Christian morality versus Objectivist Morality. For the rational critic of religion, it is not belief in God and the afterlife that create the chief problems. It is, rather, the conviction of many religious people that God demands that people behave a certain way. Indeed, I would go farther: I would say that the main, vital point of disagreement between religious and anti-religious is over morality. Dislike of traditional religious morality is the primary motivation of most that passes for uncompromising or militant atheism.
Most attacks against religion are motivated by a kind hedonistic antinomianism. The main target is religious sex morality. Objectivism, in this respect, represents an improvement over most secular critiques. Rand was neither antinomian nor an apologist for hedonism. Her criticism of traditional Christian sex morality is, consequently, fairly reasonable—despite her tendency to over-generalize and draw inferences from Christian doctrines that only a handful of fanatics would ever embrace. Indeed, if there is besetting weakness in the Objectivist critique of religious morality, it is the tendency to assume that Christians routinely follow the letter of Christian precept. But that is not the way Christian precepts work. Christian morality tries to counteract potentially destructive traits in human nature by presenting the opposite extreme as the ideal. Men, particularly pre-modern men, tend to be over-obsessed with status and “face,” predisposed towards violence, and short in empathy for strangers. So Christianity tells them the last will be first, the meek shall inherit the earth, that one should turn the other cheek and love one’s neighbors as oneself. Most of these precepts would be dangerous if taken literally. But, aside from a few fanatics, they are never taken literally. So the extent that they have any affect at all, it will generally be a positive one. Violent and status obsessed people will tend to be less violent, less obsessed with status, and kinder to strangers.
The most problematical element of Christian morality have to do with questions regarding sex. To our modern sensibility, the obsession by many conservative Christians with sexual behavior is pathological. Why should the militant fundamentalist be obsessed with the sexual lives of other people? Why should he care one way or another? Here we confront one of the most unedifying aspects of modern conservative Christianity. Too much weight is given to questions of personal sexual conduct. The inflexibility, the misapplied absolutism, the moralism, the intolerance with which some Christian traditionalists approach these problems represents a black mark against religion.
However, as unappetizing as sexual puritanism, in its religious guise, may be to the contemporary mind, it would be a mistake to regard it as a complete tissue of irrationality and fanaticism. Liberated attitudes regarding sex mores are made possible, not by the greater moral wisdom of contemporary man, but merely by the wealth and improved technology of modern society. In poor societies lacking sophisticated birth control techniques and effective medicines for sexually transmitted diseases, sexual puritanism becomes a necessary evil. Sexual appetites have to be reigned in when the consequences of unbridled sexual activity are so dire. This is little appreciated in the age of penicillin, planned parenthood, and the pill.
So the real problem with Christian morals is not that they were irrational from the start, but that they have outlived their usefulness. However, even here, there may exist a possible exception to this general assessment. If we examine the underclass, we find an astonishing range of blatantly irrational and dysfunctional sex behavior. It is precisely when we begin examining those individuals who dwell on the left side of the intelligence bell curve that we discover problems for which Rand and her Objectivist apologists have no realistic answers. This issue, and its possible relation with religion, will be the subject of my next post.