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Religion Versus Morality

From The Objective Standard, Vol. 7, No. 3.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Mohammed Atta and his minions flew stolen planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, destroying the former and murdering thousands of innocent civilians. What motivated this atrocity? What filled the murderers with such all-consuming hatred that they were willing to surrender their own lives in order to kill thousands of innocent human beings? The clear answer is that these were religious zealots engaged in holy war with their primordial enemy—the embodiment of the modern secular West: the United States of America.

In their evil way, the Islamists provide mankind with some clarity. They remind us of what real religion is and looks like—not the Christianity or Judaism of the modern West, watered down and diluted by the secular principles of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment; but real faith-based, reason-rejecting, sin-bashing, kill-the-infidels religion. The atrocities of 9/11 and other similar terrorist acts by Islamists do not clash with their creed. On the contrary, they are consistent with the essence of religion—not merely of Islam—but religion more broadly, religion as such.

This is an all-important lesson that humanity must learn: Religion is hazardous to your health.

Unfortunately, conventional views of religion hold just the opposite. Many people believe that religion is the necessary basis of morality—that without belief in God, there can be no ethics, no right or wrong. A character in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov famously expressed this view: “In a world without God, all things become permissible.” In the 21st century, many people still believe this.

But the converse is true. A rational, fact-based, life-promoting morality is impossible on religious premises. Indeed, religion clashes with every rational principle and factual requirement of a proper, life-advancing ethics. A proper ethics, one capable of promoting flourishing human life on earth, requires the utter repudiation of religion—of all of its premises, tenets, implications, and consequences.

To begin understanding the clash between religion and human life, consider the Dark Ages, the interminable centuries following the fall of Rome in the 5th century AD. The barbarian tribes that overran Rome eventually converted to Christianity, which, in the form of the Catholic Church, became the dominant philosophic and cultural force of medieval Europe. Unlike the essentially secular classical world, or the post-Renaissance modern world, the medieval world zealously embraced religion as the fundamental source of truth and moral guidance. What were the results in human life?

The Church held what amounted to a theocratic dictatorship. It prescribed doctrine and proscribed freethinking. For centuries, it burned heretics at the stake. The dispute regarding the Trinity is a representative example. The Church held that Jesus is God—but distinct from God the Father—nevertheless, that God is one. Arius, a 4th-century Catholic clergyman, recognized that, logically, this is nonsense. He and his supporters, in an attempt to clarify and uphold monotheism, held that God created Jesus; that Jesus, although divine, is not identical to God the Father. After protracted theologic wrangling, Church leaders upheld the Trinity, declared the Arian theory a heresy, and killed thousands of its unrepentant supporters.1

The Church’s repression of the so-called Manichean Heresy was worse. Church officials held that God is both all-powerful and all good. How, then, can there be evil and destructiveness in His world? Presumably, if God is all good, He desires to save His children from catastrophes; if all-powerful, He is able to do so. Why, then, do epidemics, volcanoes, and earthquakes, as well as volitionally chosen human evil, afflict God’s children? From these premises, the Manicheans give a plausible answer: God is all good but not all-powerful; He fights evil relentlessly and effectively, but evil has undeniable power in the world. For centuries, the Church warred against various iterations of Manicheanism, killing thousands, burning books, and demanding blind acceptance.2

Further, the Church suppressed the era’s leading philosophers. It so effectively burned copies of one of the books by John Scotus Erigena—the 9th-century thinker today considered the only original philosopher for five hundred years—that not a single copy survived. The Church, frustrated by Peter Abelard’s conviction that all Christian beliefs were explicable by the method of Aristotelian logic, imposed on this genius—the greatest European thinker in the 1,500-year period between Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas—a decree of perpetual silence and burned some of his writings. Church officials threatened Jean Roscelin, one of Abelard’s teachers and a leading 12th-century philosopher, with excommunication if he did not recant one of his theories; he recanted. This brief survey of repression could be extended indefinitely.3

