Religion

1996-04-22

Listening to a new recording of Czech sacred music on the ECM label has me thinking about religion. My family is Catholic and I was brought up Catholic, though not strictly so (seems to me we went to church once or twice a year when I was young and my family lived on Long Island, NY -- before we moved to Maine). At the age of nine I became an atheist because my prayers went unanswered and I came to the conclusion that there is no God. Needless to say this was not a popular decision in my family, but I don't recall it becoming a big deal until I discovered Objectivism at age 13 and had a systematic justification for my lack of belief.

Anyway, I have always been attracted to what you might call the religious aspect of Objectivism. Not in the sense of taking the philosophy on faith as the Peikovians do, but in the sense of the inspirational aspect of the philosophy -- I think that this is why I like Anthem best of her works. The basic text here is Rand's introduction to the Fountainhead, which sets out in what sense her philosophy is a religion of man. I have always felt strongly about this and I think it is something that initially attracted me to Rand's philosophy. It is something that one finds in Nietzsche sometimes, too, which is why I like Nietzsche to the extent that I do. Nietzsche speaks of art, philosophy, and religion as the highest creations of man. Art and philosophy are obviously not a problem and Rand focused on these in her career (novelist-philosopher), but is there a legitimate place for religion in life? -- some kind of secular and rational religion? In a recent interview in Full Context, Doug Rasmussen raises this issue but doesn't provide any answers. He does suggest that religion is something other than a high form of ethics, however (which is Rand's claim in the introduction to the Fountainhead). This would imply that the concept of the sacred is something other than the concept of the (extremely) good.

I feel that I want to do some exploration of the concept and practice of the sacred, though I'm not sure how to go about it. An example: there is something about sacred music that is not ordinarily communicated in secular music, I feel. Another example: there is a reason why Rand had Roark create the Stoddard Temple. Roark was not opposed to religious feeling suitably abstracted from supernaturalism (and Toohey knows this about him, and exploits it). Of course, I am most interested in the unity of the secular and the sacred, but this is extraordinarily difficult to achieve given the long history of supernatural religion in Western thought. Yet some of the Eastern philosophies are more open to such a unity, for example Confucianism (I own and have read a book entitled "Confucius: The Secular as Sacred" -- I need to revisit that). I think that there is actually very little of the sacred in most religions, especially in organized religion, which very quickly becomes bureaucratic and anti-individualistic. But I would think that some times and currents in religion and philosophy may yield insights about this, if one can abstract from the supernatural elements. For instance, early Christianity may have been much more healthy than what we have become accustomed to thinking of as organized Christianity (I am thinking especially of the gnostics, who were quite individualistic). And, as I mentioned, some of the Eastern traditions may hold some truths that we cannot get otherwise or that were lost in the West (Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism). This is something I'd like to explore, I think.

I find that over time I become less and less interested in what Objectivists have to say. It's an insular tradition, already. Certainly Peikoff and his ilk, but even David Kelley and the IOSers have little to say to me. I feel that I am beyond that and desirous of greater wisdom than these often small people can offer (though I liked David's recent piece in the IOS Journal and I am looking forward to reading his monograph on benevolence). I seek thoughts and people who can push me to greater heights and wisdom. That's one of the reasons I like certain friends of mine so much -- they're searching, too, not tied down and wedded to a system, but seeking life and knowledge and wisdom as a human individual first of all. I believe that there is much truth in Objectivism but that there are other truths, too. I try to put it all together into what I call my philosophy for living on earth -- though perhaps in doing so I stray from the Objectivist flock. So be it. Of course, Objectivism is so much a part of my thoughts and my foundations (I have been an Objectivist, and have been actively assimilating these ideas, since I was 13) that my intellectual journey seems to me to be an extension or expansion of Objectivism. But I'm not sure that's really the case, sometimes. Yet the fundamental truth is that I must follow my own thoughts and my own judgment of reality, no matter where they take me. This is one of the great lessons of Rand's writings, for me -- this intellectual individualism.


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal