Thinking With the Wrong Head or, Richard Dawkins on Altruism


As many of you are well aware, the existence of genuine love or altruism is often leveled against the naturalistic worldview as evidence of its implausibility.  But those who buy into such pathetic argumentation simply don’t understand the richness of the Darwinian perspective.   You may be surprised to learn that the New Atheists, especially Richard Dawkins, are actually romantics at heart.  I dare say that the conception of altruism explicated so eloquently in his acclaimed work The God Delusion would move even the hardest of hearts to start composing Shakespearean sonnets! 

Like many great romantics, Dawkins begins his discourse on love with a rousing passage on the ontological foundation of love itself:       
“The most obvious way in which genes ensure their own ‘selfish’ survival relative to other genes is by programming individual organism to be selfish.  There are indeed many circumstances in which survival of the individual organism will favour the survival of the genes that ride inside it.  But different circumstances favour different tactics.  There are circumstances – not particularly rare – in which genes ensure their own selfish survival by influencing organisms to behave altruistically.”
In this stirring piece of prose Dawkins skillfully uncovers the underlying foundations of naturalistic anthropology.  Through it we learn that man is but a passive composition of matter blown and tossed by the mindless and purposeless wind of biology (please note that you should ignore the teleological language he employees; words like “tactics” and the like).  We see that, at its core, altruism is rooted in pre-programmed instincts involuntarily thrust upon us by our “selfish” genes.  From this foundation he weaves a beautiful tapestry of possibilities–sure to make many a fair maiden’s heart pound with passion:     
“We now have four good Darwinian reasons for individuals to be altruistic, generous or ‘moral’ towards each other.  First, there is the special case of genetic kinship.  Second, there is reciprocation:  the repayment of favours given, and the giving of favours in ‘anticipation’ of payback.  Following on from this there is, third, the Darwinian benefit of acquiring a reputation for generosity and kindness.  And fourth . . . there is the particular additional benefit of conspicuous generosity as a way of buying unfakeably authentic advertising.”
In order to fully appreciate the profundity of the kaleidoscope of Darwinian explanations offered here we must pause to consider exactly what kind of love is being presented to us. 

The Four Loves

Classically speaking, there are four kinds of love.  The Greeks distinguished between the different forms of love using four distinct words: agápe, éros, philía, and storgē.  Dawkins’ elaboration on altruism seems to fall within the realm of éros, and storgē–the forms of love that come upon us in waves of emotion entirely outside of our control.  For we undergo these forms of love as mere passive receptors.  They are the product of a diverse range of factors including our environment and, yes, even our biology.  Storgē is quite simply the feeling of affection that we have for our kin—e.g., the “fluttery” warm feeling experienced by a mother holding her child—and éros is the feeling of desire—e.g., a wave of sexual longing, or craving a succulent piece of steak.  While, according to the classical understanding, we can make choices that intentionally direct our lives toward things that engender these types of love, they are ultimately brought on by forces outside of our volition.  Thus, they stand in marked contrast to agápe (self-giving love), and philía (friendship) which are rooted in the will.
 
But Richard Dawkins, in a stroke of poetic genius, turns away from the classical veiw and paints a picture of a world in which true agápe and philía are but an illusion.  For him altruism can only be explained in terms of éros, and storgē: 
         
“What natural selection favours is rules of thumb, which work in practice to promote the genes that built them.  Rules of thumb, by their nature, sometimes misfire.  In a bird’s brain, the rule ‘Look after small squawking things in your nest, and drop food into their red gapes’ typically has the effect of preserving the genes that built the rule, because the squawking, gaping objects in an adult bird’s nest are normally its own offspring  The rule misfires if another baby bird somehow gets into the nest . . .”
He goes on to explain:  
“I am suggesting that the same is true of the urge to kindness – to altruism, to generosity, to empathy, to pity.  In ancestral times, we had the opportunity to be altruistic only towards close kin and potential reciprocators.  Nowadays, that restriction is no longer there, but the rule of thumb persists.  Why would it not?  It is just like sexual desire.  We can no more help ourselves feeling pity when we see a weeping unfortunate (who is unrelated and unable to reciprocate) than we can help ourselves feeling lust for a member of the opposite sex (who may be infertile or otherwise unable to reproduce).  Both are misfirings, Darwinian mistakes:  blessed, precious mistakes.”
In other words, true acts of love are glorious (?) mistakes; accidental properties of nature brought about by instincts and passions mechanically instigated by our genes.  Now, I don’t know about you, but this moves me to tears every time I think about it.  If you don’t feel the same, stick with me and I think you’ll change your mind.    

