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A question for the Rand experts. Rand’s atheism

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I’m new here and fairly new to Rand’s philosophy. I recently saw Atlas Shrugged and was blown away at the prescience Rand had in writing the novel. After beginning to get familiar with her philosophy, one thing I found puzzling was her atheism in view of her animosity of communism/collectivism. One of the hallmarks of these types of governments is an atheism mandate as part of the government’s scheme. This was clear in the case of communist Russia, Nazi Germany, communist China, etc.

Can anyone elaborate on this feature of her philosophy.

Thanks

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... ... thing I found puzzling was her atheism in view of her animosity of communism/collectivism.
In what way do you find this puzzling? Statism is not a logical result of atheism even though most atheists put the state in the place where God used to be.

One of the hallmarks of these types of governments is an atheism mandate as part of the government’s scheme.
Mandating atheism is just as bad as mandating theism or -- as is more common -- mandating some specific religious affiliation.

Can anyone elaborate on this feature of her philosophy.
The starting point is not whether atheism leads to statism or its opposite. Rather, the starting point is whether we have any evidence to believe in God. Underlying any moral ideas are some more fundamental premises about the world. One set of fundamental ideas deals with reason and logic and evidence. To argue for or against the existence of a God, we must make some type of assumptions about reason and logic and what types of things we would consider as evidence. We might not be able to articulate these things before we articulate our ideas on theology or morality; yet we still make some assumptions about this arena: which Objectivism terms "Epistemology". [For more, see "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology"]

Objectvism's epistemology is similar to scientific epistemology in looking for evidence and in looking for what modern science would call "natural" explanations. There is no evidence for any type of God. In addition, there are good reasons why man would invent God as a possible explanation for "primary cause". Putting these together, it is not reasonable for a modern man to believe in God.

In logical order, only once we assume the above can we ask: is there a natural, evidence-based, and logical basis for morality that does not need the fiction of a God or heaven and hell, etc. Objectivism's answer would be "yes". ["The Virtue of Selfishness" addresses this.]

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Hitler was not an atheist. This is a disgusting myth propagated by desperate religionists, trying to come up with more than a single example beyond Communist nations, whose mythology of the state is often a religion in and of itself. See: Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Kim Jong Il. These men were gods on earth to their subjects and so the state was the tool of those gods.

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To clarify Rand's position on atheism, we have to keep in mind what atheism is. In the first place, it is strictly a negative belief, the non-belief in deity or religion. It does not contain any necessary positive commitment to any other content, whether for or against any given political system.

Secondly, we have to understand that Rand's rejection of religion or the concept of God had to do with her rejection of faith or mysticism as a means to knowledge (and correspondingly as a guide to values.) For this reason, she would not categorize Soviet Russia with her own view vis-a-vis atheism, because she identified the Marxist-Leninist ideology as a form of mysticism, its non-belief in God notwithstanding. The connection to mysticism is even more visible in the case of Nazi Germany and the philosophy of German idealism and nationalism that Nazism drew from. She would argue the same in the context of today's "New Atheists" who tend to be a part of the political left (and are skeptics or subjectivists) that it is every bit as mystical to substitute "society" or the state in place of God as the source of truth and goodness, and thus preach altruism and self-sacrifice in morality just the same. Thus, her view would consider Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and the regimes in the Middle East today as essentially similar in ideological causes and effects: All hold the good to be discoverable by some non-rational process (the Hegelian dialectic, Aryan instincts, revelation), all hold sacrifice to the collective and duty to obey authority as virtues (the class, the race, the leaders, the will of Allah), and all accordingly are particular instances of statist regimes.

Further, she would draw a line between her view on the proper values for man as discoverable by man's reason leading necessarily to reject the idea that the good can be forced on man, whilst the mystical view of morality tends to lead to the authoritarian idea that the good can be imposed on man from without. The only way a faith-based view of values could be compatible with freedom, benevolence, and good-will toward mankind would then involve you having to admit you have no rational argument for these things, and therefore would be to undercut their basis. Thus, she would reject the idea that reason and science somehow leads to belief totalitarianism, whilst only tradition and faith in the supernatural justifies freedom, and would consider that a strange reversal of the truth (this, also constituted a large part of her rejection of the conservative movement.)

