Monday, October 08, 2012

Christianity vs. Happiness

Presuppositional apologists are continually focusing the philosophical debate on issues such as which worldview can account for logic, which worldview can solve the problem of induction, which worldview provides the necessary preconditions for intelligibility, etc. And while presuppositionalism has been answered on each of these points (for logic, see here; for induction, see here; for knowledge, see here), one thing that presuppositionalists tend to overlook in their worldview analysis is man’s need for happiness. Indeed, one may even get the impression that according to their worldview, man does not need happiness or should not even try for happiness. Happiness does not at all seem important to the apologist, for he never draws attention to its importance, and apologists in general do not come across as very happy persons.

This oversight, to the degree that it is merely an oversight, is most fitting. For the Christian worldview cannot provide the necessary preconditions for human happiness. Happiness is not possible to a mind haunted by Christianity’s fear and guilt.

H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) once wrote that Puritanism is “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy” (A Mencken Chrestomathy, p. 624). And while this may initially strike us as a humorous adage, there is an important truth underlying it. The Puritans had the art of killing joy down to a science. The Puritans shared with the Calvinists certain distinctive tenets, such as original depravity, limited atonement, predestination, literal authority of the bible, etc. The following prayer expresses in a nutshell the Puritan view of happiness:
Help me never to expect any happiness from the world, but only in Thee. Let me not think that I shall be more happy by living to myself, for I can only be happy if employed for Thee, and if I desire to live in this world only to do and suffer what Thou dost allot me. (from the Puritan prayer O Lord)
To say the least, then, achieving happiness in “this life” is clearly not high on the list of a Puritan’s priorities.

Fear and happiness are clearly at odds with each other. When a person is gripped with fear, he is certainly not happy. A person who accepts fear as a normal condition of human life, then, can only estrange himself from the achievement of happiness. For the rational individual, happiness is the norm. For an irrational individual, fear is the norm. Take your pick.

We should not forget that fear and guilt dominate the Christian believer’s psychology. Fear is his worldview’s starting point (cf. Prov. 1:7). The fear which the believer is required to have is not fear of mundane things, like fear of spiders or snakes, fear of traffic accidents, or fear of the loss of a loved one. Rather, the fear which Christianity promotes is what may be called transcendental fear - a fear which “transcends” this world and carries over into the spiritual realm imagined by the believer. Mt. 10:28 has Jesus say to his hearers, “fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” So the believer is in fact commanded to fear, and he is to fear a person - a “he” – who has the ability “to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Such verses make it clear that the concept ‘fear’ intended for the believer to have for his god is not simply some sense of awe or reverence, but rather a most distressing emotion of dread and terror, for what greater peril can the believer imagine than being destroyed in hell?

All of the believer’s mental activity is tortured in unquenchable fear, and no matter what he does, he can never shake it. He will try to suppress it, he will try to ignore it, he will try to downplay its influence over his life and thought, but he can never outrun it. It is too late for him, for he has already accepted the premises of the Christian worldview, and these premises guarantee his fear. Wherever he turns, whether towards belief or towards apostasy, he is confronted with fear, either fear of the god he enshrines in his worship, or fear of the consequences of turning from his god. When interacting with the world, the believer will do what he can to submerge this fear to keep it out of the sight of others; he doesn’t want other people to sense his fear. He becomes afraid of the fact that his worldview holds him captive in a cage of fear. In the beginning it is difficult for him to conceal his fear, since the fear can be overwhelming; but after a while his skill in the tasks of compartmentalizing the beliefs he is required to hold (so that their conflict with reality can be put out of his consciousness), detaching his attitudes from the emotions he experiences (so that he can feel less affected by them), and maintaining a benign persona before the world (so that Christianity can still look attractive) improves. He learns to live with it without acknowledging it; he habituates defensive techniques of psychological evasion.

One fact that no one can outrun is the fact that sustained fear and happiness are incompatible. A happy person can experience fear for brief periods and go back to being happy once that fear is abated or eliminated. And a normal, rational person can do this, for fear is not the norm of his life. For the rational person, happiness is the norm, for he alone can achieve and maintain happiness in life, and in fact it is his moral purpose in life (cf. Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, pp. 325-349).