The economic results followed accordingly. Economist Angus Maddison reports that Europe showed zero growth in per capita income for the thousand years between 500 AD and 1500; average per capita income stood at around an abysmal $215 in 1500.4 Crushing poverty, the inability during a full millennium to rise out of the ashes of Rome’s destruction, was an ongoing tragedy of the era of religious domination—as was the human life expectancy, which failed to rise above the twenties.5 Dogma, superstition, and the pyre stifled the freethinking human mind, halting philosophic, scientific, medical, and technological progress. The great advances wrought by the leading thinkers of the classical world in philosophy, literature, mathematics, and theoretical science were largely lost in the Western world. Reason, not to be liberated until the Renaissance, was a choked and leashed poodle, forced to follow its master of blind faith.

What was the deepest cause of a cultural decline into the abyss that lasted for almost a thousand years? Why did this quest for Heaven lead to hell on earth?

The cause was religion. The reason it led to hell on earth is that religion clashes with every rational requirement of man’s earthly life. The first step in understanding this is to identify the philosophic essence of religion; the second is to identify the fundamental requirements of human life; and the third is to observe that, point for point, these two clash irrevocably. Consider each in turn.

The Philosophic Principles of Religion

Religion is an attempt to answer the fundamental philosophic questions of human life. What is the nature of the universe or reality? What is the nature of man? How—by what means—do we gain knowledge? What is the good? What are the principles of a good society?

In metaphysics, the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of the universe taken as a whole, religion asserts the existence of an all-powerful spirit that created and governs the universe. Reality is dualistic, sundered into two dimensions—the natural and the supernatural. The supernatural world, the realm of God, is superior to the natural world in every form: it is the cause of the natural world and, thereby, the source of law in both physics and morality.

Religion’s theory of human nature follows directly from its metaphysics: Man is metaphysically bifurcated, with a soul emanating from the higher world and a body belonging to this one. Because God is morally superior to man, man’s soul—the godlike element in his makeup—is morally superior to the body or “flesh,” which is susceptible to carnal or sinful temptation. The two exist as an unstable mix, in inherent moral conflict; the body desiring indulgence of its urges, and the soul seeking to restrain it in accordance with moral guidance from God. Jesus expressed this succinctly: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that examines the means and method by which human beings gain knowledge. The fundamental question of epistemology is: how do men gain and verify knowledge? Here religion emphasizes faith. In contrast to reason—the method of science and secular philosophy, which starts with direct observation of facts and then seeks to formulate noncontradictory theories to explain the facts—faith begins with a book, whether the Bible, the Koran, or another, which is said to be written by men divinely inspired, whose teachings must therefore be uncritically accepted. The most important knowledge or truths are faith-based beliefs gleaned from a revealed text, truths insusceptible to observation or to logical criticisms based in observation. Jesus says, for example, “Truly, I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible to you.” If the holy book states that the universe was created from nothing, or that virgins give birth, or that a sheer act of belief can move a mountain, or the like, the claim is to be accepted, regardless of its logical impossibility. Faith is belief in that for which there is no evidence or which contradicts evidence. As Mark Twain observed, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”

Ethics or morality is the branch of philosophy concerned with the issues of right and wrong; religion commands unquestioning obedience to the Creator. Because God is the creator of the world and of man, His creation is His—and He governs it. This is why the First Commandment of the Judaic-Christian Bible states: “I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” In effect, this is the only commandment, for it proclaims that good and evil are whatever God says they are—that men must place Him and His decrees first in their pantheon of values—and that the fundamental virtue is obedience. How do we know that the Bible’s commandments are morally right? By means of faith, the epistemological “method” of religion.

