Thursday, March 25, 2010

John Galt on Original Sin

John Galt is a fictional character in Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged
Excerpt: (starts around 3:30)
"Damnation is the start of your morality, destruction is its purpose, means and end. Your code begins by damning man as evil, then demands that he practice a good which it defines as impossible for him to practice. It demands, as his first proof of virtue, that he accepts his own depravity without proof. It demands that he start, not with a standard of value, but with a standard of evil, which is himself, by means of which he is then to define the good: the good is that which he is not.

It does not matter who then becomes the profiteer on his renounced glory and tormented soul, a mystic God with some incomprehensible design or any passer-by whose rotting sores are held as some explicable claim upon him - it does not matter, the good is not for him to understand, his duty is to crawl through years of penance, atoning for the guilt of his existence to any stray collector of unintelligible debts, his only concept of a value is a zero: the good is that which is non-man.

The name of this monstrous absurdity is Original Sin. A sin without volition is a slap at morality and an insolent contradiction in terms: that which is outside the possibility of choice is outside the province of morality. If man is evil by birth, he has no will, no power to change it; if he has no will, he can be neither good nor evil; a robot is amoral. To hold, as man's sin, a fact not open to his choice is a mockery of morality. To hold man's nature as his sin is a mockery of nature. To punish him for a crime he committed before he was born is a mockery of justice. To hold him guilty in a matter where no innocence exists is a mockery of reason. To destroy morality, nature, justice and reason by means of a single concept is a feat of evil hardly to be matched. Yet that is the root of your code.

Do not hide behind the cowardly evasion that man is born with free will, but with a 'tendency' to evil. A free will saddled with a tendency is like a game with loaded dice. It forces man to struggle through the effort of playing, to bear responsibility and pay for the game, but the decision is weighted in favor of a tendency that he had no power to escape. If the tendency is of his choice, he cannot possess it at birth; if it is not of his choice, his will is not free.

What is the nature of the guilt that your teachers call his Original Sin? What are the evils man acquired when he fell from a state they consider perfection? Their myth declares that he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge - he acquired a mind and became a rational being. It was the knowledge of good and evil - he became a moral being. He was sentenced to earn his bread by his labor - he became a productive being. He was sentenced to experience desire - he acquired the capacity of sexual enjoyment. The evils for which they damn him are reason, morality, creativeness, joy - all the cardinal values of his existence. It is not his vices that their myth of man's fall is designed to explain and condemn, it is not his errors that they hold as his guilt, but the essence of his nature as man. Whatever he was - that robot in the Garden of Eden, who existed without mind, without values, without labor, without love - he was not man.

Man's fall, according to your teachers, was that he gained the virtues required to live. These virtues, by their standard, are his Sin. His evil, they charge, is that he's man. His guilt, they charge, is that he lives. They call it a morality of mercy and a doctrine of love for man."
(Thanks Andrew)


  1. I'm not a fan of Rand, but I have to wonder how her existence makes the conservatives feel who like to wallow in the lie that atheism implies communism.  Rand is clearly a very obvious counterexample to that rhetoric.

  2. Implies communism? I am both a socialist and a Catholic (and an atheist) and I will say that Rand's cult of the individual is precisely the destructive arm of atheism. I recently learned that Anton LaVey was directly inspired by Rand. That's not to make some guilt-by-association against atheism by a misunderstanding of 'satanism.' It's just an indicator of the appeal of the cult. 

    It's the rationalist who says "I think for myself" without any consideration of the normative ideological position that speaks through him. The Catholic understand 'why' he believes in a political movement without any illusion of total autonomy. In any case there's only a priori reasoning which can take intellectual autonomy as a moral good. (I will say proudly that I dont think 'for myself,' I think in many dialogues and conversations.) The radical individualist generally lacks the reasoning 'why' he believes, what structure he (implicitly) surrenders to. I have no conflict with the idea of surrender, it brings clarity and purpose. 

    I'm suggesting that radical autonomy is the root of conservative grievances, it's their misunderstanding of communism which makes them feel it turns "from God." I would suggest that the Catholic church is one of the more pure socialist organizations in history.  

