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Stunning previously unpublished letter of Ayn Rand (On Christianity)

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Hat tip to Robert Campbell, this was on Ebay recently. It doesn’t appear in the Letters of Ayn Rand, I just checked.

“I believe my statement of man’s proper morality does not contradict any religious belief, if that belief includes faith in man’s free will.”

Ayn Rand, October 23, 1943

http://hubcap.clemson.edu/~campber/randtodudley102343p1.jpg

http://hubcap.clemson.edu/~campber/randtodudley102343p2.jpg

http://hubcap.clemson.edu/~campber/randtodudley102343p3.jpg

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Not an expert, and not laying a charge of fraud here by any means, just observing that the signature is dubious compared with numerous other and seemingly more credible signatures found online. Specifically the y in Ayn and other subtle differences in the n's.

Has the letter been authenticated?

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Has the letter been authenticated?

Here’s the ebay listing, it sure looks like a reputable seller.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=220842770782#ht_2874wt_1233

The signature looks fine to me (mine varies much more), but if there’s a dispute there are experts who can confirm it came from her typewriter. In the Soviet Union that was a big deal with samizdat writers like Solzhenitsyn. There was a terrific German movie called The Lives of Others where a secret typewriter is a key part of the plot. I think the views she’s expounding aren’t too different from what you find in Isabel Paterson and Rose Wilder Lane, and she was friends (sisters in arms?) with them at this time. I think it’s authentic, there’s no serious doubt about it in my mind.

But how else to authenticate it? Since it's not in Letters of Ayn Rand, do we presume that it's not in the archives? If it is in the archives, the next question is unavoidable: why was such an intellectually important letter left out? What else was left out?

Edited by Ninth Doctor
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Christ did say that you must love your neighbor as yourself, but He never said that you must love your neighbor better than yourself

The thing is, Jesus followed this up with sacrificing himself for our sins.

And the Apostle Paul did take that extra step in his 1st letter to the Corinthians: "Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor."

Sounds like wishful thinking. Good thing she thought better of it by the time she wrote AS.

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The thing is, Jesus followed this up with sacrificing himself for our sins.

And the Apostle Paul did take that extra step in his 1st letter to the Corinthians: "Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor."

Sounds like wishful thinking. Good thing she thought better of it by the time she wrote AS.

In this letter, she is not 'wishing away' the altruistic element in Christianity; she acknowledges it quite straightforwardly and argues that it is at odds with the sacredness of one's own soul, which "introduces a basic contradiction into Christian philosophy, which has never been resolved." I think this take on Christianity is spot-on; all of the Christians I have ever spoken to believe that their moral code of sacrifice is also the path to personal happiness, fulfillment, and salvation. In short, they believe that altruism is the path to personal gain. Since this is not true in actuality, it introduces contradictory elements into their moral code. She does argue in the letter that the egoistic aspect of Christianity is more fundamental than the altruistic aspect, which I think could be argued either way. It certainly reflects a more benevolent view of Christianity on Rand's part to hold that for them, egoism is more fundamental than altruism.

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“I believe my statement of man’s proper morality does not contradict any religious belief, if that belief includes faith in man’s free will.”

Ayn Rand, October 23, 1943

Miss Rand also said, in her essay "Man's Rights":

'The Declaration of Independence stated that men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Whether one believes that man is the product of a Creator or of nature, the issue of man’s origin does not alter the fact that he is an entity of a specific kind—a rational being—that he cannot function successfully under coercion, and that rights are a necessary condition of his particular mode of survival.'

It is obvious that there are and have been a great number of people—religious people, people who hold that faith is a means of knowledge—who believe in the existence of God and who believe that God created the universe as well as man. Given such a belief, on faith, such people are still capable of living together with others in a free society, a society that recognizes and respects individual rights, as long as they recognize and respect individual rights, as long as they recognize that man is "an entity of a specific kind—a rational being—that he cannot function successfully under coercion, and that rights are a necessary condition of his particular mode of survival." Such a social harmony or compatibility is called religious freedom and requires the separation of Church and State. Religion and faith are not compatible with freedom and rights if accepted consistently, and ultimately, without a rational philosophical basis, freedom will not endure.