Ayn Rand notes that
Happiness is not the satisfaction of whatever irrational wishes you might blindly attempt to indulge. Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy—a joy without penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your values and does not work for your own destruction, not the joy of escaping from your mind, but of using your mind’s fullest power, not the joy of faking reality, but of achieving values that are real, not the joy of a drunkard, but of a producer. Happiness is possible only to a rational man, the man who desires nothing but rational goals, seeks nothing but rational values and finds his joy in nothing but rational actions. ( “Galt’s Speech,” For the New Intellectual, p. 132)
Happiness is selfish; it is the self relishing its own achievements. Selfishness, then, is one of the necessary preconditions for happiness. When a person achieves happiness, it is he who enjoys the happiness himself. Happiness is firsthanded in this very sense. A person who has achieved happiness is one who experiences the rewards of his own effort, something no one else can give him. A person cannot "make" another person happy. A person needs to discover what makes himself happy, and then he needs to embark on the task of pursuing that happiness, and achieve it on his own effort, at his own expense, for it to be his happines. A rejection of happiness, then, means a rejection of one of the very preconditions necessary for happiness.
 
Rand makes the following relevant points:
The maintenance of life and the pursuit of happiness are not two separate issues. To hold one’s own life as one’s ultimate value, and one’s own happiness as one’s highest purpose are two aspects of the same achievement. Existentially, the activity of pursuing rational goals is the activity of maintaining one’s life; psychologically, its result, reward and concomitant is an emotional state of happiness. It is by experiencing happiness that one lives one’s life, in any hour, year or the whole of it. And when one experiences the kind of pure happiness that is an end in itself—the kind that makes one think: “This is worth living for”—what one is greeting and affirming in emotional terms is the metaphysical fact that life is an end in itself. (Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 29)
Consequently, qua non-contradictory joy, happiness will never be available to a person who subscribes to a worldview which commands him to “deny himself” in any capacity, particularly a moral capacity. In Matthew 16:24, the New Testament puts into Jesus’ own mouth the condition of self-denial as a prerequisite for discipleship. A person who denies himself, particularly as a stricture of the moral code he accepts, surrenders the right to be the primary beneficiary of his own actions, as the one to whom the rewards of moral action rightfully belong. It is no mistake that in three places the Sermon on the Mount associates enjoying the rewards of one’s own actions with morally abhorrent behavior (cf. Mt. 6.2, 6:5 and 6:16). The intention of such associations is to make it clear that the believer should not set his hopes on enjoying the rewards of right action and right living in this life, but that he should defer any expected reward for the afterlife.

A worldview which condemns selfishness consequently condemns happiness as a value to be enjoyed by its adherents. A worldview which essentially says “don’t be selfish,” is a worldview which prohibits the seeking of gain for oneself as a result of moral action. On such a worldview, one should be focused on the needs of “others,” for their welfare, their requirements, their desires, which are to hold primacy over one’s own interests. Where does that leave the individual? Well, the individual who believes that he is rightfully expected to renounce selfishness, has adopted a worldview which essentially tells him that he should not care for such things. He certainly should not care for himself, for that would be selfish!

Moreover, for a person to perform some action on the hope or expectation that he will benefit from it, is to put oneself at the center of one’s own life, and where does that leave “others”? Where does that leave “God”? Philosophically, a believer who seeks to gain from his own labor has already strayed from the reservation, even if he doesn’t recognize it as such. That's good, but he needs to come to realize why it's good. And if he's confessionally invested in protecting a god-belief, he will not come to understand fully why it's good.

The apostle Paul saw selfishness and goodness as inherently incompatible and contradictory to one another: “my selfish desires won’t let me do anything that is good. Even when I want to do right, I cannot” (Rom. 7:18). He saw selfishness as the gateway to iniquity: “my selfish desires make me serve the law of sin” (Rom. 7:25). Embracing Jesus as “Lord” in one’s imagination was Paul’s sure formula for abstaining from the evils of selfishness: “Let the Lord Jesus Christ be as near to you as the clothes you wear. Then you won’t try to satisfy your selfish desires” (Rom. 13:14); “If you are guided by the Spirit, you won’t obey your selfish desires”(Gal. 5:16). He taught that “love isn’t selfish” (I Cor. 13:5). On such a view, the concept 'love' cannot denote an individual's devotion to what he values, for "what he values" is by its very nature selfish. Values are those things which an individual seeks to gain and/or keep. They are things that he wants for himself.

