliefs in the past, and it took me a really long time to get over them. It sounds like you're on the right track.

One thing that might help you think through this all is to try to identify exactly what it is that is keeping these ideas popping into your head. Is it some nagging doubt, like the creation issue, or something like that? Or is it an emotional issue -- maybe you really like the thought that there's an afterlife, and worry that your life would lose meaning without it? A lot of this could be subconscious, so it might be a long and difficult process. It's worth it.

The last piece of advice I'll give you is extraordinarily important. As the Gulchers tell Dagny in Atlas: don't let our confidence become a replacement for your own independent judgment. If you try to repress your metaphysical doubts, they'll just sit there and bug you forever. You need to accept them as facts, though emphatically not as unalterable ones, before you can address them and resolve them. You shouldn't go into this with the attitude that you know in advance that you'll reject religion. Until you think it through fully, you *don't* know that. But you can go into it knowing this: if you think through these issues honestly, you will end up with the truth.

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Well, it's stronger as an addition to the burden of proof issue. But I don't think that's different than the person who first identifies that there is a metaphysical contradiction in religious beliefs, and later discovers that there was no evidence for them in the first place.

Maybe I'd understand what you're saying better if I knew what your standard of "strength" is. The way I understand it, the strength of an argument depends on how convincing it is. The only reason that the metaphysical contradiction arguments are in any way stronger than the burden of proof argument is because they show that there *could not* be any evidence for the conclusion. But given that there *isn't* any evidence, they both end up at the same point: one rejects the conclusion. And the fact that one can't show that there can't ever be evidence by use of the burden of proof principle doesn't leave open the response "well, it's possible that they'll find evidence for God tomorrow, right?" -- because that's arbitrary too.

I take the proper cognitive result of an argument to be the standard of its strength. (Of course, that may vary depending on context -- but it ought to.) So I rank both as being equally strong, since they both result in discarding the conclusion. What's your standard?

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Actually, thanks to your explanations, I agree with you. I don't really think it's a strength issue so much anymore, as just understanding more about the claim (as when you said, "And the very fact of integrating them with a wider body of knowledge can give you a better understanding of your own true principles"). You're right that the argument's not really any stronger, it's just more of an issue of integrating it with the rest of your knowledge.

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What makes you think it's a possibility, though? You need evidence before you can declare something a possibility. If something were a possibility just because somebody said it was, then you'd have to worry about the possibility that some other religion is right and you'll burn in hell anyway. And no matter which one you picked, you'd still have to be really worried for the same reason.

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I guess I'm afraid I'll burn in hell, that possibility is somewhat daunting...

The way I used to think about it, when I didn't yet know about philosophy was: I am a really good person, better than many of those who profess to be religious. If I will burn in hell because I don't believe in something for which there is no evidence, and it is that something that will be making me burn in hell for it, then I don't want to have anything to do with that something. The whole "burn in hell" idea is the appeal to force at its very worst. My grandmother saved me from it at an early age. I came to her, wide-eyed and upset one day, because I had seen bible-pounding preachers on Missouri television. (Apparently I would get up and watch them early in the morning, when my parents were asleep.) I came up to her and told her that a man on T.V. was talking about the Devil. She told me, "Oh Amy, there's no such thing as the Devil." And she said I was _so_ relieved.

It's true that the entire concept of God contradicts basic metaphysics, but the crucial thing for Closed_Pockets, at this stage of the game, seems to be for him to realize that there is no good argument FOR God, and that real values are at stake in the decision whether to believe in God. I almost felt vindicated that he asked you to translate what you wrote about the positve point. :P

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I would have loved to have had a chance to discuss Rand in a college ethics course, even if the teacher didn't agree with it.

My ethics class (from three years ago) also presented Rand – though the prof had a very limited and erroneous grasp of her position. He even made a question about her views count for a third of the midterm. In my (very limited) experience, Ayn Rand seems to be gradually becoming the dominant representative of “ethical egoism” in introductory ethics courses, even to the exclusion of Nietzsche and social Darwinists.

Can anyone else shed some light on whether there is such a trend?

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Wouldn't surprise me. There are more & more Objectivists & Objectivist sympathizers in academia. Even if they're not teaching the classes, I wouldn't be surprised if their presence is enough to convince people that Rand is worth reading -- even if they still don't agree with her.

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creation

While the arbitrariness of a claim is enough reason to reject it out of hand, it is often useful to identify the premise that motivates the arbitrary claim. In this case, it is the premise that every existent has a creator. Things don't just pop into existence at random but result from the actions of other entities; it is such actions that we describe with the verb "create." The religionist wonders, "So who created the Universe?" and comes up with the answer, "There is a guy named God and he did it."

It is easy to see how this answer is an arbitrary and dishonest one that doesn't even try to address the question. As Mrs. Peikoff pointed out, it simply passes the buck: instead of not knowing who created us, now we don't know who created our creator--so we still don't know our ultimate creator, which is exactly where we started from. In other words, it is a completely useless answer; if we are honestly interested in addressing the question posed, we cannot be satisfied with an answer like this.

