Saturday, May 31, 2008

Objectivism & Religion, Part 10

Religion and freedom. Peikoff, in his essay “Religion Versus America,” argues that religion is logically incompatible with freedom and individual rights.

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.

16 comments:

Damien said...

If Europe falls to the radical Islamic nut jobs, it will be used by Christians the way Secularists used the destruction of the twin towers. The Fall of the twin towers has been used by atheists to argue that religion is always bad. I think it was Richard_Dawkins
who created that came up with those "Imagine No Religion" posters with the twin towers on them. If Europe falls to fundamentalist Islam, it will be used by Christian fundamentalists to argue that secularism is always bad.

Red Grant said...

____________________________

In the last three centuries, the two countries in which freedom has most flourished are England and the United States. - Greg
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So why had the colonist fought a war to break away from England?




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...(although since World War 2, England has lost its religiosity, along with its empire) - Greg
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Are you implying England has lost its empire to due to the loss of its religiosity?


Has England lost its North American colony because she had been losing her religiosity?



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The failure of secularism is that it depends on two things that, in the long run, are at odds: military security and high standard of living. - Greg
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Isn't secularim an abstract concept/philosophy?


How can an abstract concept/philosophy depend on military security and high standard of living?

Does Christianity depend on military security and high standard of living?





____________________________

It is no coincidence the United States, the most religious in the West, remains the primary defender of freedom in the world; - Greg
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Are you implying the U.S. defended the freedom of the world because of her religiosity?

This is most definitely false.

U.S. "defended" the freedom of the world to protect her geopolitical interest and the potential trade zone from a rival superpower.

The religion had little to do with it.




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...nor is it a coincidence that the those Americans that are most supportive of military and the use of force to defend freedom also tend to be religious, ... - Greg
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Do religious Americans [Christians] believe in using physical violence for the worldly goals?


or


is it self-deluded, fraudulent imposters who claim to be Christians are the ones who believe in using physical violence for the worldly goals?




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...whereas those Americans that tend to oppose military and the use of force tend to be secular. - Greg
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Aren't the Christians supposed to follow the teachings of Jesus?


Did Jesus preach killing one's enemies for any reason(including the defense of freedom)?

or

Did Jesus preach against physical violence for the worldly goals(including the defense of freedom)?

robert574 said...

This argument is a concrete-bound obfuscation of an issue that requires an inductively derived argument. It offers only a Humean "empirical" analysis of man to try to "refute" Peikoff's point. It fails miserably. However, Hume could not have agreed more. For him man could not think because he was incapable of seeing the connection between cause and effect. This is a circular argument that says, in effect, that man is incapable of reasoning, so therefore he is incapable of reasoning. This is Hume's "empiricism." Look at Rand's definition of rights for the answer that this argument ignores. Then look at reality and you'll see that a right can be derived from reality. I'm not going to give the full argument on this site. I'll just ask you to think. That's the only way you'll be able to be objective and not fall victim to the obfuscation preached here.

gregnyquist said...

Robert: "However, Hume could not have agreed more. For him man could not think because he was incapable of seeing the connection between cause and effect. This is a circular argument that says, in effect, that man is incapable of reasoning, so therefore he is incapable of reasoning. This is Hume's 'empiricism.'"

Actually, the gentleman here is on the right track. Hume has little to do with the argument I'm making, although I do make use of facts, and in that sense am "empirical" (though I'm not solely empirical—I also interpret the facts). The Humean argument against rights stems from Hume's claim, which Rand did not even understand, let alone refute, that you can't logically derive values from facts. Hume never claimed man is incapable of reasoning, nor was he incapable of seeing the connection between cause and effect. Indeed, his empiricism is based on cause and effect. Hume was merely an anti-foundationalist when it came to causation—which is different from claiming there's no connection between cause and effect.

