As I observe the increasingly evasive tactics of those who are defending Planned Parenthood, I can’t help but notice the sad similarities to those who so evasively defend blatant irrationality in theology. And I’m not surprised, because it all comes from the common root of relativism, and is supported by the militant insistence of moderation. Relativism and moderation: those are the destructive twin “narratives” of our time, and though evangelical Christians would love to protest otherwise, they are, in large part, complicit in that destruction. ...continue reading
My home state, Idaho, is the latest locale for the showdown between the LGBT movement and Christian businesses. This time, it's not a Christian bakery or photographer, but a wedding chapel. You can read the article here.
It's tempting for Christians to think that these instances of Christian businesses being forced to acquiesce to the LGBT agenda is the result of the recent and sweeping legalization of "gay marriage", but that conclusion seems a little too reactionary, and misses some more fundamental issues that Christians should have been aware over the past few decades. Think about it: typically, making something legal does not automatically make it illegal to decline participation in that thing. When marijuana was recently made legal in a few states, it was not simultaneously made illegal for a Washingtonian to decline a joint offered to him by his neighbor, or for a Colorado woman to tell her kids that smoking pot can be bad for them. So why then, is the legalization of "gay marriage" resulting in the criminalization of those who disagree with it? There is obviously something else at play. ...continue reading
Have you noticed how mystical our culture's talk of love is today? Whether it's the girl whimsically longing to "find true love" (as if it is some magical creature evading her grasp), the boy in reluctant surprise who admits that he "might be in love" (as if it were a disease which has crept up on him), or the couple which speaks of "falling in love" (as if it were a pit into which both stumbled during a blind, dumb stupor), there appears to be very little conscious understanding of what love actually is among most people.
Is vs. Does
Of course there are many who would claim to speak of what love is (typically the adult speaking to the adolescent, who "doesn't know what love is yet" -- as though love were some mystical knowledge imparted to you at a certain age). But these don't speak about what love is so much as they speak about what love does.
"Love waits", "Love puts the other person first", "Love makes you do crazy things", "Love doesn't give up". These are all great and true (in particular respects) descriptions of what love does, but they do very little to explain what love is. If you want proof, simply consider that one could do all of the things listed above (and all the things which could be listed about what love does), and still not have love (see 1 Cor. 13:3). If it is possible to fake love by performing supposedly 'loving' actions (and it is), then the actions, themselves, cannot be love.
Love is Value
If love is not actions, but the fuel for 'loving' actions, then love must be that which fuels action: value. ...continue reading
"Do not ever say that the desire to do good by force is a good motive. Neither power-lust nor stupidity are good motives" -Ayn Rand
A recent blog post by The Gospel Coalition has freshly demonstrated that American Christian culture is absolutely beside itself with either power-lust or stupidity (or both). [I obviously agree with Rand that those are the only two possible motives behind such an idea -- but that is a different conversation, for a different time].
The blog, entitled Should The Church 'Get Out of The Marriage Business'? claims to be a response to modern day Christians (like myself) who do not morally condone homosexuality, but want to allow legal same-sex marriages (i.e. Christians who do not wish to force their view of marriage onto society). The author disagrees, and believes that the Church's definition of marriage should be "imposed on the public square" (via the Government). Why? There seems to be two primary reasons for the author's position. The first has to do with his view of the Church. The second, with his view of the Government. Both are horribly erroneous views.
"The Church is Too Weak, So it Should Pick Up A Gun"
"This argument assumes that Christians can maintain and safeguard their own definition of marriage by refusing to impose a particular viewpoint in the public square." -Andrew Walker (Author of TGC Blog)
Here, and later in the article, the author reveals that he believes that the Church is incapable of holding strong to its definition of marriage (as one man and one woman), without using the Government to force that definition on non-Christians. His argument is that the Church will be overcome by the cultural norms (in due time), and will inevitably bend the knee to the culture's definition -- similar to the way Christians have adopted the culture's views on divorce.
Stop and think about what this means for a second: The Church is too weak to resist the influence of the culture -- therefore, it should use physical force and coercion (through the Government) to protect it from the culture's ideas. That is the essence of the authors argument, here: that Christians are not capable of maintaining their Christian worldview without pointing a gun at the heads of non-Christians to make them comply with that worldview.
I shouldn't need to point out how disgustingly sick and evil such a notion is. If Christians in America are so limp-wristed and weak in their worldview that they will inevitably cave to cultural influences, then the problem is not with the corrupt culture, but with the intellectually (and morally) dead Church! If there is a problem with Christians following cultural norms, rather than standing firm on Christian truth, then Church leaders (like those at TGC) should not be trying to fix the corruption of the culture -- they should be trying to fix the weakness of the Church! Why is the Church so weak? Why do Christians so easily cave to cultural influence? Could it be because the Church, on an institutional level, has taken an intellectual back-seat to the culture for the past few centuries? Could it be because Church leaders, in false humility, have shunned worldview (i.e. philosophical) thinking? Yes, the Church in America is weak. It is weak, blind, deaf, dumb, and stupid -- all by choice; all to be "humble". This is not the culture's fault. This is your fault, Chirstian leaders. This is the fault of every influential Christian who refused to think, and to think accurately about all of reality. Picking up the gun of Government coercion will not strengthen the Church, but weaken it. It will weaken it by enabling it to go on in it's anti-intellectual fantasy land [<blog] for another few years, until the corruption of the culture begins to scratch the itch of some other foul, leaking sore in the American Christian's non-worldview.
But there is another egregious fault in the author's position, here: This was posted by The Gospel Coalition. The Gospel is good news to be proclaimed by the Church in such a way that people fall in love with the God of the Gospel, and willfully change their lives as a result of their new-found hope in God. There is hardly anything more antithetical to the Gospel than the idea that Gospel morality should be physically forced upon unbelievers, at the point of a gun. And that is precisely what the author (and any Christian who agrees with him) advocates for when wishing to criminalize same-sex marriage.
The Role of the Government
And that brings us to the author's other reason behind his position: the role of Government in society. Although he never explicitly spells out his view of the purpose of Government, the author leaves quite a few clues throughout the article. He mentions "the public trust", "cooperation", "common good", and "common belief" as some of the goals of Government action. He, like many Christians, believes that the Government is supposed to help sustain these things, and that a Government enforced Christian view of marriage would be a step in that direction. But what are these things!? "Public trust" - Who is the "public"? The majority?; "Cooperation" - among whom? and to what end?; "Common Good" - as determined by whom?; "Common belief" - among whom? and what is being believed?
These vague bromides concerning the Government's role in society are a Socialist's dream! But vague bromides are horribly insufficient when discussing the legal use of physical force -- and that is exactly what the Government is. No one would think it acceptable for a gun-safety instructor to simply say "be nice and be safe", without ever going into any actual detail about gun-ownership, self-defense, the dangers of treating the weapon lightly, etc... So why on earth do so many Christians think it is acceptable to speak so lightly about institutionalized legal physical force (i.e. Government)!? Government is a gun - a very big, dangerous, complex, heavy-duty gun, and it ought to be treated as such.
The only proper use of physical force is in response to the initiation of physical force. Just as there is no justification for pulling out one's hand-gun and forcing someone to tell you the truth when you suspect them of lying (even though lying is evil), likewise there is no justification for an individual or group to attempt to use the Government to forcibly keep others from doing something which does not initiate force against someone (no matter how evil what they are doing might be). The only proper role of the Government, therefore, is the protection of individuals from the initiation of physical force. Any other view of Government is necessarily tyrannical and authoritarian, at root. Abuse of the Government is as significant (and more so!) as the abuse of a weapon.
So, American Church: I know you're scared. You're scared because you're weak, and you are afraid of losing your integrity by giving into the peer pressure of the culture. But, that is no reason to pick up the gun of Government coercion. You are weak by your own designs. You don't have to be weak, and you don't have to give into the culture. You can (if you will) be the strong, confident, "pillar and buttress of truth" you were meant to be -- but not by force! Only cowards hide behind guns. If you want to be strong, you will need to think: think philosphically, think critically, think introspectively, think comprehensively, and think confidently. It is your only alternative.
Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful: thankful for family and friends, for a good job or financial stability, for delicious food and the skill that goes into preparing it, and for an innumerable amount of amazingly good things in one's life. And though they are innumerable, most people find joy in the attempt to enumerate and reflect upon those many things for which they are thankful this time of year. "What are you thankful for?" is the common refrain. But have you ever considered pondering the question, not what are you thankful for, but to whom are you thankful for all of those things?
The More Satisfying Question
That is, to be sure, the more challenging question to answer -- but wouldn't it be the more fruitful question, as well? What good is expressing thanks in general, but to no one or nothing in particular? Isn't the thanks wildly insignificant without a reference to both the what and the who? If you receive a certain amount of joy in occasionally reflecting upon and identifying what you're thankful for, how much more joy is there bound to be in specifically identifying to whom you are thankful for what, and in what way? I say specifically, because it is far too easy to blanket all of your thankfulness with a single answer in a way that washes out all of the intricate and beautiful details, thereby causing you to not only miss out on the detailed joy, but also to commit a careless injustice against those to whom you ought to be thankful in the proper ways.
Different Causes: Different Thanks
It's easy for Christians to simply answer: I am thankful to God. It's easy for some atheists to answer: I am thankful to the productive and creative men in the world. And it's easy for others to simply answer: I am thankful to myself. But aren't all of these a little too simplistic? Who says that there can only be one answer? Is there ever just one answer?
What does it mean to be thankful to someone for something? Does it not mean that you are acknowledging that person's positive causal power in bringing about that good thing? If that's the case, is there ever only one cause for a good thing in your life? Aristotle specified several different types of causation which are active in almost every event, but one doesn't need to have studied Aristotle in order to see the vast multiplicity of causes for everything in one's life -- and therefore a little bit of careful reflection can go a long way in helping one to properly identify to whom he ought to be thankful for those many good things in his life.
Thankful to My Self
There is a very good and right thankfulness to one's self for many of the good things in one's life. The extent to which you have served to be a positive cause for the good things in your life is the exact extent to which you owe yourself thanks -- no more, and no less. In fact, I would argue that even those who are thankful to themselves are not being thankful enough for all of the good things which they have helped to conceive in their lives. Some might thank themselves for the financial stability or status of living which they and their family enjoy; i.e. they are thankful to themselves for the immediate concrete reward of their hard work, which is appropriate. But a man is much more than a producer of material rewards (he is not less, but he is more). Far more vital to the success and joy of life is the production of spiritual values: honesty, integrity, rationality, generosity, creativity, etc... The cultivation and sustaining of these in one's life takes far more work and dedication than any career a man could choose -- and the rewards of this spiritual work are those things in one's life which are far more valuable than one's physical wealth.
