Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ayn Rand and 'secular fundamentalism'.

I have always maintained, even during the days I worked for a Humanist organization, that 'secular fundamentalism' is a legitimate term. Not in the sense that Christian fundamentalists, like Pat Robertson, refer to it.

When a Christian fundamentalist uses the term 'secular fundamentalist', they are generally referring to any Atheist who decides to come out of the closet. Why is it okay for a Christian to suddenly force Jesus into a conversation that doesn't really have anything to do with Jesus, and still come across as 'fair minded'? Yet, let an Atheist mention his skepticism, and that mere mention categorizes him, or her, as a 'secular fundamentalist'?

No, just coming out with the fact that you are a skeptic, or Atheist, does not make you a secular fundamentalist.

Fundamentalism is an attitude, not a canon of beliefs.

A secular fundamentalist, in my view, is absolute regarding issues of right and wrong to the point of being a jerk. When called upon to defend their 'jerky-ness', can't seem to produce one rational argument that makes sense for their viewpoint. All they can do is throw insults at you. Just like some Christian fundamentalists I've known!

The recent books and articles coming out about Ayn Rand's fascination with child killer, William Hickman, provide enough evidence to illustrate what I'm talking about whenever I use the term 'secular fundamentalist'.

I will admit to having been both a religious and secular fundamentalist. Either alternative made life unbearable for whoever happened to be around me. That does make me feel bad. However, I know I'm not the only one who has been addicted to acting like a jerk then grabbing theology, or philosophy, to justify it.

Any 'cure' for this problem must begin with recognition that it is a problem. The following excerpts from Murray Rothbard's The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult (written in 1972) illustrate what I'm talking about.

I must say, every time I hear, or read, someone use the phrase 'ideas matter', I interpret that as code for 'please ignore how my real life doesn't match with my professed ideals'. Or, to put it more succinctly: 'please ignore my hypocrisy!'.

From: The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult.

Tell me how Ayn Rand's 'disciples' were any different from Christian fundamentalists. This sounds like me as a Trinity student defending Star Wars because of 'the force':

Personal enjoyment, indeed, was also frowned upon in the movement and denounced as hedonistic "whim-worship." In particular, nothing could be enjoyed for its own sake – every activity had to serve some indirect, "rational" function. Thus, food was not to be savored, but only eaten joylessly as a necessary means of one’s survival; sex was not to be enjoyed for its own sake, but only to be engaged in grimly as a reflection and reaffirmation of one’s "highest values"; painting or movies only to be enjoyed if one could find "rational values" in doing so. All of these values were not simply to be discovered quietly by each person – the heresy of "subjectivism" – but had to be proven to the rest of the cult. In practice, as will be seen further below, the only safe aesthetic or romantic "values" or objects for the member were those explicitly sanctioned by Ayn Rand or other top disciples.

Those who attended Bob Jones University, or familiar with Peter Ruckman's Pensacola Bible Institute, might identify with the next passage. You might remember people asking (regarding Ruckman), 'what is Doc's position on divorce, movies, women in pants, etc?'. Or, with BJU, there was a list of businesses not to visit. Why? Sometimes it was quite murky, like a particular florist shop.

Same with Rand and her secular disciples:

Thus, one time a leading Randian attorney was giving a speech on Randian political theory. During the question period, he was caught short by being asked how he could reconcile Rand’s support for the compulsory subpoena power with the Randian political axiom of non-initiation of force. He hemmed and hawed, and then said that he had to think about this – a code phrase for hurriedly checking with Rand and the other leaders on the proper answer.

Part of the continuing need to check with headquarters came from the fact that Rand, though considered infallible by her disciples, changed her mind a great deal, particularly on concrete personalities or institutions. The fundamental line change on Branden is a glaring example, as well as the line change on other formerly high-ranking Randians who were expelled from the movement. But far more frequent if less important were changes of position on show business folk whom Rand might have met. Thus, the "line" on such people as Johnny Carson or Mike Wallace (prominent TV personalities) changed rapidly – largely because of Rand’s discovering various heresies and alleged betrayals on their part.

Bob Jones University was known for having little 'trials' for those suspected of heresy on campus. Ayn Rand and her disciples were also known for that:

We have already mentioned the excommunications and "purges" in the Randian movement. Often, the excommunications – especially of important Randians – proceeded in a ritual manner. The errant member was peremptorily ordered to appear at a "trial" to hear charges against him. If he refused to appear – as he would if he had any shred of self-respect left – then the trial would continue in absentia, with all the members present taking turns in denouncing the expelled member, reading charges against him (again in a manner eerily reminiscent of 1984). When his inevitable conviction was sealed, someone – generally his closest friend – wrote the excommunicate, a bitter, febrile, and portentous letter, damning the apostate forevermore and excluding him forever from the Elysian fields of reason and reality. Having his closest friend take the leading part in the heresy proceeding was of course important as a way of forcing the friend to demonstrate his own loyalty to Rand, thereby clearing himself of any lingering taint by association. It is reported that when Branden was expelled, one of his closest former friends in New York sent him a letter proclaiming that the only moral thing he could do at that point was to commit suicide – a strange position for an allegedly pro-life, pro-individual-purpose philosophy to take.

I have heard more than one account of people nearly starving themselves into malnutrition by following Lester Roloff's strange dietary laws. Well, Christian fundamentalists aren't the only ones with strange views of health that they use their beliefs to justify. Consider Ayn Rand's view of smoking and how that affected her followers:

The all-encompassing nature of the Randian line may be illustrated by an incident that occurred to a friend of mine who once asked a leading Randian if he disagreed with the movement’s position on any conceivable subject. After several minutes of hard thought, the Randian replied: "Well, I can’t quite understand their position on smoking." Astonished that the Rand cult had any position on smoking, my friend pressed on: "They have a position on smoking? What is it?" The Randian replied that smoking, according to the cult, was a moral obligation. In my own experience, a top Randian once asked me rather sharply, "How is it that you don’t smoke?" When I replied that I had discovered early that I was allergic to smoke, the Randian was mollified: "Oh, that’s OK, then." The official justification for making smoking a moral obligation was a sentence in Atlas where the heroine refers to a lit cigarette as symbolizing a fire in the mind, the fire of creative ideas. (One would think that simply holding up a lit match could do just as readily for this symbolic function.)

Now that I think about it, there's probably not really a contradiction between Ayn Rand's view of life and that of Christian fundamentalists. Both profess allegiance to a higher form of 'reason'.

Rand's form was Objectivism. Christian fundamentalists tended to flock around Francis Shaeffer, or any teacher of their choice who threw around scripture verses like 'come now and let us reason together'. Ultimately, individual thinking was stifled in both extremes.

Reason really was not celebrated as much as strict obedience to rules, teachers, preachers, and revered writers. If you went to movies, or read novels, or did anything that might be interpreted as 'fun', it was expected to explain why this appealed to you. Just merely enjoying something was not enough. Even sex within marriage had to be interpreted as 'worship' when not used for procreation.

What Ayn Rand provided for religious fundamentalists was the idea that even if your rejected the bible, you still had to accept certain absolutist views of right and wrong that were in line with right wing politicos.

Most of those views were generally opposed to holding leadership accountable for any wrongs enacted against their members. In fact, any wrongs perpetuated on the followers by their leaders were ultimately the fault of the followers.

No wonder some of Rand's biggest fans can be found amongst fundamentalist Christian leaders and followers!


Anonymous said...

This post is complete nonsense.

Christians as Objectivists? Laughable at best...

Dwayne Walker said...

Then explain why some of her best fans have been fundamentalist Christians.