A DEBATE OVER CHRISTIANITY, OBJECTIVISM, AND ALTRUISM

This post continues a debate with Sword of Apollo that began here, WHAT DID AYN RAND THINK OF ALTRUISM?. What immediately follows is  ‘s latest comment (see CHRISTIANITY IS NOT ABOUT SACRIFICING ONE’S VALUES).

The Bible cannot be regarded as credible evidence, and thus cannot be the proper starting point of any argument. The Bible is a book written by ancient, vaguely known authors, and we have no first-hand experience with the sort of miracles attributed to God/Jesus. Nor do we have physical, corroborating evidence for the existence of the Jesus of the Bible, let alone his “miracles.” Reading the Bible should make it clear that it is a mixture of history, folk wisdom, tradition, hearsay, myth and “magic numbers” (3, 6, 7, 12, 40, etc.) used as statistical figures. Internal evidence shows that it has been changed and amended over time. The petty, vengeful, capricious, bloodthirsty nature of the Yahweh of the Old Testament makes perfect sense as the Israelites’ mythical explanation for the harsh and unpredictable nature of their primitive way of life. When life became more pleasant in the Roman Empire, Yahweh, by proxy, became much more “loving and forgiving.”

Thus, we have no credible evidence for the existence of any gods, whether they be Yahweh, Zeus, Shiva, or Apollo (my moniker is purely symbolic.) And no credible evidence of any afterlife. Faith is belief in the absence of credible evidence, and could just as easily be placed in Zeus or fairies. So any values Objectivists discuss are real, rational, earthly values. Any life Objectivists discuss is life on this earth, in this known reality. “Obedience to God” is not a proper reason for anything, since we regard assertions of his existence as either false or arbitrary, (depending on the exact assertion.)

What then is the reason for someone to adhere to Objectivist morality? Happiness on this earth for as long as possible. This requires living one’s life as human nature demands for long-term success. Thus, one should pursue a policy of gaining life-promoting values, both material and psychological. The only way to actually do this consistently is by adhering to rational principles. The Objectivist virtues derived from the primary virtue of rationality are: honesty, independence, productiveness, integrity, justice and pride. (Genuine pride is not boastfulness or foolhardiness, but a striving for excellence and an unwillingness to submit to self-sacrifice.)

I would argue that Christianity (and Judeo-Christian-Modern morality more generally) has distorted the meaning of “love.” Human beings are utterly incapable of actually loving everyone, especially their enemies. Love is a pattern of emotions resulting from the subconscious conviction that another person is profoundly beneficial to one’s own enjoyment of life. It involves a real desire to be with them, joy/comfort at their presence, an emotional stake in their actions and values, great sadness at their loss, etc. The intensity of this pattern of emotions is the extent of one’s love for the person. This pattern inevitably varies according to how close you are to someone, how much you have in common with them, and how much psychological value you find in their fundamental traits of character. Thus, love is naturally (and properly) self-centered and self-interested. At the bottom of the scale of love–below brother-love and friendship–is a certain low-intensity kinship with strangers. This is what Objectivists call benevolence, and even it is based on a commonality between them and you: the fact that you are both (presumably decent) living human beings. (Contrast this with your lack of feeling for inanimate rocks.) But benevolence is far too mild to be properly called “love” alongside the love of a wife, child or best friend. And even benevolence would be inappropriate toward one’s actual enemies.

So in “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “love” is a euphemism for the sacrifice of your enjoyment of life for their supposed benefit. The Bible is telling you to act as though you love people far more than you do or possibly can, in order to selflessly serve them. When Jesus tells his disciples to love their enemies, he’s telling them to be completely self-sacrificial and abandon their self-interested judgment, along with their earthly happiness. Many Christians throughout the centuries have heeded this and become willing martyrs.

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” — Jesus, Matthew 10:37

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. … In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” — Jesus, Luke 14

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” — 1 John 2:15-17

For an Objectivist, this world is to be enjoyed to the maximum. Love for the good things in this world, including “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” is entirely moral and proper. The one caveat is that they must be pursued rationally and long-range, by means of principles.