I have worked hard for the relative material pleasure which my wife and I enjoy, but far more than that, I have worked relentlessly to cultivate in myself the values which would make me the man that is deserving of her amazing love; the type of man that is suitable for the remarkably loving relationship which we enjoy together. I have labored to cultivate in myself those values which I share with my dear friends: honesty, productivity, integrity, valor -- values which bind us together and enrich our friendships far more than the banality of simply "sharing hobbies". So when I think about how thankful I am for my wife, my friends, my work, and my general direction in life (not to mention the many material things which we enjoy), I am -- in part -- thankful to my self: to that relentless passion in my soul which strives for the very best in life, and will not be satisfied with anything less.
Thankful to Man
Likewise, it is absolutely proper to be thankful to other men for various good things in your life. The extent to which other particular men have contributed as positive causal factors for the goodness which you enjoy is the exact extent to which you ought to be thankful to those men: no more, and no less. This, perhaps, is the ultimate form of thankfulness which Ayn Rand expressed in much of her writing: she was a master at seeing the intricate and beautiful ways various men had contributed to her over-all prosperity (and the prosperity of those around her) in a way that usually goes unnoticed -- and therefore un-thanked.
"When you live in a rational society, where men are free to trade, you receive an incalculable bonus: the material value of your work is determined not only by your effort, but by the effort of the best productive minds who exist in the world around you.
When you work in a modern factory, you are paid, not only for your labor, but for all the productive genius which has made that factory possible: for the work of the industrialist who built it, for the work of the investor who saved the money to risk on the untried and the new, for the work of the engineer who designed the machines of which you are pushing the levers, for the work of the inventor who created the product which you spend your time on making, for the work of the scientist who discovered the laws that went into the making of that product, for the work of the philosopher who taught men how to think and whom you spend your time denouncing." - Atlas Shrugged
Have you ever stopped to think about the enormous amounts of wealth you are privileged to enjoy merely because of the genius of other men whom you may never meet? Some are indeed thankful for notorious men who fought for our political freedom (such as the founding fathers), but have you ever uttered a silent thank you to those valiant men who discovered how to master electricity; the men who designed the vehicle you drive to work; the scientists who refined the process of extracting energy from black tar in the ground; the businessmen who developed a way to bring you the fruit of the scientist's mind in a way that is maximally convenient (and affordable) to you?
What about your line of work? Have you ever considered your position in that career -- and whether you (in your position), alone, would be sufficient to keep that industry and your position profitable? Consider this other quote:
"The machine, the frozen form of a living intelligence, is the power that expands the potential of your life by raising the productivity of your time. If you worked as a blacksmith in the mystics’ Middle Ages, the whole of your earning capacity would consist of an iron bar produced by your hands in days and days of effort. How many tons of rail do you produce per day if you work for Hank Rearden? Would you dare to claim that the size of your pay check was created solely by your physical labor and that those rails were the product of your muscles? The standard of living of that blacksmith is all that your muscles are worth; the rest is a gift from Hank Rearden." -Atlas Shrugged
What about you? Where would you be in your line of work, apart from the genius of other men (whether living now or not) upon whom the entire industry and infrastructure of your job depended?
Thankful to God
And now we get to the section that my fellow Christian readers have been anxiously waiting for -- and my atheist readers wish to evade: thankful to God. I will ask all readers to remember the ground for thankfulness, though, as we begin to discuss it's relation to God. The ground of thankfulness is causation. If God exists (and He does), then He is the ultimate cause of all things. This means that the modern Christian and the Atheist need to be corrected in their thanksgiving when it comes to God.
The Christian wishes to negate the self and others as causes (and therefore as legitimate objects of gratitude) because he mistakenly thinks that God's causation leaves no room for their causation. But doesn't this view seem far too similar to the "zero-sum" idea in economics? That there is only 'so much' cause to be portioned out to players? How silly is that? Remember that there are levels of causation in everything! One level or type of causation does not negate another. The pool stick hitting the cue ball does not negate the cue ball hitting the 8 ball. And the cue ball hitting the 8 ball does not negate the pool stick previously hitting the cue ball! Both are causes, in different respects and to different degrees. Likewise, God's ultimate causation of some good thing does not negate some instrumental causation for that same thing, any more than the [relatively] ultimate causation of your wealth from your company's CEO negates the causation of your wealth from your own hard work.
And that brings us to the Atheist. If, as demonstrated so brilliantly by Ms. Rand above, I owe thankfulness to the plethora of productive and creative minds who have made my standard of living possible, how much more do I owe thankfulness to the God upon whom my life, and theirs, is utterly contingent? Do not say "I don't believe in God, therefore I owe him no thanks". Just because some fool factory worker might "choose" not to believe in Hank Rearden (perhaps for the stupid reason that he had never met him), it certainly does not mean that Rearden never existed! If you truly want to know whether or not God exists, the answers are easy enough to find -- and if you do not want to know, there is no answer which could satisfy your stubborn evasion.
Or perhaps you wish to pretend that because you do not see the direct evidence of His causation in the good things which you enjoy, that therefore you have more justifiable room for doubt and a lack of gratitude. Rand made it abundantly clear in those quotes above that it is often those causers whom you have the least immediate knowledge or evidence of who are the most deserving of the credit for those things which you are currently enjoying. The responsibility is not on them to communicate themselves to you, but on you to consider the levels and types of causation in order to discover them.
Reconsider that quote from Rand about all of the people for whom the modern factory worker is paid:
"for the work of the industrialist who built it, for the work of the investor who saved the money to risk on the untried and the new, for the work of the engineer who designed the machines of which you are pushing the levers, for the work of the inventor who created the product which you spend your time on making, for the work of the scientist who discovered the laws that went into the making of that product, for the work of the philosopher who taught men how to think and whom you spend your time denouncing"...and for the work of God who designed and upholds the wonders discovered by all of the above, and whom you relentlessly evade.
God is the chief producer in the world, the chief engineer, the chief inventor, the chief investor, the chief worker -- He is the Chief Capitalist. And it is by the grace of His infinite capital that men thrive in all of their wondrous ways.There is no life in the universe which is not contingent upon His eternal life. There is no energy in the universe which is not an extension of His omnipotence. There is no value in reality which is not a reflection of His infinite value for Himself. There is no thing - whether spiritual or physical, in heaven or on earth - which is not ultimately from Him, through Him, and to Him, so that there is no thing for which we do not owe Him ultimate thanks.
Give Thanks To Whom Thanks is Due
In your giving of thanks, this Thanksgiving, be conscious of who you are giving thanks to -- and be sure to give credit exactly where credit is due: no more, and no less. Be thankful to your self for those things of which you are legitimately a cause. Be thankful to other men for those things of which they are legitimately a cause. And be thankful to God for your self, for those men, and for everything for which He is legitimately a cause (which is all things). So, thank God. Thank others. Thank your self. And Thank God for others, for yourself, and for all things.
"There is no such thing as duty. If you know that a thing is right, you want to do it. If you don't want to do it—it isn't right. If it's right and you don't want to do it—you don't know what right is and you're not a man."
- We The Living, Ayn Rand
This quote could come across as extremely subjective to the modern reader who is convinced of the Kantian (and Gnostic-like) dichotomy between the objective (what is right) and the subjective (what one wants). Most people - especially Christians - nowadays, want to stress the objectivity of what is right (e.g. "It's right whether you want to do it or not"), while many post-modern types would rather stress the subjective element (e.g. "It's right for you, if you want to do it"). But Rand is saying something here which neither party is capable of comprehending: that it is right for the subject to want to do what is right (and wrong if he doesn't!).
The one who wants to stress the objectivity of morality is correct to do so: whatever is right, is right, whether someone wants to do it or not. The post-modern subjective insistence that one's desire is what determines what is right is blatantly false. But simply correcting the subjectivist is not enough. The idea behind morality is for the subject (i.e. the individual) to conform to the objective (i.e. what is right). To affirm the objective while maintaining a dichotomy between it and the subject is just as disastrous to morality as denying the objective, all together.
Dutiful Men or Obedient Pets?
Duty is the attempt to conform to objective morality by the sheer movement of one's will, by-passing one's own mind and affections. It usually has a connotation of being 'hard-core' and 'dedicated' -- as if those who follow duty are taking morality more seriously than those who do not. The duty mindset says "do it, regardless of whether you like it or not". But what does this translate into besides "do it, regardless of whether you are fully convinced of it or not"? Wouldn't it be more "hardcore" to do the hard work of becoming fully convinced of what is right -- so that you want to do it? Any dog can follow commands -- and that is what the 'duty-driven' have reduced themselves to: obedient, mindless animals. They aren't being 'strong-willed' men (as the motto "pull yourself up by the boot-straps" is intended to imply). They are being weak-minded (or no-minded), compliant little pets.
How to be a Moral Man
The duty-driven, far from being 'serious about morality', are actually desperate to excuse themselves from the most essential (and toughest!) aspects of morality. To be a man (rather than an animal), one must use his mind to become rationally convinced of what is right, and then discipline his values (i.e. his desires) so that they accurately correspond to the value of that which he has discovered to be right. The will, then, naturally follows suit. Skipping over rational conviction and re-ordering of values is no less than the lazy attempt to excuse one's self from the most demanding aspects of true morality. A man (or woman) - who is not a mere beast - should want to discover what is right, and should always love that which they discover to be right. If you don't care about what is right, or - worse - if you know what is right but do not value it accordingly, then you are twisted, and have much deeper problems than outward obedience.
The Death in Duty
To insist that being so twisted is acceptable, and even a virtue, is to plunge one's self head-long down a very destructive path. To ignore or diminish such essential attributes of man as his mind and his values, in order to preserve some stoic concept of 'duty', is to view man as a sub-human cog in a machine of 'obedience'. Obedience to who? How do you know who to obey, when, and to what extent? Don't ask such questions -- it will lead to the dirty activity of your mind and obscure your will's mission to be dutiful. Obey to what end? For what reason? Why should you obey? Don't ask such questions -- it will lead to analysis of your values and get in the way of your will's mission to be dutiful. Such is the nature of the path of 'duty' for those who will take it seriously -- and what other end could become of such dutiful man-beasts, but utter self-subjugation to the loudest, or strongest, or biggest master they are capable of finding? The truly duty-driven man is desperate to be commanded; to be enslaved. It is not his life which he wishes to live -- that kind of life is impossible to a slave or a pet. He wants to wipe out the essence of his own life (his mind and values), and simply become an extension of the mind and values of another. He wants to be the living dead.
"Non-thinking is an act of annihilation, a wish to negate existence, an attempt to wipe out reality. But existence exists; reality is not to be wiped out, it will merely wipe out the wiper." - Ayn Rand
Rand's Bloody Evasion
With her scrupulous devotion to reason above all in every other issue, I remember being astounded when I discovered that Ayn Rand was pro-abortion -- and even more astounded when I discovered that this brilliant woman, and her stunning philosophy, justified abortion on the dubiously shaky premises to be recounted below. Ordinarily one would refer to the nonsense below as 'fallacies', but there are certain contexts in which such sterile speech would communicate a contemptible sort of distanced neutrality. Therefore, I do not merely refer to the arguments for abortion which are touted by Objectivists (and many others) as "fallacious", but as stupid - and evil. When you are dealing with such a weighty subject, with such grave consequences, and with such outright intellectual evasion, emotive language cannot but be used.
