Is there any religion that doesn’t tell you that you’re dirty, tainted, immoral, and flawed? If there is such a religion, there certainly isn’t a monotheism that doesn’t.
Here’s why: virtually all religions share a standard of morality in common with secular beliefs, as much as the Humanists and New Atheists would like to believe differently. They all hold one particular action as the standard of good noble virtuous behaviour, a standard that is irrational, contradictory, and ultimately impossible to achieve. It is no surprise therefore that the phrases “nobody’s perfect” and “I’m only human” are bandied around so often by theists and atheists alike.
What is this standard? Sacrifice.
Before anybody complains that I’m tarring everyone with the same brush, I’m talking about society in general, religion in general (monotheism mostly), and even secular atheist forms of morality. Ask yourself: do you consider the parable of the widow’s mite a lesson in virtuous behaviour? To those not familiar with the story, it’s a lesson given by Jesus in the bible in the gospels of Mark and Luke. After seeing the rich and wealthy donate large sums of money in the temple charity box, an old lady comes along and drops only two mites, the least valuable of coins. Jesus has this to say: “That poor widow has put more into the offering box than all the others. They all gave a lot because they are rich. But she gave even though she is poor. She put in everything she had. She gave all she had to live on.” – Mark 12: 43-44, New International Reader’s Version.
There are several interpretations of the lesson being offered here, but I will take this one: the greater the sacrifice, the more it hurts, the more of a burden you impose on yourself for others, the more virtuous, the more moral the action.
Even the non-religious might empathise with this thinking. After all, taking care of yourself or those you care about is easy isn’t it? It takes a really moral person to put other people first, to put strangers ahead of loved ones, to give instead of receive.
This, basically, is what is wrong with religion and society’s warped view of morality today. Why else do you think selfishness is regarded negatively, and selflessness is praised?
But if sacrifice is the human ideal, to whom should we sacrifice? And what is to be sacrificed? You cannot sacrifice to those you care about, since that would be selfish. The more selfless the act, the more you should sacrifice to those you care least about, or even hate. And how can you sacrifice without first having? So what does this morality recommend? Do we live a life of “immoral” selfish pursuit, accruing values until some undeterminable point in the future when we must then give away? If everyone did this, what would be left to sacrifice? And when you have sacrificed until you have nothing left, the beneficiary of your actions must then sacrifice everything they have for another, and so on and so on, until the entire human race is left with nothing and there is nobody left to sacrifice to.
This thinking leads to the punishing of productivity and creativity for their own sake, and the raising and exalting of inability and suffering for the sake of being so. Don’t believe me? Consider some examples:
Who is living the more “moral” life in your eyes: the social worker who slaves all day to help people or the businessman who makes a fortune off his products? The son who leaves home to pursue a career of his own, or the one who spends his youth taking care of his sick relatives?
These aren’t specific examples – but they illustrate a trend. Act for yourself: selfish, immoral. Act for others: selfless, moral. For everyday examples, notice when you try to justify an action to others. You will have far more chance of being convincing if you make out yours actions were motivated by concern for others at your own expense, than if you just stated honestly that you were acting in your own rational self-interest.
Here’s a fact: businessmen throughout history have done more to benefit the human race than any number of social workers, charity workers, or caring for the community workers ever have done put together and squared. I’m not attacking charity at all. On the contrary, charity is a wonderful way for those who are well-off to take care of other people and benefit their society as a whole through a freely chosen genuine act of compassion and human empathy (which is a selfish action by the way). What I am attacking is the notion that this is the most noble act one can do. As if the greatest thing a human being can do with their life is live it for other people. Wrong.
No person is a sacrificial object for another person. Nobody’s life belongs to you, and your life belongs to nobody but yourself. Nobody can make a claim to your mind or your body or your property (they are one and the same), nor can you claim theirs.
Yet, that is exactly what most religions and collectivist moralities deny. They say that you have no right to exist in your own right; that the noblest thing you can do is forsake yourself, give away what you have, live on the essentials, give what you can to others, live for the sole purpose of making the world a better place, for making other people happy. What about the self?
Any morality that asks this of its adherents has only one standard: death. Why? Simple: if you choose to live, if you choose to pursue your own life as your ultimate value, you must act in harmony with that value and hold your other values as a guide to your actions. You must accept reason as your primary means of survival, and act consistently with your values. This means NEVER sacrificing a higher value for a lower one. In fact, it means NEVER sacrificing anything, ever. If you give something up of great value for something of even greater value (say, spending £100,000 on an operation to save your child), that is NOT a sacrifice.
There is absolutely no way to deny this, except to use something other than your own life as the standard. And of course there is only one alternative to life: death.
No wonder the morality of sacrifice, of altruism, is so impossible to achieve! No wonder this morality teaches people that they are sinful depraved losers in dirt, who must constantly keep giving and giving to achieve an impossible standard. The morality of sacrifice is the philosophy of self-denigration, self-abuse, self-rejection, and suffering.
Consider this alternative:
“The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.”
“Sweep aside those hatred-eaten mystics, who pose as friends of humanity and preach that the highest virtue man can practice is to hold his own life as of no value. Do they tell you that the purpose of morality is to curb man’s instinct of self-preservation? It is for the purpose of self-preservation that man needs a code of morality. The only man who desires to be moral is the man who desires to live.”
Both quotes are taken from John Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged.
It’s a shame that so many New Age Atheists who are so quick to vilify religion as immoral and irrational still accept many of its basic tenets.
Ayn Rand saw man as a being that could achieve moral perfection. As a being that was not sinful and flawed, but as an efficacious virtuous rational creature without limits, that could achieve his own happiness and betterment. She did this by rejecting the irrational evil morality of suffering and self-sacrifice, and identifying rational egoism as the code of morality, and reason as the highest virtue man could hold. If you can do this, then you’ll learn that there is nothing wrong with you! You can be a perfect virtuous person.