Yaron Brook, Executive Chairman of the Ayn Rand Institute, recently told Dave Rubin (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gd_P1n-JHWM) that Judeo-Christian religion is unreasonable if not downright inhuman because of the demands these and other religions place on people. He gives a spirited defense of free enterprise, and then contrasts it with what he sees as the illogical demands of religions, in particular Christianity and Judaism.
“Me thriving does not entail exploiting you (described as ‘lying, cheating, stealing, murdering you.’),” Brook explained. Quite the contrary, me thriving is me trading with you (which he described as creating many win-win, mutually beneficial situations).
Brook then contrasted the simple reasonableness of this with the unreasonable demands of religious strictures such as “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“But [if I thrive] it’s not because I love you like I love me. I don’t. As much as I love you, I love myself more…this whole idea of ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ – forget it. Nobody loves their neighbor like they do their self,” Brook said.
To illustrate this, Brook offered this thought experiment: suppose your children and your neighbor’s children are drowning in the pool. Whose do you save first? Your children, or your neighbor’s children?
Brook gave the reasonable and correct answer: “Anybody would save their children first…and you shouldn’t be embarrassed by that fact,” he stated and went on to explain why that was not only reasonable but correct: You should be proud of that fact. They’re your kids. You love them more. It’s OK to save them first. Anybody with self esteem would love their children more, and save their children first.
Then, by comparison, Brook pointed to people who would save other people’s children first because, according to the dictates of their religion, “it’s the right thing to do.” He said the church calls these people “saints” – “Mother Teresa-like people” who will commit these selfless acts, which he described as “letting their own kids die” to save the stranger’s kids. He called such an attitude “awful” and “evil” and that that is what is horrible about religion, because that is what religion demands they must do.
I largely agree with Brook. I agree that rational self-interest is not only smart and moral, but also proven by reason. And as such, rational self interest is preferable to selflessly sacrificing for, as he put it, a complete stranger.
I have great respect for Ayn Rand’s philosophical work and Yaron Brook in promoting it. I think the world would be a much better place if it could put into place her philosophy, by educating children to think rationally and limit government coercion whether it be considered malevolent or benevolent. I think Ayn is basically right when it comes to how man should live in this environment. I think the basic truth of her philosophy, called “objectivism,” is sound: that the purpose of man is to stay alive, and once he is able to secure his life, and having done so, to to use his reason to live a good and fulfilling life. I think this is sound, and probably unassailable. I think Jesus and Ayn Rand would have a marvelous conversation. Jesus would naturally win any debate, because Jesus is God, the author of life and of the reason that Rand does so well to describe.
But I think Brook sets up a faulty dichotomy in his portrayal of the Judeo-Christian principle here, of what it means for the Judeo-Christian God to command his people to “love your neighbor as yourself.” I find too much agreement in the principles of the Objectivist and the Christian. They do not agree on the nature of God. But they are in agreement that government is not God. Both agree that government makes for a terrible substitute for God and thus should be very limited in its function and scope.
I think the Objectivist and the Christian would agree that to trade productive assets with one’s neighbors is far preferable to lying, cheating, stealing, and murdering. If I value my individual life (and I do), and thus extend to another human being the right to similarly value his life, I will not exploit him. I will, in effect, be loving him as I love myself, which is also explained in the scriptures as “doing to others as you would have them do unto you”. One’s neighbor is extended the same rights and moral code I reserve for myself.
Furthermore, just as I would want to save my own children first in the pool drowning example, I would afford the neighbor that same right to save his own children first. I would not expect him, or even force him to save my children first – that would be exploitative. That is the action of a tyrant.
But, I would want him to step in and save my children when he has fulfilled his duty to his own life and children, the children he has personally sacrificed so much of his own physical well-being to nurture and develop. As I would reserve for myself that right, I would extend it to him as well.
Fortunately, Jesus is recorded as unveiling the truth of this. When Jesus told listeners they were to “love their neighbor as themselves,” someone asked for a definition of terms. He didn’t ask “what is love” but rather “and who is my neighbor?” In his answer, Jesus did not set up a Sophie’s choice kind of dilemma to place impossible burdens on his followers. Rather, he gave them the story of the Good Samaritan.
A Samaritan, Jesus explained, was travelling on a road when he came upon a victim of a robbery, beaten and bloodied. Whereas other travelers ignored the victim and continued on their way, the Samaritan did what we would no doubt hope anyone would do were he in such a desperate situation. He aided the man, cleaning and binding his wounds, then bringing him to an innkeeper. From there, he paid for his keep and promised to return and pay for any additional expenses (the man was robbed so he naturally would be unable to pay himself).
In conclusion, Jesus asked this: of the people who came upon the beaten and robbed man, “who was his neighbor?”
“The man who showed him compassion,” the listeners responded.
“Go and do likewise,” Jesus replied.
It’s easy to see how this explanation of how to “love your neighbor as yourself,” flows unimpeded with the philosophy of Ayn Rand. By showing compassion, the Samaritan was living the good life. Besides the psychic satisfaction of doing he right thing, he gained for himself a friend who will be forever grateful. This Samaritan did not live as a poor beggar: rather, he accumulated enough wealth to take care of a fellow human in great need. This Samaritan will not exploit this friendship, because it isn’t in his character to do so. But he will be enriched by it. Extending generosity to others will likely work to one’s favor in the future. But even if it doesn’t, it is living the good life and will lead to enriching friendships and a greater sense of self worth. The Samaritan extended his neighborhood by treating a temporary neighbor the way he would want a neighbor to treat him. He also made this extended neighborhood a place more tolerable for living, with more potential to thrive. Hopefully, the role of government here, unable to prevent the assault and robbery, will at least be to capture and punish the evildoers to demonstrate that crime does not pay like virtue does. For a vibrant neighborhood, where neighbors watch out for each other, that is all that is needed from government when it comes to neighborhood action (threats outside the neighborhood are another matter).
Quoting from Leonard Peikoff, an Objectivist and close associate of Ayn Rand, I submit to you that the hero of Jesus of Nazareth is an exemplar of loving one’s neighbor as oneself who also fits the Objectivist’s definition of a well lived life (Objectivists, like Rand, see Aristotle as the greatest philosopher outside of the possible exception of Ann Rand):
“For Aristotle, the good life is one of personal self-fulfillment. Man should enjoy the values of this world. Using his mind to the fullest, each man should work to achieve his own happiness here on earth. And in the process he should be aware of his own value. Pride, writes Aristotle – a rational pride in oneself and in one’s moral character – is, when it is earned, the “crown of the virtues.”
Fortunately, the Apostle Paul explains this very well for the young Christians. He tells them not to be idle but to engage in productive endeavors so that they can “give their excess to those in need.” Jesus, in trying to make this point unforgettable, went so far as to even make an unjust steward who embezzled his master’s goods a hero in another parable. A thief who only feathers his own nest in this world, Jesus suggests, is a bigger fool than he need be. He explained in Luke 16:9, regarding the wicked that they should “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
Jesus had much to say about the spiritual world that is pretty much invisible to the senses. But regarding objective truths seen in this world, as stated earlier, he and Ayn Rand would find much in common. Rand nailed down essential truths regarding this life. But Jesus offers eternal truths in life after this life that Rand naturally could only offer incisive skepticism. For those like Rand, who have no clue as to what life after death entails, Jesus offers practical advice based on his knowledge regarding eternity. If you can’t be virtuous for its own sake, Jesus suggests helpfully, if you have nothing productive that you created from your own productive work to trade with others, then at least be shrewd now. Give your ill gotten gains to others who are looking at a similar fate of eternal judgement. This will make your future more tolerable. This will prepare you for the life to come.
Naturally, this last paragraph is a real headscratcher, if not downright offensive. To the skeptic, Jesus sounds delusional. To the believer he seems to be justifying amorality. To me, he’s offering a sort of Paschal wager fallback plan for the unrepentant – call it the Jesus wage: If you won’t hedge your bet on eternity by believing Me regarding heaven and hell, then at least apply this earthly principle you can observe in your own wicked life. Consider that what you sow you will reap so that, if the skeptic is wrong and I am right about a life and a home to come, at the very least your eternal future will be somewhat more tolerable when you are caught and fired by your heavenly master and did nothing but defraud those who you are looking to spend eternity with.
This isn’t really an argument, but an assertion that the soul and personality of the human is not an illusion, a construct of physical properties, but eternal. The Apostle Paul, in instructing his fellow disciples on how to conduct themselves in this life, explains that principles observed in the physical world have value in illustrating eternal, invisible spiritual truths. So, rather than an argument about eternity, I think it’s best to see it as a bit of helpful advice from someone who, unlike you and I, was raised from the dead and has a bit more knowledge regarding the afterlife than we.