The website “Believers.org makes Christianity’s unqualified condemnation of selfishness explicit:
The only thing necessary to change heaven into hell -- if God were to allow it -- is selfishness. Selfishness is mankind's fundamental defect. Selfish means: self-centered, self-serving, self-important. At the root of every problem is selfishness. JAMES 3:16 TEV 16 Where there is jealousy and selfishness, there is also disorder and every kind of evil. Every selfish person is potentially your enemy. Giving is the opposite of acting selfishly. Divine love is the opposite of selfishness. No other "religion" teaches to put others first, to love your enemies. Christianity is the only one that teaches you can be totally changed and become a person with a new nature. We are products of a corrupt culture that teaches selfishness. All sin is selfish. No one ever sins for someone else -- we do it for selfish reasons. We must die to selfishness -- or self-destruct. However, we are unable to do it by ourselves. We must allow Jesus Christ to change us inwardly. You can't change the fruit without changing the root. That is why you must be born again! Only by receiving Jesus Christ, and letting Him change you, can you be a truly unselfish person.
Notice that there is no argument here. The statements here consist of brazen assertions against selfishness, labeling selfishness as a “fundamental defect” (why?), citing selfishness as “the root of every problem” (how?), associating selfishness with “sin” (so what?), and characterizing Christianity’s salvation formula (whatever it may be) as the only antidote to selfishness (selfishness doesn't need an antidote!). Of course, I would agree with the underlying message that Christianity is not a worldview that is suited to man’s rational self-interest.

But this suggests an even deeper problem for defenders of Christianity. If one were to articulate reasons for why one should not be selfish, how would he avoid any selfish implications in the motivations he offers for abstaining from selfishness? Is it not implicit in Christianity’s condemnation of selfishness that it is ultimately in one’s own best interests not to be selfish? For example, if it is reasoned that being selfish leads to sin and thus bars an individual from entering heaven after death, is this reasoning not appealing to the believer’s own selfishness since the consequences of being barred from heaven are being held up as a threat to his eternal security in the afterlife? How are such moral contradictions avoided in Christian teaching? So far as I can tell, they are not avoided; they’re just ignored under the vain hope that no one points them out.

The author makes a most puzzling statement: “We must die to selfishness – or self-destruct.” On the contrary, it seems that “dying” to selfishness is self-destruction. By “dying” to selfishness, the author could only mean giving up one’s concern for himself and his own values, including his well-being. But if one gives up his concern for himself, his values, his well-being, what possible objection could have against self-destruction? Why would he want to avoid self-destruction? Why would he want any alternative to it? Clearly those who condemn selfishness (and not only Christians do this) haven’t thought things through very carefully. It’s just another instance of saying “it’s in your best interest to renounce all of your interests”!

Why should one “love” his enemies? Is it in his own best interest to love his enemies? If so, then the reason given for promoting such action is in conflict with the condemnation itself. Should one love his enemies because it is not in his best interest to do so? If so, why would anyone thinks this might be sufficient to recommend such behavior? But the implications which such teachings have with regard to moral values should not be missed or downplayed here. Enemies represent a threat to one’s values. And the teaching that one has a duty to “love” his enemies, is a teaching which tells us that we have a duty to put our enemies above our values. What rational purpose would such an action have? Blank out.

With all its condemnation of selfishness, the Christian worldview brings home its point that the believer is not to consider himself worthy of anything that is good and wonderful in life, including happiness. The believer is explicitly urged to count himself unworthy of goodness as such, and worthy only of eternal punishment. Isaiah 64:6, often quoted by evangelists pushing Christian propaganda, offers a most negative assessment of man when it states:
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
Additionally, the New Testament teaches that all persons are inherently guilty (Romans 5:12), and that all human beings are “without excuse” (Romans 1:20). The believer is surely not to hold a very high opinion of himself. All of these teachings – the condemnation of selfishness, the instruction to “love” one’s enemies, the dismissal of one’s humanity as a pile of “filthy rags,” the unearned guilt by Adamic lineage, the unavailability of an “excuse” – expressly destroy the preconditions of human happiness once they are accepted.

The believer is to think of himself as a pathetic, wretched creature whose creator would be just in discarding for all eternity. It is only because his creator has, for whatever whim, chosen to withhold justice from being meted out, that he will not be discarded. There’s nothing he can do to earn goodness; goodness, for the Christian, cannot be earned.

