The Moral Code of Life
Consequently there are two basic codes available to man, both mutually opposed to one another.
the moral code of life vs. the code of death.
The moral code of life is a code which utilizes a hierarchical structure of values as the standard according to which one governs his choices and actions. Values are those things which we need, given our nature as biological organisms, in order to live and enjoy happy, fulfilled lives.
By contrast, the code of death is a set of duties which one is to obey under the compulsion of psychological sanctions (such as threats of harm or destruction to oneself) regardless of any benefit or loss that may result from such obedience. Invariably, duties of this nature entail some form of self-sacrifice.
Thus the contrast between the moral code of life vs. the code of death, is the fundamental distinction between egoism and altruism.
Since values are pro-life, they are necessarily pro-self, hence a moral code of life – i.e., the moral code which teaches man to pursue those values which make his life possible to live – is necessarily egoistic in nature.
On the other hand, the code of death requires one, not to pursue those values which make his life possible, but to sacrifice them in some way, and is thus altruistic in nature.
In his lecture Religion vs. Morality, philosopher Andrew Bernstein explains the basic nature of egoism, contrasts it with altruism, discusses the egoistic nature of goodwill, and lays out the essentials of the moral code of life (33:51 – 37:19):
The validation of egoism involves this identification: life requires the attainment of values, not their sacrifice. If you understand that, that’s the whole argument for egoism. Life requires the attainment of values, not their sacrifice. To pursue values is to seek life. To relinquish or sacrifice them is to court death. Life requires egoism. Death is the result of altruism.
Altruism calls specifically for the sacrifice of one’s values and must not be confused with kindness toward others.
Goodwill towards people one cares about, or at least has no reason to hold in contempt, is properly an important value for a rational man. For example, one can receive great joy from helping one’s child, spouse, family member or dear friend. One can even receive joy from helping a stranger.
Conversely, where is the good will toward an individual called upon to sacrifice his values, whether it’s his education, his career, his wealth, his love, his life? There is no good will in demanding or even requesting that a person sacrifice himself.
Genuine caring for others resides in encouraging them to spread their wings and fly, exhorting them to achieve their values and prosper, urging them to live rationally, productively, egoistically.
Speaking of Star Trek, what was the old Vulcan salutation? “Live long and prosper.” Now that’s egoism. Live long and prosper. That doesn’t say “Sacrifice yourself and die young.” That’s not a benevolent salutation.
Millions of loving parents understand this, at least implicitly, and rear their children with such a commonsense form of egoism, taking great joy in their child’s achievements and their prosperity. Put simply, not sacrificially helping others, helping those who are good people about whom one genuinely cares, is good.
Sacrificing the self is bad. Sacrificing the self or doing things that in any way harms one’s life, is evil.
Now Ayn Rand asked, and answered, the fundamental questions of moral philosophy.
What are values? They are those ends or goals that, given an organism’s nature, objectively promote its life.
Based on this revolutionary insight, she proceeded to ask the three further questions of moral philosophy:
One – What is the standard of moral value? The factual requirements of human life.
Two - By what means are men to attain values? By means of reason.
Three – Who or what should fundamentally benefit from values? The individual acting in pursuit of them.
These three principles – life as the standard of value, reason as man’s basic means of living, and the individual as the proper beneficiary of his own actions – constitute the ethical code of life. These are the three principles that men must understand and adopt if they seek to live long and prosper.
Q: What are values?
A: They are those ends or goals that, given an organism’s nature, objectively promote its life.
Q: What is the standard of values?
A: The factual requirements of human life.
Q: By what means are men to attain values?
A: By means of reason.
Q: Who or what should fundamentally benefit from values?
A: The individual acting in pursuit of them.
