Q. “If religion is instrumental in spreading altruism, can we fight altruism in America without fighting religion?”
A. “In America, religion is relatively non-mystical. Religious teachers here are predominantly good, healthy materialists. They follow common sense. They would not stand in our way. The majority of religious people in this country do not accept on faith the idea of jumping into a cannibal’s pot and giving away their last shirt to the backward people of the world. Many religious leaders preach this today, because of their own leftist politics; it’s not inherent in being religious. There are many historical and philosophical connections between altruism and religion, but the function of religion in this country is not altruism. You would not find too much opposition to Objectivism among religious Americans. There are rational religious people. In fact, I was pleased and astonished to discover that some religious people support Objectivism. If you want to be a full Objectivist, you cannot reconcile that with religion; but that doesn’t mean religious people cannot be individualists and fight for freedom. They can, and this country is the best proof of it.”
“…an amendment was proposed by inserting the words, ‘Jesus Christ … the holy author of our religion,’” which was rejected “by a great majority in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohammedan, the Hindu, and the Infidel of every denomination.”
Moreover, in A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, Jefferson writes, “…that our civil rights have no dependence on religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics and geometry…”
This attitude to religion is best summarized by Thomas Jefferson who writes,
“Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God, because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of a blind faith.”
In this panel discussion with audience participation, philosophers Onkar Ghate and Robert Mayhew discuss the “New Atheists”—including Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins—contrasting their approach to moral values with that of Ayn Rand, describing their cultural significance, and probing their philosophies. Onkar Ghate is a senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, and Robert Mayhew is a professor of philosophy at Seton Hall University. This panel was recorded live at Objectivist Summer Conference 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada.