There’s Something Wrong With You

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.

Why?

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.

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14 Responses to “There’s Something Wrong With You”

  1. Ergo Says:

    Amen!

    I only have one point of correction: reason is not a virtue. Reason is one of the supreme values for a human being (the others being life, purpose, and self-esteem). Rationality is the virtuous act of being committed to reason in all aspects of living.

    A perfectly virtuous person is one who has an unbreached rationality: the full and relentless exercise of your mind to the fullest extent of your ability.

  2. evanescent Says:

    I stand corrected – I did actually mean to identify rationality as the virtue, not reason. Cheers Ergo!

  3. Toks Says:

    Evanescent, is it not a form of moral relativism to judge a poor person for giving out of their own free will to charity?

  4. evanescent Says:

    Toks, could you highlight the section of my article or comments that judged a poor person for giving to charity?

  5. mlabossi Says:

    You seem to be making a straw man of the ethical position you are attacking. In fact, you say yourself that there are several interpretations and then you simply select one that is easier to attack and less plausible than the others.

    Rand’s moral philosophy (essentially a form of ethical egoism) has serious flaws and is primarily “supported” by basic logical errors. For example, in her classic argument for selfishness she presents a false dilemma between extreme (and extremely self destructive) altruism and ethical egoism. But, as many have pointed out, there is a broader range of alternatives available-thus making the dilemma a false one. She also equivocates on the term “selfish” as well. Obviously, these criticisms are not originally to me-her arguments were laid to rest long ago.

    Ethical egoists are probably better served by availing themselves of Thomas Hobbes’ arguments (as opposed to Rand’s). A strong case can be made against him, but he does make a solid argument based on what he regards as decisive empirical evidence about the true nature of human beings.

    In any case, it is good to see someone arguing about ethics as opposed to simply making the usual assumption of being right.

  6. evanescent Says:

    Mlabossi, I reject your suggestion that Rand’s arguments were laid to rest “long ago”. You will have to do more than merely assert what has yet to be proven, if it can be.

    First of all, she in no ways misunderstands or misrepresents altruism. In fact, it is yourself and others like you who clearly misunderstand altruism, the coiner of the term was Auguste Comte, and it is that definition that is attacked by Rand. So if you’re talking about some watered down “new” definition of altruism then be clear to say so. The original meaning of altruism means “selflessness”, and “otherness”.

    Rand’s morality is that of rational egoism. There is a dichotomy between altruism and selfishness, and no amount of equivocation will resolve it. Either one acts with oneself as the primary beneficiary of one’s choices, or one uses others as the primary beneficiary. Either one is selfish, or one is selfless.

    I have studied Rand for months and see no such equivocation on her use of the term “selfish” – can you provide an example? Just one will do.

    Before you reply, you might like to read my article here which deals with exactly this subject: http://ellis14.wordpress.com/2008/02/15/why-selflessness-is-immoral/

  7. Toks Says:

    Evanescent, you alluded to it with the story of the poor old lady and your subsequent criticism of ‘religion and society’s warped view of morality’. If I understand you (correct me if I’m wrong) objectivism does not consider that particular action and others like it an act of sound morality.

    My question is; when a person is not coerced into ‘sacrificing’ for the greater good of society, who is to say their action is morally reprihensible?

  8. Ergo Says:

    “Ethical egoists are probably better served by availing themselves of Thomas Hobbes’ arguments (as opposed to Rand’s).”

    This person must be joking or lying! Does he even know what Hobbesian egoism is!? Anything but *ethical*! Here are quotes taken from Leviathan:

    “All humans have a general inclination toward “a perpetual and restless desire of Power after power, that ceaseth only in death” (p. 161). “During the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called War; and such a war, as is of every man, against every man.” (p. 185) “the life of man [is] poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” (p. 186) “To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be Unjust. The notions of Right and Wrong, Justice and Injustice have there no place. Where there is no common Power, there is no Law: where no Law, no Injustice. Force, and Fraud, are in war the two Cardinal virtues.”