The Blessedness of Darwinism

Contrary to what some might think it’s clear that Darwinism, with its robust foundation of unintentional self-edifying desire, warm fuzzy feelings, and brute instincts, is a powerful platform upon which to build and explain deep, meaningful, expressions of love.  Take, for example, the Catholic priest in North Africa who is currently harboring nearly 700 Muslims in his church.  He’s literally risking his own life to protect them from an extremist group attempting to eradicate the Muslim population in their country.  Thanks to Dawkins we now understand that he is not intentionally laying down his life for his fellow man because they are made in the image of God and therefore intrinsically valuable.  And he is surely not acting in accordance with the virtues of courage or fortitude.  Rather, and I say this in the most beautiful and uplifting way imaginable, he is undergoing an evolutionary misfire.  Just dwell on that notion for a moment.
You see, in a strange and (to use the adjectives so aptly employed by Dawkins) blessed and precious quirk of fate this priest is mistakenly extending charity to Muslims.  Mind you, this is ultimately a meaningless and quit unintentional happening in the life of the universe–and I really don’t have to explain to you how heartwarming that fact is—but we can all appreciate the beauty of this utterly futile event!
Herein lies the real magic of Darwinism.  No matter how meaningless our actions are, we can make them sound nice by attaching uplifting adjectives like “blessed” or “precious” to them.  This is especially helpful when considering a variety of seemingly “self-less” acts performed my people every day.  Consider the gentleman who cared for and eventually married his invalid fiancé.  We all know the real reason he tenderly cared for her, after she had that unfortunate fall and became paralyzed from the waist down, is because of an irresistible sexual impulse built into him by his “selfish” genes.  You see, his brain mistakenly thought he needed to preserve her to bear children and preserve his genetic code (and possibly do his laundry).  The folk way of viewing love might have mistaken his actions as being actual acts of self-giving and service; sacrifices he intentionally chose because he valued her and recognized her personhood.  The folk way would even have us thinking he was acting in accordance with the virtue of charity.  But, in truth, he was just thinking with “the wrong head”—as my grandfather’s drill sergeant might have described it.  Now this might sound crass but there is really no need to despair because if we close our eyes and click our heels . . . we’ll soon see that this evolutionary misfire is the stuff of poetry.        
     
Advertisements

Love LGBT People As You Love Yourself or A Modern Day Good Samaritan


Christianity affirms the intrinsic goodness of creation and the essential goodness of man made in the image and likeness of God.  These are bedrock beliefs with far reaching implications.  In the realm of ethics and civil law these presuppositions  provide the only viable foundation upon which to build a case for civil rights and human dignity.  From a theological standpoint, they provide the context necessary for understanding Jesus’ profound summation of the Mosaic Law found in St. Matthew’s Gospel:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

But exactly who is your neighbor?  A lawyer, who desired to “justify himself” once asked our Lord a similar question.  Jesus’ response was to tell a story–a provocative story that is known today as the Parable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke10:29-37).

Sadly, this parable is no longer shocking; as it most certainly was to its original audience.  Frankly, it’s become rather trite–reduced to that of a charming bedtime story for children (or a slapstick musical comedy if you prefer the Veggie Tales version).  I feel quite comfortable saying the beloved parable hardly evokes the following emotions within the soul of today’s average reader:  conviction, disgust, anger, confusion, regret, sadness, empathy, or shock.  Yet this story is a fire starter!  It should turn your world upside down; it should force you to re-examine your life; it should pierce your heart, shatter your pride, and cause you to question your very standing before God.  But, for most of us, it doesn’t.

One way this is evidenced is by our general lethargy concerning the plight of the LGBT community.  In between sermons in which the pastor passionately proclaims in a bright red face that, “homosexuality is an ABOMINATION,” or attending a protest against same-sex marriage, Christians are often entirely indifferent to the emotional struggles of LGBT children who have taken their own lives due to bullying.  We sometimes yawn when we hear about the violent, and downright disgusting, mistreatment of LGBT people in Russia and other countries around the world.  Our general disinterest in the suffering of the LGBT community stands in direct opposition to the parable which seeks to explain the second commandment that is like the first.  More specifically, our behavior is discordant with the Christian principle that human beings have intrinsic dignity, value, and worth because they are made in the image and likeness of God.

