The greatest contribution to ethics in the twentieth century I submit is Ayn Rand’s popularization of the Virtue of Selfishness. Because what she gets so very right, up to the point of being utterly axiomatic (if our ethics are indeed rational), is that one who acts wholly in his own self-interest cannot but help be concomitantly acting in the interest of his neighbor. Without fully delving into the metaphysics behind this axiom, in the interest of time and context, the root of this perfect ethic is that others are the complete existential equal of the Self. This means that the default root moral status of all others is existential equality to the Self, and thus when one’s Self is pursued and its interests sought, the interest of the Other is a natural consequence, and manifests to a qualitatively equal degree.
Allow me to explain. And here, understand, is where I will deviate from Rand’s specific metaphysics, and exposit my own defense of virtuous selfishness. The following exposition very much depends upon a completely different metaphyscial primary than the one subscribed to by Rand (existence). My primary is Ability, and from this I assert that individual consciousness is a proper and necessary component of any rational metaphysics; and, being the ONLY thing which can develop and apply reason (conceptual consistency), which is how reality and truth is established AT ALL, consciousness, itself, at root, is an ENTIRELY objective manifestation of reality. Conversely, Rand rejects consciousness as having any particularly necessary function within reality taken holistically, and sees it as intrinsically subjective, as its primary function is, as Objectivism implies, to interpret that (existence) which is fundamentally exclusive of interpretation.
Every individual human being exists metaphysically as a Self qua Self (YOU (or I) as a function of your SELF…the “you-ness” which IS YOU in the most fundamental sense); and the FACT of that existence is itself the PROOF of the propriety of one’s existence. In other words, the FACT that one exists is the proof of the de facto NECESSITY of one’s existence—reality NEEDS one’s existence to be, in fact, REAL, you might say. Reality cannot be absolutely real if its components—e.g. one who exists—are not essential. For example, it is irrational to assert that one who exists could just as easily not have existed (been born); this means, effectively, that their existence is not fundamentally necessary to reality. The reason this is irrational is simple. We have NO frame of reference for the non-existence of what exists, because non-existence and existence are mutually exclusive contexts. Or, simplified, IS and IS NOT are mutually exclusive frames of reference. If I AM, then my frame of reference is from the place of WHAT IS (what is real, and exists, period, and absolutely). Which means that I can ONLY observe and describe what likewise IS. In order for me to talk of you, for example, not needing to exist, you NEED TO EXIST. Do you see the contradiction? I cannot claim that your existence is not necessary since it is necessary that you exist in order for me to make the claim in the first place. Whatever exists, exists; whatever is real is real. Period. The hypothetical thought experiment of “what if X did not exist/had never been born” is INIFINITELY hypothetical. It is entirely irrelevant to anything, except perhaps, a good science fiction story. Now, it is quite tempting here to dive into the rabbbit hole of choice and free will, but I have to end this article sometime before retirement, so let’s just leave it at that for now.
As I was saying, the fact that one exists is proof of the de facto necessity of their existence. And here is where it gets interesting…because here is where metaphysics inexorably incorporates what I call the Morality of the Metaphysical. What I mean is that metaphysics, in order to mean anything, must have, itself, intrinsic value, and thus cannot be entirely cordoned off from eithcs. It’s fascinating just how the five categories of philosophy (metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, aesthetics) incorporate and even embody one another so precisely. Because one’s existence is necessary, one’s existence is necessarily GOOD. Put generally, existence (or reality…the two are essentially equivalent, metaphysically speaking) is Good, because it MUST BE; and since man exists, he likewise MUST BE, and therefore he is, in his root existence, likewise Good.
Thus, all men being equal in their metaphysical value (Good), and understanding that the Individual Self is that from which and to which all men (being at root Individuals) act, and understanding that the Self is the reference for reality, communicating meaning with other Selves (other men) and drawing a consensus of meaning together, then all men who thus act in service to their own Individual interests will necessarily and concomitantly act in service to the interests of their fellow man. And this is what is meant by the “virtue of Selfishness”.
For example, if I choose to marry and have children with a woman I note to possess virtues I find valuable, based upon a RATIONAL definition of virtue, then in keeping and fulfilling my wedding vows I am serving my own interests as much as I am serving the interests of my wife and children, who have entered into the relationship voluntarily (the only way a true relationship is possible). And, yes, I know the children didn’t “choose” to be born, but (without going into metaphysical detail here) it is simply irrational to consider anyone, even children, as someone OBLIGATED to a relationship against their will. It is my job as a parent to make sure that I provide my children with an environment that reflects their right to the sanctity of their own lives, body and property, with abundant displays of affection and genuine pleasure and privilege with respect to their company, so as to accurately represent the context of what a voluntary relationship should look like. In short, I am obligated to provide my children with an environment that they could CHOOSE to be in, by all rational standards (love, resources, negotiation, the absence of corporeal punishment, shared responsibility to whatever degree possible, shared input, respect, rejection of any Authority/Submission dynamic, etc.etc.).