The Christian is to model his life after Jesus, who did not come to earth to enjoy his life and find happiness in himself. Rather, Jesus came specifically to die by means of execution. His death-driven life was motivated by fulfilling someone else’s will, not his own. Matthew 26:39 has him pray, “not as I will, but as thou wilt.” In the Orwellian universe of the Christian mindset, life is a veil of sorrows and death is emancipation. As the apostle Paul wrote: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

In fact, one can read the entire New Testament and find only a small handful of passing mentions of happiness, most of them coupling happiness with suffering, hardship or persecution (see here), and never characterized as a goal one should seek or expect to achieve in “this life.”

Happiness is not possible in a mind held captive in a state of internal conflict. And as we have seen here and elsewhere, there are many internal conflicts choking the Christian worldview. A person who has accepted unearned guilt can never know true happiness; at best (and as we can expect), he can claim to have happiness falsely so-called. But it cannot be genuine for it is not something his worldview permits him to earn. A person who accepts the premise that he is inherently guilty from the very inception of his being, who has inherited guilt from a moral criminal who lived long ago and who stained the entire human race, has already forfeited his ability to earn happiness in life. Fear will only compound this problem. A person racked with fear is not a happy person. A person whose psychology is dominated by fear can neither achieve nor maintain happiness. A person whose worldview is founded on fear, will never have happiness.

The conclusion to this inquiry is inescapable: happiness is not available to the person who takes Christianity seriously as his worldview. If a person wants to be happy in life, he will need to reject Christianity, for it can only guarantee a life of misery.

I’m glad these aren’t my problems.

by Dawson Bethrick

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15 Comments:

Blogger Ydemoc said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

October 08, 2012 3:22 PM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Dawson,

I would also like to see any believer attempt to coherently explain to me how love, happiness, anger, jealousy, hate, being pleased, or any other emotional state, would apply to a being that has been described as all-knowing, all-powerful, and immortal.

And then, even if they can somehow explain this (which they won't be able to), I'd ask them if they think that their god is "selfish."

Even though the Christian is told to "deny himself," it seems he would have a hard time denying that his god is "selfish," -- what, with all the "god does as he pleases" nonsense. (And what implications would a selfish god have for man himself, i.e., being told that he, man, was made in the image of this selfish god!?)

Then I would ask them to square this passage: JAMES 3:16 TEV 16 "Where there is jealousy and selfishness, there is also disorder and every kind of evil" -- with their answer to my "Is god selfish?" question, as well as with that very same god saying that he is a "jealous god." (Exodus 20:5)

I'm afraid any believer willing to tackle these questions would find him or herself in quite a pickle.

Believers really should be able to sort all this out if they expect anyone to buy into it, right? I mean, they wouldn't want me to accept something that makes no sense, would they?

Ydemoc

October 08, 2012 3:28 PM  
Blogger Justin Hall said...

Hey there Ydemoc, I am beating up on Rick Warden again:)



Now to the point of Dawson's post have any of you noticed how so many Conservatives or moral authoritarians seem to think suffering is good for the soul. They think it builds discipline and that is required for their cardinal virtue of obedience to authority. They place no value on happiness for its own sake or as a end in and of itself. Take Mother Teresa for example that purposely kept people in a state of suffering when it was in her power to prevent it. Talk about evil.

October 08, 2012 4:59 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Justin,

Yes, it is all part of a horrific worldview. It’s been a long time since I’ve read about Mother Theresa, so I don’t recall many specifics. The bottom line is that her worldview is not fit for me. I’m worth much better than that, regardless of who disapproves.

On pages 453-454 of his book Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff quotes the following passage from G. Rattray Taylor, a British writer, which makes a clear point:

“The early Christian fathers delighted in such simple self-tortures as hairshirts, and failing to wash. Others proceeded to more desperate extremes, such as Ammonius who tortured his body with a red-hot iron until it was covered with burns… It would not be necessary to dwell on these depressing details if it were not for the fact that the Church erected these appalling practices into a virtue, often canonizing those who practiced them…. [St. Margaret Marie Alacoque] sought out rotten fruit and dusty bread to eat. Like many mystics she suffered from a lifelong thirst, but decided to allow herself no drink from Thursday to Sunday, and when she did drink, preferred water in which laundry had been washed… She cut the name of Jesus into her chest with a knife, and because the scars did not last long enough, burnt them in with a candle… She was canonized in 1920… St. Rose ate nothing but a mixture of sheep’s gall, bitter herbs and ashes. The Pazzi, like the Alacoque, vowed herself to chastity at an incredibly young age (four, it is said)." (Sex in History, p. 44)

Wikipedia has a brief article on Alacoque. Christianity turns life into a nightmare. No one can be happy trying to live a nightmare.