I refer you to the following post, and its associated links: The Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes. (from here)

The Bible As Credible Evidence

Is the Bible the proper starting point of this argument? Of course it is, and that is why the authenticity of the Bible is where ‘s last comment began.

The Bible provided the philosophical foundation of Western Civilization. America became a great nation because we chose to rest the foundation of our moral beliefs upon Biblical teaching. Even today our Culture War is about the Bible. Will we continue to believe the Bible or will we discard it?

I am a Bible advocate. Because the best way to be persuaded by the Bible is to read it, I use the Bible as my proof. Because the document is so old, reading the Bible does involve considerable effort. To well understand the Bible, we have to put ourselves in the shoes of both the people who wrote it and the people for whom it was written. To understand the Bible well, we have to diligently study history, and most have us have not. Further, to best understand the Bible, we must read it in the language in which it was written, and only a few people do that. Therefore, we depend upon scholars to write translations and commentaries.

Even so, when we read and study the Bible as best we can, it speaks to us as no other book. That’s why so many believe the Bible is the Word of God. We can see the Bible itself is a miracle. Unaided by God, no man or group of men would have written it. Without divine inspiration, men could not organize themselves in a concerted effort that spans 1500 years.

Yet some still say the Bible is the result of a human plot, that unscrupulous people have tampered with it. At least they make that assertion, but they offer precious little evidence.

What scholars generally do when they put together a new version of the Bible is go back to earliest known autographs, and they do their best to translate those documents.  That is why within the Christian community there is remarkably little disagreement about what should be included in the Bible. Christians do not argue over what the Bible says; Christians debate what the Bible means.

Is The God Of The Old Testament A Different God?

When  speaks of “the petty, vengeful, capricious, bloodthirsty nature of the Yahweh of the Old Testament,” he illustrates a common problem. He does not understand the Bible. Because the authors of the New Testament believed in the same unchanging God spoken of by the Old Testament, the New Testament’s authors referenced the Old Testament hundreds of times.

The point? If we find the God of Old Testament petty, vengeful, capricious, or bloodthirsty, there is something we do not understand. What we don’t understand is probably the historical context.

Is There Historical Evidence For Jesus?

There is no good reason not to believe that Jesus lived, that he preached, or that he died on a cross. Historians don’t dispute that, and they have dug up other documents besides the Bible that prove Jesus lived.

Nonetheless, the Bible provides best historical account of Jesus’ life. Although we have compiled the Bible into one document, it actually represents multiple sources from people who saw Jesus, people who died refusing to recant their testimony of Jesus. These people wrote the New Testament. Even the Apostle John, the only apostle who did not die as a martyr, suffered exile on a small island.

The fact the people who wrote the Bible were persecuted for their belief in Jesus does not weaken their assertion that Jesus was a real human being. What such martyrdom should do is lead us to wonder why these people had such strong faith in Jesus.

Is There A God?

Because such a venture falls well outside of what our science is capable of doing, we have no way of using science to prove God exists. Therefore, we resort to philosophical discussions.  In DOES GOD EXIST?, I attempted such an effort and quickly realize I was trying to reinvent the wheel. That is, other, more capable people had already done the work. I just needed to study what they had already done. See Can You Prove God Exists? presented by Peter Kreeft, for an example.

Why Does  Insist We Deny God and Christianity?

Note again that quote from The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith (presented in CHRISTIANITY IS NOT ABOUT SACRIFICING ONE’S VALUES). Once we concede a Creator, a Holy God, a God who loves us, exists; then our self-love looses relevance. Look about you. In the scheme of things, where do you and I stand? Don’t we exist as tiny specks on a small planet within an infinite universe? Without the love of our Creator, we are nothing worthy of notice. Because we are just imperfect bits of clay, the Potter who made us can rightfully discard us as worthless trifles.

Because He is holy and because we owe Him our existence — our purpose for being — God deserves our complete obedience, our devoted worship, our unreserved adoration, and as much love as we are capable of giving. If a Holy God exists, would we allow any barrier between us and Him? We would not. Thus, ‘s objections to Matthew 10:37 and Luke 14:26-27 only make sense if there is no Holy God.

What Does Love Require?

What is  basic concern?  fears to love as a Christian would love.  would prefer to view love as a cost/benefit calculation. Why is that? Is he being irrational? No, but he does have a different worldview.

  • Without God, the longer we live, the more we learn Frightful Truth. We drift in the flow of events too powerful for us. The universe is too vast and complex for us to understand and control — or conquer. We know that sooner or latter we must suffer an end. Thus, we grow afraid. We panic. To prove to our self we live, we grasp whatever we can.
  • Because the Christian believes in a loving God, he sees the universe as God-centered. In the Christian world-view, God is easily big enough to have what He created under His complete control. Because God is our Father, we have peace in the knowledge that He loves us, that He cares for us, that the end of this life is not our end.

Whereas the Christian lives looking forward to what is ahead, those who do not believe in God either live in fear, or they become fatalistically resigned to their fate.

To love requires the willingness to make a commitment. To love requires a sacrifice from one’s self. To love requires a willingness to give something of ourselves without the expectation we will be repaid. As a child of God, the Christian imitates Jesus; the Christian gives love without the expectation of reward. Knowing he gives from the abundance of grace his Creator has given him, the Christian gives of himself confident of the future. Fearing the absolute end is near, the atheist barters for affection and calls that love.

Does the Christian love blindly? No. The Bible recognizes there are people we cannot love as we love ourselves. These are takers, souls unwilling to see anyone but themselves as deserving of the gift of life. Consider this passage.

Matthew 7:1-6 Good News Translation (GNT)

Judging Others

7 “Do not judge others, so that God will not judge you, 2 for God will judge you in the same way you judge others, and he will apply to you the same rules you apply to others. 3 Why, then, do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye? 4 How dare you say to your brother, ‘Please, let me take that speck out of your eye,’ when you have a log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

6 “Do not give what is holy to dogs—they will only turn and attack you. Do not throw your pearls in front of pigs—they will only trample them underfoot.

Does the Bible teach us to love our enemies? Yes, but the Bible does not prohibit us from judging others unworthy. What the Bible condemns is not applying the same standards of judgement that we want others apply to us.

Does The Bible Deny Christians The Right To Enjoy This Existence?

Consider the first chapters of Genesis. For our pleasure and our instruction, God gave us these gifts: a life and a world. In addition, He gave us each other. What God has given us in love, He wants us to enjoy.

There is joy in giving. That is the joy we see in another, that person we love. There is also joy in receiving a gift. When we love someone, we want the person we love to experience the joy of giving. So when someone gives us a gift, we can quite rightfully take pleasure in the gift. We know the giver will share our joy.

Yet the Bible warns us not to love the world (2 John 2:15-17). Why? The Bible distinguishes between the things of the spirit and the things of the flesh. The term “world” is a euphemism for the things of the flesh.

Matthew 26:41 Good News Translation (GNT)

Keep watch and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Doesn’t our conscience tell us that it is wrong to seduce another human being just so we can satisfy the needs of our flesh? Nevertheless, what is there in the Objectivist philosophy that prevent us from seeing each other as playthings? Such behavior would not be rational? If this life is all that there is, how could that be true?

Is Objectivism A Rational Moral Philosophy?

Is Objectivism a rational moral philosophy? That I think is debatable. I find the objectivist singleminded preoccupation with altruism a bit disconcerting. Instead of trying to figure out what made the Capitalist system she so admired work, it is almost as if Ayn Rand was trying to figure out what she could change about Communism to make that work. Whatever is wrong with Communism, it is not altruism. What is altruistic about throwing tens of millions of one’s own countrymen into gulags and working them to death?

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I am just an average citizen interested in promoting informed participation in the political process.
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6 Responses to A DEBATE OVER CHRISTIANITY, OBJECTIVISM, AND ALTRUISM

  1. I’ll just make a few points and I’ll be finished with this debate.
    1) When I said that the Bible was not a proper starting point for argument, what I meant was that, because its testimony is internally contradictory, because it relates myth as historical fact, and because it claims events of a kind that violate what we know about the world today, its authority cannot be used as the basis of an argument. In my evaluation of the Bible as prospective evidence, my first hand observations and inference from those observations are the starting point.

    2) I am well aware of philosophical arguments purporting to prove there is a God. Those arguments commit conceptual fallacies and employ improper methods of argumentation. The refutation of the argument from design is to observe what is actually required to infer design in an object: a) You must already know of some type of purposeful entity (based on other evidence) whose ends could potentially be served by the object. b1) Further, you must be able to observe some sort of purposeful function for the object as a whole (the object is a means to an end beyond itself, whether practical or artistic.) OR: b2) You must be able to find evidence of a method of purposeful manufacture that is already known as such by other evidence. c) In order to observe that (b1) or (b2) is true, you must be able to contrast the purposeful nature of the construction of the object in question with something else that was not manufactured and has not been altered for a purpose.

    The argument from design is capable of producing evidence of human-like aliens from observations of human-like alien artifacts, since human ends could potentially be fulfilled by such artifacts. But because of (a), the argument from design can’t apply to an immortal and radically different creature, whose alleged goals we cannot fathom. We have no basis for thinking that living beings have any purpose beyond themselves. They grow, metabolize, reproduce, and die in an endless cycle. The forms evolve over time, but to no clear end. Of what possible value could a succession of mortal humans be to an ultra-powerful, immortal, unchanging being? I haven’t the faintest clue and there’s no basis even for speculation.

    The only known reference we have for the relationship of designer to designed object is humans and their creations.

    3) The response to the First Cause Argument is simply this: the existence of the universe does not require a cause. Only actions and changes of entities require causes. If God were required to cause the universe, who is required to cause him? And who then is required to cause the cause of God?…And so on in an infinite regress. We observe the existence of the universe as a primary fact, not God, or any in the line of his creators.

    4) Psychologizing your opponent is not an argument. It’s a form of ad hominem and/or question begging and so is not good practice in a debate. In this case, by pointing out my “fears” you are basically saying, “There is no need to argue my point; it is universally conceded. Thus, the only question left, is: Why is my opponent so afraid to accept this OBVIOUS truth?” I don’t do this to my opponents; certainly not while they are still engaged in an honest, reasonable debate with me.

    With that, I bid you farewell.

    • Citizen Tom says:

      Sword of Apollo – I regret to see you leaving. I enjoy a good debate. Anyway, I will answer your points as you made them.

      1. Thomas Jefferson apparently had the same problem with the Bible that you have. Since such things as miracles were not in his experience, he did not want to believe in them either. Nonetheless, Jefferson respected Jesus’ teachings. Jefferson even attended church and supported the use of government funds to civilize the Indians by teaching them about Christ.

      I cannot speak for Jefferson, but it seems to me he understood that our moral beliefs have to rest on some kind of foundation. To make a case for replacing Christianity, you have to compare what you believe with Christianity. Since he could not offer a better foundation, Jefferson left well enough alone.

      Here is the question you pose: is Objectivism an improvement over Christianity? Because you seek to replace Christianity, that question is why the Bible is the starting point of your argument. What is strange is that you know that intuitively. Why do you refuse to accept it logically?

      2. Can we prove the existence of God? We cannot do so with any evidence we could use in court. Nonetheless, because of the evidence that does exist, I have faith in Jesus. I have read the Bible. I have seen Jesus at work in my life, the life of my family and friends, and in the history of my country.

      When we speak of faith, we use two different definitions. Often we speak of a religious belief as a faith. Thus, we have made the words faith and religion synonymous. There is, however, another meaning for the word faith, the ability to trust in that which you know to be true.