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[Edit Wow! Three other people got their replies in while I was working on this. Hopefully one of us answered your question adequately.]

You seem to think it's somehow inconsistent of Rand to oppose atheism in spite of the fact that it was a feature of various dictatorships that she also opposed like Communist Russia and Communist China. (It was not in fact a feature of Nazi Germany--religious apologists' sometimes-ignorant but usually-dishonest claims to the contrary notwithstanding.) Or possibly, that agreeing with part of what Communists profess means one ought to agree with all of it.

That would only be an inconsistency if such dictatorships were an inevitable consequence of atheism. If, instead, it is possible to be an atheist and a capitalist, or an atheist and in favor of freedom, there's no inconsistency between being an atheist and an anti-communist.

Needless to say, I believe such is possible. Well let us look at what atheism actually is: It is simply the lack of belief in god and the term says nothing about the person's other beliefs. Out of all the beliefs and opinions that a person has on everything from who was right in the Civil War to whether or not people are entitled to keep the money they earn to whether chocolate is better than vanilla, not one of those beliefs is a belief that god exists. (And sadly there are way too many atheists who do not think people are entitled to keep their own money, but they don't think so because they are atheists.)

Atheism, being simply a declaration of one opinion that one does not happen to hold, gives one a huge latitude in what other opinions one can hold. Clearly there are _some_ logical consequences to atheism, such as the fact that no atheist could rationally try to hold that the bible is the word of god or that god will sit in judgment over you at some time in the future--the non-existence of god would logically imply the lack of words spoken by god and the lack of judgment rendered by god.

But whether or not capitalism works? Whether or not someone should live free as opposed to under a dictatorship that believes it owns you? That has nothing to do with the issue of whether god exists.

No, I haven't explained why Ayn Rand was an atheist--I will leave that for others. I am simply trying to make the case that atheism and anti-communism are not inconsistent. Not being certain whether the atheism or the perceived inconsistency was bothering you, I chose to try to discuss the latter.. particularly since it is an example of a confusion many theists seem to have about atheists.

Edited by Steve D'Ippolito
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Thanks everyone for the thoughtful answers. I am trying to get into Rand’s mind and figure out what axiomatic views she held and how she developed her philosophy.

Further, she would draw a line between her view on the proper values for man as discoverable by man's reason leading necessarily to reject the idea that the good can be forced on man, whilst the mystical view of morality tends to lead to the authoritarian idea that the good can be imposed on man from without. The only way a faith-based view of values could be compatible with freedom, benevolence, and good-will toward mankind would then involve you having to admit you have no rational argument for these things, and therefore would be to undercut their basis. Thus, she would reject the idea that reason and science somehow leads to belief totalitarianism, whilst only tradition and faith in the supernatural justifies freedom, and would consider that a strange reversal of the truth (this, also constituted a large part of her rejection of the conservative movement.)

Excellent point Regulars. That’s something the Moral Majority/Religious Right never understood, hence their ultimate failure in politics.

However, I can’t go along with your second point, "you having to admit you have no rational argument for these things,”. I know several rational and highly educated people in the creationist/ID camp and they can make that same assertion that those who believe in the eternity of matter and other evolutionary theories are not rational. Additionally, they can make a rational case (note, not proof) for a creator, albeit not a scientific case.

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I know several rational and highly educated people in the creationist/ID camp and they can make that same assertion that those who believe in the eternity of matter and other evolutionary theories are not rational. Additionally, they can make a rational case (note, not proof) for a creator, albeit not a scientific case.