Below, you will find the stupid arguments set forth by Objectivists in support of abortion. In seeing the effort they exert in order to remain 'non-thinking' on this issue, you will see the damnable attempts to annihilate reality in general, and individuals in particular, with their bloody evasions. And though they may succeed (momentarily) at annihilating the latter, the former - as Ms. Rand put it - "is not to be wiped out, it will merely wipe out the wiper". Beware, evasive Objectivists, lest in your efforts to wipe out members of the human race, you end up being wiped out by the Ultimate Reality you so evasively fear.
Changing The Subject: A 'Women's Right to Choose'
"Of course a woman has the right to choose! She can choose to go to McDonald's or to go to Burger King... Oh! you're talking about killing a baby? Well that's a different topic. No one has the right to do that!"
Abortion has no more to do with 'a woman's right to choose' than robbery has to do with 'a thief's right to life'. In spite of what the media would have you believe, people who oppose abortion do not do so because of some desire to enslave women -- and the fact that so many believe otherwise is flat-out ridiculous. Anti-abortion advocates are not anti-women; they are anti-murder.
Women have every right that men have; which is to say that they have every legitimate individual right. Just like men, women are free to do exactly as they please, so long as they do not violate the rights of another individual. What pro-abortion advocates need to realize is that, just as there is no such thing as a "right" to the service or property of another individual, so also there is no such thing as a "right" to end an innocent individual's life -- no matter how convenient such a "right" might seem.
To say that abortion is about "a woman's right to choose" is like saying that slavery was about "a white man's right to industry". No one would accept such a ridiculous changing of the subject in respect to slavery -- and for the same reasons, no one should abide such blatant duplicity in the modern debate about abortion. The essential issue in the abortion debate is not about "women's rights", but about the nature and rights of that which is being 'aborted'; i.e. the nature and rights of the unborn.
Definition By Non-Essentials
So what is the nature of that which is being aborted? If you ask an Objectivist, you will hear that it is "a parasite", a "lump of tissue", a "part of the mother's body", or "a potential - but not actual - human". In other words, you'll get a lot of varied answers depending on how deep of a hole - and in which direction - the Objectivist wishes to dig himself.
It can't be "a part of the mother's body" - it has it's own unique DNA. So, it is something other than the mother's body, living inside of the mother's body. "Aha! It's a parasite". A 'parasite' which (in most cases) she willingly received. But what species is this 'parasite'? Is it a tapeworm? A frog? A giraffe? What species is it? Oh, it's human! "Well, no. Not an actual human -- just a potential one".
Such is the line of "reasoning" one will typically experience in a conversation with an Objectivist. But now, what in the world does it mean to be "potentially human, but not actually human"!? Well, implicitly, it means that there are certain conditions to humanity which must be met in order for this thing to pass from potentially human to an actual human. And here we will see the definitions by non-essentials.
What are the differences between the supposed "potential human" in the womb and the actual human outside of the womb? Well, I suppose that gives you the first answer: Location. In the womb vs. out of the womb. What else, though? A perusal through Objectivist literature on the matter will show emphases on age, stage of development, abilities, and - brace yourself: "social context". Before examining the ironically ludicrous implications of that last qualifier, consider all the others (and any potential differences which could be listed) between the "potential human" in the womb and the actual human outside of the womb. Is location, or age, or stage of development, or any other difference which could be listed essential to humanity? Remember, that is the Objectivist's claim: that the difference - whatever it may be - is so essential to humanity that apart from having that attribute, one is not a human.
Is this not a classic case of what Ayn Rand would call a "definition by non-essentials"? Human DNA is essential to being a human. Location is not. Being a fully integrated organism (as opposed to being part of an organism) with it's own unique DNA structure is essential to being a human. Age is not. Stage of development is not. Ability is not. And "social context" most definitely is not -- but that has to do more with the "Objectivists" subjective theory of rights, to be discussed below.
The thing being "aborted" is of the human species - and is therefore human. It is an individual being with it's own unique DNA - and is therefore not a "part" of the mother's body like a toenail, hair follicle, or unfertilized egg; in other words, it is an individual human being. And, this human being which is being "aborted" is alive -- which means that it is not being "aborted". It is being killed. Abortion is therefore the act of killing a live human being -- and it should always be spoken of as such. To speak of it in any other fashion is cowardly and dishonest evasion, through and through.
The Objectivist's Subjective Theory of Rights
Once the Objectivist is pushed to admitting that it is a live human being (and many will honestly admit to that much), the question then becomes whether or not this live human being possesses the individual right to life. Before exploring their reasoning though, I want to stress that this is the only proper progression of debating them (or anyone else) on this issue. The "pro-abortion" advocate must be pressed to admit that they are advocating for the killing of a live human being. Make sure that they admit to that and own it -- and let them then do the squirming necessary to attempt to justify depriving this live human being of the right to life. And now, let the squirming begin:
"[Rights] apply only to human beings living and acting as individuals in a social context—not to embryos or fetuses in the womb. ....The fetus cannot know or interact with the world outside the womb in any meaningful way. It is not an individual member of society" - TOS Abortion Article
So, "interacting with the world in a meaningful way" and being in a "social context" is essential for individual rights? Does this mean that a man who lives alone in the woods does not have the right to life; that a random sniper could morally (and legally) take him out for the fun of it, because he is not "interacting with the world in a meaningful way" or participating in a "social context"? Is the Objectivist implying here that individual rights are based in social interaction; that the social status of a human being can determine his individual status? If I didn't know any better, I'd think they were begging to be carted off back to Soviet Russia with that talk!