      I must learn to believe in Christianity. I must have Faith in what Christ taught. That means more just convincing myself the Christian faith is Truth. In his book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis says Christians use the term “Faith” in two senses or two levels.

      In the first sense it means simply Belief — accepting or regarding as true the doctrines of Christianity. That is fairly simple. But what does puzzle people — at least it used to puzzle me — is the fact that Christians regard faith in this sense as a virtue. I used to ask how on earth it can be a virtue — what is there moral or immoral about believing or not believing a set of statements?

      Lewis goes on to say that you can know something to be true and still be tempted from acting on that belief. The human mind is not ruled entirely by reason. Lewis gives several examples. When we have no other reasonable choice, we can be persuaded by fear not to accept the risk of anesthetics and the surgeon’s knife. A man can become so enthralled by a pretty woman, he trusts her with a secret when he ought not. Or consider the example of a boy learning to swim. The water can be so frightening. When his instructor takes his supporting hand away, will the boy have faith in his lessons or suffer a moment of panic? (from http://citizentom.com/2008/02/29/why-is-it-so-difficult-to-believe-in-god-part-iii/)

      3. What science is about is establishing a relationship between cause and effect. If we do not believe in God as the First Cause, then why is there a universe? It just is? Would you mind explaining why the existence of the universe is not a miracle, one of those things your personal experience denies could ever happen?

      If the heavens do not proclaim the glory of God, then what are they doing there? And how is it that this universe supports the unlikely conditions necessary for the existence of life — and our lives?

      4. It would seem I managed to offend you. We are discussing love and altruism, aspects of human psychology. Therefore, we discuss human psychology. Did that require me to psychologize you? No, and I could not. I don’t know you personally. I only know what you have told me you believe. What we believe has consequences, and I spoke to those consequences.

      Did I say you fear death? Yes. Don’t we all? What matters is what we choose to do about that fear.

      Thank you for visiting. You are welcome to come again.

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  3. John Donohue says:

    Your paragraph “Is Objectivism A Rational Moral Philosophy” contains at least four inaccuracies about Objectivists’ and Ayn Rand’s thought, which taken together amount to evidence you have either not understood it or choose to not fairly make its case preparatory to criticizing it.

    I will only address the primary fault, one that subsumes the others: “…Communism, it is not altruism. What is altruistic about throwing tens of millions of one’s own countrymen into gulags and working them to death?”

    Ayn Rand, and decades of Objectivist thinkers, thoroughly and exhaustively point out that the root of ethical altruism is not “general benevolence and helping,” but rather “living for others.” In the first place, you will hopefully discover that Rand has no quarrel with individuals voluntarily aiding others on any level of “need,” as long as it does not damage pursuit and respect for ones chosen responsibilities and purpose in life. Second, when ethical altruism (living for others) switches into political altruism, it becomes indeed the driver of Communism, Fascism, Theocracy and all other forms of tyranny. Colloquially: “live for others and if you refuse to do so, the state will put you under compulsion to do so.”

    The primary text for getting clear on Ayn Rand’s position on altruism is “The Virtue of Selfishness.” Naturally you are free to dispute Rand’s ethical philosophy, but you are shooting at phantoms if your target is not squared fairly against that book.

    An interesting outside discussion that goes right to the heart of “altruism as self-immolation and political tyranny” vs “general benevolence” is a response to a thinker who made similar claims that you make. The link below contains the response, and uncovers the original meaning and still-potent concept of altruism by the thinker who originated the word.

    http://hubcap.clemson.edu/~campber/altruismrandcomte.pdf

    • Citizen Tom says:

      John Donohue – Thank you for your comment. I appreciate both the time and the effort to provide a thoughtful and coherent explanation.

      I took some time to review your reference. I doubt I misunderstand or we disagree as much as you seem to think. Nonetheless, as you suggest, because of their complexity philosophies of living do not generally come into existence in a few weeks. Sometimes they develop over thousands of years. So instead posting a hasty reply, I will post my response in a separate post on Monday. You may disagree with some aspects of it, but I hope you will find it interesting just the same.

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