In my recent public statement about The Objectivist Center (TOC), I cited Tim Richmond’s 2002 op-ed “One Nation Under ?” as an example of TOC’s embarrassing and dismaying cultural activism. Just the opening paragraph is appalling:
A California court’s recent subtraction of “one nation, under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance distorts the ethical foundation of church and state separation. Yes, individual rights require safeguards against intrusive government, but the court’s striking of a simple utterance begs the question… which rights are being safeguarded? And for whose benefit?
And why must we ask these two questions? The op-ed never really says, but presumably it’s because some rights ought not be protected if they are to the benefit of some unworthy persons. And based upon the analysis in the article, first graders subject to pressure and ridicule in government schools are such unworthy persons.
Most school-age children cannot critically examine the context of the Pledge of Allegiance at an adult level. Critics of “one nation, under God” may point to this youthful naivete in their claims that potentially offensive language ought to be removed from schools. But the world-at-large does not operate that way. Individuals cannot evade the spectrum of ideas. Learning requires a proximity to ideas – even those that may offend – starting in childhood.
Ah yes, damn those little evaders who wish to ban “offensive language” from public discourse! The presumptive subjectivism of this analysis is quite striking: Apparently Richmond can only imagine that people object to the “under God” version of the Pledge of Allegiance because they feel offended. The idea that it involves a government endorsement of religion is never addressed. (Also notable is the blatant equivocation on the term “public” throughout the op-ed.)
When I began this blog entry, I didn’t actually mean to spend so much time on the total lack of redeeming value in this op-ed. Instead, I just wanted to highlight the great chasm between this TOC dreck and the recent Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) op-ed on the Pledge case “Politics without Mirrors” written by Robert Garmong. Garmong’s analysis is clear, engaging, and true — i.e. all that the TOC op-ed is not. I liked the overall theme of the article, as it connected two seemingly unrelated issues by looking beyond the superficials:
The political Left has properly condemned governmental support of religious ideas–but at the same time, it demands that taxpayers support secular ideas, via National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, among myriad smaller agencies. If the Right’s attempt to impose religion by force is destructive of intellectual freedom, the Left’s demand that taxpayers support their ideas is openly contemptuous of the intellect. Liberals do not care whether you or I in fact agree with or approve of the ideas and images our tax dollars support–be they the latest collection of paint splotches or a Madonna smeared with elephant dung–just as long as we hand over our taxes. Thus, our minds have been rendered irrelevant, our agreement or disagreement pointless, as long as we serve as cash cows for the “artist” or “intellectual” to exploit.
The comparison between the cultural activism of TOC and ARI easily goes beyond these two articles. The mere difference in the titles of Ed Hudgins’ TOC op-ed “The Problems with ‘The Passion’s’ Moral Message” and Onkar Ghate’s ARI op-ed “A Passion Against Man” suggests deeper differences in moral evaluations found in the articles. In his article, Ed Hudgins writes:
Gibson and many Christians believe that human beings are born with original sin and worthy of nothing but death and damnation. But because of his love for us, God sent Christ to take upon himself our sins. “The Passion” graphically depicts Jesus’s cruel torture and crucifixion — penalties that we all deserve. To avoid hell, we must accept Christ’s sacrifice.
In our secular society, many individuals who reject this theology still accept the moral message of Christianity. But the problems with this message — as well as a way to a better moral vision — can be found by examining three themes that are central in Gibson’s film: sin, sacrifice and suffering.
Oh, what a harsh condemnation! The idea that “human beings are born with original sin and worthy of nothing but death and damnation” has “problems”! Ouch! Unsurprisingly, Ghate isn’t so friendly towards these views. I rather liked this section of his piece:
When charges of anti-Semitism, denied by the producers, surrounded the film before its opening, there was outrage from many circles. But when the principals behind the film tell us openly that its message is that not only Jews but all men are implicated in the death of Jesus, the voices of moral outrage fall silent…
So, let us ask some questions no one is asking. Why is it immoral to ascribe guilt to all Jews, but not immoral to ascribe guilt to all mankind? How can anyone know, without first considering our specific choices and actions, that you or I are guilty? How can you or I be responsible for the death of a man killed some two thousand years ago? To make any sense of the accusation, one must recognize that one is here dealing with, albeit in a more sophisticated form, the same collectivist mentality as the racist’s. For the anti-Semite, to be Jewish is to be evil. For the devout Christian, to be human is to be evil.
Another useful contrast concerns TOC versus ARI op-ed on Valentine’s Day. Tim Richmond’s fluffy op-ed is filled with vapid, boring generalities. The closing paragraph is as good an example as any other:
At the highest level of rapture, love can be neither universal nor halfway. It is a wonderfully singular, filling experience; a release of sorts, in that thoughts left invisible for lack of an audience suddenly find a mirror-image in another soul. It restores our benevolent sense of the world, the sense that no matter what else may occur there is a base of goodness in life. In a world recently torn asunder by violence and ugliness we struggle to define, the soul mate is a foundation for our happiest outlook.
In contrast, Gary Hull’s recent article forthrightly and clearly challenges the all-too-common idea that love is selfless.
And yet another useful contrast is found between Ed Hudgins’ appeasement of religion in The Human Spirit of Christmas and Leonard Peikoff’s clear rejection of it in “Why Christmas Should Be More Commercial.”
All in all, the sharp contrasts between the quality, clarity, insight, and objectivity of the articles produced by ARI and those of TOC ought to be deeply troubling to any serious advocate of Objectivism who also supports TOC. Since the moral is the practical, a bit of premise-checking seems to be in order.