Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It (Part 5 of 7)

by | Sep 19, 2005

Adapted from Chapter 1 of Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It by Craig Biddle. In case there are any doubts, history provides conclusive evidence of the sacrificial nature of all three forms of subjectivism. Let us look first at religion. Countless people have suffered and died in the name […]

Adapted from Chapter 1 of Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It by Craig Biddle.

In case there are any doubts, history provides conclusive evidence of the sacrificial nature of all three forms of subjectivism. Let us look first at religion.

Countless people have suffered and died in the name of God. Here is just a smattering of the carnage and pain perpetrated on His “behalf.” The Middle Ages were ten continuous centuries fraught with misery and bloodshed in obedience to God’s “merciful will.” During the Crusades, tens of thousands of men, women, and children were massacred for God’s “higher purpose.” From the thirteenth through the eighteenth century, the Inquisition routinely branded people as “heretics,” and then imprisoned, tortured, hanged, or burned them at the stake for the “love” of God. (Victims include the courageous astronomer Giordano Bruno, who was burned alive for the “heresy” of thinking–and the great scientist Galileo, who was sentenced to life under house arrest for defying the Church by reporting the truth.) The Thirty Years’ War was, well, thirty uninterrupted years of Protestants and Catholics slaughtering each other over how best to worship the Almighty. (This feud resumed in twentieth-century Northern Ireland and has continued for an additional forty years–and counting.) In seventeenth-century Massachusetts, Christians held “witch” trials and hanged or crushed to death those whom they felt were “guilty.” Before moving on to his “next life,” the Ayatollah Khomeini issued an Islamic fatwa (a religious decree) against author Salman Rushdie–who is to be executed for “insulting” Allah in his novel The Satanic Verses. In Afghanistan, throughout the turn of the century, the Islamic Taliban regularly beat, jailed, and murdered people for breaking Allah’s laws. (The punished include: women for holding a job or exposing their ankles, men for failing to wear a beard, homosexuals for existing, and anyone for partaking in activities such as playing music, dancing, playing soccer, playing cards, taking photographs, or flying a kite.) In 1998, Terrorist Osama bin Laden and his Muslim cohorts issued a fatwa declaring: “To kill the Americans and their allies, civilians and military, is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.” This, they said, “is in accordance with the words of Almighty God.”[40] Such faithful terrorists ceaselessly plot and occasionally strike against “the Great Satan” America by such means as hijacking commercial airliners and crashing them into skyscrapers full of people. In the Middle East, the so-called “Holy Land” over which Islamic terrorists regularly spill Jewish blood has not seen peace since religion began. Religious disputes between Eastern Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, and Muslims are at the core of centuries of hatred and the ongoing bloodbath in the Balkans. And in America, anti-abortionists shoot doctors dead for tampering with God’s “divine plan” and bomb abortion clinics because women dare to assume that they, rather than God, own their bodies.

Of course, each religion and sect denounces the others and objects to their ways, calling them “aberrations,” “fringe fanatics,” “cultists,” “extremists,” “defects,” “misinterpreters of God’s will,” or just plain “wrong.” But by what standard? Each claims to get its morality by means of “revelation” from God; thus, each claims to have “divine” authority to act as it does. And since none can prove that its particular creed is right, none has any standard by which to show that the others are wrong. They all just feel it.

I could go on and on about the baseless and sacrificial nature of religion; instead, however, I will defer to Jean Meslier, a guilt-ridden priest who conceded the following in his last will and testament, titled Common Sense:

We have seen, a thousand times, in all parts of our globe, infuriated fanatics slaughtering each other, lighting the funeral piles, committing without scruple, as a matter of duty, the greatest crimes. Why? To maintain or to propagate the impertinent conjectures of enthusiasts, or to sanction the knaveries of imposters on account of a being who exists only in their imagination.[41]

As Voltaire said: “If we believe in absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.”

Amen.

Amazingly, social subjectivism has an even more horrifying and bloodier history than religion does–and over a much shorter period of time. In the twentieth century alone, over a hundred million people were sacrificed in the name of some group’s “greater good.” Various socialist regimes–communists, Nazis, and fascists–starved, tortured, and slaughtered men, women, and children for the sake of the “community” or “proletariat” or “race” or “peasants” or “farmers” or “nation” or some other collective. In each case, human sacrifice was considered a moral imperative and thus became a political policy. The atrocities perpetrated in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, the purges and gulags of Soviet Russia, and the killing fields of communist Cambodia are too well known to warrant recital here. Suffice it to say that until the atrocities of Black Tuesday (September 11, 2001), the human sacrifice caused by social subjectivism made the human sacrifice caused by religion look comparatively humane.

Finally, there is personal subjectivism–the creed of common criminals, sundry lowlifes, and creatures of prey that sacrifice people because, well, they want to. This mentality is responsible for countless murders, rapes, muggings, robberies, and frauds. Read any newspaper for details.

It is painfully obvious that all three forms of subjectivism necessarily lead to physical conflict and destruction. What is also true, but not so obvious, is that each one necessarily leads to spiritual conflict and destruction–to conflicting ideas and emotions–to destruction of the mind. Again, let us take religion first.

To the extent a person is religious, he believes that he has a duty to self-sacrificially serve God. This duty requires him to abandon his own selfish dreams. If he sticks to his faithful convictions and abandons his dreams, he cannot be happy, because his dreams go forever unrealized. Conversely, if he hypocritically abandons his convictions and pursues his dreams, he still cannot be happy, for he is filled with moral guilt and dread of divine retribution.

Of course, few people take religion as seriously as did Abraham who, according to the Bible, was willing to murder his son in order to please God. And few are as dedicated as the medieval saints who, in order to avoid the sin of selfish pleasure, drank muddy water, sprinkled ashes on their food, used rocks for pillows, and flogged themselves for having sexual desires.[42] But the point is that to whatever degree a person does accept the idea that he should sacrifice his own interests for the sake of God, he will suffer: either from guilt and fear or from psychological repression–or both.

Consider a young woman who longs to become a great ballerina, but cannot reconcile such a purely self-interested goal with her religious conviction that she ought somehow to selflessly serve God. If she chooses to pursue her interest in dance, she cannot be happy, because she will feel guilty and live in fear. If she chooses to become a nun or a missionary, or to serve God in some other way, she still cannot be happy, since her personal dream will go forever unrealized. And if she compromises–if she pursues dance less seriously than is necessary to realize her full potential, and in the place of that surrendered portion of her dream she somehow serves God’s “higher purpose”–then she will get exactly what you would expect: a compromised, semi-guilty, semi-repressed sort of happiness. For she could have either sacrificed more to “glorify” God or worked harder to achieve her dream. She could have been either more “moral” or more selfish.

Fortunately, adherence to religion is losing popularity. Unfortunately, in its stead, people are turning to the other forms of subjectivism.

This series of articles are adapted from Chapter 1 of Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It by Craig Biddle.

Related Articles:

Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It (Part 6 of 7)

References:

[40] Osama bin Laden et al., “Fatwa Urging Jihad Against Americans,” in Al-Quds al-

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Craig Biddle is the editor and publisher of The Objective Standard and the author of Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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