Regards,
Dawson

October 08, 2012 5:56 PM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Justin,

You wrote: "...I am beating up on Rick Warden again:)"

I popped in and saw your piece, but I haven't had a chance to read it. But I hope to pretty soon.

You wrote: "Now to the point of Dawson's post have any of you noticed how so many Conservatives or moral authoritarians seem to think suffering is good for the soul."

Yes, Justin, I have, and I have noticed it first-hand. I may have posted this earlier, but on May 21st of this year (I made a note of the date in a notepad), I had a very close, Christian relative say to me, and I quote: "We count suffering as joy."

You wrote: "They think it builds discipline and that is required for their cardinal virtue of obedience to authority."

Yep. All because of premises they accepted when they were, more often than not, very young. Have you ever seen "Jesus Camp"?

You wrote: "They place no value on happiness for its own sake or as a end in and of itself. Take Mother Teresa for example that purposely kept people in a state of suffering when it was in her power to prevent it. Talk about evil."

And on those occasions when they *are* unable to abide by this code of suffering, I've noticed that some are quick to blame it on their being a "natural man"... "that's just the natural man in me."

What!?! Weird.

More to say on this, I'm sure.

Ydemoc

October 09, 2012 11:07 AM  
Blogger madmax said...

Dawson,

This is off topic but Larry Auster has been criticizing Rand on her lack of acceptance of transcendence. Its an attempt at a refutation of Rand's system. Better than what you get from most.

http://www.amnation.com/vfr/archives/023407.html#oct9

http://www.amnation.com/vfr/archives/004328.html

The first link is where Auster attacks Rand's rejection of "non-material transcendence". The second link is where he offers his view of what transcendence is.

Dawson, you are awesome at fisking Presuppositionalists and showing their logical errors. If you have time, I would love to see you argue against Auster's view of transcendence and Rand's "failure" for not accepting it. Auster is influential with Conservatives. I hate to see his criticisms go unchallenged.

Regards,

Madmax

October 10, 2012 12:20 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Ydemoc, you quoted a Christian relative saying, “We count suffering as joy.”

I guess this means that when their savior was in agony on the cross, he was actually experiencing joy, and thereby enjoying his crucifixion. This vies against the view that we should pity the man-god for suffering – suffering is joy, right?

Christians will often go into great detail telling the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, very often counting it as the most painful way to die (more painful than burning at the stake and drawing and quartering? Really?). Here’s one example:

'His body was beaten from head to foot. The thorns had pierced His brow and the blood was running from His head. His back was lacerated. His face was black and blue from being beaten with the fists and hands of the soldiers. He had been spit on. His face had been in the mud. If that robe was on Him for ten or fifteen minutes, it sealed itself to all those wounds, and just like tearing off a bandage unmercifully, they jerked that robe back off. It opened all the wounds and caused them to bleed more profusely than ever before.' - (original source; quoted on Steven Carr’s blog)

But then, you get stuff like this:

'Suffering in this life is so insignificant in light of eternity that it is not even worthy of a comparison. It may not seem this way when we look at our circumstances, but when we look out to the joy set before us, it is nothing. Suffering is not even a drop in the bucket.' - (original source; quoted on Steven Carr’s blog)

So after all the dwelling on Jesus’ suffering during his execution, it’s really just “so insignificant” after all. So why bother about it?

Regards,
Dawson

October 10, 2012 3:59 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Justin

You wrote that “They think [suffering] builds discipline and that is required for their cardinal virtue of obedience to authority." Don’t forget that for a large portion of Christians in the west, particularly in the US, the view which Justin describes here is connected with their view of capitalism, via the Weber Thesis. This is where Christian “conservatives” in the US get the idea that capitalism has Christian foundations. Remember for the Judeo-Christian worldview, work is a form of punishment delivered to Adam after the fall, and this punishment has been inherited by the rest of us due to “original sin.” On this view, work is primarily punishment, not a means of creating values. Indeed, once you create your values, you’re supposed to sacrifice them anyway. None of this is capitalism, but for many these ideas are completely intertwined. I strongly recommend Ridpath’s lecture “Religion vs. Capitalism” which includes an in-depth discussion of all this. I don’t know if it’s still available, but it is extremely insightful.

Regards,
Dawson

October 10, 2012 3:59 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Madmax,

It’s great to hear from you again. I will take a look at Auster’s stuff. Give me some time, it’s getting busy again!

