reblogged from Atheist me
How many people around the world died to help the RCC accumulate it’s wealth. How many Loaves of bread could have been provided to the poor for the cost of a “Crystal Cathedral”? Walk by Temple Square in Salt Lake City and then visit some of the poorer sections of that city. How much of the money being spent on covering-up and defending child abuse by the church could have gone to help make the world a better place for everyone?
This post originally appeared in Away Point.
When religious minorities run for public office, people get worried about whether loyalty to their creed or religious hierarchy may affect their ability to perform elected duties. How might Mitt Romney’s faith affect his social, economic or diplomatic priorities? Should Americans be wary at the prospect of a devout Mormon president? Garrett Amini is a Seattle web developer, a past leader in the secular student movement, and former Mormon. He studied the Mormon religion first as an insider and then as a skeptic.
Valerie Tarico: You grew up Mormon, but left the faith as a young adult.
Garrett Amini: I did. I was raised in a devout Mormon family and was highly active in the church in my youth. I began to doubt after going to the temple prior to serving a mission for the church, and spent the next year studying every aspect of the faith I could, eventually concluding that it was false. I still find it fascinating, however, and spend a significant amount of time reading and researching about the faith.
Tarico: How would you describe Mormonism briefly to your average American who has grown up surrounded by Protestant or Catholic Christianity?
Amini: It helps to know a little history. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was founded by Joseph Smith in the 1820s in upstate New York. As the teachings go, Smith prayed and asked which branch of Christianity was the right one, receiving a vision telling him that none of them were true to God’s plan and that he should start a new denomination. He was also visited by the angel Moroni, who directed him to find a buried record of a lost ancient civilization of Christians living in the Americas. The records were written on golden plates in what Smith described as “reformed Egyptian,” and Smith was given the ability to translate the records into what we now know as the Book of Mormon.
Mormons believe that the Bible and the Book of Mormon are scriptures from God, and focus upon the atonement of Jesus Christ. They are not trinitarian, and believe Christ and the Holy Ghost to be distinct individuals separate from Heavenly Father. They also believe that there is a living prophet on Earth who continues to receive revelation from God.
The early history of the church is tumultuous – the church moved several times in the eastern states to avoid persecution. Eventually, Smith was killed by a mob at Carthage Jail in Illinois in 1844, and Brigham Young led the church westward to Utah Territory. In part because of the early isolation in Utah, they tend to form close knit communities and extended family networks. The Church places a lot of emphasis on service and on proselytizing, and young Mormons often dedicate two years to serve as missionaries.
Tarico: Do Mormons think of themselves as Christians?
Amini: Yes, absolutely. In fact, it may even be offensive to a Mormon to say that they are not Christians. Mormons define their gospel and teachings to be centered around Jesus.
Tarico: How is Mormonism different than Protestant or Catholic Christianity?
Amini: Mormonism was initially very similar to other protestant faiths – the Book of Mormon itself contains little (doctrinally) that would contradict most forms of Christianity. As Mormonism developed, through ongoing revelation through Joseph Smith, the church became increasingly doctrinally unique. Brigham Young’s presidency in Utah near the end of the 19th Century saw some of the most distinctive doctrines take shape.
Since Mormonism has become less isolated in the past 80 years or so, the doctrine has drifted away from some of the more unique doctrines. Modern Mormon leaders now emphasize doctrinal points that are not far from other Protestant Christian views.
One key difference between Mormonism and other forms of Christianity is that Mormonism is highly bureaucratic and centralized in its authority. Modern Mormon teachings are shaped by a group called the Correlation Committee, consisting of the leaders of the church. All written or taught materials are run through the committee, which takes great care to craft the message and tone. These materials have significantly de-emphasized the more controversial doctrines in recent years.
Tarico: So what Mormon teachings would be controversial to other Christians?
Amini: One example is a doctrine known as the God cycle, which was put as a couplet by past Mormon prophet and president Lorenzo Snow: “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.” In short, God once had a body on an Earth, was tested, and became edified and the God of our world. If we are righteous, we may also be able to fulfill that divine potential. Interestingly enough, while this doctrine was taught and re-taught by Joseph Smith and later prophets, the church has begun to de-emphasize this doctrine. Gordon B. Hinckley, prophet and president of the church last decade, was asked about this doctrine on an interview with Larry King, and replied “I don’t know that we teach that; I don’t know that we emphasize it.”
There are other doctrines that are controversial that are no longer taught, such as polygamy. Polygamy was practiced by Joseph Smith in secret, and Brigham Young solidified the doctrine and made it public, even going so far as to declare that having multiple wives is a prerequisite to attaining the highest level of paradise in the next life, and to become a god.
Young taught a number of unique doctrines, including one called the Adam-God theory. Young taught that God Himself came down to Earth in the form of Adam and started the human race. Christian opponents of Mormonism will often bring up doctrines such as the Adam-God theory, but that hasn’t really been taught since the time of Brigham Young.
The church also officially discriminated against anyone who had “even one drop of Negro blood” until 1979. Prior to that, black men were not allowed to have any authority within the church, interracial marriages were not permitted in the temple, and black people could not lead a prayer in church, among other things.
Tarico: How did it come to be OK to be Black and Mormon?
Amini: In 1979, it was overturned according to a revelation to Spencer Kimball, who was president of the church at that time. I’m actually rather surprised it took place that early – Ezra Taft Benson, who later became president of the church, once said over the pulpit at a church General Conference that the Civil Rights movement was a communist plot.
Tarico: From the outside the beliefs you listed sound strange.
Amini: They do, but I don’t think they’re really that much stranger than any other faith – we’re just used to our own flavors of strange. Mormonism even resolves and answers some of the odder quandaries of Christianity, such as why God would create the world in the first place, what happens in the next life, the issue of hell, and the concept of the Trinity.
Tarico: When we talk about Romney in the presidency, it brings up some of the same fears Kennedy faced—that his first loyalty will be to the Church authorities.
Amini: It is reminiscent of the Kennedy election, but since Mormonism is less well-known than Catholicism, that fear is reinforced by ignorance.
We have a bit of interesting history regarding the Romneys and the authority of the church. George Romney, Mitt Romney’s father, was governor of Michigan in the 1960s, and supported the civil rights movement. He received a letter from Delbert Stapley, a member of the Mormon twelve apostles, asking him to withdraw his support from the movement in accordance with Mormon teachings regarding race. Romney actually defied Stapley, and continued to support the Civil Rights Act.
I think that Mitt Romney is much more in-line with the positions of the church on social issues than his father was, but it does go to show that you can’t predict how an individual would govern merely based on their religious affiliation. Take Rick Santorum and John F. Kennedy, for example. They’re both Catholic, but where JFK said that he believes the separation of church and state to be absolute, Santorum said that the thought of it makes him “want to vomit.”
Tarico: What are the most important things to Americans to understand about the Mormon religion and how it might affect a Romney presidency?
Amini: In the temple ceremony, Mormons do make a covenant to obey the church absolutely if they were ever asked, essentially giving the church veto power over your life. That possibility is scary to people who are looking at Romney as a president, but Roman Catholics essentially give the papacy the same power; and Evangelicals give the Bible (as interpreted by some leaders) the same power.