Whether rights can be logically "derived from reality" (what on earth does that mean?) is besides the point. Even if you can prove that a specific theory of rights ought to prevail, that doesn't mean that the logical sound theory will prevail. For a given theory to prevail, the ruling elite has to support it. Ruling elites, however, are not known to give much consideration to speculative theories about rights. There are many other considerations that go into motivating their conduct as governers, judges, and legislators—considerations, moreover, which often are at odds with speculative theories of rights.

Jay said...

The problem with Western Europe isn't the excessive secularism, it's the almost total lack of individualism and productiveness. Do you need religion for that? Not necessarily.

Nothing about secularism is inherently hostile to hard work or ethical living. To borrow a business term, maybe a secular philosophy of virtue and hard work just needs a few "early adopters."

gregnyquist said...

Jay: "The problem with Western Europe isn't the excessive secularism, it's the almost total lack of individualism and productiveness. Do you need religion for that? Not necessarily."

I agree that you don't necessarily need religion for individuality and productiveness, but I don't agree that these qualities are what are needed in Europe. In the first place, Europe is not suffering from an "almost total lack of productiveness." Europe is not as productive as the United States and they do have some issues with excessive bureacracy and the like; but increasing their productivity (or their economic individualism) will not provide them with greater security; it will only make them wealthier. Yet that's the main problem: their wealth has spoiled and demoralized them. They have lost all sense of what is required, of the sacrifices that have to be made, on behalf of a nation's and civilization's self-preservation. A society has to be prepared to fight for whatever rights or cultural ideals prevail within its domains. Unfortunately, moderate secularism has not found a solution to its problem. Instead, it evades the problem, pretending it doesn't exist. Only evil forms of secularism, such as Nazism and communism, have solved this problem: but in this case, the solution is worse than the disease.

It is not a question of whether anything in secularism opposes hard work or the like. The problem of secularism is not in the doctrines of secularism, but in the psychology out of which it arises. It is important to recognize that the secularism of Western Europe is not founded on "reason." On the contrary, it is founded on a psychological demoralization under which religious ideals and a so-called "Christian life" (i.e., the compromise that is reached between religious moral ideals and the demand of everyday life) is no longer appealing. Yet this demoralization hand-in-hand with an abhorence of military virtues.

Wells said...

Several things.

Greg, You forgot about the Dutch Republic/Kingdom of the Netherlands, a consistently religiously tolerant polity in Western Europe, and tenuously connected at best to the United Kingdom.

Jay, The problems with Western Europe have been greatly exaggerated. There's more than one way to run a state, America has chosen one way, the Europeans have chosen another.

Everyone, religiosity isn't bad for freedom, and secularism also isn't bad for freedom. What's bad for freedom is attempting to force secular people to become religious or forcing religious people to become secular.
Once rulers have gotten it into their head that you can force someone to believe a particular thing, there really isn't anything else they have reason to stop at doing. Forcing someone to believe things they think are false is the absolute worst thing that you can do to someone, once you have done that, everything else pales in comparison.

Damien said...

Wells,

You have an interesting point, trying to force anyone to agree with you is always antithetical to liberty.

Anonymous said...

"It is no coincidence that the United States, the most religious in the West, remains the primary defender of freedom in the world today"

Haha, that's a good one.

The start was good. Then it fell down into a mess of wishfull history reading and opinions. I'll give my opinion that you're alot better at philosophy that history/politics.

"In the last three centuries, the two countries in which freedom has most flourished are England and the United States." Why go all the way back 300 years? How about in the last 100 years? For that period in time I think you'll find that neither the US nor UK hold a spessial possition in comparison to most of the remaining western european countries.

"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." Countrafactual history has the weakness of not beeing real, hence it's allso unproven. You would by the way have to stick to using both secularism AND personal freedom as the USSR was very much a secular state. Refering soly to secularism you'd end up claiming the problem of secularism is that it would get overtaken by other secular systems.