Regards,
Dawson

October 10, 2012 3:59 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Madmax,

I took a brief look at some of the material on Auster’s site that you linked to. I will look at it more, but here are some initial thoughts on just one passage Auster wrote in his blog.

Larry Auster (http://www.amnation.com/vfr/archives/023407.html) writes:

”Why was Rand constantly compelled to squeeze more meanings into a thing, such as a character’s smile, than it could reasonably bear? I don’t have a ready-to-post answer at the moment. But I do notice that this Randian tendency of squeezing too many things into one thing is analogous to another Randian tendency I have previously discussed. Since she denies the three dimensions of reality in which man participates, nature, society, and the transcendent, leaving man’s life as the only reality and man’s choice whether to live or die as the only moral question, she must squeeze all the meanings of existence into the human self, or rather into the perfect human self of her hero, John Galt. Thus Galt is not only the greatest inventor who ever lived and the greatest physicist who ever lived and the greatest philosopher who ever lived, he’s also the perfect man who never makes a false move, and he’s also the greatest male sex object in the world (and not just to the novel’s heroine Dagny Taggart, but to the author herself—Rand openly lusts after her own fictional creation, never ceasing her heavy-breathing descriptions of his person), and he’s also god incarnate whom his friends follow as though he were Jesus Christ. Given Rand’s rebellion against the transcendent structure of reality, and particularly her virulent hatred of the idea of God and her near-genocidal hatred of people who believe in God, she must squeeze every immanent and transcendent value into the person of John Galt.

“Who is John Galt? The ultimate substitute for transcendence.”


Several issues here:

1. Notice how all of what Auster says here is focused on condemning Rand the person; he is not interacting with her philosophical views. Auster doesn’t like Rand personally, and he fuels this dislike into a rarefied and directed hatred of her. This spite against Rand is the springboard for all of Auster’s criticisms of her novel. He is not interacting with Rand’s philosophy, or even with Rand the philosopher. He’s not even interested in her philosophy. He writes in the comments to his piece: “If I were to accept your argument, I would have to stop saying anything about Atlas until I had read all of Rand’s non-fiction works on Objectivism. But I have absolutely no intention of reading them. I’m not interested in them.”

2. Isn’t it curious how Christians so often rail against non-believers (atheists in particular) for ascribing to a philosophy which does not have any meaning and/or allow for meaning, and yet here Auster’s chief complaint is that Rand has too much meaning?

3. To complain that someone is “squeeze[ing] more meanings into a thing, such as a character’s smile, than it could possibly bear,” is to make a statement about measurement. Essentially, the charge is that a maximum has been exceeded in some way. But how would such a charge be defended? How does one measure a smile such that he can know when its meaning has been exceeded beyond its capacity? Auster provides no clues here.

4. Auster’s complaint strikes me as over-indulged faultfinding fueled by an emotional reaction to Rand, as though he felt Rand has betrayed him somehow, and going after descriptive details in her novel were a plausible way of getting back at her. Going through Atlas Shrugged, collecting instances of where Rand describes smiles and non-smiles, and saying “look how impossible these smiles Rand describes are!” seems awfully petty-minded. Aren’t there bigger problems in Objectivism?

[continued…]

October 10, 2012 5:13 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

5. Auster affirms that there are “three dimensions of reality in which man participates, nature, society, and the transcendent,” and, according to Auster, Rand denies these three realities, consequently “leaving man’s life as the only reality and man’s choice whether to live or die as the only moral question.” If denying these “three realities” can still mean that man’s life is still left in the mix, so much better for Rand! Auster is only implying that the “three realities” he imagines man participating in, systematically leave man and his choices out of the mix entirely. This hardly sounds objectionable.

6. In her novel, Rand created a character, John Galt, a man whom she could admire. It is hard to see what is wrong with this. Rand saw art as man’s opportunity to concretize his ideals. In creating Galt, Rand was doing precisely this. The character Rand creates as the object of her admiration, was not a thug, a hoodlum, a villain, someone out to collect on the sacrifices of others, or someone who was looking for ways to sacrifice himself to others. Auster really has no rational criticisms here; he simply doesn’t like it, and he doesn’t like it because he resents the fact that in John Galt, Rand created a character who is admirable for his virtues, quite unlike a Jesus Christ who has no admirable virtues. Auster himself draws parallels between Galt and Jesus, so he sees Galt as a competitor, and after learning about this competitor, he doesn’t like it. Given the option between admiring Jesus Christ or admiring John Galt, who will pick which? Clearly they represent opposite ideals. One’s choice is a reflection of his own character. That’s the beauty of Rand’s creation: the reader cannot escape the moral implications of his reactions to her characters.