    Indeed, Hobbes could be blamed for having maligned the position of egoistic ethics to such an extent that no one even believes that a truly robust ethical system can ever emerge from the egoistic paradigm. But that’s not all: Rand goes even further and says there simply is *no* other moral system that can properly be called moral unless it is based on an egoistic paradigm. In other words, ethics for human beings is inherently egoistic.

    Notice how Mlabosi offers his second-handed criticisms of Rand that he has picked up from elsewhere and then pretentiously references Thomas Hobbes, hoping that no one would challege him on this reference to an obviously “cannonical” philosopher. I’ve called you out now: are you really advocating that Hobbesian egoism is somehow better than Rand’s rational egoism? Is his version of viewing man’s natural state as “poor, nasty, brutish, and short” your idea of “empirical evidence about the true nature of human beings” (to use your own words)?

  9. chris Says:

    I think if you are going to address Humanist (you did tag this as such) you should say New Humanist. The first Two Humanist Manifestos define Humanism with three fundamental principles:

    Every human has worth.
    Every has the ability to cope with life.
    Every human is entitled to there dignity.

    Humanist like Carl Rogers expanded upon this by talking about the Human potential in the 1950s and 1960s.

    prior to Manifesto III (published cica 1993?) American Humanism has far less of these morality trappings you mention here.
    I just thought I’d clarify about the old-school Humanism Ethics.

    The Humanism of today, especially the British, falls into morality of sacrifice, because it has a single cause…. To counter Religion at any point or issue.
    Thats fine ,if the new Humanists (and the new atheists) wish to be a lobbiest group.
    but its not the virtues which they started on.

  10. chris Says:

    I’d like to thank you evanescent, for pointing out the flaws of the newer Atheist movement. Not because I have something against their point of view or beliefs. But Finding ones values and virtues is a long evolving process. I hope the new breed of young thinkers digs deeper than the beginners nihilism. I’m sure they will.

  11. Elisheva Levin Says:

    Evanescent:

    You have some misundertanding about certain monotheistic religions.

    Judaism is a monotheistic belief. But Judaism has no doctrine of original sin–so a Jew does not believe that human beings are born with something inherently wrong with them. So you are mistaken in tarring all monotheism with the brush of original sin. As I understand it, original sin, the concept inherent wrongness is Christian. Judaism places great emphasis on human choice.

    Secondly, although the Israelite religion of old did have ritual animal slaughter and the eating thereof (a national BBQ) but the translation of the Hebrew word for it actually means “bring near.” It was a messy, smelly, and primitive business, to be sure, but the object was not to destroy the better for the sake of something lesser, which is the meaning of the Latin from which the English word sacrifice is derived. It was rather to bring the bringer of the sacrifice near to heaven. Modern Judaism does not engage in ritual slaughter at all. Maimonides thought that it was a primitive rite, only permitted until human beings became a little wiser about how to come close to holiness.

    In the parable of the poor woman and her coin, a rabbinic interpretation would be quite different again from a Christian interpretation. Jewish law forbids people to give so much that they make themselves destitute, or to volunteer so much that they make themselves sick or neglect their families. The reason is from concern for the community. A person who is destitute weakens the community because he requires assistance. From what you are saying, however, the reasons that objectivism would find sacrificial giving immoral are different than these.

    Finally, the preservation of one’s own life is a value in Judaism. One should not choose a martyr’s death if there is a way out so long as one does not kill another innocent person to save oneself. A Jew is obligated to defend his or her own life against a ‘pursuer,’ an attacker who has the intent to kill or inflict grave harm. A Jew is not required to give up his or her own life to save another, because in the eyes of Jewish law, each life is of equal value, unless forfeited by choosing to be a pursuer.

    None of this means that Judaism has the same ethics as Objectivism, of course there are many differences. I just think it’s important for you to clarify your arguments so that your attacks on monotheism are accurate.

  12. evanescent Says:

    Hi Elisheva, thanks for taking the time to comment – I appreciate your comments and clarifications.

