login about faq

In her speech "Faith and Force" (published in "Philosophy: Who Needs It"), Ayn Rand argues:

"I have said that faith and force are corollaries, and that mysticism will always lead to the rule of brutality. The cause of it is contained in the very nature of mysticism. Reason is the only objective means of communication and of understanding among men; when men deal with one another by means of reason, reality is their objective standard and frame of reference. But when men claim to possess supernatural means of knowledge, no persuasion, communication or understanding are possible.... Anyone who resorts to the formula: 'It's so, because I say so,' will have to reach for a gun, sooner or later."

How should an Objectivist answer the objection that the relationship between faith and force depends on the content of the faith? Couldn't a religious believer, for example, believe that God is telling him to follow the teachings of religion in his own life, but to let others follow their own path and proselytise only peacefully? After all, most religious believers are peaceful in their own lives, and some make a genuine effort to advocate political liberty.

asked Nov 07 '10 at 07:17

Andrew%20M's gravatar image

Andrew M

retagged Jan 10 '11 at 20:08

Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Andrew Dalton ♦

Iowa's rejection of 3 state supreme court justices is an example of faith leading to force. The battle between those Christians who think that homosexuality is a sin and those state residents who don't, or who are neutral, continues full force beyond the Nov. 2 voting. Those calling for an amendment to the State constitution to define marriage against same sex couples have forgotten that the purpose of both the Federal and the State constitutions was to limit the action of the government, not the residents. Ayn Rand had god reason to call for an impregnable wall between the state and church.

(Nov 16 '10 at 14:26) Mary Harsha Mary%20Harsha's gravatar image

It's easy to give examples of faith leading to force. The question, however, is asking why it has to lead to force. Where is the logical inconsistency in saying "I believe X on faith, but I also believe that I should not force that belief on others"?

(Nov 17 '10 at 09:54) Andrew M Andrew%20M's gravatar image

In evaluating an epistemological or moral principle, we must not begin with observing or imagining what is possible in any individual's psychology. Humans have free will, and this faculty enables error, compartmentalization, and evasion. While ideas motivate people's thinking and actions, they do not determine people's choices in a mechanistic way.

The relevant question for evaluating principles is: if this idea is taken seriously and put into practice throughout a person's thinking and his actions, what will be the consequences? Or, allowing for a person's inconsistency: what will be the consequences to the extent that a person puts this idea into practice?

On the subject of faith, it is important to observe that the politically tolerant, "live and let live" flavor of Christianity is a post-Enlightenment phenomenon. It is the consequence of treating the doctrines of Christianity within a cultural context that respects the efficacy of the individual mind. During the Middle Ages, no such respect for reason existed within Western culture, and the political consequence was religion imposed through coercion. The same can be said for Martin Luther and John Calvin, who advocated a return to strict Christian faith and also put medieval-style religious tyranny into practice themselves. And we have the modern example of Islam to illustrate what happens when religion is undiluted by any respect for reason.

If one values reason and liberty, then one cannot be indifferent to the notion that faith is an ideal -- even if some who presently advocate faith also claim to oppose coercion. The best that can occur in such a situation is that people will be unnecessarily conflicted and hobbled by the clash between their professed principles and the way that they think and act every day. The worst that can happen, which has plenty of historical precedent, is that the moral ideal will be taken more seriously, and people will start to demand that their own (and others') words and deeds follow that ideal.

answered Nov 14 '10 at 10:20

Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Andrew Dalton ♦

I absolutely agree that the fact that it is psychologically possible for a person to hold two ideas simultaneously does not mean those ideas are logically compatible. I also agree that we must evaluate a principle by taking it in its most consistent form.

My question, however, is precisely why faith must always, on principle, necessarily lead to force, regardless of the content of that faith. Where is the logical inconsistency in saying "I believe XYZ on faith, but I also believe I should not impose that belief on you by force"?

(Nov 17 '10 at 10:11) Andrew M Andrew%20M's gravatar image

I'm not sure what type of answer you are looking for. You are not going to find a deductive, mathematical-style proof that derives the conclusion "force" from the premise "faith." You have to look at the whole context of what faith means within a person's mind, and what it would mean to take an idea seriously based on faith. (See my other reply regarding tolerant Christians.)

(Nov 17 '10 at 11:55) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

The quoted passage seems to give a fully adequate answer, but I'll try to customize it to the speaker's context. The "content of faith" can be anything but reason. But men must live by reason, and need to interact only by reason, by persuasion. If one "lives by religion" one does not live by reason, and that means conflicts with others. Those religious individuals who live peacefully, and even advocate political liberty do so only because they are hypocrites. Why would a theist value freedom? He owes his soul to his God, he is not free, and cannot believe that freedom is the best organization of men. Recall that a poor defense is worse than no defense of a principle. So it is with the religious defense of individual rights. Your peaceful religious advocates are harming America, even civilization, with every door they knock on. So, those religious people who are carefully hypocritical about their beliefs so as to live as reasonable men are to that extent peaceful, good citizens. To the extent that they act according to their faith, they won't be.

answered Nov 07 '10 at 14:54

Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Mindy Newton ♦

Perhaps what I'm really asking here is: why isn't it possible to embrace a true idea (such as the principle of individual rights) by an incorrect method (such as faith)?