Miss Rand certainly did not condone faith as a means of knowledge. And, she conditions that statement in that letter with "if that [religious] belief includes faith in man's free will." If any religious belief also includes faith, belief, in man's free will (and therefore the recognition of and respect for individual rights), then a free society is possible.

Yes, I find the statement troubling, but I think that she sufficiently cleared up any trouble in the rest of her writing. And, as Miss Peikoff points out in her brief discussion in her podcast, Miss Rand had not yet written Atlas Shrugged.

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I don't think the letter is so stunning. If one has read Rand's published letters, she often seems ready to seek a meeting point with an intellectual adversary. In fact, I found this aspect to be one of the more interesting things about her published letters.

Also, I'm not sure where, but I think there is some place in the material already published, where she makes the point about Christianity's focus on the individual.

I question her understanding of Christianity, but - while this goes beyond what I'd expect -- it really is not way out there.

Added (thanks to the Objectivism CD):

I do not know whether the fact that Christianity was the first system to establish the conception of a human being as a free, spiritual entity, is a beneficial achievement if, at the same time, Christianity introduced the conception of original sin. True, philosophically, the first is a great achievement. But, historically, if these two ideas were preached together—then, I think those who preached them were responsible for a monstrous crime.

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)
Edited by softwareNerd
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It certainly reflects a more benevolent view of Christianity on Rand's part to hold that for them, egoism is more fundamental than altruism.

I would agree with calling what she did "giving Christianity the benefit of the doubt" instead of "wishful thinking", which is too harsh.

I do not agree that it's a benevolent view of Christianity. That would imply that she was correct, and Christianity is in fact, fundamentally, egoistic (she would be benevolent then, for seeing that fundamental good in spite of the bad that might draw the attention of a malevolent observer). I don't think it's controversial to say that's not true, Christianity isn't fundamentally good. She herself changed her mind on that, by the time she wrote AS.

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I gather Reverend Dudley wrote a review of The Fountainhead, if so it should be interesting to read. It’s not entirely clear, early on she refers to a lecture, then at the end she refers to a review. Could it be that Rand was carefully putting a spin on her ideas to not alienate someone who could “give it a larger circle of readers”? It had been out 6 months when this was written. When I was in college I went through old bound copies of the New York Times (when I should have been chasing tail) and I believe I looked at The Fountainhead as it went up and down the bestseller list. If memory serves, by 6 months it was doing very well, and it sat near the top for a long time.

Yes, I find the statement troubling, but I think that she sufficiently cleared up any trouble in the rest of her writing.

I really don’t find it troubling, I was surprised that’s all. People’s ideas evolve. Now, to reconcile this letter with the thesis of Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World, that’s another matter.

I don't think the letter is so stunning.

I created the thread within minutes of first reading the letter. I was feeling stunned.

It does go beyond, let's say by one order of magnitude, any of her other potentially pro-Christian writings. The letter to Sylvia Austin is all about why Roark is different from Jesus, while the letter to Reverend Dudley is about how her morality does reconcile with Christianity.

Edited by Ninth Doctor
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I think she was more or less saying that if Jesus existed he was good but christianity is not. I have always leaned more towards deism, I don't like the idea of a God interfering with my life and knowing every thought that goes through my head, but I did like the idea of a creator. Now I've become more of an agnostic. My parents were always berating me and psychologically abusing me because I said I didn't think there was a God. Sick.

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I think that Ayn Rand was against the idea of a white bearded old man in the sky sitting on a throne doling out salvation and damnation as envisaged by church goers of her time, however I don't think that she was ever against truly understanding the unknown component of man's mind / soul and other dimensions of reality not easily observable by physical measurement. She was against the generic W.A.S.P. christianity that dominates religion in general.