"And secondly, even with America’s protection, it is doomed to be overrun by the demographics of an Islamic tide." This claim is trying too much as it's making predictions as if they're inevitable. As this hasn't happened it seems a bit unreasonable. That aside the serbs weren't "western european secularists" and they still lost Kosovo. We might allso claim that parts of the US might very well be Mexican soon. There is allso the situation in Israel, and the problem with runnign a democratinc jewish state if they jews become a minority. The conncetion between "secularism" and demografics seems weak at best, even when taken at face value.

We get back to "It is no coincidence that the United States, the most religious in the West, remains the primary defender of freedom in the world today" Wich is a load of steaming bullshit. The US has a long history of doing the oposit, from Chile to Guantanamo Bay. The US protects freedom in speaches, and it's interests in every day life, simple as that.

gregnyquist said...

Anon: "The start was good. Then it fell down into a mess of wishfull history reading and opinions. I'll give my opinion that you're alot better at philosophy that history/politics."

Wishful history reading? That's an odd charge, particulary given my rather pessimistic reading of history and politics. Do you really believe I want Europe to be Islamicized? Whether I am right or wrong on these issues, wishful "reading and opinion" has nothing to do with it.

Anon: "Countrafactual history has the weakness of not beeing real, hence it's also unproven."

No useful knowledge can be proven. But we can, and we do, make educated guesses. Our ability to learn from history depends on the ability to make cognitively useful counterfactuals.

Anon: "Refering soly to secularism you'd end up claiming the problem of secularism is that it would get overtaken by other secular systems."

In my comment I specifically noted the difference between evil forms of secularism and Western European secularism, and the increasing inability of of the latter form of secularism to defend itself from radical religion (Islam) or evil secularism (Soviet communism).

Anon: "The US has a long history of doing the opposite [i.e., the opposite of defending freedom], from Chile to Guantanamo Bay."

Here we have the error of failing to ask the one worthwhile question in these situtations, which is: what is the realistic alternative? Life does not present us with ideal alternatives, perfect freedom on one side, imperfect on the other. In political and social life, you often have to choose the least worst option. Would Chile really be better off today if the Allende disaster had been allowed to continue? You have to be very naive about politics to think so. Would freedom in the world be assisted by emptying the prisons of Guantanamo Bay? Again, you have to be very naive to think so? Even more to the point, if it weren't for United States and England, who would have defeated Hitler in the forties? Stalin? Would that have made the world more free? Do you really believe the world a freer place without the United States?

Anon: "The US protects freedom in speaches, and it's interests in every day life, simple as that."

Was fighting Hitler in our interest? Wouldn't America had beeen better of if it had been able to sit out World War 2. And what vital interest were we protecting in Vietnam? Or by standing by Israel against the oil-rich Arabs? And what if it turns out that standing up for freedom is in our interest? What if there really is no conflict between the two?

Dragonfly said...

""It is no coincidence that the United States, the most religious in the West, remains the primary defender of freedom in the world today"

This is exactly the same kind of simplistic argument that we see in Peikoff's Ominous Parallels, where historical data, which are determined by countless complex factors are reduced to one single cause without any proof. I could as well say that it is no coincidence that the US, the most religious in the west, has the highest homicide rate.

Red Grant said...

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Was fighting Hitler in our interest? - Greg
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Yes.



____________________________

Wouldn't America had been better of if it had been able to sit out World War 2? - Greg
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If U.S. had sit out WW2, then Germany would have had far better chance of winning the war.

With Germany victorious, and given enough time to consolidate her conquest, she would have commanded resources of Europe, parts of Russia, Middle East, Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, Asia Minor.

She would have commanded far more resources than U.S., enough to win an offensive war, whether attritional or manueverial.

Even if Germany decided not to attack U.S. directly, she could have simply blockaded U.S. gradually and slowly snuffing out U.S.

U.S. being a "Relgious" country would have helped little.



____________________________

And what vital interest were we protecting in Vietnam. - Greg
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None. U.S. primarily was protecting LBJ's ego/vanity.