Many kinds of Christians have managed to govern according to the laws of the land in spite of religious commitments and covenants. At the same time, religious people are definitely influenced by their beliefs. We could ask, for example, whether George Bush’s Evangelical beliefs about the Middle East adversely affected our policies there – or whether a Santorum presidency might adversely affect the health of American families if men and women are less able to choose when to have children.
Tarico: How might the Church leadership seek to affect a Romney presidency?
Amini: Well, again, many kinds of churches seek to influence the presidency. The Catholic Bishops have regular meetings with U.S. presidents, and the Evangelical community is allowed to hold an annual prayer breakfast with the President. The Mormon church, however, rarely takes political stands. They did strongly oppose (and may have caused the defeat of) the ERA, opposed the Civil Rights Act, and now fight against Gay Marriage, but otherwise, the Church is largely silent. The people of the church are generally strongly conservative, though.
Tarico: Why is the culture so conservative?
Amini: The philosophy is in line with a conservative way of thinking. If you are not a Mormon, you must either be ignorant of the faith, or have some personal issue preventing you from belief. There’s no such thing as an honest intellectual disagreement with the Church. It’s a very insular community, and those on the outside aren’t trusted like those on the inside. That kind of hierarchical thinking and tribalism is very resonant with the conservative world view.
It’s also difficult to question the church, or have a nuanced view of its truth claims. Believers encourage education but decry people who “trust to their own understanding” as learned fools. They discourage critical questioning of the Church to the point that any materials that might challenge the truth claims of the church are labeled “anti-Mormon,” and regarded as “spiritual pornography.”
Mormons also have a historical impetus toward patriotism. Having establishing what was nearly an independent country in Utah, they eventually needed to reintegrate to the United States around the turn of the previous century. At this time, they began abandoning some of their distinctive doctrines, and took great steps to portray themselves as deeply patriotic.
Tarico: How about Mormon doctrines and internationalism?
Amini: Mormonism is an American religion, and lends itself strongly to American exceptionalism. The Book of Mormon teaches that the land the United States now occupies was designated a sacred and blessed land from the creation of the Earth. Mormons also believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri, and that when Christ returns, Zion will be established there. Mormons see the Founding Fathers as divinely inspired, and the U.S. Constitution as an inspired document nearly to the point of scripture.
Interestingly, the church recently reported that it counts more members outside the U.S. than within.
Tarico: Talk to me about women and reproductive rights.
Amini: Mormons teach that the greatest thing a woman can aspire to be is a loving housewife and mother. It is a divine role to care for children. At the same time, because of the Correlation Committee, these teachings are carefully worded.
The church abhors abortion, but doesn’t take a firm stance on birth control. Most couples I have talked to were not forbidden to use any form. However, Mormons believe that we existed before this life, and that there are souls waiting to come down. Growing up, I often heard stories told by mothers who claimed to see their unborn children in visions, waiting to come down to earth. Also, Adam was told to multiply and replenish the Earth. So while Mormons aren’t instructed directly to have lots of children, it is implicit in the theology and culture.
Tarico: Will the Church continue to resist gay rights or will Mormons adapt?
Amini: That’s hard to speculate on, but we could look at what the church has done in the past. It was inconceivable in the 60’s that the Church would ever allow black people to become full members, but that was reversed. Homosexuality will likely prove more difficult due to the Mormon doctrine of eternal marriage and how heterosexual norms are fundamental to Mormon eschatology. I think it is possible that over time Mormons, will adopt an attitude that is more like mainline Christians. The generation in charge of the church right now still thinks that homosexuality is a choice. Perhaps by the time my generation runs the church, things will change.
Tarico: But right now the Church is actively opposing gay marriage.
Amini: Gay marriage is in more direct conflict with Mormon doctrine than perhaps any other Christian denomination, due to the role gender will play in the Mormon afterlife. Still–this may be a little cynical of me–the Church runs itself like a business, and I believe that the stance they have taken on gay marriage is less of a moral one, and more of a political strategy to ingratiate themselves with the broader Christian community.
Tarico: How would former Mormons tend to look at a Mormon presidency?
Amini: Most ex-Mormons I know are politically liberal. I can’t conceive of a democratic Mormon president. Harry Reid is a paradox – he’s part of the team, but not part of the team. I would bet that a Romney presidency would not be looked at favorably by most ex-Mormons because they’ve rejected the criteria by which he makes decisions.
Tarico: Is the “I’m a Mormon” marketing blitz timed in support of the Mormon Presidency?
Amini: Well, I think the Church leaders recognize that if Romney does well, they will do well. They recognize that they are perceived as odd and that having a mainstream candidate will do good things for their image. My guess is that they’d be pleased if he won, but I don’t believe they are trying to orchestrate it.
I think that the Church is concerned primarily with its own survival. They have a growing problem with what I call ‘evaporative cooling’: as access to a wide variety of information becomes more and more ubiquitous, it becomes harder to isolate the members from information that conflicts the official history and teachings of the church. The more inquisitive, critical, and passionate a member is, the more likely that person is to encounter this information, and that often results in a faith crisis.
For example, most Mormons know that Brigham Young had multiple wives, but far fewer know that Joseph Smith did as well. When a young Mormon discovers through the internet that Joseph Smith had thirty-three wives, some as young as fourteen, and about a dozen who were already married, his or her faith may never recover. The church is just starting to recognize the problem, and some leaders are starting to talk about being more open and honest about church history.
Tarico: Anything else?
Amini: If there is something to fear about a Mitt Romney presidency, I don’t think it’s his faith. He is not going to nudge us toward a Mormon theocracy. If anything, I think the Mormon church would follow Mitt Romney’s lead on political questions before Romney would be led by the church.
by John Blake, CNN
You don’t have to be a student of religion to recognize references from the Book of Revelation. The last book in the Bible has fascinated readers for centuries. People who don’t even follow religion are nonetheless familiar with figures and images from Revelation.
And why not? No other New Testament book reads like Revelation. The book virtually drips with blood and reeks of sulfur. At the center of this final battle between good and evil is an action-hero-like Jesus, who is in no mood to turn the other cheek.
Elaine Pagels, one of the world’s leading biblical scholars, first read Revelation as a teenager. She read it again in writing her latest book, “Revelations: Visions, Prophecy & Politics in the Book of Revelation.”
Pagels’ book is built around a simple question: What does Revelation mean? Her answers may disturb people who see the book as a prophecy about the end of the world.
But people have clashed over the meaning of Revelation ever since it was virtually forced into the New Testament canon over the protests of some early church leaders, Pagels says.
“There were always debates about it,” she says. “Some people said a heretic wrote it. Some said a disciple. There were always people who loved and championed it.”
The debate persists. Pagels adds to it by challenging some of the common assumptions about Revelation.
Here are what she says are four big myths about Revelation::
1. It’s about the end of the world
Anyone who has read the popular “Left Behind” novels or listened to pastors preaching about the “rapture” might see Revelation as a blow-by-blow preview of how the world will end.
Pagels, however, says the writer of Revelation was actually describing the way hisown world ended.
She says the writer of Revelation may have been called John – the book is sometimes called “Book of the Revelation of Saint John the Divine” but he was not the disciple who accompanied Jesus. He was a devout Jew and mystic exiled on the island of Patmos in present-day Turkey.
“He would have been a very simple man in his clothes and dress,” Pagels says. “He may have gone from church to church preaching his message. He seems more like a traveling preacher or a prophet.”
The author of Revelation had experienced a catastrophe. He wrote his book not long after 60,000 Roman soldiers had stormed Jerusalem in 70 A.D., burned down its great temple and left the city in ruins after putting down an armed Jewish revolt.
For some of the earliest Jewish followers of Jesus, the destruction of Jerusalem was incomprehensible. They had expected Jesus to return “with power” and conquer Rome before inaugurating a new age. But Rome had conquered Jesus’ homeland instead.
The author of Revelation was trying to encourage the followers of Jesus at a time when their world seemed doomed. Think of the Winston Churchill radio broadcasts delivered to the British during the darkest days of World War II.
Revelation was an anti-Roman tract and a piece of war propaganda wrapped in one. The message: God would return and destroy the Romans who had destroyed Jerusalem.
“His primary target is Rome,” Pagels says of the book’s author. “He really is deeply angry and grieved at the Jewish war and what happened to his people.”
2. The numerals 666 stand for the devil
The 1976 horror film “The Omen” scared a lot of folks. It may have scared some theologians, too, who began encountering people whose view of Revelation comes from a Hollywood movie.
“The Omen” depicted the birth and rise of the “anti-Christ,” the cunning son of Satanwho would be known by “the mark of the beast,” 666, on his body.
Here’s the passage from Revelation that “The Omen” alluded to: “This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six.”
Good movies, though, don’t always make good theology. Most people think 666 stands for an anti-Christ-like figure that will deceive humanity and trigger a final battle between good and evil. Some people think he’s already here.
Pagels, however, says the writer of Revelation didn’t really intend 666 as the devil’s digits. He was describing another incarnation of evil: The Roman emperor, Nero.
The arrogant and demented Nero was particularly despised by the earliest followers of Jesus, including the writer of Revelation. Nero was said to have burned followers of Jesus alive to illuminate his garden.
But the author of Revelation couldn’t safely name Nero, so he used the Jewish numerology system to spell out Nero’s imperial name, Pagels says.
Pagels says that John may have had in mind other meanings for the mark of the beast: the imperial stamp Romans used on official documents, tattoos authorizing people to engage in Roman business, or the images of Roman emperors on stamps and coins.
Since Revelation’s author writes in “the language of dreams and nightmares,” Pagels says it’s easy for outsiders to misconstrue the book’s original meaning.
Still, they take heart from Revelation’s larger message, she writes:
“…Countless people for thousands of years have been able to see their own conflicts, fears, and hopes reflected in his prophecies. And because he speaks from his convictions about divine justice, many readers have found reassurance in his conviction that there is meaning in history – even when he does not say exactly what that meaning is – and that there is hope.”
3. The writer of Revelation was a Christian
The author of Revelation hated Rome, but he also scorned another group – a group of people we would call Christians today, Pagels says.
There’s a common perception that there was a golden age of Christianity, when most Christians agreed on an uncontaminated version of the faith. Yet there was never one agreed-upon Christianity. There were always clashing visions.
Revelation reflects some of those early clashes in the church, Pagels says.
That idea isn’t new territory for Pagels. She won the National Book Award for “The Gnostic Gospels,” a 1979 book that examined a cache of newly discovered “secret” gospels of Jesus. The book, along with other work from Pagels, argues that there were other accounts of Jesus’ life that were suppressed by early church leaders because it didn’t fit with their agenda.
The author of Revelation was like an activist crusading for traditional values. In his case, he was a devout Jew who saw Jesus as the messiah. But he didn’t like the message that the apostle Paul and other followers of Jesus were preaching.
This new message insisted that gentiles could become followers of Jesus without adopting the requirements of the Torah. It accepted women leaders, and intermarriage with gentiles, Pagels says.
The new message was a lot like what we call Christianity today.
That was too much for the author of Revelation. At one point, he calls a woman leader in an early church community a “Jezebel.” He calls one of those gentile-accepting churches a “synagogue of Satan.”
John was defending a form of Christianity that would be eclipsed by the Christians he attacked, Pagels says.
“What John of Patmos preached would have looked old-fashioned – and simply wrong to Paul’s converts…,” she writes.
The author of Revelation was a follower of Jesus, but he wasn’t what some people would call a Christian today, Pagels says.
“There’s no indication that he read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount or that he read the gospels or Paul’s letters,” she says. “….He doesn’t even say Jesus died for your sins.”
There is only one Book of Revelation
There’s no other book in the Bible quite like Revelation, but there are plenty of books like Revelation that didn’t make it into the Bible, Pagels says.
Early church leaders suppressed an “astonishing” range of books that claimed to be revelations from apostles such as Peter and James. Many of these books were read and treasured by Christians throughout the Roman Empire, she says.
There was even another “Secret Revelation of John.” In this one, Jesus wasn’t a divine warrior, but someone who first appeared to the apostle Paul as a blazing light, then as a child, an old man and, some scholars say, a woman.
So why did the revelation from John of Patmos make it into the Bible, but not the others?
Pagels traces that decision largely to Bishop Athanasius, a pugnacious church leader who championed Revelation about 360 years after the death of Jesus.
Athanasius was so fiery that during his 46 years as bishop he was deposed and exiled five times. He was primarily responsible for shaping the New Testament while excluding books he labeled as hearsay, Pagels says.
Many church leaders opposed including Revelation in the New Testament. Athanasius’s predecessor said the book was “unintelligible, irrational and false.”
Athanasius, though, saw Revelation as a useful political tool. He transformed it into an attack ad against Christians who questioned him.
Rome was no longer the enemy; those who questioned church authority were the anti-Christs in Athanasius’s reading of Revelation, Pagels says.
“Athanasius interprets Revelation’s cosmic war as a vivid picture of his own crusade against heretics and reads John’s visions as a sharp warning to Christian dissidents,” she writes. “God is about to divide the saved from the damned – which now means dividing the ‘orthodox’ from ‘heretics.’ ’’
Centuries later, Revelation still divides people. Pagels calls it the strangest and most controversial book in the Bible.
Even after writing a book about it, Pagels has hardly mastered its meaning.
“The book is the hardest one in the Bible to understand,” Pagels says. “I don’t think anyone completely understands it.”
This is fairly consistent with the course on Revelation which I took as a Baptist seminary student and pastor in the 1970’s. Revelation is NOT a futuristic blueprint; and those who profit or peddle fear by saying that it is, are at best full of shit, and at worse just enriching themselves from such nonsense (Tim LaHaye included). -HFS
And I always thought it was just Zombie Jesus Day. Re-blogged from Truth Be Known
The following article is excerpted from:
Contrary to popular belief, Easter does not represent the “historical” crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In reality, the gospel tale reflects the annual “crossification” of the sun through the vernal equinox (Spring), at which time the sun is “resurrected,” as the day begins to become longer than the night.