The big difference is that many people don't "believe" in theories, they recognize that they are theories, not claims to proof or knowledge. Additionally, we've had several people come into this forum claiming a rational case for a creator but have each time fallen short of establishing that case. Usually it depends on how much assumption you are going to allow in one's logic in order to consider it rational or not. Other times it involves ignoring contradictions created by their alleged logic. Also, one needs to make the distinction between people who may be generally rational (and highly educated) and presenting a rational argument. Otherwise rational people can present irrational arguments and hold irrational beliefs.

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However, I can’t go along with your second point, "you having to admit you have no rational argument for these things,”. I know several rational and highly educated people in the creationist/ID camp and they can make that same assertion that those who believe in the eternity of matter and other evolutionary theories are not rational. Additionally, they can make a rational case (note, not proof) for a creator, albeit not a scientific case.

A distinction should be made in regard to this last point. If the argument is faith-based, then by the very meaning implied in the concept, one hasn't a rational argument to advance for the proposition one is trying to put forward. Now certainly, some of the propositions usually put forward by faith have been advanced by people claiming to prove them on the grounds of reason instead of revelation. For example, the famous arguments for God on the grounds of reason alone made by St. Thomas in the Summa contra Gentiles. If those arguments could succeed, then you would have a case for them on the basis of reason, (and God would have to be a perfectly natural, measurable entity.) But even so, the argument would still hold that strictly faith-based arguments undercut one's case (or else one would not need rational proofs in the first place.) But I think Rand's view, and the view on the grounds of Objectivism are that no such rational proofs of God have ever, or will ever succeed. (See on this last point, the neo-Randian philosopher George H Smith's great book Atheism: The Case Against God online for free.)

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Ayn Rand didn't find atheism as the foundation of communism, as conservatives do, and she didn't find God as the foundation of morality; so she didn't see a connection between atheism and gulags. Instead, it was the irrational in communism that she condemned and saw as the root of its evils. Whereas religion glorified the crucifixion of Jesus, communism glorified the crucifixion of the individual. As an individualist and someone who wanted to live in the world, she didn't think crucifying men glorified mankind. Man's productive achievements glorified mankind and displayed his potential. That takes freedom.

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Just to put a few cents in on the subject of Rand's Atheism...

I am a Traditional Catholic and openly and devoutly practice my faith. I take Communion, confess my sins, and believe that there is a God.

Objectivism works for me well in addition to my religion. As a Catholic, my goal is to reach Heaven, of course, but to do that I must concern myself with my soul and the ways in which I can purify it. Everything a Catholic does is to strive the individual's soul towards Heaven.

Now I understand that Rand stressed the importance of Absolute Reality in relation to her philosophy. However, I view "absolute reality" as being God. Sort of the Alchemist's "All from One" theory which makes more sense to me and seems to have been part of the inspiration for the Big Bang. So, because I view Absolute Reality as being God this allows me to make use of Objectionism and devout myself to the model laid out by the philosophy.

In Catholicism, to purify our souls we have to perform "works", meaning we have to be productive, not just materially, but spiritually and mentally as well. I find no quarrel with the materialism of Objectionism because it is in the physical world that I am mainly able to carry our my "works".

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I am a Traditional Catholic and openly and devoutly practice my faith. I take Communion, confess my sins, and believe that there is a God.

You may find your own ways to pick and choose pieces of Objectivism to use somehow in conjunction with your religion, but you can't then call it Objectivism. By believing in a god on faith alone, you are denying the reality of the universe (metaphysics), your own faculty of reason (epistemology), the purpose of life as one's own happiness and exploitation of life -- not a quest to Heaven (ethics), and also the foundation of rights, the individual -- not God (politics). Edited by JASKN
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Just to put a few cents in on the subject of Rand's Atheism...

I am a Traditional Catholic and openly and devoutly practice my faith. I take Communion, confess my sins, and believe that there is a God.

Objectivism works for me well in addition to my religion. As a Catholic, my goal is to reach Heaven, of course, but to do that I must concern myself with my soul and the ways in which I can purify it. Everything a Catholic does is to strive the individual's soul towards Heaven.