This book was a terrific read - I highly recommend it; "Inner Paths to Outer Space" http://www.amazon.com/Inner-Paths-Outer-Space-Psychedelics/dp/159477224X -

Edited by Erik Christensen
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Since I used "the CD' for the quotes above, I thought I;d share a few of the other references that came up.

I realize that there are two contradictory traditions in Christianity: one individualistic, the other collectivistic. But the real issue is epistemological: if you claim that your faith leads you to individualism, the collectivists can claim—with equal validity—that their faith leads them to collectivism. No argument, persuasion or proof is possible to either side—since "faith" and "proof" are incompatible concepts.

Other than these letters, here were some notes from her Journals, the first from her infamous note on Hickman...

[Hickman] was given [nothing with which] to fill his life. What was he offered to fill his soul? The petty, narrow, inconsistent, hypocritical ideology of present-day humanity. All the criminal, ludicrous, tragic nonsense of Christianity and its morals, virtues, and consequences. Is it any wonder that he didn't accept it? ... ...

... (then, a few paragraphs later) ...

The horrible idea of "saving" a murderer's "soul," adding to the "glory" of their religion by demonstrating its power over fear-crazed convicts. The hypocrisy of "saving a soul," of turning a man to a religion of charity and forgiveness like Christianity and then executing him. The mob tyranny I mentioned, shown in the desire to make a new slave, add a new follower to the herd, break an independent man into submission.

Communism, at least, offers a definite goal, inspiration and ideal, a positive faith. Nothing else in modern life does. The old capitalism has nothing better to offer than the dreary, shop-worn, mildewed ideology of Christianity, outgrown by everyone, and long since past any practical usefulness it might have had, even for the capitalistic system. Furthermore, that same Christianity, with its denial of self and glorification of all men's brotherhood, is the best possible kindergarten of communism. Communism is at least consistent in its ideology. Capitalism is not; it preaches what communism actually wants to live. Consequently, if there are things in capitalism and democracy worth saving, a new faith is needed, a definite, positive set of new values and a new interpretation of life, which is more opposed, more irreconcilable, more fatal to communism than its bastard weak-sister—Christianity.)

If humanity, for twenty dreary centuries, has been battered by Christianity into believing selflessness is a virtue and into considering as ideals things which are inherently impossible to it—all idealism is gone. All ambition toward an ideal, that which makes men wish to attain the highest possible, is gone, since that highest, as preached by Christianity, is unattainable.

If all of life has been brought down to flattering the mob, if those who can please the mob are the only ones to succeed—why should anyone feel any high aspirations and cherish any ideals? The capitalistic world is low, unprincipled and corrupt. But how can it have any incentive toward principles when its ideology has killed the only source of principles—man's "I"? Christianity has succeeded in eliminating "self" from the world of ethics, by declaring "ethics" and "self" as incompatible. But that self cannot be killed. It has only degenerated into the ugly modern struggle for material success at the cost of all higher values, since these values have been outlawed by the church. Hence—the hopelessness, the colorless drabness, the dreariness and empty brutality of our present day.

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This is not an entirely stunning point. Rand makes the point that her ethics can be compatible with any religious view that upholds a naturalistic view of man and free will. Certainly such views very similar to Objectivism have existed and pre-dated Rand, namely from the Aristotelian and Thomistic traditions. The natural law tradition dating back from even the later, especially Roman, Stoics to the medieval scholastics had synthesized Aristotelian ethics into a more individualistic form which holds that "moral conduct is rational conduct, what is meant is that it is conduct in accordance with right reason, reason apprehending the objective good for man and dictating the means to its attainment." Quoted from one of the leading Thomist scholars, Father Copleston, Aquinas (1955) pp. 204–05.

It must be stressed that this (Thomistic view) stands in direct opposition to the Augustinian tradition, which holds that faith is the only guide for man's ethical conduct. In St. Thomas and the scholastics, it is reason, not faith, not revelation, not intuition, that comprehends completely natural and intelligible workings of the world, including all the basic points in a realist metaphysics, such as the law of identity and causality. It leaves entirely open the question of whether or not God created the world and all of the natural laws. It is, in itself, neither necessarily pro- or anti-religious.

