What makes Objectivism a cult, and not Christianity?

Carol R. wrote (Oct 27):

In the discussion on “Game and the Founding,” you stated that Objectivism is/was a cult. How would you answer the charge the Christianity was a cult at the beginning and still is? Objectivists will argue that they don’t worship anyone let alone a carpenter who really was the son of God who can walk on water, turn wine into water and resurrect himself from the dead. This is how Objectivists I know have responded to your argument. My sister has said that any person who looked at the Appalachian mountains and thought they saw the hand of God has so devastated an epistemology that he shouldn’t be trusted with the time of day let alone serious philosophical issues. (This is in response to your proof of how you know God exists.) Atheists, especially Objectivists, will argue that they don’t worship reason, they apply it. Further, they argue that to say that reason is another type of faith and science another type of religion is to destroy the conceptual meaning of all of those terms. So, I’m curious—the great agnostic fence-sitter that I am—how you would respond to these Objectivist arguments.

PS Didn’t Murray Rothbard apologize for his hitjob on Ayn Rand and Objectivism? I’m pretty sure he rescinded many of the things in that book. Also, Objectivists will add that even if Rand were the dictator that her enemies say she is, her philosophy must be refuted intellectually without resort to any variations of ad hominem arguments which is all that the “Ayn Rand was a mean person” really is. [LA replies: This is like saying that a historical account of Stalin’s tyranny is an ad hominem argument.] Again this is how an Objectivist will argue you.

LA replied:

I’ll try to get back to you later on this. It would require an essay to explain the differences between, say Christianity and Objectivism.

Carol R. replied:

I would love to see you write that essay because it would be so interesting to see you debate with Objectivists. Even if you posted it as a blog essay, many Objectivist sites would link to it and, of course, criticize it. [LA replies: I may reply to Objectivist positions, but a debate between me and Objectivists is out of the question. You may have noticed the sorts of things that Objectivists have said about me whenever I comment at one of their sites or about them.]

Just so you know, Objectivism considers Christianity* to be nothing more than Platonic religion and Objectivism characterizes Platonism as philosophic intrinsicism and opposes it as a false alternative to philosophic subjectivism. Objectivists consider you an intrinsiciist (of the Platonist/Augustinian variety) and they consider the “liberals” (they would call them leftists as they believe in rational liberalism) to be part of the Post-Kantian subjectivist philosophical developement (and to them Kant is the great secularizer and intellectualizer of religion—which is why they dislike him). They believe Rand provides the rational third alternative—ie an objective epistemelogical framework as opposed to the subjectivism of the left and the intrinsicism (“pure and perfect realm distinct from the flawed material realm” etc) of religion. The few Objectivists that I have seen comment on you think of you as peddling “stale Platonic garbage” especially your view of the different species of life as archetypes in the mind of God. Objectivists read that and immediately think of you as deriving from the Platonic tradition. I generally think Objectivists are right in their view that Conservatives are Platonists and “Liberals” are post-Kantians.

I’m on the fence in all this with some respect for both Objectivism and Traditionalism which is why I would like to see some more debate between the two.

* A number of Objectivists are becoming influenced by the writings of those that argue against a historical Christ such as Robert Price, Earl Doherty, G.A. Wells, etc.. Objectivism has no position on the historicity of Jesus and never will (as Ayn Rand had no opinion on it—I think she assumed he was real). But I do notice the view that the Christ story started as myth and legend as growing amongst Objectivists. I have no opinion on the historicity of Jesus although I do think that Robert Price has made some interesing points on the subject in his book “Deconstructing Jesus”.

LA replies (Nov 1):

I havan’t gotten to this yet. I’m going to save it and try to write something later. But here is a short answer for the moment. Others are welcome to add to my inadequate comments.

First, I’m not qualified to comment on Platonism versus Kantianism. I don’t have the background in philosophy to do that. While there is evidently a significant Platonic element in my thinking, simply labeling me as “Platonist” is not going to be helpful to anyone trying to understand me. It’s a way of putting a label on someone and dispensing with him rather than trying to understand what he’s saying.

Second, people who declare that any statement of belief in God automatically disqualifies the speaker intellectually, have disqualified themselves intellectually.