By contrast, Christianity offers us the code of death. To see why, let’s put these questions to the Christian worldview:
1. What are values?
Unfortunately, Christianity has no answer for this, the most fundamental question of moral philosophy. You can scour the pages of the bible from Genesis through Revelation, and you will find no discussion defining and explaining the nature of values. You don’t believe me? Don’t take my word for it. I did a search of the entire bible on keyword ‘value’ and got these results: a total of six verses have the word ‘value’ in the entire bible (my printed version of the bible is 1100 pages long!). Half of these are in the Old Testament (two verses in Leviticus – 27:8, 12; and one in Job – 13:4), and the other half are in the New Testament (two verses in Matthew – 10:31, 27:9 – and one in Luke – 12:7). Of these six verses, the most promising seems to be Matthew 10:31, which has Jesus say to his followers: “Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.” So our value is to be measured in terms of sparrows. Of course, while such a statement assumes some meaning in the concept ‘value’, it by no means explains it or argues for a particular viewpoint. So we could say that at least some of the authors were aware of the concept ‘value’ and assumed it has some meaning; the same could be said of the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel. But there is no definition, no discussion, no exploration of the meaning of ‘value’ anywhere to be found in the bible. Quite simply, there is no axiology - i.e., a theory of values - that we can say is distinctively biblical in nature. (If Christians want to defend their worldview or challenge any of these points, I invite them to enlighten me in the comments of this blog.)
Sadly, since the bible does not even explain what values are, it fails to give any explicit guidance on this extremely important issue. If one reads through the gospel narratives, for example, there are cases when wealthy individuals are instructed to give away their belongings and follow Jesus. No indication is given on how those individuals acquired the values they possessed – their acquisition of values is simply taken for granted. Given this glaring omission as the pretext to answering the present question, it must be noted that any “standard” that Christianity offers on behalf of values would necessarily be subjective in nature, since it will be related by Christian believers to something they can only imagine - i.e., the god they claim to worship. A subjective, imagination-based standard is nothing more than whim-worship, and as such it will never provide a standard of values that man can use for his life. This is why the thousand-year period of Christian domination in the west known as the Dark Ages was characterized by cultural stagnation and economic decline. Since ideas have consequences when put into practice, this serves as a good example of what will happen to a civilization if and when Christianity rises to dominance.
To the degree that the concept ‘value’ has any meaning within Christianity, the believer is to rely on faith and assume a role of passivity in this regard, for value is expected to be “bestowed” upon man from a supernatural source. He is to expect the unearned. Christians attempt to threaten non-believers by saying things like “we will still reap what we sow” if we do not “turn to Christ.” The only implication possible here is that one is to expect that he can attain the unearned if he embraces Christianity. And this is no accident: according to Christianity, one is expect to accept unearned guilt - i.e., “Adam’s sin”; he is to hope for unearned forgiveness - i.e., “salvation in Christ”; and he is to expect unearned favor - i.e., “divine grace.” The suggestion of the New Testament teaching is that one will gain if he surrenders. Of course, this undermines the moral sanctity ascribed by Christianity to any self-sacrificial action which it encourages by implying a selfish motivation: “you will gain if you sacrifice.” Thus Christianity cannot provide a motivation for what it considers “moral behavior” that is consistent with its own moral premises. A compounded guilt complex an only result from attempting to put Christian teaching into practice.
Certainly not the individual who happens to earn and produce any values. He is expected to “die to self” and surrender his values - either to the poor, to the church, to his neighbor – to anything or anyone but himself lest he enjoy the fruits of his own labor for himself, which would be selfish and thus condemned by Christianity altogether.
By contrast, the moral code of life of Objectivism is explicitly and entirely pro-life: it is explicitly objective (since it is based on facts relevant to man’s life and its needs); it is rational (since it applies reason to the task of living); and it isegoistic (since the individual is the primary beneficiary of his own moral actions).
The choice between Objectivism and Christianity could not be any clearer: either one adopts the moral code of life which essentially says “live long and prosper,” or one adopts the code of death which essentially says “sacrifice yourself and die young.”
Since we each get to make our own choice in life, I will go with Objectivism, thank you.
by Dawson Bethrick