Religion vs. Subjectivism: Why Neither Will Do - The Objective Standard

Author’s note: This is Chapter 1 of my book Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It (Richmond: Glen Allen Press, 2002). The book is an introduction to Ayn Rand’s morality of rational egoism.

“If there is no God, anything goes.” This popular claim is an eloquent distillation of a deep-rooted false alternative wreaking havoc on human life and happiness. The adage compresses into a few words the age-old debate over whether morality is a matter of “divine commandments” or “human sentiments.” Whatever their disagreements, both sides of this argument accept the idea that your basic moral choice is to be guided either by faith or by feelings. In other words, both sides agree that your choice is: religion or subjectivism. But if you want to live and enjoy life, neither of these will do. Neither religion nor subjectivism provides proper guidance for human action; each calls for human sacrifice and leads to human suffering—both physical and spiritual. To see why, we will look first at the theoretical essence of each of these doctrines; then we will turn to the practical consequences—historical and personal—of accepting them.

Let us begin with religion. . . .


1 John R.W. Stott, Basic Christianity (London: InterVarsity Press, 1971), p. 78.

2 Abraham Heschel, God in Search of Man, A Philosophy of Judaism (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983), p. 117.

3 Walter C. Kaiser Jr. et al., Hard Sayings of the Bible (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1996), p. 127.

4 Stott, Basic Christianity, p. 79.

5 See Genesis, 2­–3.

6 Saint Augustine, City of God, trans. Gerald G. Walsh et al. (New York: Doubleday, 1958), p. 314.

7 Genesis, 22:2.

8 Augustine, City of God, p. 313, emphasis added.

9 The Philosophical Works of Descartes, trans. Elizabeth S. Haldane and G.R.T. Ross (London: Cambridge University Press, 1973), Vol. I, p. 253.

10 Robert C. Mortimer, Christian Ethics (London: Hutchinson’s University Library, 1950), p. 8.

11 Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Bible, p. 126.

12 Mortimer, Christian Ethics, pp. 7–8.

13 See Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers, trans. Kathleen Freeman (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), p. 125; and Wilhelm Windelband, A History of Philosophy (New York: Harper & Row, 1958), Vol. I, pp. 91–94.

14 See Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1929), esp. pp. 22–25; Prolegomena, trans. Paul Carus (Chicago: Open Court, 1997), esp. pp. 79–84; and Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Mary Gregor (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), esp. pp. 40–41, 58–59.

15 Michael Schudson, Discovering the News (New York: Basic Books, 1978), p. 6.

16 Richard Rorty, “The Next Left,” interview by Scott Stossel, Atlantic Unbound, April 23, 1998.

17 Cf. Richard Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), esp. pp. 13–14, 21–22, 29; and Achieving our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), pp. 27–29, 34–35.

18 Louis P. Pojman, Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong, 3rd ed. (Belmont: Wadsworth, 1999), p. 78.

19 President Bill Clinton, radio address to the nation, April 5, 1997.

20 President George Bush, quoted in Howard Radest, Community Service: Encounter with Strangers (Westport: Praeger, 1993), p. 8.

21 President George W. Bush, inaugural address, January 20, 2001.

22 Alan Keyes, Washington Journal, C-SPAN, January 19, 2000.

23 William F. Buckley, quoted in Mother Jones, January/February, 1996.

24 President Bill Clinton, radio addresses to the nation, April 5 and July 26, 1997, emphasis added.

25 General Colin Powell, “Helping Hands,” interview by Elizabeth Farnsworth, Jim Lehrer News Hour, April 28, 1997.

26 Ibid.

27 Bertrand Russell, “Science and Ethics,” in Religion and Science (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 230–31.

28 Eric Harris, from his website, quoted in The Washington Post, April 29, 1999.

29 Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Rabbi Stewart Vogel, The Ten Commandments (New York: Harper Collins, 1998), p. xxix.

30 Cf. Hebrews, 11:1; and Heschel, God in Search of Man, pp. 117–18.

31 Schlessinger, The Ten Commandments, pp. 25–26.

32 Cf. Saint Augustine, “Tractate 27 on the Gospel of John,” Chapter 6: 60–72. Cf. also Saint Anselm, Proslogium, Chapter 1; and Heschel, God in Search of Man, pp. 121–22.

33 See Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual (New York: Signet, 1963), p. 151; and H.W.B. Joseph, Introduction to Logic, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1916), p. 408.

34 Rand, For the New Intellectual, p. 126.

35 Cf. Aristotle, “Metaphysics,” in The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon (New York: Random House, 1941), pp. 736–37.

36 The Ante-Nicene Fathers, eds. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1903), Vol. III, The Writings of Tertullian, p. 525.

37 Quoted in Eugene Davidson, The Trial of the Germans (New York: Macmillan, 1966), pp. 237–38.

38 Hermann Goering, Germany Reborn (London: E. Mathews and Marrot, 1934), pp. 79–80.

39 Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, trans. Ralph Manheim (Houghton Mifflin: New York, 1971), pp. 297–98.

40 Osama bin Laden et al., “Fatwa Urging Jihad Against Americans,” in Al-Quds al-‘Arabi, February 23, 1998.

41 Jean Meslier, Superstition in All Ages, trans. Anna Knoop (New York: Peter Eckler, 1889) pp. 37–38.

42 See W.E.H. Lecky, History of European Morals (New York: George Braziller, 1955), Vol. II, pp. 107–12; and St. Bonaventura, Life of St. Francis, trans. E.G. Slater (London: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1910), pp. 329–31.

43 John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1979), pp. 7, 11, emphasis added. Cf. Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Mary Gregor (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), esp. pp. 151–52, 156, 161, 227.

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