What does all of this imply for the realm of politics? Historically, wherever religion has been a dominant philosophic-cultural force, a theocratic state has followed—whether under the medieval Church, the Puritans, or the ayatollahs. The philosophic cause is clear. To religionists, for man’s law to be virtuous, it must be in strict accordance with God’s law. Who best knows God’s law? The clergy or theologians, who devote their lives to it. Therefore, strict adherence to religion requires that a spiritual elite govern the state. One 20th-century philosopher put it this way:

As soon as absolute truth is supposed to be contained in the sayings of a certain man [whether Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, or any other], there is a body of experts to interpret his sayings, and these experts infallibly acquire power, since they hold the key to truth. . . . [I]t is their business to expound an unchanging truth, revealed once for all in utter perfection, so that they become necessarily opponents of all intellectual and moral progress.6

In summary, religion’s answers to life’s fundamental questions are as follows: What is the nature of the universe? It is created and governed by God, and consists of two dimensions—the natural and the supernatural, the latter creating and governing the former. What is the nature of man? He is a dualistic being, part spirit, part flesh; part godly, part sinful; part good, part evil—a being torn by incessant soul-body conflict. How do men gain knowledge? They do so by means of faith in the truth of God’s word as presented in Holy Scripture. What is the good? It is strict obedience to God’s word. What are the principles of a good society? They are the principles espoused by expert interpreters of God’s commandments.

Religion is a subcategory of philosophy, which is its genus. It is a faith-based, obedience-oriented system of belief.

This analysis leads to a rough working definition of “religion.” Religion is a philosophic system based in faith, upholding the existence of a God, who requires blind obedience from the subjects He created and governs.

This is the essence of religion. But what are the requirements of human life on earth?

The Requirements of Human Life on Earth

Prior to the Industrial Revolution of 18th-century Britain, famine in Europe (and around the world) was pervasive; untreatable disease (such as the catastrophic “Black Death”), widespread; utter destitution, rampant; and life expectancy, less than thirty-five years at birth.7 But the scientific, technological, and industrial revolutions definitively changed all that. Advances in theoretical science, applied science, and consequent industrialization and the mass production of consumer goods made possible extraordinary improvements in living standards and life expectancies.8 For example, an infant girl in the West today has a life expectancy of roughly eighty years—with standards of living undreamed of by her ancestors merely two centuries ago.

Also during the 18th century, intellectual and political revolutionaries in Great Britain’s North American colonies established the freest nation in history. Such giants as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and others founded the American republic on the individual’s inalienable right to his own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. This principle enabled citizens of the new republic to act fully in accordance with their basic means of survival: their reasoning minds.

Over the past 220 years, the principle of individual rights established by the American Revolution has liberated the brainpower of hundreds of millions of individuals. It has given rise to extraordinary advances in every field of intellectual endeavor, including such pioneering achievements as Thomas Edison’s electric light; the Wright brothers’ airplane; Henry Ford’s mass production of automobiles; William James’s trailblazing in the field of cognitive psychology; the literary works of Hawthorne, Poe, Melville, Twain, and others; the birth of the mass publishing, music, and film industries; the computer and Internet revolutions; and on and on.

Fundamentally, there are three principles mankind must recognize and embrace if human beings are to flourish on earth. The first is that reason is man’s basic instrument of survival. The second is that the requirements of man’s life constitute the proper standard of moral value—the criterion by which good and evil are measured. The third is that each individual should strive to attain his own life-serving values and personal happiness. Take them in turn.

Reason Is Man’s Basic Means of Survival

Reason is man’s sole means of understanding reality and his basic means of living on earth. Every species possesses a distinctive means of survival. For example, birds have wings with which to fly; lions, claws and fangs with which to rend their prey; antelopes, foot speed to outrun lions; and so forth. Whereas other species survive by physicalistic means—wings, size, strength, claws and fangs, speed of foot—man does not.

If man tried to compete for survival by such means, his life expectancy would be sadly abridged. How many human beings, for example, would care to try outrunning a hungry lion? It is not great foot speed or size or strength that enables man to survive—but reason.

Every value upon which human life depends is a product of his reasoning mind. For example, men must grow food, which process requires knowledge of agricultural science and technology, which depends on the mind. They must develop medicines, a process entailing knowledge of biological science, which depends on the mind. They must build houses, a productive activity involving knowledge of architecture, engineering, and mathematics, which, again, depends on the mind. The monumental advances of the scientific, technological, and industrial revolutions are exalted examples of this principle. Reason is man’s basic instrument of survival.