    In terms of my attacks on monotheism, I do not believe Judaism is exempt, although it is certainly far less guilty than Christianity and Islam. The reason I include Judaism is because of the Old Testament, where there are hundreds of rituals and laws pertaining to human beings, and how obsessive Yahweh is with regard to human uncleanness – which is curious given he supposedly designed us. I’m sure you’re aware of the “uncleanness” attributed to bodily functions and emissions. Throughout the OT, the message is clear: humans are imperfect and flawed, and can’t follow simple instructions, and have to be atoned for constantly. For another example, see the instigation of a “scapegoat”. It is also clear (from his own words) that Yahweh likes to punish people for the crimes of others, especially forefathers. No doubt Christianity took this and added to it, but the idea of dirty flawed humans was there all along. I’m not an expert on modern day Judaism so I have to accept your word for everything else you’ve said, but I think my attacks on the OT remain valid.

    As for the widow’s mite, as I say in the article it can depend on interpretation. I was using the Christian interpretation of sacrifice because it is a paradigm example of “morality” according to most religions, and even to the non-religious. You’re also correct in your assessment of objectivism – Objectivism considers this sort of sacrifice immoral, but not for the subjective collectivist ethics that Judaism seems to favour.

  13. Elisheva Levin Says:

    Hi, Evanescent,

    Thanks for your clarification on the Widow’s Mite (I can never remember the actual name of the story).

    Of course, the stories in what you call the OT are not Judaism, in any real sense. They are from the Israelite religion, which was a national cult. Judaism is really a break with the Temple cult that started because of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple. Rabbinic Judaism, claims continuity with the older Israelite religion, but the Rabbis actually used the concept of ‘Oral Torah’ to evolve the religion into one that could survive national destruction and exile. What they did was quite interesting really, they claimed unbroken sucession from Moses to them, and then proceeded to develop a legal code that rested on the premise that the law “is not in heaven.” Or more practically, “it is what we say it is.”

    You are quite correct that much of Rabbinic law is based on the value of the community–and that it was not voluntary in any real sense, because for practical reasons, the community was necessary to survival in the hostile environment of Europe. Christian Europe was often murderous towards Jews because we fit nowhere on the medieval hierarchy of being. And we were literate, which was very dangerous to the power of the landed gentry.

    About the concept of “uncleanness”: in the ancient (and superstitious) Biblical world, contact with death, or the means to produce life, was considered contact with the other side–a nexus between heaven and earth. Such contact rendered a person impure because s/he had contact with power. In this superstitious sense, such power could be dangerous–it had nothing to do with good and evil, but rather with the importance of separation–which is emphasized in the Hebrew Bible. Contact with the Holy rendered one impure–not unclean (at least not in the modern sense of cleanliness as health). So all these bodily flows and emissions were not generally seen as signs of imperfection, but rather as signs of power–generally the power surrounding life and death–that must be dissipated in some way in order to protect the ordinary. This is more clear in the original Hebrew than in translation, the opposite of holy (separate) in Hebrew is ordinary. The ancient Hebrews were definitely a superstitious lot, but they did not hold a concept of original sin, or even a precursor thereof. Contrary to Christian interpretations of Genesis, the story in Hebrew uses words that demonstrate a clear rejection of the ideas of the separation of body and spirit, and that physical and material being is somehow a lesser state. The Priestly creation story (which is very structured in Hebrew and clearly not meant to be taken literally) emphasizes the goodness of the world, as opposed to the badness of it emphasized in the Enumah Elish. For this reason, sex, which is seen as evil and impure in Christianity, is seen as the highest imitation of God in Rabbinic Judaism. It is so much so that sex between spouses is encouraged on the Sabbath, in order to encourage the union between the eminent and immanent aspects of Eternity.

    Again, although the ethic of sex in Judaism is different from that of objectivism, it is also very different from that of Christianity, which tolerates sex but does not consider it to be a holy act.

    I hope this will add more clarity and precision to your musings, because I think you are onto something very important about human worth and happiness. And those ideas began in the Western tradition, although they only developed their full power most recently, as the light of reason has begun to shine in against the darkness of superstitions.

  14. Blue Linchpin Says:

    I couldn’t agree more…it feels as if the church has stolen the idea of morality and sacrifice to help others, using it to ‘sacrifice’ your money to the church.


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