Perhaps if we retold the story–taking our current mental environment into account–we might, once again, be shocked out of our self-righteous stupor?  Thus, I ask again:  who is your neighbor?

Let me tell you a story . . .

“A man was walking home from the office one night when a couple of young gang initiates pulled him into an ally, stabbed him, emptied his pockets, and left him for dead.  Now by chance a well respected pastor from a local mega-church was going down the road; and when he saw him in the ally he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a beloved seminary professor, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a successful gay business man, as he journeyed home that night, came to where he was; and when he saw him he had compassion.  He immediately went to him and, seeing that his injury was potentially fatal, bound up his wound using a piece of fabric torn from his own shirt.  He carried him out of the ally into the light of the street lamp, pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911.  As he awaited the arrival of the ambulance he held the man tight and spoke words of encouragement to him.  Later, he followed him to the hospital and remained there until the doctors assured him he would pull through.  It was then that he discovered the victim of this heinous crime only worked part-time and did not have medical insurance.  So he made arrangements to pay off the gentleman’s hospital debt himself.”

Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?

Sowing what we reap or, This isn’t the Government we need right now, but it is the Government we deserve


DSC02086Forty years ago to the week, May 17, 1973, the nation was engulfed in a scandal when it was revealed that President Richard Nixon’s administration had broken into the Watergate Hotel in order to gain an advantage of his Democratic contenders. This week has seen scandal after scandal from our present administration that rival – and in some cases surpasses – the crimes of Nixon. For those looking for a post that bashes President Obama, however, please stop reading now. This post will point out his flaws and how his administration has been complicit in some troubling matters, but ultimately the blame is on us, whether conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat; the society of America (or lack thereof) is to blame for what has occurred.

There are too many scandals to really mention. The two biggest that have broken lately would be the IRS targeting conservative groups and individuals who spoke out against the government and the Department of Justice tapping the phones of the Associated Press in order to find out who their sources were. The IRS not only targeted conservative groups, but they leaked confidential information about those groups to the media. What is sad is that there is still more to this scandal that we haven’t seen. The man in charge of investigating the actions of the IRS in its targeting, however, may not be the most trustworthy investigator. Eric Holder is embroiled in his own scandal of wire tapping the AP’s phone lines. When asked for documents explaining why the phones were tapped, the AP was provided with 100% redacted documents. Thus, the man in charge of investigating government overreach and corruption is accused of overreaching the limits of the Constitution by tapping the phones of a news agency. It’s like sending a lion to investigate the death of a zebra by another lion. All the while, other major scandals that have cost humans their lives have gone relatively unnoticed.

Perhaps you heard of Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy. What you probably didn’t hear about was Kermit Gosnell, a trial that has flown relatively under the radar considering the subject material. One reporter did ask President Obama for his thoughts on Gosnell – considering that Obama supports the “right” of abortionists to kill babies born alive after an abortion – but he declined to answer because it was an “ongoing trial” (I think that’s the first time Obama let that impede a response, especially considering his comments about the Crowley/Gates scandal as well as Trayvon Martin’s death). But now? Perhaps someone should ask him again how he feels.

Not to pick solely on President Obama, consider the absolutely unreported scandal that thousands of Christians have died in the Middle East ever since we decided to invade Iraq in 2003. In fact, the most likely scenario is that Christians will become extinct in the Middle East – where Christianity began and has survived for 2,000 years – quicker than polar bears in the Arctic. US foreign policy, starting with George W. Bush, is responsible for the deaths and displacement of thousands of Christians. Bush gave the Iraqi government money, the same government that turned around and persecuted Christians. We simply looked the other way. Obama is giving guns to the Syrian rebels, who in turn have killed and kidnapped Christians. We cannot say, “Well that’s how Islam works,” because Christians have lived under Islamic rule there since the 7th century. Yet, today is the greatest persecution Christians in the Middle East have ever faced, and that’s even if we include the Roman Empire. Even at home, our corruption seems to ruin our freedom.

A Saudi student can’t even walk across campus with rice in a pressure cooker without being investigated by the FBI. When found innocent rather than issue an apology, the FBI tells him to be more careful. No, “Sorry that we’re racist,” rather they justify their bias and blame him. What is more sad is that most people would probably rationalize such an action, they would rationalize the eradication of freedom in the name of security. Of course, the irony is lost on most people; the price to live in a free society is that we must give up our freedom. That is to say, we’re no longer concerned about freedom, but more about security.

Our government is corrupt. While all governments are corrupt to a certain degree – that’s simply the nature of power, since all humans are corrupt to a certain degree – some governments excel at corruption. The US government has always had corruption, but typically it was the type invented in order to make money for a few individuals. The politicians knew that if they threatened individual freedoms that their ruse would collapse and all would be lost. Thus, the corruption was kept to money exchanging hands. Modern corruption, however, is more about seizing power than anything else.

The “corruption” is really a philosophical point of view, one that it is better to control society than let society grow on its own. It is better to control society because through control we can obtain better security; it’s better to give up freedom for the greater good. How did our government get to this place?

We can point to the Democrats or we can point to the Republicans, but we’d be mostly wrong. While each party has contributed in its own way, the fact is that they’ve been allowed to get away with it. A government is only an extension of the society it comes from, thus, the more corrupt the society is, the more corrupt the government will be. For too long, Americans have wallowed in egoism, hedonism, and relativism. We’ve lived by the mantra, “Do what feels right so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else.” But now we feel we can complain when our leaders live by the same mantra we’ve been chanting? We’re all moral relativists when it suits us, but become the most ardent ethical absolutist when we feel threatened. In short, the current government we have is the government we deserve.

We don’t deserve a good government, one that cares for us, one that knows its role and operates within that role appropriately. In order to deserve that kind of government, we would have to be people that had a strong moral foundation. As it is, America lacks a strong moral foundation, or any moral foundation. We are a society without morals; if our society were an individual, that individual would be a sociopath. The government we have is the result of our society chucking morality to the side and living for whatever whim came its way. We’ve made our bed and now we must lay in it.

Banning Guns Isn’t the Solution


DSC02079In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, many people are calling for tighter gun control in order to prevent future massacres. Of course, such a view fails to take into account a few things:

1) We’ve increased our gun control measures after a few recent massacres, and yet massacres still occur

2) Massacres occurred well before the invention of the gun

3) Prior to WWII, there were no recorded mass shootings of innocent individuals in the United States, though most Americans owned a gun and gun control was minimal to non-existent

4) The only crime shown to drop with gun control is gun violence – alternatively, every other crime increases with gun control. While the UK has a lower gun crime rate than the US, you’re more likely to be stabbed, robbed, raped, or assaulted in the UK than you are in the US.

Regardless, gun control has not worked and will not work in stopping individuals from killing innocent humans. For one, it’s a utopian idea to think that we can somehow end mass killings by banning the gun. Murder will always exist and when you take away the gun from the citizens, you then put the power in the hands of the government to inflict violence on its own citizens. This is especially true in democracies, wherein every democracy has tyranny as its logical conclusion.

The solution to our problem is a moral one, not a legislative one. Yes, the individual who carried out the sickening actions at Sandy Hook was insane and therefore incapable of fully grasping morality. But therein lies the problem – he is a symptom of society’s moral problem. Because we’re so enamored with making sure everyone is equal, because we’d rather spend money on creating thousands of Sandy Hook’s overseas rather than putting that money towards mental health improvement. We’ve raised three generations to believe that they’re okay as they are, so much to the point that a mother would refuse a son mental health treatment because it would send the message that he’s “different.” In our all-encompassing pursuit of tolerance and equality in all things, we’ve created a generation so selfish, so narcissistic, and so fragile that we’ve made our society nearly unlivable.

Banning the gun or regulating the gun will have literally no impact on our societal problems. While we may prevent multiple Adam Lanzas, we will create even more Joseph Stalins. Regulating the gun without first addressing our moral deficiency may lower or prevent gun crimes from citizen to citizen, but it will not prevent the violence a government holds over its populace. A gun is a tool and when placed in a society without a strong moral foundation, it becomes a tool for mass murder. Again, those who are insane cannot be trained to be moral, but an immoral society leaves those who are insane with no support, no medication, and no alternative to possibly heal them or cure them. An immoral society thinks nothing of its neighbors and causes a mother to leave her weapons within reach of a son she knows is not mentally well. We can condemn Adam Lanza’s mother for leaving these guns out, but the ultimate problem is she actually listened to the message society has been preaching: do what makes you happy, so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else.

Well, for a little over two decades she did what made her happy and it didn’t hurt anyone else. However, her happiness finally did hurt someone else, multiple someones, but she had no way of seeing this. Rather than preaching virtue and that we all have a obligation to the common good, we have preached to do what makes one happy so long as no one else is harmed. Of course, because we are imperfect and temporal and cannot see into the future, we have no idea if what we do today will harm someone tomorrow. What I can do, however, is choose to be prudent with my actions and show good judgement, but this would require me to buy into a moral absolute and that is simply taboo in our culture.

Blame the gun all you want, at the end of the day its our lack of moral fortitude that created the conditions for Adam Lanza to exist. Because we lack the moral fortitude to take care of the sick among us, especially the mentally ill, we created Adam Lanza. Because we’re unwilling to even use the term “mentally ill” and instead prefer the term “special,” we created Adam Lanza. While there are students with mental disabilities who are not mentally ill, we have eradicated the idea of being “mentally ill” because we think that’s unfair to some students, even if true. While we seek to regulate who can and cannot get guns, we will do nothing to fix our moral foundation, which is why another mass shooting is inevitable. We eradicated the truth in the search for equality and tolerance, we abandoned absolute morality for the sake of feeling better about one’s self, we condemned the common good in favor of just being happy, and now the victims of our pursuit lay before us and we’re unwilling to see that we were the artisans of their demise.

The Paradox of Humanity


IMG_0026A continuous trend in the history of philosophy has been deciding whether or not humans are entirely good or entirely evil. Some philosophers believed that we are basically good, but are corrupted either due to society, family, lack of family, lack of society, a bourgeois lifestyle, or so on. Other philosophers believed that humans are basically evil, but will act “good” when it works to our advantage, that we’re really selfish and so no true altruism exists. Recently there have been philosophers who say there is no good or evil, that humans have acts and simply exist.

Christianity has traditionally held that humans are paradoxically good and evil. It’s not that we’re mostly good or mostly evil, it’s that each individual chooses which direction he will take. Throughout the history of Christianity there have been some extremes, even some so extreme that it steps into the shallow waters of heresy. Some, such as the Pelagians, taught that humans were good and could live perfect lives. Others, such as extreme Calvinists, teach that humans are evil from the moment of conception and can choose to do no good in any sense of the word (any act of good was determined by God). Yet, at its core, Christianity teaches that humans are good, but fallen creatures.

In short, we are a paradox; we are both good and evil. We are capable of bringing about immense good in the lives of others in the most mundane of ways. Whether it be from thousands of Reddit users sending letters to a terminally ill man with down’s syndrome to a New York City police officer buying shoes for a homeless man, we can inspire hope with the smallest of things. Even if our actions don’t make national news, we can impact people’s lives with what we do. For some, it’s as simple as having a smile and being friendly to someone who’s had a rough day. As a people, we are capable of accomplishing great things.

Yet, we are equally capable of doing atrocious things. Yesterday, an insane man murdered multiple people, the majority of whom were children. What is sad is that while this event is tragic, it pales in comparison to the millions who are murdered around the globe each day by their brothers. Whether it be through forced starvation because of an evil dictator or through a vicious civil war who’s purpose has long been forgotten, millions are killed each day. But the evil is compounded by the indifference of the entire world. We care about the shooting of these children because it is a horrible thing and happened in what was supposed to be a “safe area.” Yet, where are the television cameras for the inner-city 6 year old who witnesses rape, drug use, gang beatings, and shootings as a way of life? Or why haven’t we seen outrage over the United States’ predator drone strikes wherein hundreds of children have been killed? It is one thing for an insane man to walk into a school and mercilessly shoot down the innocent, but it’s another when hundreds of insane men launch a taxpayer funded missile at foreign children all in the name of patriotism. Both acts are insane, but we have made one socially acceptable. While capable of great good, we are capable of great evil, most often through our apathy.

We are a people that built the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, beautiful gardens, and incredible architecture that has withstood the test of time. Within a century, we created vehicles to get us from one spot to another, took these vehicles to the sky, perfected them, and eventually took them to the moon. At the same time, we created new ways of killing each other, we opened Pandora’s Box with nuclear warfare (and it seems inevitable that it will occur, killing billions), and took our creations and used them to destroy the earth.

Are we basically good? If so, then how do we explain yesterday’s actions? Perhaps we can give the shooter a cop out by saying something snapped. But then how do we explain the mass neurosis of a society that ignores the pain of those around them? If we are basically good, then our existence should be basically good as well. We shouldn’t see the crime, the war, the troubles in this world. Yet we do see them.