Rather than being a “Christian” holiday, Easter celebrations date back into remotest antiquity and are found around the world, as the blossoming of spring did not escape the notice of the ancients, who revered this life-renewing time of the year, when winter had passed and the sun was “born again.” The “Pagan” Easter is also the Passover, and Jesus Christ represents not only the sun but also the Passover Lamb ritually sacrificed every year by a number of cultures, including the Egyptians, possibly as early as 4,000 years ago and continuing to this day in some places.
Easter Around the World
Easter is “Pessach” in Hebrew, “Pascha” in Greek, “Pachons” in Latin and “Pa-Khonsu” in Egyptian, “Khonsu” being an epithet for the sun god Horus. In Anglo-Saxon, Easter or Eostre is goddess of the dawn, corresponding to Ishtar, Astarte, Astoreth and Isis. The word “Easter” shares the same root with “east” and “eastern,” the direction of the rising sun.
“The Phrygian sun and fertility god Attis was annually hung on a tree, dying and rising on March 24th and 25th, an ‘Easter celebration’ that occurred at Rome as well.”
The principal Mexican solar festival was held at the vernal equinox, i.e., Easter, when sacrifices were made to sustain the sun. In India, the vernal equinox festival is called “Holi” and is especially sacred to the god Krishna. The Phrygian sun and fertility god Attis was annually hung on a tree, dying and rising on March 24th and 25th, an “Easter celebration” that occurred at Rome as well. The March dates were later applied to the Passion and Resurrection of Christ: “Thus,” says Sir Frazer, “the tradition which placed the death of Christ on the twenty-fifth of March was ancient and deeply rooted. It is all the more remarkable because astronomical considerations prove that it can have had no historical foundation….” This “coincidence” between the deaths and resurrections of Christ and the older Attis was not lost on early Christians, whom it distressed and caused to use the “devil got there first” excuse for the motif’s presence in pre-Christian paganism.
The rites of the “crucified Adonis,” another dying and rising savior god, were also celebrated in Syria at Easter time. As Frazer states:
“When we reflect how often the Church has skillfully contrived to plant the seeds of the new faith on the old stock of paganism, we may surmise that the Easter celebration of the dead and risen Christ was grafted upon a similar celebration of the dead and risen Adonis, which, as we have seen reason to believe, was celebrated in Syria at the same season.”
The salvific death and resurrection at Easter of the god, the initiation as remover of sin, and the notion of becoming “born again,” are all ages-old Pagan motifs or mysteries rehashed in the later Christianity. The all-important death-and-resurrection motif is exemplified in the “Parisian magical papyrus,” a Pagan text ostensibly unaffected by Christianity:
“Lord, being born again I perish in that I am being exalted, and having been exalted I die; from a life-giving birth being born into death I was thus freed and go the way which Thou has founded, as Thou hast ordained and hast made the mystery.”
Easter’s Roving Date is Astrotheological
In the gospel tale, there are two dates for the crucifixion: the 14th and the 15th of the month of Nisan, and within Christianity the date for Easter was debated for centuries. There continue to be two dates for Easter: the Western Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, thus demonstrating that this holiday is not the historical date of the actual crucifixion of a particular man. The dates are, in fact, astronomical, astrological and astrotheological.
In explaining this roving date, one “distinguished churchman,” as Catholic Church historian Eusebius called him, Anatolius, revealed the meaning of Easter and of Christ, as well as the fact that astrology was a known and respected science used in Christianity. Said Anatolius:
“On this day [March 22] the sun is found not only to have reached the first sign of the Zodiac, but to be already passing through the fourth day within it. This sign is generally known as the first of the twelve, the equinoctial sign, the beginning of months, head of the cycle, and start of the planetary course…. Aristobolus adds that it is necessary at the Passover Festival that not only the sun but the moon as well should be passing through an equinoctial sign. There are two of these signs, one in spring, one in autumn, diametrically opposed to each other….”
In establishing the “Paschal festival,” Church father Anatolius thus based his calculations on the positions of the sun and moon during the vernal equinox.
Christ as the Solar Hero
The need to time the Easter celebration – or resurrection - to coincide with the vernal equinox demonstrates that “Christ” is not an historical personage but the sun. This fact of Easter being the resurrection of the Sun has been well known for centuries, just as “the Savior’s” birth at the winter solstice has been recognized as another solar motif. Another obvious clue as to Christ’s nature is the fact that the “Lord’s Day” is Sunday.
“Christ is the Sun of Righteousness, with ‘divine beams.’”
Concerning Easter, in his “Letter I. for 329″ Bishop of Alexandria Athanasius (c. 293-373) remarks, “Again, ‘the Sun of Righteousness,’ causing His divine beams to rise upon us, proclaims beforehand the time of the feast, in which, obeying Him, we ought to celebrate it…” Christ is thus the Sun of Righteousness, with “divine beams.”
The Paschal Chronicle
The Easter calculations were recomputed in the seventh century by the Christian author(s) of the Paschal Chronicle or Alexandria Chronicle, which seeks to establish a Christian chronology from “creation” to the year 628. The Paschal Chronicle determines the proper date for Easter as March 21st and the date of Christ’s resurrection as March 25th (or, midnight, March 24, three days after the beginning of the equinox). In his various calculations, the Chronicle author discusses solar and lunar cycles, including the 19-year lunar cycle, by which he reckons the crucifixion and resurrection, concluding: “This is consistent with the prior determinations of reputable men in the calculation of the heavenly bodies.” To wit, Christ’s death and resurrection are based on astrotheology.
The Chronicle author further confirms that Christianity is a continuation of the ancient “Pagan” astrotheological religion when he states that the “Annunciation of our Lady,” i.e., the conception of Christ by the Virgin Mary, likewise occurred on March 25th, the vernal equinox, exactly nine months prior to the December 25th birthdate, the annual rebirth of the sun.
- Origins of Easter and Christmas (zionistoutrage.com)
- Ostara: Where the Easter Bunny Came From. (humanbodyengineer.wordpress.com)
“But just because religion has done some harm — that doesn’t mean it’s mistaken! Sure, people have done terrible things in God’s name. That doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist!”
Yup. If you’re arguing that — you’re absolutely right. And the question of whether religion is true or not is important. It’s not the main point of this book: if you want more thorough arguments for why God doesn’t exist, by me or other writers, check out the Resource Guide at the end of this book. But “Does God exist?” is a valid and relevant question. Here are my Top Ten reasons why the answer is a resounding, “No.”
1: The consistent replacement of supernatural explanations of the world with natural ones.
When you look at the history of what we know about the world, you see a noticeable pattern. Natural explanations of things have been replacing supernatural explanations of them. Like a steamroller. Why the Sun rises and sets. Where thunder and lightning come from. Why people get sick. Why people look like their parents. How the complexity of life came into being. I could go on and on.
All these things were once explained by religion. But as we understood the world better, and learned to observe it more carefully, the explanations based on religion were replaced by ones based on physical cause and effect. Consistently. Thoroughly. Like a steamroller. The number of times that a supernatural explanation of a phenomenon has been replaced by a natural explanation? Thousands upon thousands upon thousands.
