Quote of the week...please share your favourite line from Ayn Rand's writings

“Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values.”

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Objectivism: Looking at spirituality

Objectivism seeks to provide a broad philosophy relevant for living on this earth. Religions were an early attempt by man at providing a basis for life and living, not limited to this earth, since some also suggested possible rewards in some other world beyond this one! How does objectivism look at religion and spiritualism?

There is a recent comment posted on this blog in which the author seeks to draw a parallel between Objectivism and Christian ideas. And I have heard from quite a few people who felt that Hindu or Vedic philosophy has strands that run parallel to objectivism.

It would be interesting to discuss this issue. Here are a few passages from The Fountainhead, regarding the temple that Howard Roard built to the spirit of man, that illustrate how Ayn Rand looked at spirituality and religion.

In the novel, Hopton Stoddard, tutored by Ellsworth Toohey, convinces Howard Roark to undertake the design of the temple by saying,

Hopton Stoddard: "You are a profoundly religious man, Mr. Roark - in your own way. I can see that in your building."
Howard Roark: "That's true."
Ayn Rand described the temple as,

scaled to human height in such a manner that it did not dwarf man, but stood as a setting that made his figure the only absolute, the gauge of perfection by which all dimensions were to be judged. When a man entered this temple, he would feel space molded around him, for him, as if it had waited for his entrance, to be completed. It was a joyous place, with the joy of exaltation that must be quiet. It was a place where one would come to feel sinless and strong, to find the peace of spirit never granted save by one’s own glory.

Following the construction, Roark was sued by Stoddard for failing to build a temple. Toohey contrasted Roark's vision of a temple to the commonly held belief.

Toohey proved that the Stoddard Temple contradicted every brick, stone and precept of history. ‘[T]he two essentials of the conception of a temple are a sense of awe and a sense of man’s humility . . . tend[ing] to impress upon man his essential insignificance, to crush him by sheer magnitude, to imbue him with that sacred terror which leads to the meekness of virtue. The Stoddard Temple is . . . an insolent ‘No’ flung in the face of history.
At the trial, Dominique Francon, whose statue was at the heart of the temple, appeared as a witness for Stoddard (the plaintiff) . While testifying against Roark, she described the temple as,

Howard Roark built a temple to the human spirit. He saw man as strong, proud, clean, wise and fearless. He saw man as a heroic being. And he built a temple to that. A temple is a place where man is to experience exaltation. He thought that exaltation comes from the consciousness of being guiltless, of seeing the truth and achieving it, of living up to one’s highest possibility, of knowing no shame and having no cause for shame, of being able to stand naked in full sunlight. He thought that exaltation means joy and that joy is man’s birthright. He thought that a place built as a setting for man is a sacred place. That is what Howard Roark thought of man and of exaltation.
Towards the end of The Fountainhead, Howard Roark, in his speech at his trial for blasting Cortland said: “From this simplest necessity to the highest religious abstraction, from the wheel to the skyscraper, everything we are and everything we have comes from a single attribute of man—the function of his reasoning mind.”

This sentence has been a point of discussion for a long time. Ayn Rand in her introduction to the 25th anniversary issue of The Fountainhead had dwelt on this line.

This could be misinterpreted to mean an endorsement of religion or religious ideas. I remember hesitating over that sentence, when I wrote it, and deciding that Roark’s and my atheism, as well as the overall spirit of the book, were so clearly established that no one would misunderstand it, particularly since I said that religious abstractions are the product of man’s mind, not of supernatural revelation.

But an issue of this sort should not be left to implications. What I was referring to was not religion as such, but a special category of abstractions, the most exalted one, which, for centuries, had been the near-monopoly of religion: ethics—not the particular content of religious ethics, but the abstraction “ethics,” the realm of values, man’s code of good and evil, with the emotional connotations of height, uplift, nobility, reverence, grandeur, which pertain to the realm of man’s values, but which religion has arrogated to itself . . .

Religion’s monopoly in the field of ethics has made it extremely difficult to communicate the emotional meaning and connotations of a rational view of life. Just as religion has pre-empted the field of ethics, turning morality against man, so it has usurped the highest moral concepts of our language, placing them outside this earth and beyond man’s reach. “Exaltation” is usually taken to mean an emotional state evoked by contemplating the supernatural. “Worship” means the emotional experience of loyalty and dedication to something higher than man. “Reverence” means the emotion of a sacred respect, to be experienced on one’s knees. “Sacred” means superior to and not-to-be-touched-by any concerns of man or of this earth. Etc.

But such concepts do name actual emotions, even though no supernatural dimension exists; and these emotions are experienced as uplifting or ennobling, without the self-abasement required by religious definitions. What, then, is their source or referent in reality? It is the entire emotional realm of man’s dedication to a moral ideal. Yet apart from the man-degrading aspects introduced by religion, that emotional realm is left unidentified, without concepts, words or recognition.

It is this highest level of man’s emotions that has to be redeemed from the murk of mysticism and redirected at its proper object: man.

- “Introduction to The Fountainhead,” The Objectivist, March 1968

At another place, Ayn Rand writes,
Philosophy is the goal toward which religion was only a helplessly blind groping. The grandeur, the reverence, the exalted purity, the austere dedication to the pursuit of truth, which are commonly associated with religion, should properly belong to the field of philosophy.
- “The Chickens’ Homecoming,” in the Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution

Here are two additional links that might be useful to refer to while discussing this issue.

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