7. Auster resents Rand for “openly lusting after her own fictional creation” as “the greatest male sex object in the world.” I don’t know whether Rand really did this or not, and it certainly wouldn’t bother me either way. The question is: why does Auster worry about this? The intensity of Rand’s devotion to Galt as a fictional character certainly rivals any Christian’s devotion to the Christ they erect in his imagination. Rand saw sex as metaphysical as well as moral, so desiring sexual union with what she considered the ideal man follows naturally from her sense of life. For her, there is no moral conflict here. But does the follower of Christ seek metaphysical and moral union with Christ? Compare Rand’s admiration for Galt with the Christian sacrament of communion, where believers actually think they are eating the flesh and drinking the blood of their god-man. For Auster and his gang, cannibalistic imagery is the proper form of representing worship; for Rand, sex is the proper way. I love my wife dearly, but I don’t want to slice her flesh into little wafers and down them with a gulp of her blood! I want to take the highest possible pleasure in my union with her, and swallowing bits of flesh doesn’t come close to what we do in bed! Too bad for Auster – sexual pleasure for him is taboo, and he’ll never be able to enjoy it without guilt.

[continued...]

October 10, 2012 5:14 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

8. Auster characterizes Rand’s portrayal of Galt as “also god incarnate whom his friends follow as though he were Jesus Christ.” But this is completely wrongheaded. Jesus’ followers are told that they need to “deny themselves” if they want to be disciples; they need to give up their belongings, they need to hate their families, their parents, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands and children, etc., as price for admission into cultic discipleship where they believe everything their “master” says on faith. By contrast, Galt’s followers are renouncing a world of moochers, parasites, secondhanders, dependents, etc., who seek to consume them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and then some. Galt’s “followers” are acting in the interests of self-preservation; Jesus’ followers are acting specifically to sacrifice themselves. Galt & co. are simply saying: we don’t want your sacrifices, and we won’t be sacrificing ourselves to you. Apparently Auster does not like this. Well, that tells us about Auster.

9. Auster condemns Rand for what he calls “her near-genocidal hatred of people who believe in God.” This is simply an over-the-top attempt to revise reality. Nothing in Rand’s expressed views can be plausibly characterized as anything approaching to “genocidal” in any way, shape or form, and to suggest this is simply dishonest, indeed as dishonest as it comes. Again, the venomous descriptors Auster uses to characterize Rand simply shows that his beef with Rand is emotional in nature. He hates Rand because he rightly senses that her philosophical influence is a threat to his religion, so he seeks to discredit her personally.

10. Auster characterizes John Galt as what he calls “the ultimate substitute for transcendence.” John Galt is a fictional character. Rand knew this, and she treated him as such. She did not offer him as a substitute for reality; one of the most important things for Rand was the fact that Rand was an artistic creation, and her creation of Galt exemplifies her aesthetic principles as a *selective* recreation of reality based on one’s value judgments. So Rand was very proud of Galt as one of her creations, and rightly so. By characterizing Galt as “the ultimate substitute for transcendence,” Auster is tipping his hand that “transcendence” is really just another word for something imaginary, for if something fictional can be an “ultimate substitute” for what he calls “transcendence,” it seems that one could only accomplish this is by creating a rival fiction. If “transcendence” were something real, one could not pull this off. There is no such thing as an “ultimate substitute” for a tree, a city street, a skyscraper that is fictional. But if something one enshrines in his worldview is in fact imaginary in nature, and he scorns outsiders to that worldview for creating something else imaginary that rivals it, well I can see how he would view that creation as a substitute of sorts. So by concerning himself with Galt as he does, Auster is showing that he resents Rand personally for upstaging Christianity’s Jesus in her fictional character of John Galt. At least Rand happily and proudly acknowledged that Galt is fictional. Don’t expect a similar admission from Auster regarding his Jesus.

Regards,
Dawson

October 10, 2012 5:14 PM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Dawson,

Thanks again for the response.

I had quoted a Christian relative, who said to me: “We count suffering as joy.”

You wrote: "I guess this means that when their savior was in agony on the cross, he was actually experiencing joy, and thereby enjoying his crucifixion. This vies against the view that we should pity the man-god for suffering – suffering is joy, right?"