Now. The number of times that a natural explanation of a phenomenon has been replaced by a supernatural one? The number of times humankind has said, “We used to think (X) was caused by physical cause and effect, but now we understand that it’s caused by God, or spirits, or demons, or the soul”?
Sure, people come up with new supernatural “explanations” for stuff all the time. But explanations with evidence? Replicable evidence? Carefully gathered, patiently tested, rigorously reviewed evidence? Internally consistent evidence? Large amounts of it, from many different sources? Again — exactly zero.
Given that this is true, what are the chances that any given phenomenon for which we currently don’t have a thorough explanation — human consciousness, for instance, or the origin of the Universe — will be best explained by the supernatural?
Given this pattern, it’s clear that the chances of this are essentially zero. So close to zero that they might as well be zero. And the hypothesis of the supernatural is therefore a hypothesis we can discard. It is a hypothesis we came up with when we didn’t understand the world as well as we do now… but that, on more careful examination, has never once been shown to be correct.
If I see any solid evidence to support God, or any supernatural explanation of any phenomenon, I’ll reconsider my disbelief. Until then, I’ll assume that the mind-bogglingly consistent pattern of natural explanations replacing supernatural ones is almost certain to continue.
(Oh — for the sake of brevity, I’m generally going to say “God” in this chapter when I mean “God, or the soul, or metaphysical energy, or any sort of supernatural being or substance.” I don’t feel like getting into discussions about, “Well, I don’t believe in an old man in the clouds with a white beard, but I believe…” It’s not just the man in the white beard that I don’t believe in. I don’t believe in any sort of religion, any sort of soul or spirit or metaphysical guiding force, anything that isn’t the physical world and its vast and astonishing manifestations.
2: The inconsistency of world religions.
If God (or any other metaphysical being or beings) were real, and people were really perceiving him/ her/ it/ them, why do these perceptions differ so wildly?
When different people look at, say, a tree, we more or less agree about what we’re looking at: what size it is, what shape, whether it currently has leaves or not and what color those leaves are, etc. We may have disagreements regarding the tree — what other plants it’s most closely related to, where it stands in the evolutionary scheme, should it be cut down to make way for a new sports stadium, etc. But unless one of us is hallucinating or deranged or literally unable to see, we can all agree on the tree’s basic existence, and the basic facts about it.
This is blatantly not the case for God. Even among people who do believe in God, there is no agreement about what God is, what God does, what God wants from us, how he acts or doesn’t act on the world, whether he’s a he, whether there’s one or more of him, whether he’s a personal being or a diffuse metaphysical substance. And this is among smart, thoughtful people. What’s more, many smart, thoughtful people don’t even think God exists.
And if God existed, he’d be a whole lot bigger, a whole lot more powerful, with a whole lot more effect in the world, than a tree. Why is it that we can all see a tree in more or less the same way, but we don’t see God in even remotely the same way?
The explanation, of course, is that God does not exist. We disagree so radically over what he is because we aren’t perceiving anything that’s real. We’re “perceiving” something we made up; something we were taught to believe; something that the part of our brain that’s wired to see pattern and intention, even when none exists, is inclined to see and believe.
3: The weakness of religious arguments, explanations, and apologetics.
I have seen a lot of arguments for the existence of God. And they all boil down to one or more of the following: The argument from authority. (Example: “God exists because the Bible says God exists.”) The argument from personal experience. (Example: “God exists because I feel in my heart that God exists.”) The argument that religion shouldn’t have to logically defend its claims. (Example: “God is an entity that cannot be proven by reason or evidence.”) Or the redefining of God into an abstract principle… so abstract that it can’t be argued against, but also so abstract that it scarcely deserves the name God. (Example: “God is love.”)
And all these arguments are ridiculously weak.
Sacred books and authorities can be mistaken. I have yet to see a sacred book that doesn’t have any mistakes. (The Bible, to give just one example, is shot full of them.) And the feelings in people’s hearts can definitely be mistaken. They are mistaken, demonstrably so, much of the time. Instinct and intuition play an important part in human understanding and experience… but they should never be treated as the final word on a subject. I mean, if I told you, “The tree in front of my house is 500 feet tall with hot pink leaves,” and I offered as a defense, “I know this is true because my mother/ preacher/ sacred book tells me so”… or “I know this is true because I feel it in my heart”… would you take me seriously?
Some people do try to prove God’s existence by pointing to evidence in the world. But that evidence is inevitably terrible. Pointing to the perfection of the Bible as a historical and prophetic document, for instance… when it so blatantly is nothing of the kind. Or pointing to the fine-tuning of the Universe for life… even though this supposedly perfect fine-tuning is actually pretty crappy, and the conditions that allow for life on Earth have only existed for the tiniest fragment of the Universe’s existence and are going to be boiled away by the Sun in about a billion years. Or pointing to the complexity of life and the world and insisting that it must have been designed… when the sciences of biology and geology and such have provided far, far better explanations for what seems, at first glance, like design.
As to the argument that “We don’t have to show you any reason or evidence, it’s unreasonable and intolerant for you to even expect that”… that’s conceding the game before you’ve even begun. It’s like saying, “I know I can’t make my case — therefore I’m going to concentrate my arguments on why I don’t have to make my case in the first place.” It’s like a defense lawyer who knows their client is guilty, so they try to get the case thrown out on a technicality.
Ditto with the “redefining God out of existence” argument. If what you believe in isn’t a supernatural being or substance that has, or at one time had, some sort of effect on the world… well, your philosophy might be an interesting one, but it is not, by any useful definition of the word, religion.
Again: If I tried to argue, “The tree in front of my house is 500 feet tall with hot pink leaves — and the height and color of trees is a question that is best answered with personal faith and feeling, not with reason or evidence”… or, “I know this is true because I am defining ’500 feet tall and hot pink’ as the essential nature of tree-ness, regardless of its outward appearance”… would you take me seriously?
4: The increasing diminishment of God.
This is closely related to #1 (the consistent replacement of supernatural explanations of the world with natural ones). But it’s different enough to deserve its own section.
When you look at the history of religion, you see that the perceived power of God has been diminishing. As our understanding of the physical world has increased — and as our ability to test theories and claims has improved — the domain of God’s miracles and interventions, or other supposed supernatural phenomena, has consistently shrunk.
Examples: We stopped needing God to explain floods… but we still needed him to explain sickness and health. Then we didn’t need him to explain sickness and health… but we still needed him to explain consciousness. Now we’re beginning to get a grip on consciousness, so we’ll soon need God to explain… what?
Or, as writer and blogger Adam Lee so eloquently put it in his Ebon Musings website, “Where the Bible tells us God once shaped worlds out of the void and parted great seas with the power of his word, today his most impressive acts seem to be shaping sticky buns into the likenesses of saints and conferring vaguely-defined warm feelings on his believers’ hearts when they attend church.”
This is what atheists call the “god of the gaps.” Whatever gap there is in our understanding of the world, that’s what God is supposedly responsible for. Wherever the empty spaces are in our coloring book, that’s what gets filled in with the blue crayon called God.