Getting married and devoting resources to having children then is not sacrifice, it is selfishness. It utterly serves me…and in rationally serving myself, I have served my family. And this is precisely why there is virtue in selfishness. If I build a business to serve myself, the corollary is provision of value to my employees and customers. I never have to think about their needs and desires directly or explicitly. Their needs are fulfilled as a function of fulfilling my own. All notions of altruism, sacrifice, charity (in the “giving of one’s self” sense) are entirely superfluous. Real moral utopia then is not found in sacrifice, but selfishness. And as scandalizing as this may seem, this is, in fact, the ONLY true and rational morality possible for man. Period.
In order to employ virtuous selfishness we must eradicate Self-loathing from ethics entirely. In other words, we must understand and accept the inherent value of man at his metaphysical root. Because man is metaphysically Good, he must possess an innate and existential sufficiency to the apprehension of Truth (epistemology), and Truth’s corollary, Good, and then make choices in service to these things. Man is by his nature able to define and apprehend the distinction between truth and falsehood and good and evil and then make volitional choices based upon that knowledge. Man possesses AGENCY, which is capable and efficacious, as a function of his very metaphysical IDENTITY. Man in his natural state is Good, and thus in his epistemology (capacity for knowledge) capable of Truth, and thus in his ethics (capacity for morality) capable of choosing Good, and thus in his politics (capacity for efficacious moral action) capable of manifesting (acting out) Truth and Goodness. Man’s sufficiency to the knowledge of the true and the good is one with his root nature…it is not bestowed upon him post-conception by some external force, be it God or be it Nature. Certainly, man is not born knowing…he is not born wise. This is not what I am saying. I am saying that man IS born ABLE to know, and ABLE to acquire wisdom. He learns because he IS. His abilty to think and do is HIS, from himself, by nature. It is not given to him…it IS him. And it is here where my apostasy with respect to orthodox Christianity comes to a fine point. Orthodox Christianity rejects this metaphysic to the point of war, literally. And it is why Christianity is an unmitigated disaster by any rational measure: social, emotional, intellectual, psychological, political…it is a shared psychosis that eats humanity from the inside out. It HATES humanity with a red hot passion…it knows absolutely nothing of love at root. But we will get to that.
For man to act truly morally, he must accept a root nature that has endemic/intrinsic moral value; and thus, from this, knowing it and knowing its ethical implications, when he acts (necessarily) from and to himself in his own best interest, he concordantly and concomitantly acts in service to the Interests of his fellow man. This is the reason why those who accept their own natural moral worth are the ones who are the most compassionate. In almost every case, on the contrary, those who loath themselves prove to be the most insufferable and vile of the species, either explicitly or surreptitiously. Every narcissist and psychopath in the world operates from the metaphysical principle that declares themselves to possess no root worth, and thus neither does anyone else. Their occasional sense of grandiosity is a mask for their terminal and inviolable self-hatred. I submit that this is axiomatic. There is no way you can despise your fellow man and love yourself, where “man” is defined RATIONALLY. There is only one rational morality, and it begins with innate Self-worth and bestows that same worth upon others.
Here then we can begin to see the categorical failure of the orthodox Christian Ethic. It is an ethic that asserts obedience to Authority (the divine Ideal, the Church, and the State…the unholy trinity of Platonist ethics) as man’s highest moral obligation, not the making of moral choices; asserts punishment, not rational self-inflicted consequence, as the proper outcome for ethical failure; asserts fear, not love, as the primary form of human motivation. Bear in mind that this is NOT what Christ ACTUALLY teaches, nor what the Bible declares in either of its Testaments (though I will submit that the Apostle Paul’s grip on rational ethics often gets quite tenuous). But orthodox Christianity has about as much use for Christ as Tiberius. Christian ethics of the last 1500 years or so is a derivative of pagan gnosticism, with its interpretive lense brought to bear upon Christ’s legacy first by Augustine of Hippo and formally canonized and organized by the Martin Luther and John Calvin. My point is simply: don’t blame Christ for the abject failure of Christian ethics.