  3. It's cool if you disagree with Rand and Objectivism, but attacking it by saying that it's followers are a cult that lacks the sophosticated reasoning of the Catholic Church is kind of odd to me.  Original Sin is something that is fairly particular to Catholics (well Eastern Orthodox and a few other denominations of Christianity too) so are you implying that there's a benefit to believing in original sin?  Or was your comment just an "us and them" statement unrelated to the content of the video?

  4. The comment was more-so related to Steven's comment. But related to original sin and the clip, a 'cult' might not be appropriate, except inasmuch as those engaged accept a belief structure without reason which is antithetical to its purpose, in that there is no radical individuality and selfish whims for the production of social good. Original sin seems a very practical and reasoned construct in that it suggests that without the communion, without a moral society of belonging, one is left to whims and selfish enjoyments. This is read in the story of Eden as well. The holy spirit (the communion of the church) impels moral responsibility to humans as well as the land ethic from this reading of Genesis. It is only through these responsibilities that sinfulness (selfishness) is overcome.

    So yes, I would say an ethic based on selfishness is antithetical to catholic teaching, if you want to call it "us and them."

    See this interesting video as well:" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="170" height="140

    who is a neo-atheist I somehow respect, despite his particular disgust with the Catholic church (which we all feel, sometimes).

  5. 'somehow' is misspoken here. I simply feel he has worlds more nuanced perspectives than for example Mr. Dawkins (an intellectual nemesis of mine for perhaps other reasons entirely), Mr. Harris, and the 'bright' Mr. Dennet.  

  6. Don't worry. Ivan is just a loon, new to this blog. He almost always writes he's an "atheist, catholic and scientist". He's safely ignored.

  7. Martin. yes. that's the easiest way not to respond. 

    And yes, I am an atheist, in that I dont take the metaphysical Christ event as historically true (but as a conceptual truth, certainly). I am a (practicing) Catholic in that I believe the holy communion is a transcendental social order and the holder of a crucial collective moral consciousness, and I am a scientist as a researching graduate student in the computational sciences focusing on climate science, which I view as an important Catholic concern as well.

    I apologize if this complexity troubles you. Christians come in other varieties than Ray Comfort (who is, for the record, a categorical fool, and who I wish would stop speaking, at least as much as I wish the same of Dick Dawkins). 

  8. Ivan, that is some impressive brain gymnastics that you're practising.

  9. <span>" <span>the computational sciences focusing on climate science, which I view as an important Catholic concern as well. "</span> 
    ??? </span>
    Excuzes moi...
    <span>Listen, mr. Brugere. Thou shalt not improveth  ANYTHING that god createth.  It's a blasphemy - you know.  

  10. Polonium, the catholic church takes as its formost social responsibility the care for the poor, which includes addressing issues of differentiated environmental effects from human activity, and as far as my experience within the church, personal modesty and reduction toward environmental ills more broadly.

  11. Really Ivan? I would have thought the Catholic Churches foremost social responsibility was the care for the gold. Who wants it going to waste on trashy jewelry when it can go towards making opulent Vatican Decor.

    Now, a challenge approaches for you Ivan Brugere, are you up to it? Without researching it how many pennies on the dollar of money given to your crucial collective moral consciousness go to... let's just say charity, not even to just the poor. I just want your best guess, something you think is accurate off the top of your head.

  12. Ughable: I dont really understand the question, and I dont know if you understand Catholic acts of intent. Catholic activists are motived within their lives by causes which reduce poverty or work toward social good. How do you measure intent.

    I'm not being facetious or dodgey, the Church changes peoples' hearts in the direction of social justice and responsibility. To ask of intent is to ask the question: "how much worth is created annually to the purposes of democratic freedom?"  

    That said, there are so many hearts to change even within the church. The terror of a collective communion is the sinful and selfish nature of humans. So, as a catholic who is also a socialist that is my 'currency,' people's orientation toward equity, modesty, and community (which seems antithetical to objectivism and market individualism). 