But this isn't just a lapse in speech or judgement on the part of a few intellectual Objectivists. This is the inevitable result of their desperate attempts to evade Realism in their theory of moral rights:
"Rights are not implanted by God in zygotes at conception, nor are they innate possessions or properties of human beings. Rights are factual requirements of human survival and flourishing in society." -TOS Abortion Article
The first sentence is the Objectivist's caricature of the doctrine of Realism as applied to individual rights. The second is their attempt to have objective (i.e. real) individual rights apart from Realism; i.e. it is their attempt to have their cake and eat it too. It is all too clear though, in the abortion issue, that those 'factual requirements' are only for some human survival and flourishing; but not all -- which means that the Objectivist has his wiggle room to assert that some humans (namely, those in the womb) do not have those rights. What the Objectivist fails to see though, is that if there is wiggle room in their theory of rights for their pet issue (abortion), then there is plenty of room for every other pet issue which can be imagined.
A full critique of the Objectivist theory of rights must be saved for another day, but for now it is sufficient to see that their evasion on the metaphysical level with the doctrine of Realism leads directly to their bloody evasions with the issue of abortion. If individual rights come from "social context" or "meaningful interaction with others" or from any grounds other than an individual's humanity; then there is no such thing as individual rights. If rights are not "intrinsic" to the individual human, then they are added to him by society (and can just as easily be taken away). If individual rights are not a metaphysical reality (i.e. if they are not objectively the case - whether any subject or group of subjects recognizes them or not), then they are a complete and total subjective farce!
As we observe the spectacle of millions of innocent humans being slaughtered for convenience under the guise of "choice", and as we observe that slaughter being applauded by cowardly, evasive, psuedo-intellectuals who call themselves "Objective" while spewing forth some of the most hideously subjective nonsense on the intellectual field, beware of the potential blood on your hands, due to philosophical evasions you may be entertaining. Ideas matter - because reality matters. Do not claim love for humanity, or love for the unborn, if you do not love the truth in all of reality.
What is it that makes a coffee table and a kitchen table both tables? What is it that makes a Golden Retriever and a German Shepherd both dogs? What is it that makes you and I both human? Table, dog, human: these are all concepts used to unite many particular things into singular categories. But what are those concepts based on? What is it that makes it proper to classify a German Shepherd and a Golden Retriever as dogs, while excluding a squid from that same category?
This is the "age-old" philosophical conundrum known as "the problem of universals" ("universal" being the term which refers to concepts such as table, dog, and human) -- but what you will see very shortly is that there is not really any problem at all - and there never should have been.
The Battle: Realism vs. Nominalism
Historically, this "problem" of why we classify things the ways that we do has caused a philosophical rift between two camps: that of realism and that of nominalism. Realism holds that the similarities between particular objects are part of objective reality; that there is some real 'dog-like' essence to both Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds. In contrast, nominalism holds that those 'similarities' are only nominal -- in name only; that our classification of Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds into the category of dog is based, not in real similarities between the two, but in our subjective and pragmatic decision to classify them as such.
When it is broken down like that, it seems pretty obvious which position is the most conducive to objectivity. When simply stated as it is above, realism is the only rational option -- and nominalism is basically synonymous with subjectivism. Unfortunately though, there have been some very annoying and distracting ideas attributed to realism which have given it a far less attractive rap -- and those distracting ideas have arisen because of a failure to distinguish between three very different issues.
Three Separate Issues
When dealing with this topic of universals, there are three separate issues which have historically not been treated as separate -- and thus have led to mass confusion.
Issue #1: Metaphysical or Not? The first (and most foundational) issue to be addressed in this debate is that of whether or not the universal (essence, or similar attribute) is metaphysical, or not. That is to say that we must determine whether 'dogness' or 'man-ness' is part of metaphysical (objective) reality -- or whether is it only part of our subjective understanding of that reality. Realism says that universals are metaphysical. Nominalsim says that they are not. This issue is the essence of realism.
Issue #2: Metaphysical Nature. If, as the realist claims, universals are metaphysical, then they must have some sort of metaphysical nature. Are these universals 'perfect forms up in heaven' (Plato's theory), 'attributes intrinsic to particular things' (Aristotle's theory), or 'ideas in the mind of God' (Augustine's theory)? Or, are they something else which has not been discovered yet!? The point here is to understand that the issue of their metaphysical nature is not the same as the issue of whether or not they are metaphysical, per se. If Plato's theory that there is a perfect table up in heaven is false, this doesn't mean that his idea that 'table-ness' is metaphysical in some way is also false.
Issue #3: Epistemological Discovery. These universals, or concepts, are things which we use everyday in our reasoning about all of reality. If universals are metaphysical, we must ask ourselves how we come to discover them. How do we discover the metaphysical similarities between German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers, in order to arrive at the concept of dog being applied to both? Is it because we are remembering that similarity from a past life (Plato's theory), or is it by some other form of passive intuition (Aristotle's - and many others' - theory), or is it be some other means altogether!? I'll answer this one below, but the point here - as with Issue #2, above - is that this is a separate issue from the issue of whether or not the universals are metaphysical. Plato and Aristotle and every other philosopher since then can be (and many are) completely wrong about issues #2 and #3, but right about issue #1.