Orthodox Christianity espouses the metaphysical insufficiency of man. He is not in his nature Good, but Evil, and therefore utterly incapable of apprehending Truth and choosing Good. His very IDENTITY is antagonistic to TRUTH. This is why Christianity asserts that all knowledge and morality must be DICTATED to man. His natural insufficiency to Truth makes him capable of no real understanding. He must thus be treated, fundamentally, as one would an animal. He is to be trained, not taught. He is to be motivated by threats and violence, and rewarded with condescension. It is why the concept of “humility” has been bastardized by the Church to mean a rejection of the idea that one possesses an inntate, natural sufficiency to goodness and truth. To take credit for one’s own success and accomplishments is viewed as “sinful pride”, because anything of true value comes not from within man, but from without. Any moral behavior exhibited by an individual always occurs in SPITE of his humanity, not because of it. It is why even “saved” Christians still speak of “needing the gospel”, and explain that they don’t actually do any good thing in and of themselves, but operate entirely “under God’s grace”. It’s the whole false idea of “but for the grace of God go I”—an Individual making good choices according to his own volition, and reaping the benefits of such choices is anathema to Christian ethics. In Christianity there is no fundamental difference between the unsaved criminal being marched to the dungeon and the saved Christian spectator observing from afar. Both are criminals at root, as far as God is concerned, it’s just that by some divine mystery God decided to spare the Christian. It has nothing to do with the Christian spectator actually CHOOSING to turn away from criminal activity and because of THAT avoiding a date with the iron maiden. And even if Christianity might equivocate and concede that choice is possible, it is only because God grants one the “grace” to make that choice…so no, it’s not actually man making the choice at all, it’s God. Left to himself, man will NEVER make the right choice. And this assertion denies man any REAL choice entirely.
Christians understand, at least implicitly, because the doctrine declares it EXPLICITLY, that there can be no actual justification of or for that (man) which is absolute evil at its existential root. The whole salvation process is very much an appeal to inexplicable mystical powers which transcend man’s “finite” reality; his intellect and his reasoning. There are no answers to the paradoxes (rational contradictions) of Christian theology because they are utterly beyond the mind of man…beyond his very existence. Man is saved, but he cannot say why beyond “grace”, and then a shrug as to what this actually means. God chooses some people over others, seemingly at random. There is some plan God has, we are told, but the wherefore and the why…who knows? Christian metaphysics deny that a thing like salvation is possible, but somehow it happens anyway. The whole philosophy is a massive boiling cauldron of contradiction simmering into a cosmic soup of “God’s mystery”. Just take the cup and drink. Don’t spend any time thinking about it.
So for all the talk of man receiving a “righteousness from God’, or a “new birth/new nature”, or being “Justified by Christ”, Christians implicitly understand that they are still Sin of Sin. And this is why abject misery is so common in the Church. These aren’t congregations of broken people getting healed, as we are told. These are execution chambers where people are slowly gassed into a brain dead stupor by contagious conginitve dissonance brought upon by the endlessly wafting sedative of rank mysticism. The life of a Christian is not the fulfillment of the Self, but the sacrifice of it. The Christian is not imbued with a sense of empowerment, but is instead entirely disarmed, intellectually, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. He learns not how to take upon himself true responsibility, but to hand off his duties and questions to God, letting “His will be done”, in yet another bastardization of the words of Christ. The Christian does not learn to take up the mantle of his own cause and pursue his dreams with strength and confidence, but to utterly submit himself to “God’s plan”…outsourcing his brain to the Divine, as though God gave him a mind purely on a lark. He is not given the freedom to exercise his own intellect, now unfettered by the lies of the world and the devil, in service to his own passions, but is sternly reminded that his greatest moral obligation is to obey Authority. Once saved, the Christian soon finds himself under the “divine mandate” of the church leadership, who are expecting him to sacrifice his time and reasources in pursuit of not his own interests, but that of the greater Christian Ideal. Of which, of course, they are in charge.
Thus the Christian, now saved and yet still lacking ANY REAL understanding of his own innate worth, is incapable of Self-love, and thus is likewise incapable of loving his neighbor. The ONLY real, necessary, and ultimately relevant difference between one who is saved and one who is not is that he who is saved has recognized that the sum and substance of his life’s meaning and purpose is to annihilate himself in service to the Christian Authority placed over him, which is God and his Will as manifest by the ecclesiastical powers of the pulpit. In other words, he is saved in order to sacrifice himself to the worldly ambitions of other men. Period.