But the blue crayon is worn down to a nub. And it’s never turned out to be the right color. And over and over again, throughout history, we’ve had to go to great trouble to scrape the blue crayon out of people’s minds and replace it with the right color. Given this pattern, doesn’t it seem that we should stop reaching for the blue crayon every time we see an empty space in the coloring book?
5: The fact that religion runs in families.
The single strongest factor in determining what religion a person is? It’s what religion they were brought up with. By far. Very few people carefully examine all the available religious beliefs — or even some of those beliefs — and select the one they think most accurately describes the world. Overwhelmingly, people believe whatever religion they were taught as children.
Now, we don’t do this with, for instance, science. We don’t hold on to the Steady State theory of the Universe, or geocentrism, or the four bodily humours theory of illness, simply because it’s what we were taught as children. We believe whatever scientific understanding is best supported by the best available evidence at the time. And if the evidence changes, our understanding changes. (Unless, of course, it’s a scientific understanding that our religion teaches is wrong…)
Even political opinions don’t run in families as stubbornly as religion. Witness the opinion polls that show support of same-sex marriage increasing with each new generation. Political beliefs learned from youth can, and do, break down in the face of the reality that people see every day. And scientific theories do this, all the time, on a regular basis.
This is emphatically not the case with religion.
Which leads me to the conclusion that religion is not a perception of a real entity. If it were, people wouldn’t just believe whatever religion they were taught as children, simply because it was what they were taught as children. The fact that religion runs so firmly in families strongly suggests that it is not a perception of a real phenomenon. It is a dogma, supported and perpetuated by tradition and social pressure — and in many cases, by fear and intimidation. Not by reality.
6: The physical causes of everything we think of as the soul.
The sciences of neurology and neuropsychology are in their infancy. But they are advancing by astonishing leaps and bounds, even as we speak. And what they are finding — consistently, thoroughly, across the board — is that, whatever consciousness is, it is inextricably linked to the brain.
Everything we think of as the soul — consciousness, identity, character, free will — all of that is powerfully affected by physical changes to the brain and body. Changes in the brain result in changes in consciousness… sometimes so drastically, they make a personality unrecognizable. Changes in consciousness can be seen, with magnetic resonance imagery, as changes in the brain. Illness, injury, drugs and medicines, sleep deprivation, etc…. all of these can make changes to the supposed “soul,” both subtle and dramatic. And death, of course, is a physical change that renders a person’s personality and character, not only unrecognizable, but non-existent.
So the obvious conclusion is that consciousness and identity, character and free will, are products of the brain and the body. They’re biological processes, governed by laws of physical cause and effect. With any other phenomenon, if we can show that physical forces and actions produce observable effects, we think of that as a physical phenomenon. Why should the “soul” be any different?
What’s more, the evidence supporting this conclusion comes from rigorously-gathered, carefully-tested, thoroughly cross-checked, double-blinded, placebo- controlled, replicated, peer-reviewed research. The evidence has been gathered, and continues to be gathered, using the gold standard of scientific evidence: methods specifically designed to filter out biases and cognitive errors as much as humanly possible. And it’s not just a little research. It’s an enormous mountain of research… a mountain that’s growing more mountainous every day.
The hypothesis of the soul, on the other hand, has not once in all of human history been supported by good, solid scientific evidence. That’s pretty surprising when you think about it. For decades, and indeed centuries, most scientists had some sort of religious beliefs, and most of them believed in the soul. So a great deal of early science was dedicated to proving the soul’s existence, and discovering and exploring its nature. It wasn’t until after decades upon decades of fruitless research in this area that scientists finally gave it up as a bad job, and concluded, almost unanimously, that the reason they hadn’t found a soul was that there was no such thing.
Are there unanswered questions about consciousness? Absolutely. Tons of them. No reputable neurologist or neuropsychologist would say otherwise. But think again about how the history of human knowledge is the history of supernatural explanations being replaced by natural ones… with relentless consistency, again, and again, and again. There hasn’t been a single exception to this pattern. Why would we assume that the soul is going to be that exception? Why would we assume that this gap in our knowledge, alone among all the others, is eventually going to be filled with a supernatural explanation? The historical pattern doesn’t support it. And the evidence doesn’t support it. The increasingly clear conclusion of the science is that consciousness is a product of the brain. Period.
7: The complete failure of any sort of supernatural phenomenon to stand up to rigorous testing.
Not all religious and spiritual beliefs make testable claims. But some of them do. And in the face of actual testing, every one of those claims falls apart like Kleenex in a hurricane.
Whether it’s the power of prayer, or faith healing, or astrology, or life after death: the same pattern is seen. Whenever religious and supernatural beliefs have made testable claims, and those claims have been tested — not half-assedly tested, but really tested, using careful, rigorous, double-blind, placebo-controlled, replicated, etc. etc. etc. testing methods — the claims have consistently fallen apart. Occasionally a scientific study has appeared that claimed to support something supernatural… but more thorough studies have always refuted them. Every time.
I’m not going to cite each one of these tests, or even most of them. This chapter is already long as it is. Instead, I’ll encourage you to spend a little time on the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer websites. You’ll see a pattern so consistent it boggles the mind: Claimants insist that Supernatural Claim X is real. Supernatural Claim X is subjected to careful testing, applying the standard scientific methods used in research to screen out bias and fraud. Supernatural Claim X is found to hold about as much water as a sieve. (And claimants, having agreed beforehand that the testing method is valid, afterwards insist that it wasn’t fair.)
And don’t say, “Oh, the testers were biased.” That’s the great thing about the scientific method. It’s designed to screen out bias, as much as is humanly possible. When done right, it will give you the right answer, regardless of the bias of the people doing the testing.
And I want to repeat an important point about the supposed anti-religion bias in science. In the early days of science and the scientific method, most scientists did believe in God, and the soul, and the metaphysical. In fact, many early science experiments were attempts to prove the existence of these things, and discover their true natures, and resolve the squabbles about them once and for all. It was only after decades of these experiments failing to turn up anything at all that the scientific community began — gradually, and very reluctantly — to give up on the idea.
Supernatural claims only hold up under careless, casual examination. They are supported by wishful thinking, and confirmation bias (i.e., our tendency to overemphasize evidence that supports what we believe and to discard evidence that contradicts it), and our poor understanding and instincts when it comes to probability, and our tendency to see pattern and intention even when none exists, and a dozen other forms of cognitive bias and weird human brain wiring. When studied carefully, under conditions specifically designed to screen these things out, the claims vanish like the insubstantial imaginings they are.
8: The slipperiness of religious and spiritual beliefs.
Not all religious and spiritual beliefs make testable claims. Many of them have a more “saved if we do, saved if we don’t” quality. If things go the believer’s way, it’s a sign of God’s grace and intervention; if they don’t, then God moves in mysterious ways, and maybe he has a lesson to teach that we don’t understand, and it’s not up to us to question his will. No matter what happens, it can be twisted to prove that the belief is right.
That is a sure sign of a bad argument.