Any rejection of reason, for any alternative, is a rejection of man’s survival instrument—and thus a rejection of man’s life.

That reason is the basic means by which human beings promote their lives is clear. But the question remains: Why is the enhancement of human life good? Or, more generally: What makes anything good, whether education, wealth, love, or anything else?

Man’s Life Is the Standard of Moral Value

The question of what makes something good or bad has puzzled philosophers for centuries. For example, if it were said that an individual should work hard and support himself by honest effort, most people would undoubtedly agree. But what makes it good? Is it good because God commands it? Or good because society deems it so? Or good because an individual judges it right for himself? Or, alternatively, is there some fundamental fact of reality that requires it of human beings—that mandates it as a necessity of human life?

Ayn Rand answered this question. She identified, after 2,500 years of Western philosophy, a rational, fact-based standard of moral value. Prior to Rand, philosophers had generally repudiated the idea that values could be based on or derived from facts. For example, David Hume asked the question whether an “ought” proposition can be derived from an “is” proposition—and answered with a resounding “no.” Hume held, in effect, that while he could observe an individual working long hours, earning money, paying bills, devising a budget, putting money in the bank, and so forth—he could not discern the “good” in this. Where is the “good?” he asked. One cannot directly observe it—can’t touch or see or taste it. If there is no observational evidence to establish some action as good, then the good is not based in facts. Hume concluded that no identifiable positive relationship exists between values and facts. Value judgments are not based on the facts of reality—but on some other consideration.

The idea that values cannot be grounded in observable fact, but must be based on something else, has been prevalent in philosophy for millennia—and still is. There are three schools of thought on this issue: the religious, the social, and the personal.

The religious school holds that God’s will is the standard of right and wrong. On this view, anything God commands is good by virtue of His wish or will alone. So, for example, if He chooses to flood the earth, killing untold numbers of human beings—or to slay thousands of Hebrews for the crime of worshipping a golden calf—or to permit Satan, on a bet, to torment the virtuous Job—then these actions are good simply because He chose them. This was the dominant moral theory of medieval Europe and is that of most of today’s Middle East.

The social school maintains that society’s collective judgment is the standard of right and wrong. On this view, good and evil are created by the group, and are relative from one society to another. If a society judges that God is the source of moral law, then, for that society, He properly is; if a secular society claims otherwise, then, for it, moral law legitimately proceeds from another source. Similarly, if National Socialists or Communists hold that a man’s life belongs to the state, then, in their societies, it properly does; if the Americans claim that a man’s life belongs to him, then, in America, it rightfully does.

Today, it is common to hear Western proponents of the social school claim, in brutal consistency, that the suppression of women in the Arab-Islamic world—and elsewhere—cannot be condemned, because “it is their culture.” This theory is dominant in the modern Western world, and, in its most consistently virulent form, was the school of thought underlying and giving rise to both National Socialism and Communism, including their “justification” for the extermination of more than one hundred million innocent individuals who were judged, by society, to be “enemies of the people.” Because society is held akin to a mini-God on earth, this code is merely a secularization of the religious school.

The personal school holds that an individual’s sheer will is the standard of right and wrong. Whatever the individual wants to do is good for him—because he wants to do it. “If it feels good, do it” was the refrain of the 1960s hippie movement, giving perfect expression to this code. On this view, an individual’s feelings tell him the proper actions to perform or shun. If he wants to use toxic drugs, or to engage in indiscriminate sex, or to work productively, or to sponge off of others, or to assault them, or whatever, then doing so is good for him. In the modern Western world, this code is secondary in influence only to the social school. Indeed it is merely a variation on that theory, for, in both, right and wrong are decided subjectively, by whim—whether the individual’s or the collective’s.

Historically, the choices offered mankind have been: Follow God’s whims, follow society’s whims, or follow your own whims.