The idea that universals are metaphysical (i.e. real) does not in any way demand that there is a perfect dog or table up in heaven (Plato); nor does it demand that the only way to discover those universals is by some mystical experience or passive intuition (Plato, Aristotle, and many others). In other words, realism, properly defined and understood, only refers to the first issue: whether or not universals are metaphysical. Any given realist may have varying theories about the second and third issues (which will be either true of false), but those will be varieties of realism -- not realism, per se.
Missing this extremely obvious point is the only reason for the rabid rejection of realism by nominalists -- and surprisingly by Objectivists and Christians, alike. I'll leave the Christian aversion to realism for another day. Right now, I want to discuss the Objectivist 'response' to realism -- if you can call it that.
Objectivism's 'Response' to Realism (or 'Intrinsicism')
Objectivism, as an explicitly held philosophical system, begins with issue #3 (from above), and views everything else in metaphysics and epistemology through that lense. This is likely because Ayn Rand absolutely dominated every other philosophical thinker on that issue; on the issue of how we discover similarities between particular things in order to form universals or concepts in our minds. This was done in her theory of 'concept formation' which gives a remarkable account and defense of how we form various concepts based on sense perception.
Rather than believing that man discovers universals by mystical intuition or remembrance of past life experiences, Ayn Rand held that man discovers universal attributes and forms concepts through a process of abstraction (this theory is detailed in her 'Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology'). Thus, her theory of Issue #3 from above; her theory of discovering universals and forming concepts is rationally superior to that of Plato, Aristotle, and many others, who believed that universals were discovered in some way apart from reason.
However, as noted above, that issue of discovery is a very separate issue from the issue of whether or not universals are metaphysical -- or real (part of reality). Rand, Peikoff, and Objectivist thinkers in general have all confused this third issue of universal discovery and concept formation to be the end all and be all of the topic of universals in general -- when in reality, it is a mere sub-topic of the actual issue: whether or not universals are metaphysical. So Rand rejected realism based on non-essential ideas attributed to it -- and then, likely because of wanting to sound "pro-reality", she renamed that which she was denouncing: changing 'realism' to 'intrinsicism'. Since traditional realists (or 'intrisicists' to her) have been wrong on that third issue, Objectivists presume that realism is wrong in general -- without ever pausing to consider the alternatives or the implications. Believing themselves to have 'solved the problem' between realism and nominalism, they have really just taken positions on both sides in the attempt to have some sort of third option -- but there is no third option.
Real or Not: There is No Alternative
Rand's theory of concept formation was great at describing how we discover similarities between things -- but notice that it is about discovering something (i.e similarity) in reality. Regardless of how we discover them (and I think Rand is right about how we do), are the similarities between a Golden Retriever and a German Shepherd real or not? Are those attributes of dogs which make them dogs and not caterpillars, real or not? If they are real, then they objectively are - apart from any subjective discovery of them. If they are not real, then there is no objective basis for our classification of them into such categories.
In OPAR (Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand), on page 143, Peikoff criticizes nominalism because, in it "there is no metaphysical basis for classification". Well, does Objectivism hold that there is a metaphysical basis for classification or not? If yes, welcome to realism! If no, welcome to nominalism. But those are the only two options. Either attributes like 'redness', 'man-ness', 'dog-ness', 'table-ness', etc... are objectively part of metaphysical reality, or they are subjective figments of our imaginations. Either reality is what is is "in itself", apart from any subject, or reality is not objective at all. The 'Objectivist' cannot have it both ways here. Either universals are real (i.e. objective ), or they are not real (i.e. subjective ). There is no third option.
No amount of changing the subject (by focusing on issue #3 from above), and no amount of fear about what the answer to issue #2 might be (the Objectivists is naturally afraid of the idea of non-physical reality) will change the fact that objectivity demands metaphysical realism. And now the Objectivist will have to choose: Will he embrace metaphysical realism as the only metaphysical foundation for an objective worldview, or will he - for the sake of protecting sacred cows in his worldview - forsake objectivity altogether and dive headlong into nominalism. Consciously or sub-consciously, everyone will do either one or the other. Which will you do?
Virtue: Unselfishness vs Love
"If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive... The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love... [to be continued below]" -C.S Lewis
What is the Christian virtue of Love? What is Love? To love is to value. When you say that you love someone, you mean that you value that person; that he or she is of value to you. "Wait" you cry, "that sounds so selfish! What about self-less love?"
There can be no such thing as "self-less" love because there is no such thing as a self-less value. The attempt to concoct "self-less" love would be hideous, as described in the following quote by Ayn Rand:
Selfless love would have to mean that you derive no personal pleasure or happiness from the company and the existence of the person you love, and that you are motivated only by self-sacrificial pity for that person’s need of you. I don’t have to point out to you that no one would be flattered by, nor would accept, a concept of that kind.
"Self-less love" would say, in essence, "I haven't the slightest care in the world for you, or for your well-being. I am simply doing this because you need me, and it is my duty to fill that need." This is because to "have a care" is to value. To care for a person is to value that person -- and to value that person is to say that he or she is of value to you; to your self. The alternative is to look down your nose at others, as though they are helpless creatures in need of your service, corrupting the nature of love by turning it from a delight into a duty.
Seeking Value for Your Self
Therefore, not only do Christians need to replace Unselfishness with Love as the primary virtue, but they also need to discard from their heads (and their hearts) the idea of an ultimately "self-less" love. But in order to do that, Christians must first overcome their fear of desiring anything of value to themselves at all. The rest of the Lewis quote (continuing from the one above) will help to point in that direction:
"The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern Christians the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
Lewis seems to think (and I agree) that this whole obsession with self-denial, Unselfishness, and "Self-less" love which runs rampant in modern Christianity is actually no part of "the Christian faith", but rather, that it has crept in from "Kant and the Stoics". In other words, vain and insidious philosophical assumptions have crept into the modern Church (which ironically and foolishly thinks itself to be free from all philosophical assumptions!) and poisoned Christian morality, flipping it on its head.
