Religion and Objectivism

By Diana Mertz Brickell

Date: Thu, 3 Nov 1994 22:07:19 -0500

From: D.M. Brickell

To: Multiple recipients of list

Subject: Religion and Objectivism

The question was posed as to whether Objectivism and any form of religion is compatible. Perhaps I am not the best person to answer this question, since I have never believed in God, nor have I ever had an affinity for any form of religion. Thus I am not terribly sympathetic with attempts to reconcile any form of religion with Objectivism, although I hope to be able to coherently explain why they are incompatible. To start our with, we need to be sure exactly what we mean when we speak of "religion." Being that religions and their tenets make claims about most (if not all) branches of philosophy, it seems reasonable to classify religions as a type of philosophy. But we refer to Christianity and Paganism and Islam as "religions" per se because of the added element of belief in the supernatural, which will give rise to their claims about (mainly) epistemology and ethics. Certainly numerous philosophies entail some supernatural element, but this tenet does not effect the rest of the philosophy in a significant fashion, whereas some philosophies (i.e. religions) are based almost entirely on their conception of the supernatural. In epistemology, the result of reliance upon the supernatural is that the system is not justifiable with reference to reality, and so faith must be considered a valid means of knowledge. Faith becomes an integral part of any religion, because there is simply no reason and sense-based means of knowing the "supernatural." I would define "religion" as "a philosophical system which justifies its tenets with respect to the supernatural and which requires faith from its adherents." This definition isn't too far off from those given in Webster's, which include: "the service and worship of God or the supernatural," "commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance," "a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith." So is Objectivism at all compatible with religion? Very simply, no. Faith is a completely invalid means to knowledge and consistently undermines the use of reason. The supernatural is also out of the bounds of Objectivism, since claims about the supernatural generally involve a mind/body dichotomy, primacy of consciousness, and a rejection of the law of identity, not to mention the sheer lack of evidence for the existence of the entities involved. Even the derivative tenets of Objectivism significantly conflict with religion. The emphasis of religions on duty, sacrifice, the value of suffering and martyrdom, the mind/body dichotomy, altruism, etc. are simply incapable of being reconciled with Objectivism. Now, I don't know a whole lot about Zen Buddhism, and if the religion is in some way exempt from the above criticism, then I do apologize. But from what I understand, there is an emphasis on the inadequacy of logic and language, a rejection of the law of non-contradiction, and the existence of some source of "pure wisdom." Certainly none of these ideas are even remotely compatible with Objectivism. But before I finish up here I want to caution you not to take me to mean that there is no truth in any religious system. There are true and useful ideas in almost any philosophy, and we should not reject those ideas because the philosophy as a whole is rejected. At the very least, we should maintain a willingness to delve into other philosophical and religious systems in order to understand them better, as well as to test the validity of our own beliefs.

-=- diana mertz brickell, brutal optimist, NeXT lab consultant -=-



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