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What Objectivism Offers UUs

 

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Speaking to Inform Speech 1:
The Speech to Inform

by Luke Setzer

Today's topic is "What Objectivism Offers Unitarian Universalists." What is "Objectivism"? It is a personal philosophy of reverence for individual human potential and achievement. It is what changed my life for the better, in ways I never dreamed. Is this like a religion, then? In a certain way, yes. But in another way, it is the opposite of religion. Objectivism is highly inspirational, like a religion. But it is not at all mystical. It is a spiritual, but very practical way of living in the real world.

As Ayn Rand herself put it: "My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."

As Unitarian Universalists, many of you have likely arrived here because of your dissatisfaction with the status quo of institutionalized religions. The inflexibility, the irrationality, the dogma, the focus on so-called "Higher Causes" at the expense of individual freedom--these and many other factors have likely driven a substantial number of you away from traditional churches.

You probably know what you do not want.  The question remains: What do you want?  Do you want a values system oriented around death...or life?  Traditional religions like Christianity focus on actions for the sake of an unproven, other-worldly afterlife.  Objectivism focuses on actions for the sake of a proven, this-worldly life.

My research has revealed that many of you have come here searching for meaningful answers to age-old questions--questions about the nature of reality, methods of knowing, the human spirit, right and wrong behaviors, and social systems conducive to the human condition. The Unitarian Universalist Association encourages open discussion and debate on these issues. The material I am about to present will, I hope, lead you to rethink some of your core ideas in many of these areas.

Let me issue a disclaimer. I am definitely not a scholar of Objectivism. I am a student of Objectivism. What you will hear today reflects my own understanding of the philosophy. I make no claim to speak for Ayn Rand or her intellectual heirs. I speak only for myself.

Who was Ayn Rand? Ayn Rand was a twentieth-century philosopher and novelist who produced a series of famous novels including The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

Born in Russia in 1905, she witnessed the horrors of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. She learned first-hand what can happen to a nation that institutionalizes and enshrines the communist "ideals" of self-sacrifice, collectivism and State-worship. At age 20, she escaped Russia and moved to the United States, a nation she considered the freest on earth.

Over the remainder of her life, Ayn Rand published a series of novels that advanced her own sense of life: We the Living, Anthem, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Through her novels, essays, public appearances and newsletters, Ayn Rand advanced an integrated system of ideas that embraced reality, reason, self-interest, free markets and a romantic approach to artistic realism.

She called this philosophy Objectivism.

The philosophy derives its name from its focus on objective reality and an objective moral code that holds individual human life as the standard of value. It is a worldview that has no use whatsoever for supernaturalism, mysticism or self-sacrifice. With respect to religion, Ayn Rand wrote, "I am an intransigent atheist, but not a militant one. This means that I am an uncompromising advocate of reason and that I am fighting for reason, not against religion. I must also mention that I do respect religion in its philosophical aspects, in the sense that it represents an early form of philosophy."

Why should you care about Ayn Rand or Objectivism? Since you are here, I am assuming that you seek meaningful answers to life's questions. I propose that Objectivism can assist you in finding those answers.

Ayn Rand's work does not merely project a dry, sterile, strictly intellectual philosophy. Her sense of life embodies all aspects of human existence and offers a mode of thinking and living that satisfies all human needs-physical, mental, social, emotional, spiritual.

In summary, Objectivists hold these fundamental views, and they are built up in the order I am about to present. Image the philosophy as a pyramid building from the foundation up.

  1. At the base of the pyramid is metaphysics. The term metaphysics refers to your view of the universe and its nature. In metaphysics, Objectivists argues that there is only one objective reality, that it is governed by natural laws and the law of causality, and that we are conscious of these basic facts through our senses. Objectivists reject the notion of "higher planes of existence" subject to divine intervention in violation of natural laws.
  2. The next tier of the pyramid is epistemology. The word epistemology means your methods of knowing. In epistemology, Objectivists contend that objective reality is knowable only through sensory evidence and abstractions built from that evidence through the power of reasoning. Objectivists see reason as man's only means of knowledge.
  3. The next level of the pyramid is ethics, your code of personal conduct. Ayn Rand elaborated that every person is faced with two primary choices: The choice to think, and the choice to live. Any meaningful discussion of ethics must presuppose an individual affirmation of these basic choices. In ethics, therefore, Objectivists adhere to the use of individual human life as the only proper standard of value. This standard is rooted in the view that reason is the individual's only means of long-term survival. Objectivists see each individual as an end in himself, not the means to the ends of any "Higher Cause" such as "God", "State" or "Environment".  In short, the term rational self-interest best describes the Objectivist ethics.
  4. Finally, the term politics refers to the social relations of human beings among each other. Building upon the concept of rational self-interest as the primary ethic, Objectivists see free markets--capitalism--as the only moral social system. It is a system in which individual rights to the exclusive ownership and conduct of oneself and one's private property remain protected by law. The nation which has come closest to this ideal, yet still falls far short of it, is the United States.