The modern Christian decries strong desires, but Lewis argues that our desires are actually too weak. Our problem is not that we value too many things, but rather that we don't value those things that are most valuable; that we don't have strong enough values. If we valued as we ought to value; if we valued most those things that were most valuable, we would find that our actions almost automatically matched the virtuous actions outlined in New Testament teaching.
Love Thy Neighbor
"Love your neighbor" means value your neighbor. You don't value someone by superficially forcing yourself to go through the motions of what it might look like if you did value that person. You value someone by seeing (in your mind and in your heart) those things that are actually valuable about him -- and you can only do that if you value those things; if those things are valuable to you.
If you can't see anything valuable about an immortal being, created in the image of God, designed to rule and have dominion over the universe, endowed with a mind capable of transforming history with the spark of genius (when used appropriately), fashioned to be the crown jewel of God's creation, then you've got a problem with your value system: you do not have strong enough values - likely because your values are consumed with the moral equivalent of mud-pies.
Have you ever asked yourself why modern Christians have turned the virtue of love into the very dry and unloving superficial duty to perform certain actions? This is why. They are incapable of actual love for other people because they are incapable of actually valuing that which is valuable in other people. They can't value what they can't see; and they can't see, because their actual values (not the ones they claim to hold, but the ones that actually move them) are a junk-heap of trite and banal contradictions. And why is that? Because they are completely unconscious about their actual values. You cannot oversee, evaluate, correct and direct your values if you are not conscious of what you value. And you cannot be conscious of that about which you refuse to think. And you will not consciously think about your values if you count your values to be worthless - or evil. You will not rightly order your values if you do not value your own values.
Love Thy Self
To love is to value. Only a rationally selfish man, a man of self-esteem, is capable of love—because he is the only man capable of holding firm, consistent, uncompromising, unbetrayed values. The man who does not value himself, cannot value anything or anyone.
If you do not value your own life, you will not care about its trajectory or its achievements (to care is to value). Likewise, if you do not value your values, you will not take any care regarding your values, and therefore your values will never be strong, deep, and consistent; you will never be capable of valuing that which is most valuable -- whether in other people, or - more importantly - in God. Yes, you must love other people - and you absolutely must love God, but it must be love; it must be value. You must value. And you will never be capable of it until you value that thing in you which values; until you value your self.
...Because there is no such thing as Scripture apart from reality.
“Keep philosophy out of Scripture. Scripture is the authoritative Word of God - philosophy is just the opinions of man. Just tell me what the Bible says - apart from Greek speculative categories”.
If you're a Christian in today's world - or if you've had any significant conversation with Christians in today's world - you may recognize some of that sort of language. To the modern Christian, it's the epitome of piety. To the Objectivist, it's the beginnings of a mystical fairy tale -- and the Objectivist is right.
The modern Christian's anti-philosophical demands are horribly wrong-headed, and based upon a number of defunct philosophical assumptions. But, this is just a single blog post, so we can't get into all of that here. All of the details and inevitable objections regarding this issue could fill an entire book - and may well some day! 😉 But for now, I simply give you a brief breakdown of what Scripture and philosophy actually are, in order to better understand how they should properly relate to each other.
What is Philosophy?
Philosophy is the study of the most fundamental aspects of reality - aspects which contain everything else in reality. I know that it is fashionable today to speak of philosophy in a very subjective manner, as though one’s philosophical beliefs are no different than their dessert preferences, but that is not what philosophy properly means, and that certainly is not what I mean. Philosophy is properly comprised of three fundamental categories: Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Ethics. In layman’s terms, this means everything that exists - including the natures of those things which exist (Metaphysics), the nature of truth and how we can know it (Epistemology), and the nature morality (Ethics). In short, philosophy studies the most general aspects of all of reality. There is nothing in reality which falls outside of the realm of philosophy. To demand that something be “apart from philosophy” is to demand that it be apart from reality, reason, and morality - and if something is apart from those three, then it is against those three. Something “apart from philosophy” would be unreal, irrational, and immoral. Such is the end - whether intended or not - of the supposedly pious Christians above when they attempt to divorce Scripture from philosophy.
What is Scripture?
Scripture is communication from God with very specific details about reality, with a very specific overall message and purpose, given in the midst of very specific contexts, and with very specific theological aims. In the same way that Scripture deals with historical and scientific details, and yet it is not meant to be an exhaustive historical or scientific textbook - so also Scripture deals with many philosophical ideas and yet is not meant to be an exhaustive philosophical treatise. Scripture is not meant to be a substitute for all knowledge (whether historical, scientific, or philosophical), and therefore it is not necessary to set up an artificial dichotomy between Scripture and all other knowledge. Further, because Scripture deals with many historic, scientific, and philosophical concepts, it is absolutely detrimental to the study of Scripture for one not to properly study other general areas of knowledge in concert with Scripture, where relevant. And because, as explained above, philosophy is foundational to all major aspects of reality, the study of philosophy is always relevant to the study of Scripture -- if you believe that Scripture actually pertains to reality.
That is your choice, “pious” Christians: Scripture has nothing to do with reality or Scripture is to be studied in concert with philosophy (i.e. the study of general reality). One or the other.