This view is implicit in St. Thomas, but was made explicit by his later scholastic followers. The point is basically "God or no God, natural law is valid, and reason is man's survival instrument":

"[E]ven though God did not exist, or did not make use of His reason, or did not judge rightly of things, if there is in man such a dictate of right reason to guide him, it would have had the same nature of law as it now has." Franciscus Suarez, De Legibus ac Deo Legislatore (1619), lib. II, Cap. vi.

"...therefore logically to admit that natural law does not proceed from God as a lawgiver, for it is not dependent on God's will." Quoted in A. P. d’Entrèves, Natural Law (London: Hutchinson University Library, 1951), p. 71.

"If the word 'natural' means anything at all, it refers to the nature of a man, and when used with 'law,' 'natural' must refer to an ordering that is manifested in the inclinations of a man's nature and to nothing else. Hence, taken in itself, there is nothing religious or theological in the 'Natural Law' of Aquinas." Thomas E. Davitt, S.J., "St. Thomas Aquinas and the Natural Law," in Arthur L. Hading, ed., Origins of the Natural Law Tradition (Dallas, Tex.: Southern Methodist University Press, 1954), p. 39.

"What we have been saying would have a degree of validity even if we should concede that which cannot be conceded without the utmost wickedness, that there is no God. […] Measureless as is the power of God, nevertheless it can be said that there are certain things over which that power does not extend. . . . Just as even God cannot cause that two times two should not make four, so He cannot cause that which is intrinsically evil be not evil." Hugo Grotius, De Iure Belli ac Pacis (1625), quoted in d'Entrèves, Natural Law, pp. 52–53.

"[Grotius’s] definition of natural law has nothing revolutionary. When he maintains that natural law is that body of rules which Man is able to discover by the use of his reason, he does nothing but restate the Scholastic notion of a rational foundation of ethics. Indeed, his aim is rather to restore that notion which had been shaken by the extreme Augustinianism of certain Protestant currents of thought. When he declares that these rules are valid in themselves, independently of the fact that God willed them, he repeats an assertion which had already been made by some of the schoolmen." D'Entrèves, Natural Law, pp. 51-52.

I see an objection can be raised though, that if we do admit God into the picture, and this is the Christian-type God which is said to be omnipotent and omniscient, there is still a question of whether or not this allows you to have free will in any meaningful sense. So if Rand bases her claim of compatibility on this fact, it is a bit more shaky than she thinks here.

Another objection could be raised that Rand made in terms of her later writings of intrinsicist ethics in the 60's after she wrote Atlas Shrugged, that glorification of a transcendent realm necessarily devalues this one, so if obeying God's will is the standard of value, it might not really matter if you flourish in this life or not. Certainly we can conceive of it in such a way that God may demand you to sacrifice happiness in this world for eternal life in the next. But it is possible to hold the view that God wants you to be happy in this one, I just don't know if that is entirely justified in Christian theology.

Another claim Rand makes here is that "Christianity is the first school of thought that proclaimed the supreme importance of the individual." I'm not sure if this is the case though, but I suppose this would depend on your knowledge of history. I doubt Rand had extensive knowledge of the Chinese Daoist philosophers, such as Lao-tzu and his individualist followers. She explains the reason for this is that Christianity demands salvation of the individual's soul, but I think it would depend on how salvation of the soul is achieved. If it requires adherence to an altruist ethics to achieve salvation, then I don't think you can claim it upholds the importance of the individual. I don't think it's right to say that altruism "contradicts the basic premise of Christianity" in this sense, then.

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Rand makes the point that her ethics can be compatible with any religious view that upholds a naturalistic view of man and free will.