Great point. When you scratch ever so slightly on what Christians often assert or hold to be the case, it is astounding the flaws and implications lurking just beneath the surface.

When it comes to the Christians I've been around (who otherwise tend to be bright people), their critical thinking skills seem to go right out the window when it comes to examining their own belief system. Conditioned as they are, they fail to scrutinize with the same attention to detail what it is they have accepted -- as they would, say, with even a real estate contract. And this makes sense, I suppose, for just as they refused to think when they initially accepted Christianity, so they refuse to think very deeply, if at all, when challenged on such a belief.

Having to face the kinds of implications that your response to me brings out, this would be way too devastating on the psyche of Christians I know. So they dismiss, ignore, evade, appeal to emotion or threats, etc. (i.e., "It breaks my heart that you are not going to go to heaven" or "I (the Christian) am trying to help you get to heaven; you are trying to send me to hell!" or "I (the Christian) will not sit here and listen to the voice of Satan coming from you!"

And, not surprisingly, there is a complete lack of consistency in what my Christian relative professes to believe and what his actions are. For example, according to the bible, given my atheism, I should be considered evil, no? But when I asked him if he considered me evil, he said "no." I'm not exactly sure how he squares his response with what his bible tells him about people like me, but it almost seems as if it's a case of not wanting to face the consequences of having to label me evil, for that would certainly mean -- if he has the courage of his convictions -- having to cut off contact with me. If someone is evil, why associate with them?

Like most Christians, though, I think he's just very good at rationalizing and compartmentalizing.

Ydemoc

October 10, 2012 5:22 PM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Dawson,

Oh, and one more thing with regard to the "suffering is joy" comment.

This same Christian tells me (as have other Christians) that Jesus not only suffered physically, but also, in substitutionary atonement, took on all the sins man has ever committed. So, apparently, Jesus experienced rape, murder, genocide, infanticide, etc., (all the things that he himself allowed or ordained, by the way) -- and this Christians call "joy"?

And then they have the gall to tell me Christianity makes sense!?

I don't think so.

Ydemoc

October 10, 2012 5:37 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Madmax,

I am still looking at the portions of Auster’s files that you inquired about, but wanted to touch on this part again briefly.

He criticizes Rand’s descriptions of smiles – yes, of smiles! – because they’re supposedly too unrealistic.

Auster writes: “one of the things I’ve noticed is the way Rand injects the finest degrees of meaning, as well as impossible combinations of disparate meanings, into her characters’ every facial expression or tone of voice.”

He gives three examples from Atlas Shrugged and then states: “Those are just a couple of examples. There are many, many such over-freighted smiles in Atlas Shrugged.”

In each case complains that they are difficult to imagine. He introduces each of his objections with the imperative “Try to imagine…” Yes, Rand’s descriptions of how her characters smile to one another are difficult for Auster to imagine. Keep that in mind, for we’re going to come back to it.

Auster almost seems personally offended by Rand’s descriptions of smiles, and even more, he very much wants his readers to feel the same way about them.

For one thing, with all the controversies that have been generated by critics of Atlas Shrugged, it seems rather silly, indeed trifling, for Auster to focus on her descriptions of her characters’ smiles. Also, I somewhat doubt that Rand thought her descriptions were implausible or “over-freighted” since it is a fact that a person’s countenance can and often does send a variety of mixed signals, sometimes presenting a face to the world that may be difficult to describe. In addition, we should not forget that Rand worked for several years as a screenwriter, so she was very familiar with what was plausible and implausible when it came to actors’ cues. Actors are very often challenged by writers to evince layered emotions that are often complex and even conflicted, and the better ones pull it off.

But this is what I found so ironic about Auster’s complaints about Rand’s descriptions of her characters’ smiles being so difficult to imagine. Auster is a Christian, so he holds that the stories in the New Testament are true. So things like the virgin birth, feeding hundreds with only five loaves of bread and two fish, walking on water, curing blindness with spit and sand, cursing a fig tree, turning water into wine, dead men rising out of their graves, not to mention similar fantastic elements in the Old Testament, are taken as real happenings in Auster’s view. And yet we won’t find him complaining that such things are difficult to imagine. No, they are to be taken as truthful accounts, and Rand’s descriptions of smiles are to be dismissed as unrealistic. Simply amazing!

Regards,
Dawson

October 11, 2012 7:24 AM  

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