It is important to recognize this because it means that not only do we reject this particular arbitrary claim as an answer to our question; we will be unsatisfied with all similar "answers," even if they are objective statements rather than arbitrary assertions. All statements in the form "There is an entity X and it created the Universe" are unsuitable to be answers to the question of "Who created the Universe?" because they leave open the question of who created X.

But if the answer we look for won't be a statement in this form, what will it be like then? After all, when we ask who performed a certain action, we expect an answer that points out an entity and identifies it as having performed that action. Which means that the answer to the question "Who created the Universe?" must be in the form "There is an entity X and it did it."

We arrived at a contradiction. The answer to our question must, and at the same time cannot, be in a certain form. The only way to arrive at a contradiction is to start from false premises, and the premise that led us to asking this question is, "every existent has a creator." Since every existent has a creator and the Universe exists--we thought--the Universe has a creator. This is how we came to ask who that creator is.

The correct way to phrase that premise is: "Every object in the Universe has a creator." That is, for every object A in the Universe, there is (or was) another object C in the Universe such that the existence of A is an effect of an action performed by C. The Universe itself is not "an object in the Universe," therefore it cannot play the role of A and consequently there is no C for it. It is not valid to ask which object in the Universe created the Universe.

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My ethics class (from three years ago) also presented Rand – though the prof had a very limited and erroneous grasp of her position. He even made a question about her views count for a third of the midterm. In my (very limited) experience, Ayn Rand seems to be gradually becoming the dominant representative of “ethical egoism” in introductory ethics courses, even to the exclusion of Nietzsche and social Darwinists.

In all of my ethics courses, we have covered neither Rand nor even Nietzche or any other advocates of any form of "egoism," even if their writings were represented in our texts. The closest we came to even considering egoism was in reading one or two bad papers (such as Sterba's) that claim to explicitly consider the question of egoism vs. altruism, but then explicitly equate altruism with morality right from the start and thus beg the question against egoism.

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Well, Ethical Egoism was solely represented by Rand in my Ethics course. My professor's final was a simple one however, for most of the people in my class are those who don't read at all, and the professor didn't want everyone to fail. Nietzsche was completely left out of any part of our class, with the focus of the better half of the class on what is my favorite philosopher......drum roll.....Imannuell Kant. (sarcasm)

Just to let you know that your replies are not going unread, or unwelcomed, I agree that there is no hard evidence for a belief in God, and likewise for a heven or a hell. However, since the religion is based on taking everything on faith, it is it difficult to throw things away that were not built on a solid truth. If I had believed the sky were purple all these years, and had never seen it, and walked outside to see it blue, I would know that I had been wrong all along, or as wrong as my senses allowed me to be. However, if I believed the sky to be purple for no good reason, and someone came to me and said that there was no reason to believe the sky was purple, I may agree with that statement, but it doesn't give the irrefutable evidence that I need to change my mindset. Religion has contorted my brain to actually need proof that there isn't a God for him not to exist...twisted, very twisted.

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Pockets, it sounds like what you have at this point is a psychoepistemological problem. (Psychoepistemology is "the study of man's cognitive processes from the aspect of the interaction between the conscious mnd and the automatic functions of the subconscious.") You've consciously accepted that there is no evidence for religion, and that therefore there is no justification for believing it, and yet you find yourself behaving in some ways as if you still believed it.

I think the reason for this is probably that you've believed in religion for so long that it's tightly integrated with many of your other beliefs and habits. That happens with any belief, and it's one of the reasons that they can tend to be resistant to change. Maybe other people can give more detailed advice about what to do in such a situation, but here's what has worked for me in the past (and, by the way, there is no overnight fix): the key is to monitor your own thought processes. You'll probably find yourself reverting automatically at times to thinking as though God existed. When that happens, don't just shove it out of your mind. Take it seriously. Ask yourself questions: try to find out what's underlying it. Is there some unresolved emotional attachment which you need to think further about? Are you not fully convinced that faith is not a means of achieving knowledge? Etc. If you keep this up, you'll find that your subconscious mind will over time start to come to terms with your conscious mind. The key is to keep asking yourself questions until you understand your own behavior and thoughts fully. You can't change your subconscious until you become conscious of exactly what it's doing, and that's the tricky part -- but it is possible.

I could offer you some arguments against God, but I won't. I think resolving this issue is much more important for you. If you can work yourself through this, you've not only resolved this one particular issue, but you will have trained yourself in good thinking methods. Particularly as somebody just starting to explore a fantastic new philosophy, that will be invaluable.

You might find it useful to read the first five chapters of Leonard Peikoff's "Objectivism", where he discusses metaphysics and epistemology. It'll help you understand more clearly the nature of reason, and as Amy said, what's at stake here in terms of your values.

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People have taken to calling you "Pockets" now, so I guess I'll join them. You say that you want irrefutable evidence that there is no God. Such evidence does not really exist. I can tell you that the whole concept of God contradicts basic self-evident axioms. But I cannot provide you with *positive* evidence of the *non-existence* of any entity. Things that don't exist don't leave evidence of their non-existence.

Don't take this as pressure to agree with us right away. I'm just addressing your concerns and questions and I see them, when I think I have something to say.

Best,

Amy

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