Third, I don’t know that the distinctions between a legtimate religion/belief system and an illegitimate cult have been articulated. Of course in one sense of the word, all religions are cults. As Russell Kirk famously said, culture begins with cult, meaning with religion. But here obviously we’re using cult in a narrower and more critical sense of a narrow belief system that takes one part of reality and treats it as the whole, and demonizes all the rest. For example, Rand and many Randians say that only reason (Randian reason) is true, and that anyone who believes in God is an evil, life-hating “mystic of spirit.” Such a view exemplifies an ideological cult. Now you ask, isn’t Christianity also a cult, since it demonizes non-members. In reality, Christianity has a highly articulated way of understanding non-Christian positions. It’s not narrow, it’s large. And it obvously takes in reason and uses philosophy among its tools, so it’s not limited to one way of knowing. It has a highly articulated way of saying where reason is appropriate, and where only revelation will avail, and how the two interact. But in encountering virtually any Randian group, one does not encounter that kind of capacity for dealing with different views and ways of knowing, but instead a fanatical sectarian spirit that reduces truth to a couple of formulaic sentences: “I believe in reason, with the individual as the only value, and capitalism as the only economic system,” etc. They repeat Rand’s phrases like robots, and view all others as evil, anti-life enemies.

So there, very briefly, are a couple of the differences between an ideological cult and Christianity. When I have a chance I will attempt to expand on this.

On the question of the historicity of Jesus, whether you believe that Jesus was who he said he was, or a fraud, or a madman, or something in between, one thing is certain: he was a vivid, unique personality who made an extraordinary impression on the people around him. To believe that Jesus is a fictional creation of some guy writing in a garret, or of some committee, one would have to be reading the Gospels with blinders made of six-inch thick steel plates. Further, if some anonymous writer created Jesus, then that writer would have to have been as impressive as Jesus. How come we haven’t heard of him?

I’ll use one scene in the Gospels to make my point. Just read this without preconceptions:

And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.

Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?

But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?

Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.

When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way. (Matt 22:16-22)

Now tell me, when you read this scene, with the challenge coming from the spokesmen of the rabbis, intended to fake Jesus out, and his wholly unexpected, brilliant, and authoritative answer, which has since become one of the bedrock concepts of Christian civilization, and the effect it has on his immediate listeners, does this strike you as a work of imagination, or as a description of an incident that actually happened?

And if this remarkably original formulation, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s,” was not the product of Jesus, but of some unknown writer, why did that that writer, who would have been as remarkable as Jesus, remain unknown? As people say about the Shakespeare authorship question, either Shakespeare’s plays were written by Shakespeare, or someone just as great. Isn’t it more believable that the person represented as saying the things that Jesus says in this scene in the Gospels was the person who said them, rather than that some unknown person wrote them down and made up a fictional character to say them?

- end of initial entry -

November 2

Kristor writes:

Debunking the historicity of Jesus, or of the Gospels, is a big business these days (e.g., The DaVinci Code). The problem with all these conspiracy theories about the origins of the Church is that they require us to believe that the Apostles who made up the Gospels were willing to wreck their lives and be tortured to death, as almost all of them were, for the sake of a story they knew to be false. It requires us to believe the same about the hundreds of other disciples of Jesus who were hounded, persecuted, tortured, martyred.

I’ve never read Rand so I’m not competent to comment on Carol R.’s core question. Rereading her comment, I’m not exactly sure what her core question might be. It might help if she narrowed it down a bit.

November 3

Carol R. replies (11/2/09):
Subject: Ayn Rand and Stalin?

You wrote:

This is like saying that a historical account of Stalin’s tyranny is an ad hominem argument.

You are seriously comparing Ayn Rand with Stalin; a pro-freedom philosopher who at most screamed at a few people (and even that’s debatable) with a mass murdering dictator who killed millions? How very Leftist of you. BTW, if Ayn Rand is representative of such heinous evil, then what moral evaluation should we give the Catholic Church or even Christianity itself (especially before it was tamed by the Enlightenment)? I can only imagine what type of rationalization you will come up with for that one.

This was not one of your better moments Larry. I expect better of you.

LA replies:

Carol, that’s a remarkably unthinking comment on your part. I wasn’t comparing Rand to Stalin. I was making a point about what is and what isn’t an ad hominem argument.

Please indicate to me that you’ve understood what I just said.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 01, 2009 03:31 PM | Send

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