Here’s the thing. It is a well-established principle in the philosophy of science that, if a theory can be supported no matter what possible evidence comes down the pike, it is useless. It has no power to explain what’s already happened, or to predict what will happen in the future. The theory of gravity, for instance, could be disproven by things suddenly falling up; the theory of evolution could be disproven by finding rabbits in the pre-Cambrian fossil layer. These theories predict that those things won’t happen; if they do, the theories go poof. But if your theory of God’s existence holds up no matter what happens — whether your friend with cancer gets better or dies, whether natural disasters strike big sinful cities or small God-fearing towns — then it’s a useless theory, with no power to predict or explain anything.
What’s more, when atheists challenge theists on their beliefs, the theists’ arguments shift and slip around in an annoying “moving the goalposts” way. Hard-line fundamentalists, for instance, will insist on the unchangeable perfect truth of the Bible; but when challenged on its specific historical or scientific errors, they insist that you’re not interpreting those passages correctly. (If the book needs interpreting, then how perfect can it be?)
And progressive ecumenical believers can be unbelievably slippery about what they do and don’t believe. Is God real, or a metaphor? Does God intervene in the world, or doesn’t he? Do they even believe in God, or do they just choose to act as if they believe because they find it useful? Debating with a progressive believer is like wrestling with a fish: the arguments aren’t very powerful, but they’re slippery, and they don’t give you anything firm to grab onto.
Once again, that’s a sure sign of a bad argument. If you can’t make your case and then stick by it, or modify it, or let it go… then you don’t have a good case. (And if you’re making any version of the “Shut up, that’s why” argument — arguing that it’s intolerant to question religious beliefs, or that letting go of doubts about faith makes you a better person, or that doubting faith will get you tortured in Hell, or any of the other classic arguments intended to quash debate rather than address it — that’s a sure sign that your argument is in the toilet.)
9: The failure of religion to improve or clarify over time.
Over the years and decades and centuries, our understanding of the physical world has grown and clarified by a ridiculous amount. We understand things about the Universe that we couldn’t have imagined a thousand years ago, or a hundred, or even ten. Things that make your mouth gape with astonishment just to think about.
And the reason for this is that we came up with an incredibly good method for sorting out good ideas from bad ones. We came up with the scientific method, a self-correcting method for understanding the physical world: a method which — over time, and with the many fits and starts that accompany any human endeavor — has done an astonishingly good job of helping us perceive and understand the world, predict it and shape it, in ways we couldn’t have imagined in decades and centuries past. And the scientific method itself is self-correcting. Not only has our understanding of the natural world improved dramatically: our method for understanding it is improving as well.
Our understanding of the supernatural world? Not so much.
Our understanding of the supernatural world is in the same place it’s always been: hundreds and indeed thousands of sects, squabbling over which sacred texts and spiritual intuitions are the right ones. We haven’t come to any consensus about which religion best understands the supernatural world. We haven’t even come up with a method for making that decision. All anyone can do is point to their own sacred text and their own spiritual intuition. And around in the squabbling circle we go.
All of which points to religion, not as a perception of a real being or substance, but as an idea we made up and are clinging to. If religion were a perception of a real being or substance, our understanding of it would be sharpening, clarifying, being refined. We’d have better prayer techniques, more accurate prophecies, something. Anything but people squabbling with greater or lesser degrees of rancor, and nothing to back up their belief.
10: The complete lack of solid evidence for God’s existence.
This is probably the best argument I have against God’s existence: There’s no evidence for it. No good evidence, anyway. No evidence that doesn’t just amount to opinion and tradition and confirmation bias and all the other stuff I’ve been talking about. No evidence that doesn’t fall apart upon close examination.
And in a perfect world, that should have been the only argument I needed. In a perfect world, I shouldn’t have had to spend a month and a half collating and summarizing the reasons I don’t believe in God, any more than I would have for Zeus or Quetzalcoatl or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. As thousands of atheists before me have pointed out: It is not up to us to prove that God does not exist. It is up to theists to prove that he does.
In a comment on my blog, arensb made a point on this topic that was so insightful, I’m still smacking myself on the head for not having thought of it myself. I was writing about how believers get upset at atheists when we reject religion after hearing 876,363 bad arguments for it, and how believers react to this by saying, “But you haven’t considered Argument #876,364! How can you be so close-minded?” And arensb said:
“If, in fact, it turns out that argument #876,364 is the one that will convince you, WTF didn’t the apologists put it in the top 10?”
If there’s an argument for religion that’s convincing — actually convincing, convincing by means of something other than authority, tradition, personal intuition, confirmation bias, fear and intimidation, wishful thinking, or some combination of the above — wouldn’t we all know about it?
Wouldn’t it have spread like wildfire? Wouldn’t it be the Meme of All Memes? I mean, we all saw that Simon’s Cat video within about two weeks of it hitting the Internet. Don’t you think that the Truly Excellent Argument for God’s Existence would have spread even faster, and wider, than some silly cartoon cat video?
If the arguments for religion are so wonderful, why are they so unconvincing to anyone who doesn’t already believe?
And why does God need arguments, anyway? Why does God need people to make his arguments for him? Why can’t he just reveal his true self, clearly and unequivocally, and settle the question once and for all? If God existed, why wouldn’t it just be obvious?
It is not up to atheists to prove that God does not exist. It is up to believers to prove that he does. And in the absence of any good, solid evidence or arguments in favor of God’s existence — and in the presence of a whole lot of solid arguments against it — I will continue to be an atheist. God almost certainly does not exist, and it’s completely reasonable to act as if he doesn’t.
- Placebo effects are “proof” that God exists? (scienceblogs.com)
The Horrors of an Ayn Rand World: Why We Must Fight for
The whole damned history of the world is a story of the struggle between the selfish and the unselfish! . . . All the bad around us is bred by selfishness. Sometimes selfishness even gets to be a cause, an organized force, even a government. Then it’s called Fascism.
—Garson Kanin, Born Yesterday
There is no real doubt what an Objectivist America would mean. We may not be around to see it, but it’s likely we’ll be here for its earliest manifestations. They may have already arrived.
The shape of a future Objectivist world has been a matter of public record for the past half century, since Ayn Rand, the Brandens, Alan Greenspan, and other Objectivist theoreticians began to set down their views in Objectivist newsletters. When he casually defended repeal of child labor laws in the debate with Miles Rapoport, Yaron Brook [President of the Ayn Rand Institute] was merely repeating long- established Objectivist doctrine, summarized by Leonard Peikoff as “Government is inherently negative.” It is a worldview that has been static through the decades, its tenets reiterated endlessly by Rand and her apostles:
No government except the police, courts of law, and the armed services.
No regulation of anything by any government.
No Medicare or Medicaid.
No Social Security.
No public schools.
No public hospitals.
No public anything, in fact. Just individuals, each looking out for himself, not asking for help or giving help to anyone.
An Objectivist America would be a dark age of unhindered free enterprise, far more primitive and Darwinian than anything seen before. Objectivists know this. What perhaps they do not always appreciate, given their less than fanatical approach to reality, is what turning back the clock would mean. Or perhaps they do not care.