Are we basically evil? If so, then how do we explain the outpouring of sympathy towards the victims in Connecticut? The root of all evil is the desire for autonomy, which manifests itself first in narcissism. All acts of evil occur out of narcissism, thus empathy and altruism are completely incompatible with evil. Yet, here we are feeling empathy towards the victims. All the time we see acts of altruism where benefactor gets nothing out of his act of kindness. If we are basically evil, we shouldn’t see altruism or empathy or anything good. All that is good should be an accident.

Why is it that we are a paradox? Why is it that, on a universal scale, we’re capable of good and evil? Why is it that, on an individual level, we can always find dirt even on the best people? Why do we seem to be great and insignificant? This, in my opinion, has been the source of existential angst in the past one hundred years; once we did away with the Christian answer to this question, we were forced to face this question again. Facing the question caused angst, leading to apathy towards the question (after all, it’s much easier to be entertained) or, alternatively, to deducing the question to scientific explanations. Both attempts have been a failure, even if the apologists for each approach have yet to realize their failure.

We are a paradox because we are in the image of God, but not in His likeness. We are in the image of God in that we have a conscience, can rationally choose good or evil, and we have the freedom to choose good or evil. But we are not in His likeness in that our wills are turned away from Him and we do not always desire to choose what is good. We act like God in that we reason, but we act nothing like God in that we sin. We are all children of God, made in His image, but we have run away and are lost in a cold and unforgiving world. We are capable of good because God is still our Father, but we are capable of evil because we have left His house. In walking away from God we are left with nothing and so we try to fill that nothing with anything. But in the pursuit of anything, we will do horrible things to achieve it, because our goal is not love, it is not holiness, it is not mercy, it is not grace; when we pursue a chief end other than God, we pursue something of our own creation, meaning we pursue our pride. The pursuit of pride, the desire for autonomy, is the root of all evil.

Yet, in a plot twist that would make Christopher Nolan blush, the paradoxical Trinitarian God sent His Son into our world, to paradoxically remain fully God while also being fully human, all so He could fix the paradox that is us (yes, a paradox within a paradox within a paradox). The irony is that we are a paradox out of rebellion, but one that can be fixed; God is a paradox to us by His nature, and one we will never solve (because He is above us). The paradox that is man is the cause of our pain, but the paradox that is God is the solvent. By taking on human nature, Christ eradicated evil from it and showed us the way back to wholeness and fulfillment. The goal of following Christ is to become less of a contradiction, to abandon evil and to follow the good.

We are a paradox, but we don’t have to be. By growing in Christ, we can accomplish so much more. We can tap into the image of God, but also become more like Him.

John Galt vs. Jesus Christ


DSC02076For a shorter read that helped inspire me to write this post, something I’ve been meaning to do, read Joel Miller’s excellent article on the subject.

The Blaze is an extremely conservative online publication, meaning that any time one ventures into the comments (word of advice: Never read the comments on a website), one finds the extreme right of the conservative ideology. Thus, it should be no surprise that a story about a man giving his business to his employees after retiring was met with quite a bit of hostility. The hostility wasn’t necessarily over the action, but the man’s justification for his action. He said that he felt he needed to “give back” to those who had helped him, just as he had done charitable giving his entire life in order to “give back” to society. The idea of “giving back” is what got the commenters rowelled up. After all, the man paid wages to the employees and paid his taxes, what exactly did he “owe” to his employees or to society?

The hostility towards understanding one’s obligation to the other stems, I believe, from Ayn Rand’s filth-ridden ideology philosophy, which has infected permeated the conservative movement. Rand believed that every person existed for themselves, thus altruism and charity were evil. No one owed anyone else anything, we only owe to ourselves. In fact, through the mouth of John Galt, she wrote:

By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man–every man–is an end in himself, he exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose. (Part 3, Chapter 7)

“Every man is an end in himself and exists for his own sake.” Think about that – if true, all ethics related to the other exists solely for one’s own benefit. In other words, the only reason I don’t murder my competition is because by doing so, it allows someone to murder me. However, if I find myself in a position where I am the strongest and control the means to murder, well then, murder away. In a less extreme example, such as economic distribution, I can do whatever I want to my workers so long as it doesn’t pose a threat to me. They exist for themselves and I exist for myself – the ultimate irony is Rand’s philosophy is that in attempting to insure against people being treated as means, she ensured that all men are treated as means. After all, if I exist for my own sake and my happiness is my highest purpose, then your existence and happiness mean nothing to me. They can be used at my leisure, should I be more powerful than you, to create my own happiness.