I don't think this is true, at least of her fully-developed ethics -- or if it is, it reduces the significance of religious belief to triviality. The virtue of rationality is central to the Objectivist ethics, and it requires that all of one's beliefs and actions be based on sensory observation and rational inference therefrom. A religion, almost by definition, entails accepting and acting on beliefs based on some non-rational foundation. To whatever extent a religion, even one that upholds a 'naturalistic view of man and free will', incorporates faith-based belief and action, it has a fundamental conflict with the virtue of rationality. The only 'religion' that is fully compatible with rationality is one whose doctrines and prescriptions are entirely validated on the basis of reason -- and in what sense can such a belief system be considered religious?

It doesn't surprise me that this letter was written in 1943. Rand's philosophical thought developed significantly in depth, richness and scope as she wrote Atlas Shrugged. In particular, she moved from a political/ethical focus on to a deeper metaphysical/epistemological focus -- precisely the parts of philosophy that reveal the conflict between religion and Rand's views. While an egoistic ethics simpliciter may be compatible with religion, an egoistic ethics tightly integrated to a thoroughly naturalistic metaphysics and observation-based rationalist epistemology cannot be.

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This was Ayn Rand going through some of the life-lessons that many of us have. It's easy to believe that people are nice, that your differences aren't so great, that they are smart, that they are honest, that you aren't that far off ideologically, that the world isn't so evil (see: The IPA in The NLAIR).

But you learn. And you learn two things:

First, the bad news: short-cuts don't work, and you aren't going to reverse a thousand years of ideas in you lifetime, and the only way to start is though the most basic philosophical principles. Ayn Rand clearly learned that between TFH and AS. She probably had a lot of arguments with guys like this, and probably lost most of them until the entire framework was created.

So you learn that talking about idealistic politics, while fun and entertaining and possibly a learning experience of sorts, really doesn't have much relevance in our world in any external practical way. Whether you understood it initially (I was a hard-core ITOE guy from the start but I was an unusual 16 year-old), or you learn it the hard way, you learn that the basic principles of reality and reason and intellectual honesty actually do matter--and in fact are the ONLY things that matter.

Second, the good news: having an objective, intellectually honest mind with this sort of background is helpful in examining the contemporary politics, economics and sociology of the day--and figuring out what you should do next. It's a veritable secret weapon for life if you aren't hobbled by partisan thinking, politically or religiously-motivated narratives, and other rationalistic structures. Your mind can go places where most scientists, engineers, and business people cannot go. If you can keep a cool head and judge (but not take it personally), having this understanding is very helpful. You can call a spade a spade when others are calling it, "a sinister tool for the oppression of the underclass" or, "a satanic symbol used by liberals for their anti-god agenda". More importantly, you can gather value where others cannot, from people as well as bodies of ideas. When you understand your own premises and are comfortable with them, you have nothing to fear, and surprisingly little to write-off completely.

So like so many other works of Ayn Rand, you should learn from this one as well.

OP

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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:

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).

. . .

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).

. . .

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. [cf.] . . . 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.).

. . .

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).

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).

. . .

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Rand on Free Will and Rationality before the 1943 Letter

(and after)

From my writings:

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).

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Trebor said:

It is obvious that there are and have been a great number of people—religious people, people who hold that faith is a means of knowledge

You must mean something else.... Can you give an example of what it would mean For "faith" to be a means to knowledge? Revelation and feelings yes but faith?

Just curious who holds this strange belief.

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You must mean something else.... Can you give an example of what it would mean For "faith" to be a means to knowledge? Revelation and feelings yes but faith?

Just curious who holds this strange belief.

No, I do not mean something else. I'm using the epistemological concept of faith (as distinct from reason), not faith as a synonym for confidence or hope, etc. based on reason (having rational grounds for confidence or hope).

Faith is the acceptance of some idea as true (Truth) in the absence of evidence or in contradiction to evidence. Ideas accepted on faith are arbitrary or contrary (Contradiction) to what is known - absence of evidence or in contradiction to evidence.