It remained for Ayn Rand, in her novel Atlas Shrugged and in her nonfiction book The Virtue of Selfishness, to demonstrate that objective facts, not subjective whims, form the basis of moral judgments. Rand provided a revolutionary approach to the “ought-is” question. Rejecting the premise that values are grounded in mere desires of the subject, she asks the question: What is the fundamental fact of reality that gives rise to the entire phenomenon of valuing?

Once the question is posed in this innovative manner, it points in the direction of the answer: It is only because living beings must attain certain ends in order to sustain their lives that the phenomenon of valuing arises. A living being’s values are those things that its nature requires for its survival. An organism’s nature is not a matter of whim—but solely of hard, observable fact.

Observe the causal connection between an organism’s life and its values. A plant, for example, must gain the water, sunlight, and chemical nutrients that its life requires, without which it will die. Similarly, an animal must find the food and shelter from the elements upon which its life depends; if it fails, it perishes. In the same way, a man must produce the material necessities of his survival, a creative activity requiring the use of reason. For man, as well, the alternative is stark: Attain specific goals—or perish. In every case, an organism’s nature—the factual requirements of its survival—is the source of its values; in no case is valuing a product of whim or caprice.

This insight—that the factual necessities of life are the source and origin of valuing—is the indispensable identification that serves as the foundation of a rational ethics.

If a being’s life is the source and goal of valuing, then man’s life—the life proper to a rational being—must be the standard of moral value. As Ayn Rand states, “that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil.”9 If the concepts of “good” and “evil” arise only because certain courses of action promote man’s life, and others harm or destroy it, then the good is that which benefits human life—and the evil is that which is inimical to it. “The validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality,” says Ayn Rand. “The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do.”10

The Individual Is the Proper Beneficiary of His Actions

This leads to the third moral principle. If values come into existence only because certain things are necessary to sustain life, then who or what should achieve them? Who should be the beneficiary of values? Both historically and logically, there are but two choices: An individual can achieve values for himself—or he can sacrifice them and provide selfless service to God or society or both. The code of self-interest is known as egoism; the code of self-sacrifice is called altruism. Historically, altruism has been the dominant code—whether men have been called upon to sacrifice for God or the state.

Rand’s validation of egoism is clear. If values must be gained to support life, then the question follows: Who is alive? Who must act to gain and keep values? Whose life is at stake? Only individual organisms are alive. Societies or groups are not alive; only the individuals who compose them are. Fundamentally, only individuals can or must pursue values, because only they need values to sustain their lives. This is true of all values, including an individual’s most basic biological functions. Howard Roark, the hero in Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead, puts this plainly: “We can divide a meal among many men. We cannot digest it in a collective stomach. No man can use his lungs to breathe for another man. No man can use his brain to think for another. All the functions of body and spirit are private.”11

Just as there is no collective stomach to digest food, so there is no collective organism to achieve values. Only individuals are alive; only individuals need to gain values to sustain their lives; only individuals will perish if they do not obtain the values their survival requires. All human cooperative effort is between and among individuals.

An individual’s need to achieve values is based logically in the factual requirements of human life, the objective phenomenon that makes both possible and necessary the whole field of morality. The validation of egoism involves this identification: Life requires the attainment of values, not their sacrifice or surrender. To pursue values is to seek life; to relinquish or sacrifice them is to court death. Life requires egoism; death is the result of altruism.

Altruism calls for the sacrifice of one’s values. It should not be confused with kindness toward others. Goodwill toward people one cares about—or at least has no reason to hold in contempt—is properly an important value for a rational man. For example, one can receive great joy from helping one’s child, spouse, family member, or dear friend; one can even receive joy from helping a stranger. Conversely, where is the goodwill toward an individual called upon to sacrifice his values, whether his education, his career, his wealth, his love, his life? There is no goodwill in demanding (or even requesting) that a person sacrifice himself. Genuine caring for others resides in encouraging them to spread their wings and fly, exhorting them to achieve their values and prosper, urging them to live rationally, productively, egoistically.