According to the ethics of Christian orthodoxy, Self-loathing, not Self-love, is one’s default ethical frame of reference. Through the instruction of accepted orthodox doctrine, consistent in its essence amongst all protestant denominations and Catholicism, man is taught to hate his own existence as an act of his own First Sin (his birth) and thus concomitantly the existence of his neighbor. He therefore implicitly yearns for the destruction of both. In other words, as the orthodox Christian proclaims his love for God he implies his disgust for humanity. The relationship betweeen loving God and hating man is indeed direct. And this is scarcely surreptitious amongst Christians today, though perhaps not said quite as bluntly. I have heard it stated this way: that as one’s recognition of God’s glory (i.e. God’s supreme existential moral superiority) grows, a recognition of one’s own moral insufficiency (i.e. man’s supreme existential worthlessness) likewise grows. And THIS, it is said, is the mark of a true Christian. The mark of true salvation is that he continues to grow in the understanding that he HAS NO RIGHT TO EXIST IN THE FIRST PLACE, because his very existence at root is an offense to God. And from this we can extrapolate further to see then the FOUNDATIONAL mark of one’s salvation: the growing knowledge that he, being evil incarnate, is unable to possess a frame of reference for SALVATION AT ALL.
How is that for a kick in the crotch with irony?
It is this basic orthodox Self-loathing which is the reason Christians are so in love with rules and obsessed with punishment. Man, being morally defunct in his existence, is insufficient to truth and to moral behavior. And thus control, not freedom, and dictated behavior, not choice, is how the ethics of one’s salvation are to be worked out. It is why Christianity has always promoted corporeal punishment for children, and has lusted endlessly after the power monopoly of the State—the Church almost ubiquitously imitates their own brand of absolute power (dictating behavior, punishing rulebreakers and wrongthink), routinely implementing Authority-Submission polity to the greatest extent it can get away with. It is why churches are so often brothels of the worst kinds of moral degeneracy imaginable, like blackmail, child rape and all other varieties of sexual abomination, extortion, manipulation, deception, indoctrination, intimidation, oppression, theft, and murder. It is why Christianity holds excommunication over the heads of the laity like the sword of Damocles, and why church schisms occur as often as Communion. It is impossible to show love to others or one’s self when the metaphysics of one’s philosophy declare man’s very birth an act of moral corruption and a violation of God’s perfect creation.
Love, you see, is the desires and behavior generated by employing rational ethics. Rational ethics places the Self as the moral frame of reference. Rational ethics recognizes the legitimacy of man at his natural root, and understands the Self to be the singular essence of each human being, and which is necessarily good, and thus shall not be violated. It shall be free to exist, not enslaved to Authority. And since all men are equal Selves at root, making the SELF the reference for truth and morality (virtuous selfishness), it is ensured that an Individual, unfettered by the false chains of Authority, who will thus freely act in service to his own wishes and wants, will necessarily act in service to those of his neighbors in the form of cooperation. All interactions with one’s fellow man will result in the mutual benefit of value exchange. But again, notice how this—how this rational love—demands that man have intrinsic natural worth. It concedes that man’s birth is an act of Divine Expression, not an offense to the Divine. Since Christianity asserts that the birth of a human being is an expression of one’s natural depravity, and as such is an act of rebellion against God, rendering unto man an existential worthlessness to an infinite degree, love by any measure is simply impossible. Man possess no frame of reference from which to give love or receive it. And this is why salvation comes from God to man in SPITE of himself; indeed, all expressions of “love” from God or from others comes to man in spite of himself. And all his acts of “love” are never done BY him, but THROUGH him, by the Spirit. In other words, man qua man (man, himSelf) is merely a bystander to love and morality in general. He is a two-dimensional character in a predetermined bit of theater, written and directed by the Divine Author. He, himSelf, thus, being wholly unnatural with respect to God’s perfect and perfectly moral reality, doesn’t actually exist at all.
In order to truly love—that is, in the way that Christians cannot—humanity must accept its own innate natural worth, and reject the satanic notion of innate moral failure. This is the difference between Self-love and Self-sacrifice (or Self-loathing)…and yes, these are mutually exclusive concepts. The former always acts in love whilst the latter never does. The former always saves, the latter always murders.
1 thought on “What Ayn Rand Gets Very Right and Christians Get Very Wrong (and why Christian Orthodoxy is Not About Love but Loathing)”
How fortunate are those within the institutional walls who come to realize these contrary assumptions warring against each other and can simply walk away with no guilt whatsoever and live their life in peace.
But when this very reality is the undercurrent of familial relationships, it’s misery: you dare to contradict my “authority”? Why, you ungrateful wretch! You’ll pay for that! (Mind you, these words aren’t necessarily spoken, but the passive-aggressive counter-actions make clear the rules of the game). Love wanes, and duty looms.