Faith, in response to your questions, is not a means to knowledge, neither are revelation or emotions means to knowledge. The issue is not a mater of why (emotions, authority, revelation, etc.) someone accepts something on faith, but that they hold that faith is a means of knowledge. Faith, however, fails the epistemological requirements of knowledge. (Epistemology)

You've never heard of having faith in God? What does having faith in God mean if not believing, in the absence of evidence and in contradiction of evidence (on faith), that God exists and that one should act in accord with that "knowledge," that faith?

In essence I would agree that it is a matter of accepting some idea as true on the basis of wishful thinking or emotions, but epistemologically it is the view that belief itself is sufficient grounds for truth and a rejection of reason as our only means of knowledge.

God said it! I believe it! That settles it!

Credo Quia Absurdum Est - I believe it because it is absurd.

The fact is that man is fallible and needs epistemology in order to gain knowledge. Reason is his only means of knowledge.

"The alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind." - Galt's speech.

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Trebor said:

No, I do not mean something else. I'm using the epistemological concept of faith (as distinct from reason), not faith as a synonym for confidence or hope, etc. based on reason (having rational grounds for confidence or hope).

Faith is distinct from reason but is not a form of gaining knowledge for mystics. Revelation/ intuition is the concept that mystics claim is a "means" to knowledge.

Faith is the acceptance of some idea as true .Truth in the absence of evidence or in contradiction to evidence. Ideas accepted on faith are arbitrary or contrary to what is known - absence of evidence or in contradiction to evidence.

Acceptance of an idea as true assumes the idea is already known and says nothing about an epistemic method of acquiring knowledge.

Faith, in response to your questions, is not a means to knowledge, neither are revelation or emotions means to knowledge. The issue is not a mater of why (emotions, authority, revelation, etc.) someone accepts something on faith, but that they hold that faith is a means of knowledge. Faith, however, fails the epistemological requirements of knowledge. (Epistemology)

Lets be clear here, I am NOT claiming faith and emotions are valid epistemic methods. I was referring to what mystics claim. ( in responding to "people who hold that faith is a means of knowledge")

You've never heard of having faith in God? What does having faith in God mean if not believing, in the absence of evidence and in contradiction of evidence (on faith), that God exists and that one should act in accord with that "knowledge," that faith?

"Believing" something is true is not acquiring truth and I don't know of any mystics who say it is.

In essence I would agree that it is a matter of accepting some idea as true on the basis of wishful thinking or emotions, but epistemologically it is the view that belief itself is sufficient grounds for truth and a rejection of reason as our only means of knowledge.

Yes it is a "shortcut" that,for mystics, is a blankout on discovering a valid means to knowledge and developing a "capacity to distinguish truth from error."

The fact is that man is fallible and needs epistemology in order to gain knowledge. Reason is his only means of knowledge.

Indeed!

Edited by Plasmatic
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Trebor said:

You have misquoted me. If you're going to quote me, then please do so accurately. All of the rest of your quotes were accurate, so I'm baffled at to why you chose to alter the one.

Here is what I actually said:

Faith is the acceptance of some idea as true (Truth) in the absence of evidence or in contradiction to evidence. Ideas accepted on faith are arbitrary or contrary (Contradiction) to what is known - absence of evidence or in contradiction to evidence.

I may come back to this another time, but for now I'll leave it as is.

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You have misquoted me. If you're going to quote me, then please do so accurately. All of the rest of your quotes were accurate, so I'm baffled at to why you chose to alter the one.

Here is what I actually said:

I may come back to this another time, but for now I'll leave it as is.

The misquote is a mistake. I removed the URL links because for some reason my whole response was a giant link to the lexicon. I couldn't find where the code problem was, so I removed all URL's. Must have deleted the rest of the sentence when I did that.

Edited by Plasmatic
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introduces a basic contradiction into Christian philosophy, which has never been resolved."

I think Ayn Rand was not able to see that orthodix Christian philosophy entails paradox -- she saw the paradoxes of Christianity as mere contradictions, which they are not.

Edited by Avila
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