The principle of individual rights does not derive from or depend on the idea of God as man's creator. It derives from the very nature of man, whatever his source or origin; it derives from the requirements of man's mind and his survival. In fact, as I have argued, the concept of rights is ultimately incompatible with the idea of the supernatural. This is true not only logically, but also historically.
Apologists of Christianity make the opposite claim: rights come from God, they argue, just as the Declaration of Independence asserts. Freedom rests on a religious base.
Who is right on this issue, Peikoff and Objectivism or the apologists of Christianity? The answer is: neither side is right. Both make the erroneous assumption that rights derive from a doctrinal or logical base. There is no convincing evidence that this is true.
Rights are far more the product of the give and take between various political factions than they are of any specific doctrine of rights. Most people have only vague notions of rights. Since the majority people are not logically consistent in their beliefs, issues about where specific claims about rights originate and whether they are based on sound logical foundations is utterly vain. The overly-intellectualized views of Rand and her orthodox apologists leads to vague and impossible dreams about the causal determinants of the social order, as if metaphysical, logical, rhetorical, and other philosophical concepts are supposed to manifest themselves on the strength of their own logic!
Perhaps it would be better to rephrase the issue and ask whether religion is compatible with freedom? which is the real question at stake. Here only history can be our guide; and what we find when we examine the historical record is that freedom doesn’t appear to flourish in societies that are either excessively religious or excessively secular; that freedom seems to work best when there exists a healthy balance between the secular and the profane.
In the last three centuries, the two countries in which freedom has most flourished are England and the United States. Yet in the Western world, these are the nations that came closest to maintaining a healthy balance between the religious and the secular (although since World War 2, England has lost its religiosity, along with its empire). On the European continent, secular opinion became rabidly anti-clerical, eventually leading to widespread secularism in the 20th century. On the surface, this may not seem so bad. For the most part, life is good in Western Europe. Most people enjoy an unprecedented combination of personal freedom and economic security. Secularism never had it so good. But this secularism contains several fatal flaws. In the first place, it could never have existed without the protection of the United States. And secondly, even with America’s protection, it is doomed to be overrun by the demographics of an Islamic tide.
The failure of secularism is that it depends on two things that, in the long-run, are at odds: military security and a high standard of living. Any nation that lives well for several generations becomes soft. Its citizens give way to hedonistic mores and excesses of welfare economics. Religion, as a conservative force in society, can serve as a partial brake against this sort of hedonistic disintegration. Religion tends to support traditional ethical norms that go against the grain of hedonistic mores. Religion also imposes forms of discipline on its adherents which reinforce those traditional, anti-hedonistic moral ideals. It is no coincidence that the United States, the most religious in the West, remains the primary defender of freedom in the world today; nor is it a coincidence that the those Americans that are most supportive of the military and the use of force to defend freedom also tend to be religious, whereas those Americans that tend to oppose the military and the use of force tend to be secular.
Of course, the opposite extreme also poses a danger, when nations become too religious. But that is so obvious that it doesn’t require further comment.