Hence, what Mr. Lueken did is the ultimate affront to John Galt because he recognized that not only does he not exist for his own sake, but where he is in life is owed to others. President Obama had the unfortunate experience of giving an extremely poorly-worded speech during his campaign, one where he famously said, “You didn’t build that!” I cringed when I heard that soundbite because I knew every person voting against him would jump on that one part of the speech while ignoring the message. His overall message, however, was still rejected by the extreme right; his message is what Mr. Lueken lived out, namely that where we are in life is in part thanks to people who have helped us along the way. Yes, it takes personal initiative to get where we are (which is why I support private ownership), but no man is autonomous, no man is an island, no man exists within and for himself.

John Galt’s speech, or Rand’s teachings, fall short when applied to actual existence because they go against our very nature. Christianity teaches that all men and women are created in the image of God. Since this image is not physical, it means that certain traits of God are also inherent within us, though to a limited and finite degree. One aspect is that God is Trinitarian, meaning that God is relational. This, too, has been transfered to us. We are relational creatures and cannot live without a relationship. But being relational by nature means that by the very act of existing, we have moral obligations to other people. We no longer exist for ourselves, nor is our happiness our supreme goal. Rather, being in the image of God means we are tied to God, who is love. Thus, our ultimate purpose is to love God, but in order to love God we must also love those who bear His image. In loving those who bear His image, we therefore have obligations to them; we owe them. We treat them as ends rather than means; thus, when our workers help us become rich and we have paid them a small fraction of what we’ve made, we feel a moral obligation to “give back” to them for all their hard work.

It is this idea of “giving back” that irked Rand so much and why she hated Christianity. For one, the woman feigned indifference to charity, willingly compromising and saying that charity was neither a moral duty nor really a virtue. From the same linked article, Rand, talking about Christ, goes on to say:

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.

Her understanding of the cross aside, notice what she says. Christ died for the “nonideal.” Thus, those who are ideal are encouraged to sacrifice for the “nonideal.” Even when talking about charity, she argues that charity is acceptable so long as the people we are giving charity to have “earned it” and are “worthy of it.” Now think about that; if you have to earn something then is it really charity? And people say she was a great thinker Certainly, such a contradiction must have been apparent to her.

Where Rand fails – and why no Christian should ever follow her in anything she teaches Christians should use great discernment and realize that one can support the free market without turning to Rand – is that she fails to understand love. Is Christianity about the ideal human coming down and dying for nonideal humans? Yes, she was right on that point. Not only does “Christian philosophy” include the idea that the ideal human died for all the nonideal humans, that’s the central idea. When people try to say that Jesus wasn’t perfect, they’ve supplanted the Gospel with something else, they’ve eradicated Christianity and put up a materialistic pagan version of Christianity. Thus, Ayn Rand was right in her summation of Christianity as the ideal dying for the nonideal; where she’s wrong is when she condemns Christianity for this belief.

Christ taught that the two greatest commandments are to love God with one’s heart, soul, and mind and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. What is interesting is the connection point between the two; Christ says, “And the second is like it.” In other words, to love one’s neighbor is like loving God, meaning the two are tied together. It is Christ who came to use as both God and man, as the ideal human, to live these commandments perfectly. He did so not to laud Himself over us, but to take we who are nonideal and to make us ideal. He deified human nature so that we could be as He is. Christ dying for us, for being with the lowly and downtrodden may be a scandal for John Galt, but it in line with who we are as humans.

We can try to live the philosophy of John Galt, but in the end we will end up morally bankrupt and in danger of Hell. While Rand’s ideas may provide temporary riches, they do not offer eternal riches; selfishness and greed ruin everything they touch, they are an acid to all that is good. We are created in the image of God. Thus, we do not exist for ourselves or for our happiness. We exist for God and therefore exist for each other. We “give back,” because even if we do not owe anything to those we give back to, we owe everything to God.

