Saturday, September 27, 2008


Reverend "sntjohnny" Horvath Wrote Me an Email:
I Responded

Actually, I only responded to the first two paragraphs, as you will read. He sent the email because of his contention, which I challenged, that followers of Ayn Rand's Objectivism would "inevitably" come around to embracing Christianity.

[Dear Curtis:] "It is only 'inevitable' in certain senses. If you apply the principles you hold dear in Objectivism consistently I believe that you will find that Objectivism does not in fact have the answers while Christianity does.

"Consider. One of the most cherished doctrines of the Objectivist is the rights and freedoms and dignity of each individual human. However, to what degree can this be supported from an atheistic philosophy, especially an atheistic perspective on evolution, which is the prevailing scientific explanation for the rise of humans? Under this framework, a human is nothing more than an animal." [signed Anthony Horvath]

"stjohnny" and I are too familiar with each other to actually bother writing "Dear X," or actually signing it, except that my "automatic" signature is automatic, I do sometimes write "Sincerely," or simply "Curtis," and this time he finished his letter with "Yours."

My (Partial) Response
The atheism and evolution have no bearing on the freedom and dignity of the human individual.

You say according to evolution I ought to conclude man is "nothing more" than an animal. But the denotation of "Man" is that heis the "rational animal." From this perspective we conclude several things:

1. That "Man qua Man" requires the highest degree of rationality a man can discover;
2. That rationality belongs to individuals because there is no "collective" mind;
3. That since rationality belongs to the individual, just as his fingers are his, and his stomach is his, his mind cannot be coerced into doing, being or thinking what it does not want to be.

Oh, certainly a man can be forced to do things. But it does not mean his reason will accept it, and unless you break his spirit altogether, he will put himself back together, possibly better than before, and prove that while force may be powerful, its initiation is obscene and immoral, if by "immoral" we mean initiating one's own forces upon those of another.

Because a man's rationality belongs to him and to him only, he is endowed with certain unalienable rights. That his rationality belongs only to him is not one of these rights; that is a fact of nature. Since naturalism accepts what it sees as "natural," the right to be free of coercive forces is a moral axiom. If it is not an axiom, then it cannot be accepted that a man's rationality belongs only to him--it must belong to whomevercan use it to his own devices.

It matters not that Man came to be from the primeval ooze, from the reptiles, from the primates, from the apes. The fact is, no matter how he got here, he is here, and that is an unalterable fact, and along with that fact comes his unlienable rights, i.e., those with which he is born and which he would die of old age, still in possession of, if coercive individual and governmental forces did not restrict them.

Since in order to maintain the integrity of his ownership of his own unalienable rights, he must not compromise those same rights in another human. Once he does so, he opens himself to criticism at the least, and to punitive punishment, corporal or capital, as the defenders of unalienable rights may decide. Those decisions must also pass muster as containing the integrity of their nature, or using them against a transgressor is no more moral than the act of the transgressor himself.

These unalienable rights are derived in theory from the Lockean idea of "the consent of the governed," which gets its authority through the mechanism of "common sovereignty." There is no evidence that Locke ever thought of the concept of "individual sovereignty;" but America's founders derived this sovereignty from the idea that no man could give to the "common" sovereignty what he did not possess to begin with. If he could give up some portion of his own rights to self-defence and rule making, then what he gave up must have been his to begin with.

"Individual sovereignty was not a peculiar conceit of Thomas Jefferson: It was the common assumption of the day..." Joseph J. Ellis; "American Sphinx, The Character of Thomas Jefferson"

"A 'right' is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man's right to his own life. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action—which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (Such is the meaning of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.)

"The concept of a 'right' pertains only to action—specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men. Thus, for every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive—of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice.

"As to his neighbors, his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights. The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave. Bear in mind that the right to property is a right to action, like all the others: it is not the right to an object, but to the action and the consequences of producing or earning that object. It is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own
it if he earns it. It is the right to gain, to keep, to use and to dispose of material values."
Ayn Rand; "Man's Rights,"
The Virtue of Selfishness, 93.

As for Christianity being "flattering" to human dignity:

"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 a letter to Sylvia Austin dated July 9, 1946, in
Letters of Ayn Rand, p. 287

Rand was able to say this because as was her habit she always looked to the extreme position of the logic involved. If you say "X means this,"she would take it to the next level and then the next, until she showed that "X means this" was untennable if carried to its logical end. This is why she can make the statement about altruism stick--because she used Comte's original definition of the word:

"For Comte Altruism meant the discipline and eradication of self-centered desire, and a life devoted to the good of others; more particularly, selfless love and devotion to Society. In brief, it involved the self-abnegating love of Catholic Christianity redirected towards Humanity conceived as an ideal unity. As thus understood, altruism involves a conscious opposition not only to egoism (whether understood as excessive or moderate self-love), but also to the formal or theological pursuit of charity and to the atomic or individualistic social philosophy of 17th-18th century liberalism, of utilitarianism, and of French Ideology."

You know full well Rand was fundamentally morally ethically epistemologically against "self-abnegation." Rand contends that if it is true that Jesus allowed himself to be murdered, and did not fight it on the grounds that he was saving the rest of humanity by his act, then he was the biggest altruist, who committed the biggest act of "self-abnegation" in the history of religion. But she isn't certain that is true. "Jesus (or perhaps His interpreters) gave men a code of altruism..." Jesus never wrote a word himself. All we have is the words of people who say that Jesus said what Jesus said. And many of those accounts differ. We may never know whether Jesus was an altruist or not. But if he was not, then the religion based on his alleged altruism has a false basis for existence.

Well, I think I have addressed the first 3 paragraphs of your email. Honestly, I have not even looked at the rest of it yet. You may be certain that after I read it, I'll have more to say.
But now, what say you?