Objectivism as Religion


PalePower

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During a review in my Comparative Religions class today, I copied down a quote by one William James (I don't know who this is) that follows:

Religion "consists of the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto."

My best friend (a fellow atheist/Objectivist) and I remarked to each other that we both liked this quote quite a bit, since it did not imply the existence of a god, only an "unseen order." (It was also a nice definition, since many religions don't even acknowledge gods, like Confucianism or Buddhism.) Then our discussion traveled further - what does he mean by an "unseen order?" Does he imply the traditional interpretation - that the entire UNIVERSE is governed by some pre-determined method ("You, river, run that way; you, star, explode") or can it refer to a much more restricted, personal area? For example, can "unseen order" simply mean that there EXIST definite methods and philosophies which a single person can practice to bring themselves fulfillment?

In this light, could Objectivism be qualified as a religion?

~Elizabeth

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Elizabeth; William James is the brother of Henry James and is regarded as one of the fathers of American Psychology. I believe he is also one of founders of Pragamatism.

My short answer is no. The fact that the universe behaves in an orderly manner does not imply religon. There is a passage in Atlas whereHugh Atkson talks about prayer but I don't think this passage is an endorsement of prayer. I suspect there will be more on this topic. Henry James is an author who many people talk about but few people read. He wrote very mannered novels where noone ever gets excited about anything.

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I do not see how the order described in Objectivism is unseen. The results of it are seen and the process is identified and made clear for all who wish to view it. Objectivism is a philosophy.

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"Unseen" not in that it is eternally unknowable, but in that it is not immediately evident.

(Just as a note, I'm sort of playing the devil's advocate to see what kind of responses might pop up.)

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Things in religion are constantly unseen. God would be a perfect example. A road to enlightenment in Buddhism and Sikhism would be another one. These are things that must be found out and interpreted by each human being. God's motives in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Mormonism, are "beyond human comprehension". In Objectivism, everything is a stone's throw away. Nothing is unseen because everything is seeable. It's not a religion, its a philosophy.

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"Unseen" not in that it is eternally unknowable, but in that it is not immediately evident.

(Just as a note, I'm sort of playing the devil's advocate to see what kind of responses might pop up.)

I would suggest, Elizabeth, that you may have hit upon something: What are getting at has to do with the realm of metaphysics -- which can quite accurately be described as a set of laws (an "unseen order," perhaps) which govern existence.

Materialists vehemently disagree with this conception of a governing force over reality. I do believe that if there is such a thing as metaphysics, to a degree it has to be taken on faith.

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When one says "unseen" the eternal and absolute is assumed because it leaves no room for anything else. You can see the order of the universe with Objectivism, so I would be inclined to say that this does not apply to Objectivism. Conversely, if you say that it is being unseen temporarily then everything is a religion because almost everything is unseen at some point.

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Conversely, if you say that it is being unseen temporarily then everything is a religion because almost everything is unseen at some point.

Yes, there are things that are unseen temporarily and yes, there are those to whom Objectivism is a religion. We are all different and we are different now than we were in the past. At least we should be if we are open to new experiences. This is not to say that Objectivism should be a religion. I agree that it is a philosophy, but anything can be distorted and substituted for a religion.

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Here's a real good place to mine William James:

http://www.des.emory.edu/mfp/james.html

The Varieties of Religious Experience (1904?) is pretty much ground zero as far as where to start.

No, Objectivism is not a religion, it's a philosophy for living on this earth.

It just smells funny, sometimes.

Yes, as someone else mentioned, James was one of two people that are really responsible for rolling out/developing pragmatism. There's an excellent essay by James in "Varieties" that speaks to that, and a good deal more elsewhere.

James said an "unseen order," and I agree with him, mainly because there are things about the universe, views of it, that are, if not completely inaccessible, difficult to view, because they require a certain kind of work on oneself that isn't all that frequently done.

I do not believe James meant that there was a puppetteer up above running the show. Some think that of him, I do not, because he spent so much time on individual consciousness.

James is very good to read.

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Does the Big Bang exist? Do black holes exist? Does the human soul-- the unifying centre of awareness-- exist? These are all things that are unseen which many claim to exist. These are ideas that are arrived at without being directly observed or, perhaps, without even being observable. These are the product of contextual integration and are held by faith in our ability to reliably integrate the evidence and interpret our world.

Paul

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Religion "consists of the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto."

...

In this light, could Objectivism be qualified as a religion?

This is why in Objectivism we define things by essentials. Your definition of religion is so hopelessly non-essential that includes *all* systems of abstractions--valid ones or invalid ones. All of science is about "unseen order" but based on valid abstractions. All philosophy is about "unseen order", some valid some not.

The purpose of definitions is to keep things distinct not blend them into an incoherent mush. How much have you read about the philosophy anyway? This kind of thing comes up again and again in her writing, it's surprising that you missed it.

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That wasn't really a definition, it was a quote by William James, not her! This quote is a very preliminary statement, a part of an extremely large and detailed volume of work. James, being a psychologist, had a very organic approach to spirituality, religious sentiment. James was not a mystic-- he was an extremely well-versed academic and scientist.