Now I understand that Rand stressed the importance of Absolute Reality in relation to her philosophy. However, I view "absolute reality" as being God. Sort of the Alchemist's "All from One" theory which makes more sense to me and seems to have been part of the inspiration for the Big Bang. So, because I view Absolute Reality as being God this allows me to make use of Objectionism and devout myself to the model laid out by the philosophy.

In Catholicism, to purify our souls we have to perform "works", meaning we have to be productive, not just materially, but spiritually and mentally as well. I find no quarrel with the materialism of Objectionism because it is in the physical world that I am mainly able to carry our my "works".

I put it to you that you have no grasp of either Catholicism or Objectivism. You seem to be quite comfortable in holding contradictory views, so I must encourage your to recognize that A=A. Or am I taking you too seriously?

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"I put it to you that you have no grasp of either Catholicism or Objectivism. You seem to be quite comfortable in holding contradictory views, so I must encourage your to recognize that A=A. Or am I taking you too seriously?"

I'm an ex-atheist, now a devout Catholic. I understand what John David Antesberger III is saying.....I think. There are aspects of Objectivism that I like (it's opposition to state collectivism, its work ethic, some of Rand's aesthetic principles) that are not in conflict with my value system. However, one cannot be both a practicing Catholic and a dedicated Objectivist -- the atheism that is foundational to Obejctivism makes it an impossible fit. I see Objectivism as an attempt to assert that, without God, one can have an objective (here understood in the common use of the word), not subjective, set of moral principles by which to guide one's life. Ultimately, I think Rand failed at that (I don't think she solved the "is-ought" problem), but I think her ideas make for a fairly good set of ethical principles. I was an atheist for most of my adult life (and considered myself an Objectivist when I was in my teens) and so know quite a few atheists. I continue to recommend Rand's Objectivism to atheists of my aquaintance, as it makes for a much more rational basis for living than some of the relativistic, reason-destroying post-modern philosophies that some atheists subscribe to.

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I see Objectivism as an attempt to assert that, without God, one can have an objective (here understood in the common use of the word), not subjective, set of moral principles by which to guide one's life. Ultimately, I think Rand failed at that (I don't think she solved the "is-ought" problem), [...]

Are you asserting that "with God" one has an objective set of moral principles by which to guide one's life? If so, you are wrong as this is clearly not the case.

I presume you refer to the 10 commandments and other teachings from the Bible. But none of those are proved either. They are subjective moral principles, the subject being God. They are the word of God and they are not to be questioned, which is why they are called "commandments". On top of that some of the commandments are clearly illogical in addition to being whimsical (which, I know, is redundant).

Also, which part of Rand's solution to the "is-ought" problem do you find lacking? It is quite simple really: what an organism is determines what it ought to do. Seems quite logical and unassailable to me.

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Marc K,

The answers to your questions would take a while to answer, and my value system is not the subject of this thread. If you want to continue the conversation, you can do so in a private message.

I have no desire to converse with you in private. I will however answer you anywhere on this forum if you intend to assert either that the 10 commandments are objective moral principles, which is plainly false, or that Ayn Rand was wrong about something, an assertion I've never seen proof of.

If you don't intend to speak about your value system, then stop raising it as fodder for debate.

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"or that Ayn Rand was wrong about something, an assertion I've never seen proof of."

What a true believer you are, so dear to the hearts of your fellow believers (and a very religious lot you are, to be sure). God bless you all.....

Well, it's late and I can't spend a whole lot of time on this, but a few things come to mind: Rand refused to believe that smoking was bad for one's health, despite the scientific data that was coming out in her time. So -- was she wrong about that?

She described homosexual acts as "disgusting" -- was she wrong about that? What I see is the fairly large proportion of gay Objectivists ( homosexualtity in Objectivism seems to be larger percentage than in the general population) just somehow ignoring those words of hers....so yes, maybe Rand may have been wrong about something -- gosh, she might have been fallible!

