Sunday, October 02, 2005

Missing the point

Recently, I had the following quotations from Galt's Speech brought to my attention:

"What are the evils man acquired when he felll from a state they consider perfection? Their myth declares that he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge--he acquired a mind and became a rational being. It was the knowledge of good and evil--he became a moral being. He was sentenced to earn his bread by his labor--he became a productive being. He was sentenced to experience desire--he acquired the capacity of sexual enjoyment. The evils for which they damn him are reason, morality, creativeness, joy--all the cardinal virtues of his existence" (951).

Statements like this are why I'm not an Objectivist. If they are going to criticize something, they need to get it right.

A) Human beings were engaged in rational activity BEFORE the fall. Naming and classification require -reason.- (Genesis 2:19-20)

B) The command to "be fruitful and multiply" and for human beings to be sexual beings -also- precedes the Fall. (Genesis 1:28, 2:24)

What Rand is referring to here is the notion of "Felix Culpa," or "the fortunate fall," which relies on ignoring the very real negative consequences of human alienation from God that result from that event in addition to "blanking out" the points I mention above.

Proponents of Felix Culpa believe that the moral of the story is that humans attained knowledge of good and evil, while those who disagree with this interpretation point out that human knowledge as a whole -suffers- from the fall and that the real point of the story is that the disobedience that results in alienation from the foundation of reality had ultimately tragic and destructive consequences.

For a good discussion of this in the context of C.S. Lewis's work, check out the following article:

A darker ignorance: C. S. Lewis and the nature of the fall by Mary R. Bowman

"Love is the expression of one's values, the greatest reward you can earn for he moral qualities you have achieved in your character and person, the emotional price paid by one man for the joy he receives from the virtues of another. Your morality demands that you divorce your love from values and hand it down to any vagrant; not as a response to his worth, but as response to his need, not as reward, but as alms, not as a payment for virtues, but as a blank check on vices. Your morality tells you that the purpose of love is to set you free of the bonds of morality, that love is superior to moral judgment; that true love transcends, forgives, and survives every manner of evil in its object, and the greater the love the greater the depravity it permits to the loved. To love a man for his virtues is paltry and human, it tells you; to love him for his flaws is divine. To love those who are worth of it is self-interest; to love the unworthy is sacrifice. You owe your love to wthose who don't deserve it, and the less they deserve it, the more love you owe them--the more loathsome the object, the nobler your love--the more unfastidious your love, the greater the virtue--and if you can bring your soul to the state of a dump heap that welcomes anything on equal terms, if you can cease to value moral values, you have achieved the state of moral perfection" (959).

A Mystery hidden in Plain Sight:

"Greek has words for four kinds of love: agape, or spiritual love; storge, or familial love; the love between friends, or philia; and sexual love, the familiar eros."

To put it simply, this is another case where Rand has little idea of what she is talking about. Granted, there is a perverted notion of "love" that floats around our culture as being an all-excusing, blind force that overcomes all through sheer bathos, but that is not the Christian understanding of "agape."

Instead of our poverty-stricken situation in English, the Ancient Greeks could employ four different words in order to get their understanding of "love" across. "Agape," however, was something of a tag-along until the coming of Christianity.

Agape love is love for another person based on what that person CAN BECOME (despite their current state) as a result of the Grace of Christ. It is not a blank check for sin, or a failure to demand a change of life to a rational and virtuous path, quite the opposite! If someone rejects that love, it does not mean that you hate them, but you hate what they do and the way that they degrade the potential Godliness inside of themselves. Therefore, in Objectivist terms, you don't "sanction" what they do.

The Agape love, Christian love at its finest, is intended to generate a regeneration in the mind and heart of the one who accepts it, and to lift them out of despair and doubt. The actual Greek word is "metanioa," and it implies a total change of life, not malingering irrationality.

"Pride is the recognition of the fact that you are your own highest value and, like all of man's values, it has to be earned--that of any achievements open to you, the one that makes all others possible is the creation of your own character--that your character, your actions, your desires, your emotion are the products of the premises held by your mind--that as man must produce the physical values he needs to sustain his life, so he must acquire the values of character that make his life worth sustaining--that as man is a being of self-made wealth, so he is a being of self-made soul, that to live requires a sense of self-value, but man, who has to automatic values, has no automatic sense of self-esteem and must earn it by shaping his soul in the image of his moral ideal, in the image of Man, the ration being he is born able to create, but must create by choice--that the first precondition of self-esteem is that radiant selfishness of soul which desires the best in all things, in values of matter and spirit, a soul that seeks above all else to achieve its own moral perfection, valuing nothing higher than itself" (946-7).

Unfortunately, what often transpires in Objectivism is the confusion of egoism and egotism. I.e., by placing themselves at the center of the world and assigning worthiness according to their prejudices, they (ironically) lose contact with reality and place value on things and people who often prove UNworthy of their trust. Ayn Rand's extra-marital relationship with Nathaniel Branden is a classic example of this flaw in action.

In one of his interviews, (I believe that it is in GOD IN THE DOCK) Lewis said that the most consistently happy man that he knew was a thoroughgoing (non-Objectivist) egotist. "He is a self-made man & worships his creator." - John Bright, about Disraeli

However, although Rand was more sympathetic to Epicurianism (the philosophical position that argued for atheistic hedonism, or happiness, as the supreme goal of life) then most other philosophies, she still contends than genuine happiness is only found in correspondence to reality. (941) The important question is whether or not Objectivism itself is true. My investigation of the philosophy leads me to reason that its best aspects are found in the Aristotelian/Thomistic tradition and that Rand's own additions wind up ultimately undercutting reason by accepting the skeptical premises of atheism. Objectivists do this when it suits them to attack the universal ground of rationality itself by claiming that reason comes from the a-rational or non-rational. Can there be -reason- without a -reasoner?-

The truth is that there is a balance between our responsibility to self and to others, and God has promised us that He will not put unsupportable burdens on us when it comes to helping others, contra Rand. In point of fact, God longs for us to be productive in the Life that He has planned for us, and disdains those who would seek to scrape by. There is a reason why Jesus uses the language of commerce in describing the Kingdom of Heaven, as in the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30). He does not want us to live in a cowering fear relationship with Him, but wants to remake us in His image as the highest form of rational and productive creatures that finite beings can be.

Our own mortality is the very proof that we are not the gods of this, or any other, world. We are neither called to cringe like cowards or unwisely exault ourselves, but to objectively understand our relationship to God and the world in terms of the agape love that I describe above. Only then will we know the true happiness that has a real foundation in -fact.-

All page number citations from ATLAS SHRUGGED are from the 1985 Signet New American Library mass market paperback edition.

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