Millions of loving parents understand this, at least implicitly, and rear their children with such a commonsense form of egoism. Put simply, non-sacrificially helping others—helping those who are good people and about whom one genuinely cares—is good; sacrificing the self—doing things that in any way harm one’s life—is evil. (For the best presentations of these important truths, read Rand’s novels, especially The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.)

Ayn Rand asked and answered the fundamental question of moral philosophy: What are values? They are those ends or goals that, given an organism’s nature, objectively promote its life.

Based on this revolutionary insight, she proceeded to ask and answer the three further questions of moral philosophy: 1. What is the standard of moral value? The factual requirements of human life. 2. By what means are men to attain values? By means of reason. 3. Who or what should fundamentally benefit from values? The individual acting in pursuit of them.

These three principles—life as the standard of moral value, reason as man’s basic means of living, and the individual as the proper beneficiary of his own actions—constitute the ethical code of life. These are the three principles that men must understand and adopt if they seek to live and prosper.

Where does religion stand on these life-giving principles? Tragically for mankind, it inexorably opposes every one of them.

The Irreconcilability of Human Life and Religion

Religion subordinates reason to faith. It morally requires, and often physically coerces, people to accept the precepts of a “revealed” text. Whether it’s the Pope silencing Abelard, or the Inquisition suppressing Galileo, or the Fundamentalists banning Darwin, or the jihadists murdering anyone who criticizes Islam, or one of a thousand other instances, religion forbids men from asking questions regarding the fundamental issues of human life. It quashes the freethinking mind; it calls for the burning of books; it severely retards education; and it throttles progress in philosophy, the arts, science, medicine, and technology. For example, in regard to just one of these vital fields, education, observe that throughout most of the Middle Ages, a period spanning virtually a millennium, the overwhelming majority of the Western European population, under the aegis of the Catholic Church, was fully illiterate.12 In some contemporary Islamic countries, girls are not taught to read; and the Taliban will put a bullet in a woman’s head or throw acid in a girl’s face for the “crime” of seeking an education. “Reason,” said Martin Luther in an immortal line, “is the devil’s harlot.”

Religion holds an alleged God’s will, not the requirements of man’s earthly existence, as its standard of moral value. Whatever “God” wills, whether beneficial or inimical to human life, is the good. If He forbids eating fruit of the tree of moral knowledge, thereby condemning man to ethical ignorance, then that is good. If He says human beings are to be judged for their thoughts and desires, not just their actions, then judging men accordingly is a moral imperative. Thus emerges the grim spectacle of a man condemned solely for desiring to sleep with a married woman, even though, as a matter of moral principle, he steadfastly refuses to act on his desire. Further, if God slays thousands of human beings for worshipping a golden calf instead of Him—in violation of a commandment not yet received—then this is good simply because He wills it. God’s will be done—or, alternatively, Allahu Akbar, God is great, bila kayfa, without inquiring how, as Islam states.

It has often been observed how much brutality is perpetrated in the name of God. This is the reason. If God’s will is primary, then human life is secondary. If Old Testament Jews or Christian Crusaders or Islamic jihadists—or any other religious sect—believe that God speaks to them and tells them to kill the infidel, then the believers will regard aggressive slaughter of human life as morally upright. The fundamental principle is: When man’s life is subordinated to any consideration—an alleged God’s will or another—then human beings will be sacrificed to the ruling concern, and men will die in hordes.

Egoism, the moral code exhorting an individual’s rational quest for values, is anathema to religion because, on a God-based ethics, virtue is achieved by means of selfless service to the deity. For example, God required Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his beloved child. In addition to demanding self-sacrificial actions, religions condemn countless actions that are (or can be) rationally self-interested—such as charging interest on loaned money; drinking alcohol, even in moderation; making love out of wedlock; and so on.

