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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ayn Rand on religion

In March 1964, Ayn Rand gave an interview to Playboy. Here is an excerpt from that interview:

Playboy: You have said you are opposed to faith. Do you believe in God?
Ayn Rand: Certainly not.

Playboy: You've been quoted as saying "The cross is the symbol of torture, of the sacrifice of the ideal to the nonideal. I prefer the dollar sign." Do you truly feel that two thousand years of Christianity can be summed up with the word "torture"?
Ayn Rand: To begin with, I never said that. It's not my style. Neither literarily nor intellectually. I don't say I prefer the dollar sign -- that is cheap nonsense, and please leave this in your copy. I don't know the origin of that particular quote, but the meaning of the dollar sign is made clear in Atlas Shrugged. It is the symbol, clearly explained in the story, of free trade and, therefore, of a free mind. A free mind and a free economy are corollaries. One can't exist without the other. The dollar sign, as the symbol of the currency of a free country, is the symbol of the free mind. More than that, as to the historical origin of the dollar sign, although it has never been proved, one very likely hypothesis is that it stands for the initials of the United States. So much for the dollar sign.
Now you want me to speak about the cross. What is correct is that I do regard the cross as the symbol of the sacrifice of the ideal to the nonideal. Isn't that what it does mean? Christ, in terms of the Christian philosophy, is the human ideal. He personifies that which men should strive to emulate. Yet, according to the Christian mythology, he died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the nonideal people. In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the non-ideal, or virtue to vice. And it is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors. That is precisely how the symbolism is used. That is torture.

Playboy: Has no religion, in your estimation, ever offered anything of constructive value to human life?
Ayn Rand: Qua religion, no—in the sense of blind belief, belief unsupported by, or contrary to, the facts of reality and the conclusions of reason. Faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason. But you must remember that religion is an early form of philosophy, that the first attempts to explain the universe, to give a coherent frame of reference to man’s life and a code of moral values, were made by religion, before men graduated or developed enough to have philosophy. And, as philosophies, some religions have very valuable moral points. They may have a good influence or proper principles to inculcate, but in a very contradictory context and, on a very—how should I say it?—dangerous or malevolent base: on the ground of faith.

Playboy:  Then you would say that if you had to choose between the symbol of the cross and the symbol of the dollar, you would choose the dollar?
Ayn Rand: I wouldn't accept such a choice. Put it another way: If I had to choose between faith and reason, I wouldn't consider the choice even conceivable. As a human being, one chooses reason.

Playboy: Do you consider wealthy businessmen like the Fords and the Rockefellers immoral because they use their wealth to support charity?
Ayn Rand: No. That is their privilege, if they want to. My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.

Playboy: What is the place of compassion in your philosophical system?
Ayn Rand: I regard compassion as proper only toward those who are innocent victims, but not toward those who are morally guilty. If one feels compassion for the victims of a concentration camp, one cannot feel it for the torturers. If one does feel compassion for the torturers, it is an act of moral treason toward the victims.

Playboy: Would it be against the principles of Objectivism for anyone to sacrifice himself by stepping in front of a bullet to protect another person?
Ayn Rand: No. It depends on the circumstances. I would step in the way of a bullet if it were aimed at my husband. It is not self-sacrifice to die protecting that which you value: If the value is great enough, you do not care to exist without it. This applies to any alleged sacrifice for those one loves.

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