I'm suprised you missed this! How much of his work have you read? :devil:

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That wasn't really a definition, it was a quote by William James, not her! This quote is a very preliminary statement, a part of an extremely large and detailed volume of work. James, being a psychologist, had a very organic approach to spirituality, religious sentiment. James was not a mystic-- he was an extremely well-versed academic and scientist.

Oh, he's well-versed? Why didn't you say that before? What a brilliant insight about religion that must be then!

Actually, I don't see your point here. The alleged wonderful statement doesn't actually say anything since it declares everything to be "religion". That's the point. Not whether he would have called it a definition or not (so you're playing semantic games I think).

I'm suprised you missed this! How much of his work have you read? :devil:

Yes, well, I'm sorry to say I haven't read every crackpot philosopher out there. Wasn't it James who was somewhat fond of Mormonism? And he's largely to blame for that corrupt philosophy known as pragmatism. I think if I wanted to read stinky trash I'd read William James.

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Interesting footnote:

When Peikoff lectured on definition by non-essentials years ago at NBI, his principal example was an over-broad definition of religion, Niebuhr's "area of ultimate concern."

(The phrase "consists in," without qualifications, in the original quote makes it a definition.)

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Shayne, you don't understand James, and likely you aren't going to. Your loss. James is one of most prolific, revered writers ever, in the field of consciousness, spirituality, psychology. Ever so much more well known in the academic world than Rand, for what it's worth. The Varieties of Religious Experience is from 1904, and it is still widely read and taught, not to mention the fact that very little was done after it that added much to the topic at hand. As far as his writings on pragmatism, if you read them you might (or might not) discover that his purpose for developing in that area was much more interwoven with psychology and spirituality than technical philosophy. At the time, it was an understandable course to take.

I'd imagine one would run out of gas pretty quickly when attempting to critique something that one has never read. I wouldn't do that with Rand. Can't, because I've read most all of it. If you could say you have read James with reasonable thoroughness, then you could critique with street credibility. Until then, it's not going to play well.

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Shayne, you don't understand James, and likely you aren't going to. Your loss. James is one of most prolific, revered writers ever, in the field of consciousness, spirituality, psychology. Ever so much more well known in the academic world than Rand, for what it's worth. The Varieties of Religious Experience is from 1904, and it is still widely read and taught, not to mention the fact that very little was done after it that added much to the topic at hand. As far as his writings on pragmatism, if you read them you might (or might not) discover that his purpose for developing in that area was much more interwoven with psychology and spirituality than technical philosophy. At the time, it was an understandable course to take.

I'd imagine one would run out of gas pretty quickly when attempting to critique something that one has never read. I wouldn't do that with Rand. Can't, because I've read most all of it. If you could say you have read James with reasonable thoroughness, then you could critique with street credibility. Until then, it's not going to play well.

Rich,

I know little of the man myself. What I do recall is that James defined “true beliefs” as those that prove useful to the believer. Truth, he said, is that which “works in the way of belief”. Considering we have been talking so much about art on another thread, it is interesting to note that James' description of the mind-world connection--which he described in terms of a "stream of consciousness”--had a direct influence on avant-garde and modernist art and literature.

-Victor

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Shayne, you don't understand James, and likely you aren't going to. Your loss. James is one of most prolific, revered writers ever, in the field of consciousness, spirituality, psychology. Ever so much more well known in the academic world than Rand, for what it's worth. The Varieties of Religious Experience is from 1904, and it is still widely read and taught, not to mention the fact that very little was done after it that added much to the topic at hand. As far as his writings on pragmatism, if you read them you might (or might not) discover that his purpose for developing in that area was much more interwoven with psychology and spirituality than technical philosophy. At the time, it was an understandable course to take.

I'd imagine one would run out of gas pretty quickly when attempting to critique something that one has never read. I wouldn't do that with Rand. Can't, because I've read most all of it. If you could say you have read James with reasonable thoroughness, then you could critique with street credibility. Until then, it's not going to play well.

True to form Rich. You jump straight over the point I made and into the insults. Touchy tolerationism always devolves to hypocritical personal attacks. You have a lot of gall to criticize a Certain Other Forum, you engage in the same sort of thing at the drop of a hat. Well seeing as how you started it...

As a matter of fact, I have read James, enough to know that his thinking is fundamentally off base. But you see little gems of value everywhere, don't you Rich? You like the Bible, right? Think it has pearls of wisdom do you? Just because you're an intellectual slut doesn't mean I don't understand James.

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Much better to stay intellectually monogamous so you don't catch any of those nasty idea diseases (ITDs).

Better to actually take a stand on the stuff you read rather than being a slippery pragmatist "there are two sides to everything" weasel.

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Substituting something for a religion does not make that thing a religion and a distortion of an idea isn't the idea. Objectivism as those who truly follow it do is not a religion.

I think it does Jeff. Lenin and Hitler both used methods similar to the evangelistic preachers. At least communism and nazism come close enough to religion to blur the difference. Today the Islamic fascists certainly mix religion and politics.

I am proud to know and debate many people who call themselves Objectivists. Seldom do I find 100% agreement between these people. So, who is to decide who is the real Objectivist?

Victor! Your comments are out of line!

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