  13. When you're ready to try being honest, let us know.  Until then the fact that you want to pretend it's possible to be simultaneously an atheist and a Catholic just proves that you don't give a damn about being honest.  The fact that you're willing to post many words to to try to defend this indefensible position doesn't change that you cannot, by definition, be a Catholic without believing in Yahweh.  Participating in the rituals is not sufficient on its own to fit the definition.

    Now, I don't know whether this is because you're a liar or because you're a lunatic or if it's because you're understanding of the English language is so lacking that you don't know what the words you are using actually mean, but it's your own damned fault you posted words to the effect that those are the only choices I'm left with.  Until you can make your own position self-consistent, your volumes of distracting side-talk are irrelevant.

    The point I made that you dishonestly pretended you were actually responding to when you weren't, was that Ayn Rand, being simultaneously stridently atheist and stridently anti-communist, puts the lie to the claim by conservatives that atheism and communism are inexoribly linked.  I don't like Ayn Rand's politics but I'm glad her existence serves as an obvioius counterexample to that blatant lie.

  14. <span>One of the best and impressive books I've ever read...

  15. I think that you'll find that most things are inconsistent from a certain view. I'm not trying to formulate a complete number-theoretic system. Many philosophical systems are premised on the conflicting dialectic. As a reader of both Hegel and the Tao Te Ching, I'm not repulsed by what you call an internal contradiction. The Catholic position is already one of doubt, a dialectic between faith and reason. Goddamn, the 'passion' is a self-contradiction, it is to be 'saved' and made whole only through the destruction of Christ and his vanishing from our experiential realm. And yet, this violence is written on the hearts of all Catholics, we "wear a torture device around our necks" the snarky atheist misinterprets (a "cult of death"). But this misunderstands the consistency of the symbol, as if it were to be taken only as two planks and a dying man. Gruesome and terrible!

    And I'm sorry but one who only believes on the premise of consistency will have a difficult time accomplishing much of anything. The relative equality and prosperity of a liberal economic system is premised on its violence elsewhere, abstracted away from the storefront. Yet the lived experience of consumerism is based on a rational measure of self-interest. The liberal-democratic state excludes people within and without its own borders, imposes its discursive bounds, and pursues its own interests despite for real collaborative action. Yet, perhaps you still call yourself by a 'nation'. The difference is that these systems are normative and need no defense; the rationality and consistency of the market and the state are taken "without proof" (as John Galt would say).

    So the real philosophical danger here is that one of us has accepted that his position is rational and consistent. I have not. But the dialectic of inconsistency is sufficiently compelling in that, we live in an unjust world yet people turn their hearts toward fellowship and social equality. To accept a position of rationality and consistency would be to do so in our own lives: our political and economic participation (as you claim of my religious participation) must be consistent prior to action. This is the same consistency the "social responsibility" Reagan/Thatcher-conservative determines through a kind of retroactive-predestination that the poor are lazy and irresponsible (because my 'present' is rational and requires explanation as such). I reject this. I start from the premise that the human economic-political world is irrational and unjust, and yet I participate. (oh! contradiction! gotcha.)

  16. Thanks for posting this :-D

  17. Hmm.. after watching the video I am not very impressed with the editing.

  18. Yeah.  About half the speech has been done this way with varying results (just go to the video's gpage on you tube and go to the author's page.)  Let's just keep our fingers crossed that the mini series deal goes through.

  19. <p><span>Ivan I think you confuse the Catholic Church with Socialism. Socialists choose to pay higher taxes so that the poor have food, a decent education, a chance to fulfillment and dignity. Socialists take care of each other, they see society and individuals as linked, their studies show that when the average education of their country goes up, each individual is better off as well. </span>
    </p><p><span>Today in society we need no church to be make moral choices, to live moral lives, to take part in society and help our fellow human beings. Yes sure, political systems, parties and leaders can be corrupt, but nothing compared to the magnitude of corruption that exists in the church. Those truly concerned with the welfare of society often find it immoral to support and condone the church. </span>

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