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"or that Ayn Rand was wrong about something, an assertion I've never seen proof of."

What a true believer you are, so dear to the hearts of your fellow believers (and a very religious lot you are, to be sure). God bless you all.....

Well, it's late and I can't spend a whole lot of time on this, but a few things come to mind: Rand refused to believe that smoking was bad for one's health, despite the scientific data that was coming out in her time. So -- was she wrong about that?

She described homosexual acts as "disgusting" -- was she wrong about that? What I see is the fairly large proportion of gay Objectivists ( homosexualtity in Objectivism seems to be larger percentage than in the general population) just somehow ignoring those words of hers....so yes, maybe Rand may have been wrong about something -- gosh, she might have been fallible!

Of course she was fallible, just like all people. It's not that she has never been wrong but that her philosophy has never been proved wrong. While an important distinction, it's unfair to call a whole group of people religious over a single person's mistake. Edited by oso
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"It's not that she has never been wrong but that her philosophy has never been proved wrong."

Really??? I think there are serious problems with some of her basic premises. I'm sure I'm not alone -- you can easily find articles (and even at least one book) that dispute aspects of her philosophy.

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"It's not that she has never been wrong but that her philosophy has never been proved wrong."

Really??? I think there are serious problems with some of her basic premises. I'm sure I'm not alone -- you can easily find articles (and even at least one book) that dispute aspects of her philosophy.

There are even threads on OO.net which dispute aspects of her philosophy. A dispute is not a proof.

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Really??? I think there are serious problems with some of her basic premises. I'm sure I'm not alone -- you can easily find articles (and even at least one book) that dispute aspects of her philosophy.

If your agenda is to show how Rand's philosophy is wrong, this forum isn't the place to do it. This is, after all, called ObjectivismOnline.net. If you really can't help yourself, try the debate forum, but keep in mind forum guidelines.
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You may find your own ways to pick and choose pieces of Objectivism to use somehow in conjunction with your religion, but you can't then call it Objectivism. By believing in a god on faith alone, you are denying the reality of the universe (metaphysics), your own faculty of reason (epistemology), the purpose of life as one's own happiness and exploitation of life -- not a quest to Heaven (ethics), and also the foundation of rights, the individual -- not God (politics).

On the contrary, I do not believe in God on faith alone. And yes it will sound like I make a huge claim that there is empirical proof of God's existence (note: I do not engender God). My stance is merely that there is either Nothing, or there is Something. If there was Nothing to start out with there wouldn't be Anything (i.e. the universe and the material contained within it). Therefore, there HAD to be Something at what we perceive as the beginning of Time and I find that Something (Existence itself) to be the concept of God. Consequentially, all that we observe around us and above us, from the macro to the micro, from the physical to the mental, derives from that state of Existence. Therefore, I can observe empirically Existence (God).

I'm not claiming that you don't fully understand Catholicism (or Christianity in general), but we DO believe in FREE WILL which, last time I checked, was extremely PRO-individualistic. Yes, the Church has its THING with punishment and encouragement to follow and be collective, but leave that choice up to YOU, the individual. And in my mind I don't believe the Pope or the Vatican is Infallible, rather the opposite (as I GREATLY oppose the Vatican II Council). And therefore, I find you are wrong to compare God with Politics. Politics has nothing to do with it, as unfortunate as it is that some have tried to make it so. I don't care if it was ever a State Religion, in America it isn't and I am thankful for that.

And I certainly don't need to defend myself on this at all. I wasn't doing so now. It is called CLARIFICATION ^_^ .

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"There are even threads on OO.net which dispute aspects of her philosophy. A dispute is not a proof."

Actually, I'm not sure "proof" is even the right term to use when assessing philosophies. One can't "prove" that a particular philosophy is true, in the sense that one tests a scientific hypothesis through experimentation.

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