All major religions regard sexual love, in particular—perhaps the greatest joy in human life—as carnal, base, ignoble. To discourage it, Islam requires women to be covered from head to toe, permitting only their eyes to appear, and sometimes not even that. Orthodox Judaism stipulates for women extreme modesty of dress, enforced by berating those considered immodest; it bans a woman, during menstruation, from all sexual contact with her husband, and requires ritual purification before contact resumes. The Puritans prohibited dancing. Medieval Catholics invented the chastity belt (one of the few inventions for which religion can take credit). Religions in general regard males as hopeless, lust-dominated beasts; hold that females must be guardians of virginity—and condemn women as promiscuous sluts if they are not. It is impossible to calculate how many women have been riddled with guilt because they enjoyed lovemaking—and have been robbed of a healthy sexuality because they had drummed into their heads since childhood that nice girls don’t like sex.

Religion enjoins human beings to renounce sexual pleasure and countless other values in sacrificial obedience to an alleged God.

Not all religions call for all of the above policies. But religion insists on the existence of a supernatural realm, on its moral superiority to the natural one, on the subordination of reason to faith, and on blind obedience to an illusory being. Given such a primitive—indeed, psychopathologic—philosophy, any atrocity is justifiable. Religion’s atrocious history is grim testament to this truth.

Religion opposes every moral principle required by man’s life on earth. It upholds faith over reason, God’s will as the standard of moral value over the factual requirements of earthly life, and the sacrifice of one’s values over the pursuit of them. Because of the fundamentals of religion’s approach to moral philosophy, wherever and whenever it is adopted, it does and must lead to hell on earth.

Many good people pay lip service to religion but are, in fact, of mixed spirituality. By analogy, the United States has a mixed political system—a combination of individualism and collectivism, of capitalism and socialism, of freedom and statism. The freer capitalist elements lead to achievements and prosperity; the controlled statist elements, to suppression and stagnation. Similarly, many so-called “religious” people have a mixed intellectual system—a combination of rational, self-interested policies and religious, self-sacrificial ones. Such individuals go to medical doctors, not faith healers; read a variety of books, not merely the Bible; drink alcohol in moderation; enjoy sex with partners they love, even out of wedlock; recognize the truth of evolution; and so on.

Many so-called “religious” people have an attenuated commitment to religion. They view religious obligation essentially as: Love God and be kind to their fellow man—that’s it. They do not reject reason, in most of their life, for faith; do not hold that this life is but a testing ground for a better one to come; do not despise man as a sinful being; do not uphold an ethics of self-sacrifice; do not condemn pursuit of this-worldly values and personal happiness; do not believe that infidels should be forcibly converted or killed—indeed, do not even employ the term “infidel” in their vocabulary.

In people of mixed spirituality, the rational, secular values lead to success and happiness; the faith-based, religious ones, to failure and misery. On this point, observe the vivid difference in outcome between the predominantly rational “religious” parent who takes his diabetic child to a physician—and the predominantly religious parent who takes his sick child to a faith healer.

It is long past time for Americans and Westerners in general to repudiate the irrational part of the mixture—and to fully embrace the rational part. If they do, they will find that their own lives, and the conditions of their countries, will improve immensely.

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1 William Manchester, A World Lit Only By Fire (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1993), pp. 7–8.

2 W. T. Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, vol. 2, “The Medieval Mind” (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1969), pp. 60–71; Charles Freeman, The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and The Fall of Reason (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), p. 296. Richard Rubenstein, Aristotle’s Children (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2003), pp. 140–57.

3 Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, vol. 4, “The Age of Faith” (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1950), pp. 931–58; Jones, “The Medieval Mind,” pp. 173, 191.

4 Angus Maddison, Phases of Capitalist Development (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), pp. 4–7.

5 Samuel Preston, “Human Mortality Throughout History and Prehistory,” in Julian Simon, ed., The State of Humanity (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 1995), pp. 30–31.

6 Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957), pp. 25–26.

7 Andrew Bernstein, Capitalism Unbound (New York: University Press of America, 2010), pp. 19–28.

8 Bernstein, Capitalism, pp. 29–60.

9 Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness (New York: New American Library, 1964), p. 23.

10 Rand, Virtue, p. 17.

11 Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead, centennial ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 2005), p. 679.

12 Andrew Coulson, Market Education: The Untold History (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1999), pp. 58–60; Jones, “The Medieval Mind,” pp. 141–42.