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or by standing by Israel against Oil-rich Arabs? - Greg
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Ego/vanity of some of the "Fundamentalist Christians", wannabee "Zionists", and delution of guilt of refusing to help the Jews before and during WW2, and residual from false front/cover of fighting Germany.


____________________________

and what if it turns out that standing for freedom is in our interest? - Greg
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Didn't U.S. fight a war against Britain for freedom?

Didn't you say freedome flourished in Britain for the last 300 years?



____________________________

What if there really is no conflict between the two? - Greg
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Did U.S. help Stalin during WW2 for freedom of the peoples oppressed under him or for her self interest?

Anonymous said...

gregnyquist:
Wishful history reading? That's an odd charge, particulary given my rather pessimistic reading of history and politics. Do you really believe I want Europe to be Islamicized? Whether I am right or wrong on these issues, wishful "reading and opinion" has nothing to do with it.
________________________________

You wish for "history to confirm to your political ideals". You hold opinions and try to make a model that justifies and confirms it. It might be a strech to call it wishfull, but it comes down to the same, seeing the map as beeing the shaper of the terrain.


gregnyquist:
No useful knowledge can be proven. But we can, and we do, make educated guesses. Our ability to learn from history depends on the ability to make cognitively useful counterfactuals.
________________________________

Indeed, but it doesn't make your guesses here true. I'm merly pointing out that your argument must be seen as a spinn on history, here in a very simple form. You're not presenting a proof, but an opinion. You're allso not seeing history as shaped by practiclities and not just ideology. The US is a super power not just because of the ideological basis of the country. It allso comes down to geographical facts and to a degree historical "luck" and other of the many complex factors that shape history.


gregnyquist:
Here we have the error of failing to ask the one worthwhile question in these situtations, which is: what is the realistic alternative? Life does not present us with ideal alternatives, perfect freedom on one side, imperfect on the other. In political and social life, you often have to choose the least worst option. Would Chile really be better off today if the Allende disaster had been allowed to continue? You have to be very naive about politics to think so.
______________________________

Was the coup in Chile an atempt to make life better for the people of Chile? You have to be very naive indeed to think so. How would the Allende goverment fan out? We don't know, but it was the democratic choice of the Chilean people. We're not discussing prosperity after all, but "freedom". It's as such quite black or white, you don't get to overturn other peoples democracies and reffer to it as protecting freedom.


gregnyquist:
Would freedom in the world be assisted by emptying the prisons of Guantanamo Bay? Again, you have to be very naive to think so?
_________________________________

It's easy to make the "tough decisions" when you're not the one who pays for them. We have ample proof of breaches of human rights and the geneva convention regarding prisoners in Guantanamo bay. You might feel that this is to your benefit, the ones who are innocently incarcerated without due trial might not share that feeling. Emptying Guantanamo bay would improve the freedom of quite a few innocent people locked up indefinitly. Or are you suggesting the ends are a justification of these means? And again, who are you, or indeed american officials to make the call?

That aside you're trying to turn the argument on it's head. Try to present a good argument of how Guantanamo is "helping the freedom of the world" before jumping to describing the oposit as naive. I would if anything claim that Guantanamo is hurting the freedom of the world even by setting a bad example and by demolishing americas "image".


gregnyquist:
Even more to the point, if it weren't for United States and England, who would have defeated Hitler in the forties? Stalin? Would that have made the world more free? Do you really believe the world a freer place without the United States?
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Even WITH the US and England, it was still the USSR who defeated Germany. I do indeed look favourably upon the US and it's roll in history, I have not disputet this, but it doesn't constitue a clinching argument against the idea of secularism. Nor can this be suddenly seen as a black and white picture. The US actions having a favourable outcome for me isn't to say it hasn't had an unfavourable outcome for others.


gregnyquist:
Was fighting Hitler in our interest? Wouldn't America had beeen better of if it had been able to sit out World War 2.
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Partisipation in WW2 served american global ambitions very well. The US gained it's status as a millitary superpower with a comparativly small material loss. Not partaking could indeed have left Europe as pawns of either the USSR or the 3rd Reich, drasticly limiting the international sway of the US and removing it's key allies. In a world with a global economy this would not be a favourable strategic possition.