 

Boycott’s and Morality


I should state that there are times where the boycotting of a company is necessary. Sometimes the actions of a company are so heinous that one simply cannot purchase from them. Other times, the company is so entrenched in an immoral practice that to engage in commerce is to engage in the immoral act itself (think of the slave trade: if slaves are necessary to make the product, then buying the product makes the consumer part of the slave process). But these times are few and far between and require strength in numbers. One can think of William Wilberforce’s boycott of all slave-owned products; it required a sacrifice, a group of people, a movement, and open dialogue in the streets. The same is true of the Civil Rights movement boycott of segregating businesses. The current boycott against Chick Fil-A, however, doesn’t measure up; there’s no real sacrifice, there’s no real organization, and most importantly there’s no real dialogue.

Most should know my (Joel) view on homosexual marriage before proceeding in what I’m about to write. That said, I think the current boycott is nothing more than what could be called “moral grandstanding.” Moral grandstanding is simply a nice way of saying “hypocrisy.” It’s when people take a stand on an issue that isn’t incredibly controversial in their respective groups, make a tiny sacrifice, and feel they’re doing something. For instance, it’s not controversial to stand up against human trafficking, so boycotting brothels since most trafficked humans end up in them isn’t a huge sacrifice; one isn’t really make a moral stand so much as one is simply being a good human. Speaking up for homosexual rights isn’t really “brave” in the world since more and more people support it; but speaking against homosexual rights isn’t “brave” either considering the majority of Americans still stand against those rights.

Thus, boycotting a company that is against gay marriage isn’t really taking a moral stand, just as supporting them doesn’t make one moral either.

If we really want to get into detail on it, how come we haven’t seen an outcry against Hershey’s over their use of slave labor in the cocoa fields? Why don’t we see boycotts against Apple for the horrendous conditions in their factories over in China? Why aren’t there boycotts against OPEC where their leaders feelings on homosexuals is to kill them? The reason is sadly simple; because it doesn’t impact us.

We’re okay with “those Chiners” being slaves because, well, we don’t have any chance of ending up in that factory. We’re okay with an African child losing an education and being forced to work in a field all day long while receiving little to nothing in way of compensation because he’s not us, he’s not our child. And ultimately we don’t boycott OPEC because (1) the homosexuals they kill don’t live here and (2) that’d actually require a sacrifice beyond saying no to a chicken sandwich.

Ultimately, the reason the Chick Fil A fiasco has grown is because it deals with homosexual rights, an issue that directly impacts people in this country. These other issues, however, don’t impact people and so – to state it simply – they just don’t really care. Some might point to this and go, “Well yeah, that makes sense, we only place interests in what impacts us.” But that’s wrong, because a society that does that is not a society at all. The point of a society, the point of rights, the point of morality, the point of being human is to realize that the world is bigger than you, thus you must care about issues bigger than yourself. The reason people are up in arms about Chick Fil A and gay people getting married isn’t because they’re deeply moral people concerned about rights, it’s that they’re selfish and don’t care about others.

So people can parade around with their false moral indignation towards Chick Fil A, I couldn’t care less because I see it for what it is. It shows me that this country, as a culture, is an abysmal failure. We’ll throw a fit over this issue, but not over anything else because it doesn’t effect us; in other words, we don’t care about principle, we don’t really care about rights, we really only care about ourselves. A society like that won’t continue on, nor does it deserve to.

Some might say that standing up against human trafficking is an easy thing, that fighting for worker’s rights in other nations is relatively easy and non-controversial. Of course, they say these things because they’ve never tried it. They don’t realize how much of our economy is based on these illicit practices, nor do they realize that to stand up to actually stop these things would require one to go against almost the entire United States Congress as well as the majority of our corporations. They don’t realize any of this because they, in all actuality, don’t care. It’s far easier to simply not purchase a chicken sandwich and think you’re making a point than it is to work to bring to light anti-human practices in the majority of our economic practices.

We, as a society, look for the easiest way to do things. It’s within my generation and the generations that have followed. If something isn’t handed to us on a silver platter then we don’t want to work for us; work, which used to be a virtue, which used to be seen as something good in and of itself, is now a vice. Work is to be avoided. Not just a “hard days work,” but working for a better future, working for things that you may never enjoy, but your children will. We don’t want to work for things because life is short, so why waste life on something you may not get. The same is true for how we view causes; why work for something that doesn’t directly impact us? Why should I waste time for someone else?

So we shouldn’t think the boycott of Chick Fil A, or the counter-“buycott,” really mean anything. They don’t. All it means is that people are lazy and cheap when it comes to their morals. They only care about themselves, not about any real moral change or movement in this country.