During her lifetime, Ayn Rand stood her ground against enormous opposition from the State-worshippers of the left and the God-worshippers of the right. Ayn Rand would agree completely with the statement of Unitarian religious educator Sophia Lyons Fahs: "It matters very much what we believe." Ayn Rand saw ideas as the movers of the people who move the world.

Let me share with you my take on the principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association:

  1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person.
    1. Objectivists will agree that each individual should be left alone to pursue his own happiness. However, Objectivists reject the notion of "inherent worth". There can be no such thing as a "value" without a "valuer". Objectivists reject the God concept as arbitrary. Therefore, only human beings qualify as "valuers". We recognize individual rights in terms of the non-aggression principle: refraining from initiation of physical force, threat of physical force, or fraud. We see the sole function of government as protector of individuals from such violations. Beyond that very basic right, we reject egalitarianism--the idea that every person is of equal value to every other person. No one should be forced to value someone against his own better judgment.
  2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations.
    1. Objectivists advocate justice as part of their moral code, and free markets as the system of justice. Free markets allow each person the freedom to rise or fall based on his ability to produce values for himself and others. Unlike Karl Marx, we believe that wealth should be traded freely from each according to his abilities to each according to his abilities. We adhere to the trader principle, neither sacrificing self to others nor others to self.
  3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.
    1. Objectivists accept others based on values. Some people are very valuable to us, others not so valuable to us, and some--such as thieves and murderers--are downright disvaluable to us.
  4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
    1. For an Objectivist, each person's search for truth and meaning relies only on his own senses and his reasoning based on the evidence of those senses.  Objectivists see reason as a profound, individual moral responsibility, and the evasion of reason as the root of all evil.  We see the political freedom to act on one's own reasoning as the most basic of individual rights.
  5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.
    1. Objectivists endorse a constitutionally limited government rather than a pure democracy. Unlimited democracy results in the tyranny of the majority against the minority.  For example, the majority can vote to take away the wealth of the most productive minority.
  6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.
    1. Objectivists strive for a peaceful world in which everyone is free to produce and exchange values via a market-oriented society.
  7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
    1. Objectivists acknowledge the immutable laws of nature and adhere to Francis Bacon's adage, "Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed." Unlike radical environmentalists, however, Objectivists refuse to worship nature.

Now, I'll share with you my take on the Unitarian Universalist Association's sources for these principles:

  1. Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.
    1. There is a spiritual element within Objectivism, but it is simply a plain recognition that human beings are conscious. We make no pretense about having a consciousness that can somehow separate itself from our physical bodies. Thus, we do not believe in life after death.
  2. Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love.
    1. Objectivists recognize the power of ideas and the necessity of reason when confronting evil. We confront evil with two weapons of life: the transforming power of reason and, when necessary, the combative power of retaliatory force against those who initiate its use.
  3. Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life.
    1. Objectivists recognize that the enduring power of religion comes from its prescription of practical moral codes against murder, theft, lying and other behaviors antagonistic to human well-being. Unfortunately, religions throughout history have packaged practical codes with impractical ones: supernaturalism, mysticism and self-sacrifice. Objectivists reject these life-threatening trappings of religion.
  4. Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.
    1. Objectivists reject the God concept as arbitrary. We love people based on their objective value to us, not simply because they happen to live next door or happen to be genetically related to us. Value is thicker than blood. Our dealings with others involve the unyielding adherence to reason, the morality of free markets, reverence for individual liberty and property rights, and our opposition to the initiation of force or fraud.
  5. Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
    1. Objectivists agree completely with the reverence for reason and science. However, if by "worship" you mean "value most highly", then Objectivists definitely worship the power of human reasoning and the joy of life on this earth. What do Unitarian Universalists worship? I'll leave that question for each of you to answer for yourself.
  6. Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
    1. Objectivists seek to live in harmony with the laws of nature because doing so benefits human life. We center our attention on living well on this earth because we see this life as the only one we will ever have.

To recapture the essence of today's talk: Objectivists share some surprising similarities as well as some stark differences with Unitarian Universalists. We advocate the view of an objective reality knowable through reason, individual human life as the standard of value, happiness as the moral purpose of life, and capitalism as the only moral social system.  Those of you who have sought a meaningful, objective moral code need to take a close look at this powerful system of thought.

For those who want to learn more about Ayn Rand's riveting sense of life, I encourage you to visit your library or bookstore. A good work for starters is the futuristic novella Anthem, which will give you a delicious taste of Ayn Rand's style and philosophy.

I also want to let you know that we have a local group that meets monthly to discuss these ideas and their applications to daily living. We call ourselves the Space Coast Objectivism Promoters and Explorers, or SCOPE. I will pass these brochures out to folks who have an interest in meeting Objectivists and conversing about these many issues at length.

I want to close by thanking the congregation for inviting me to speak today. As you can tell, I have a passion for these ideas. I hope I have infected you with enough of that passion to drive you to learn more about Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

 

Objectivism 101
Objectivism 101