Even that aside, do I need to remind you that Japan and Germany decleared war on you and not the other way around?


gregnyquist:
And what vital interest were we protecting in Vietnam?
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Vietnam was in it's day seen as part of a proposed "Domino Effect" wich could expand the Soviet sphere of influence and hence reduce the american one. The strategic planing of the Cold War did not allow for this. Do you belive it was a campain to protect the Vietnamese people?



Or by standing by Israel against the oil-rich Arabs? And what if it turns out that standing up for freedom is in our interest? What if there really is no conflict between the two?
_________________________________

IF US support of Israel had cut the US supply of oil from the region the argument would indeed be interesting, but it hasn't have it? The US is playing both sides in the middle east. The US have close bonds to Saudi Arabia. And had close bonds to the former Shah regime in Iran, and to Saddam in Iraq (before he fell from grace). Major american support of Israel it shouold allso be pointed out dates back to after the fact was clear that Israel was to be a major regional power.


As an endnot I would like to appologise for beeing a bit polemic (and for my somewhat poor english :-P). I do enjoy this site, alot. I'm just a bit of a querulant, as well as a secular western european. ;-)

gregnyquist said...

Dragonfly: "This is exactly the same kind of simplistic argument that we see in Peikoff's Ominous Parallels, where historical data, which are determined by countless complex factors are reduced to one single cause without any proof."

I don't agree. If you examine my statement about the connection between Christianity and freedom in the context of all my posts about religion, you should appreciate that it is not a simplistic approach to the problem. Indeed, it's merely the application of Pareto's very sophisticated sociology to the question of religion. Now Pareto, who was an agnostic and a greater scoffer against religious pretensions, argued quite persuasively that it was psychological states, or "sentiments," that were the most important, although not the only, determinants in the social order. Pareto, through his exhaustive studies of history (his learning was immense) noticed that religious sentiments were strongly correlated with the willingness to fight, whereas lack of religious sentiments were correlated with unwillingness to fight. This is the angle from which I look at the whole issue. I am not asserting that religious doctrine is of any great use to the cause of freedom. In many ways, it hurts it. But it's not the doctrine that's important, but the underlying sentiments, so that it is more accurate to say (although not completely accurate) that religious belief is important as a symptom, not as a cause, of freedom. Nor am I suggesting that these religious sentiments are the sole cause of freedom. That is why I insist that there has to be a balance of secularism and religion, by which I really mean, that every society needs people who have religious sentiments and people who lack in those sentiments. It needs people who are good at force, just as it needs people who are good using their wits. In short, it needs both soldiers and nerds.

So it is in the context of the above that I say it's no coincidence "that the United States, the most religious in the West, remains the primary defender of freedom in the world today."

Red Grant said...

____________________________

But it's not the doctrine that's important, but the underlying sentiments, so that it is more accurate to say (although not completely accurate) that religious belief is important as a symptom, not as a cause, of freedom. - Greg
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Does this mean then you have no problem with people in the West converting to Islam, Judaism, Paganism, Pre-Paganism, Buddhism, or Animism?


____________________________

So it is in the context of the above that I say it's no coincidence "that the United States, the most religious in the West, remains the primary defender of the freedom in the world today." - Greg

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 maintaning a healthy balance between the religious and the secular... - Greg
____________________________




So why did the United States fight a war against England for freedom?

Dragonfly said...

What I see in the Netherlands is that it is mainly the secular population that is willing to defend freedom, while the religious part is in general appeasing the muslims. It is nonsense that a secular society wouldn't be able to defend itself. The problem we have is the enormous influx of muslims, a problem that doesn't exist in the US. We would be much better off without religion.