Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Rand's real religion and its nutcase interpretation

A couple of days ago, 12/5/2010, Mojoey asked that I post the following: "Howard Shrugged Back has been added to The Atheist Blogroll. You can see the blogroll in my sidebar. The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information." The occasion of finding my first back/forth referral is a milestone for me, and one that I hope to see happen often. Of course, placing Howard Shrugged Back onto an atheist blogroll indicates some sort of tie between atheismm and Howard. Well, Howard doesn't actually preach atheism. If asked about faith, he would claim to be Unitarian-Universalist, a faith that the Christian right calls "atheism with buildings and tax breaks." But he writes about Randian thought, and is taking this occasion to look at how religion plays in Rand's big book.
Although much of the American Christian Rightwing isn't aware of it, Rand's professed faith is atheism. She didn't hang around churches very much - supposing them to be gathering places for the advocates of altruism. And in the absence of doctrinal guidance, she may simply have encountered Nietzsche's claim that "God is Dead", and claimed atheism as a justification for staying away from churches. But she didn't do a very good job of being atheistic. Her first claim relative to there being no God is that the individual finds God within himself (I'd normally say "himself/herself" here but Rand is so caught up in the belief that women are second class sex objects placed on earth (by whom?) to provide worshipful reverence and sexual satisfaction to the Godlike men that dominate society, that she isn't likely to have believed women capable of holding gods inside.). This makes her a misogynistic buddhist more than an atheist. Here's why:
With the death of God, Nietzsche sought to recreate the institutions that enabled civility to occur without reference to an external origin of law. This echoes a project that Kant started over a century earlier of letting reason and the laws of logic be the arbiter of what qualifies as moral behavior. An atheist, in the Nietzschean sense, would look for adherence to the criterion of self-consistency before admitting various maxims into a personal moral code. Rand fails to do this. Because she mistakes altruism for evil, she loses the self-consistency criterion. If she could reduce her misogyny to the point where she was capable of being godlike herself, she still could not reason to the basis of moral law. In the absence of this moral law, she looks for the origin of justification of behavior outside of herself. She looks to John Galt. And in doing so, she props up John Galt by imagining him (He IS a fictional character.) to be omnipotent, omniscient, and (here's the amazing characteristic.) benevolent. Any atheist worth his/her salt knows that when you have introduced omnipotence, omniscience, and benevolence into your cosmology, you have re-introduced a god. The proposition that God is only found in a fictional character - John Galt - is roughly the equivalent of idolatry.
So Rand's real religion is roughly describable as misogynistic, idolatrous buddhism that calls itself atheism.
That Atlas Shrugged should have been picked up and venerated by the American political rightwing that claims to be Christian is an absurdity of modern American life. But there has been a glossed-over split in Christianity into two main camps. In camp 1, you have the traditional view that serious worship of Christ requires being affected by the teachings of Jesus that are basically altruistic. The claim of this camp on accurately portraying the spirit of Jesus' teachings is the longstanding line of tradition that links its followers to the historical character of Jesus himself. In the other camp, you have the view of something almost like the Jewish "chosen people" who, to verify their chosen-ness, revel in the accumulation of material possessions. Camp 2 is well-described by Max Webber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. The influence of John Calvin on the American church was to bring the doctrine of financial success as the signifier of blessedness. Financial enrichment, as the only value that is tied to a God who wouldn't let his chosen ones suffer the ravages of poverty, is sought for its own sake. Historical Jesus may have been reputed to toss the moneychangers out of the temple. The Calvinist tradition brings them back and venerates them.

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