When Alan Greenspan spoke out against building codes, he knew perfectly well what a lack of adequate building and fire codes would mean. Fifteen years before his birth, 146 people, mostly young women, were burned alive or leaped to their death from the fire at the Triangle Waist Factory just east of Washington Square Park in New York City. There was no requirement for employers to provide a safe workplace, so none was provided. Triangle’s owners crammed their employees into crowded workspaces without proper exits, and inadequate fire codes meant that the fire stairways were insufficient. The result was that dozens of workers’ corpses piled on the sidewalk on March 25, 1911. Anywhere in the world where building codes are inadequate or absent, the result is always the same: Dead people.
In an Objectivist world, the reset button would be pushed on government services that we take for granted. They would not be cut back, not reduced — they would vanish. In an Objectivist world, roads would go unplowed in the snows of winter, and bridges would fall as the government withdrew from the business of maintaining them — unless some private citizen would find it in his rational self-interest to voluntarily take up the slack by scraping off the rust and replacing frayed cables. Public parks and land, from the tiniest vest-pocket patch of green to vast expanses of the West, would be sold off to the newly liberated megacorporations. Airplane traffic would be grounded unless a profit-making capitalist found it in his own selfish interests to fund the air traffic control system. If it could be made profitable, fine. If not, tough luck. The market had spoken. The Coast Guard would stay in port while storm- tossed mariners drown lustily as they did in days of yore. Fires would rage in the remnants of silent forests, vegetation and wildlife no longer protected by rangers and coercive environmental laws, swept clean of timber, their streams polluted in a rational, self-interested manner by bold, imaginative entrepreneurs.
With industry no longer restrained by carbon-emission standards, the earth would bake in self-generated heat, ice cap melting would accelerate, extreme weather would become even more commonplace, and seacoasts would sink beneath the waves. Communities ravaged by hurricanes, floods and tornadoes would be left to fend for themselves, no longer burdening the conscience of a selfish, guilt-free world.
The poor and elderly, freed from dependence on character-destroying, government-subsidized medical care, would die as bravely and in as generous quantities as in the romantic novels of a bygone era.
Minimum wage laws would come to an end, providing factory owners and high- tech startups alike with a pool of cheap labor competitive with any fourth-world kleptocracy.
All laws protecting consumers would be erased from the statute books.
Mass transit would grind to a halt in the big cities as municipal subsidies come to an end.
Corporations would no longer be enslaved by antitrust laws, so monopolies and globe-spanning, price-fixing cartels would flourish. The number of publicly held corporations would be reduced to a manageable, noncompetitive few. Big Pharma would manufacture drugs without adequate testing for safety and efficacy—deterred only by concern for their reputation, as described by Greenspan in 1963. Except that with competition reduced by mergers and legal price-fixing, the market would be a feeble substitute for even the FDA.
Securities laws and stock market regulations would be eliminated.
Corporations would operate in secret if they so desired, or with only selective, cursory disclosures to their investors and customers. Only outright fraud would be prosecuted; otherwise the public— a concept no longer recognized as valid— would be on its own.
Insider trading, now legal, would become the norm. Wall Street now would truly be a sucker’s game. “Let the buyer beware” would replace the fifty state regulators and the SEC.
Income taxes would end, so the lowest-paid, ten-cent-an-hour, non-OSHA-supervised factory workers would enjoy wages taxed at the same rate—zero—as their billionaire bosses in distant cities and foreign lands. Dynasties of American royalty would arise, as fortunes pass from generation to generation, untaxed.
Nonprofit organizations, apart from those serving the egos and social calendars of the self-indulging rich, would see their funding dry up as government support vanished. The super-wealthy, having repudiated their “giving pledge,” would now enjoy their riches without guilt, no longer motivated to share their billions with the poor. Philanthropy would be an obsolete relic of discarded moral codes and forgotten history.
Such is the Ayn Rand vision of paradise: an America that would resemble the lands from which our ancestors emigrated, altruism confined to ignored, fringe texts, grinding poverty and starvation coexisting alongside the opulence of the wealthy. Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York would become like Cairo and Calcutta, with walled enclaves protecting the wealthy from the malnourished, uneducated masses outside.
Yaron Brook was right. What’s at stake is not a political issue, but a moral, philosophical issue. In large numbers, Americans have, sometimes unwittingly, abandoned the moral code upon which they were raised. They have done so because of a master storyteller.
Ayn Rand’s stories of noble steel barons, fierce railroad magnates and sniveling government bureaucrats formed the basis of her ideology. It is a compelling narrative, and Oliver Stone’s abortive approach to The Fountainhead suggests a remedy to the Rand narrative: a counternarrative—one that celebrates a creator with a conscience; government not as a Soviet gun but as a builder, a benefactor. It is an optimistic vision, born in an America of hope and not a Russia of despair and privation. This counter-narrative can recognize the merit of individuality and self- interest, while rejecting her celebration of the darker impulses— greed and selfishness.
That kind of thinking is required to meet the challenge presented by Rand and her ideas, as they spread from libertarian and Objectivist think tanks to the Tea Party to Congress and, perhaps, the White House.
Those of us who oppose Rand’s vision of radical capitalism need to read Rand and understand the flaws in her assumptions and illogic of her vision, just as people during the Cold War studied Communism so as to more effectively oppose it. Having read and understood her books and essays, one is in a better position to identify and then to respond to the right’s extremist agenda, and to recognize her ideology when it becomes manifest in society.
We need to understand the basis of her morality, not just its origins but where it doesn’t originate—the three great monotheistic religions, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the other writings and actions of the Founding Fathers. The words “capitalism,” “markets,” and “free enterprise” appear in none of the founding documents of America. The natural enemies of Ayn Rand are not only Lenin and Roosevelt but Jefferson, Rousseau, and Paine. The Founders were not defenders of oligarchy and selfishness. They sacrificed. They were altruists, and proud of it.
My Objectivist friends are right that morality needs to become part of the national dialogue. However we feel about Rand, we need to ponder her views and think more philosophically. We need to evaluate our own core values, and understand the moral foundations of the social programs and government agencies that are targeted by the right. Why do we pay for medical care of the poor and elderly? Why do we regulate business? Why do we pave roads and maintain parks and build public schools? Why do we subsidize public radio, mass transit, family planning clinics, and a host of other programs that don’t always benefit ourselves?We may conclude that we shouldn’t do any of those things. Or we may conclude that we cherish those institutions and will sustain them, not because of the clout of special interest groups and the senior vote, not because we can do it if the Democrats control both houses of Congress, but because it’s the right thing to do. It’s right if we hold a different concept of right and wrong than Objectivists and their allies on the right. It’s a question of fundamental moral values, as defined by our national and religious traditions—or by Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, The Virtue of Selfishness, and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.
We need to choose—our heritage or Ayn Rand.
Click here for a copy of Ayn Rand Nation: The Hidden Struggle for America’s Soul
- Philosophy Weekend: Why Ayn Rand Is Still Wrong (litkicks.com)
- How Ayn Rand became the new right’s version of Marx | George Monbiot (guardian.co.uk)
- Stealing Ayn Rand’s Thunder (papundits.wordpress.com)
- The Paul Ryan Rorschach Test (laurieanichols.wordpress.com)