While a serious theist has to believe that both he andd I owe our souls to God, I still don't see why he has to say that I must be forced to act in a "Godly" way. Couldn't he say "my religion says that you should give your soul to God, but only you can make that choice, it cannot be forced, and so you should be left free to do so or not"?

(Nov 07 '10 at 19:08) Andrew M Andrew%20M's gravatar image

Sure, for a while. For some individuals. But the more sincere they are, the less it is possible. There is no deep, logical way to value freedom except to also value reason, which is anathema to faith.

(Nov 07 '10 at 19:30) Mindy Newton ♦ Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Andrew M - The problem is that one can nominally support any idea by any justification, but when you look at the details, these are not actually independent. If a man tells you that he supports liberty, and then you ask why, then the answer he gives will tell you a lot about what he means by "liberty." In other words, the why determines the what.

(Nov 07 '10 at 20:37) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Interesting - thanks Andrew. That seems like an interesting and deep point. Is there any reading you would recommend on how this works in practice?

(Nov 08 '10 at 18:57) Andrew M Andrew%20M's gravatar image
showing 2 of 4 show all

I would recommend Book I of John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Or, if that's too dense (which it is), read a good commentary or summary. Also, Locke's first "Letter Concerning Toleration" is brilliant on the subject. Locke was a very religious man, but he believed that reason was the only basis of knowledge.

answered Nov 11 '10 at 12:22

Robert%20Garmong's gravatar image

Robert Garmong ♦

Why did you recommend Locke's "Letter Concerning Toleration"? It seems to make my point: that it is possible for a person of faith to sincerely reject the imposition of that faith by force. For example, Locke writes:

"[T]he care of souls is not committed to the civil magistrate, any more than to other men. It is not committed unto him, I say, by God; because it appears not that God has ever given any such authority to one man over another as to compel anyone to his religion."

It seems to me that an Objectivist must say that Locke is being inconsistent. But my question is: how?

(Nov 14 '10 at 04:47) Andrew M Andrew%20M's gravatar image

The inconsistency of the politically tolerant Christians is that they do not take the doctrine of salvation seriously. The content of their faith is empty.

If the eternal fate of people's souls is at stake, what can justify not using force to keep people from falling into sin and unbelief? I don't mean "converting" people by force (which most Christians reject as impossible), but general policies such as censoring entertainment or teaching Christian doctrine in public schools. Wouldn't sacrificing a little liberty in this temporary, "fallen" world be worth the price?

(Nov 17 '10 at 11:22) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Religious individuals are indeed individuals. As such, there are those who are tolerant and open to discussion and debate without recourse to force. However, the authors of religious dogma and doctrine require that their adherents accept much on faith since there is no objective science or perception to support their doctrinal assertions. This is what leads them to use various forms of force and, ultimately violent force. Somehow, most religions come to the point where they assert that all humans must follow their doctrine. For every John Locke with his tolerance, there are numerous believers such as Shopenhauer who asserts that at least 90 percent of humans are fit for nothing better than base labor (slavery) in support of the small minority who are capable of true thought (location 268 in Kindle edition of The Essays of Arthur Shopenhauer). Compare his disdain for most humans with Ayn Rand's perception of the glory of human capacity. The concept of original sin is another factor in freeing up of violence by religious groups. After all, if the "others" are sinful, then abusing them to "bring them to the light" only makes sense. Consider the widespread abuses by missionaries in the past.

answered Nov 15 '10 at 08:11

ethwc's gravatar image

ethwc ♦

Many of the tenets of faith you mention can and have been used to argue for the opposite of the positions you describe. For example, some Christians argue that the concept of Original Sin means that human beings should never be given unlimited power over each other.

My question is not whether faith can lead to force, or even whether it is likely to do so: clearly it has repeatedly done so throughout history. My question is: why does it have to lead to force, on principle?

(Nov 17 '10 at 10:01) Andrew M Andrew%20M's gravatar image

The first thing one must do in order to dominate human reason is to create shame in those you wish to dominate. Ms Rand makes this point repeatedly in Atlas Shrugged. Once your subjects feel shame, you can truly move toward force and dominance. Getting people to accept that they are born into sin is far easier than convincing them that their activities are all sinful.
I don't know if faith based leadership must always lead to force. I do know that the vast majority of times, force is the ultimate way in which such systems operate.

(Nov 18 '10 at 16:33) ethwc ♦ ethwc's gravatar image

From a comment by the questioner: "My question is not whether faith can lead to force, or even whether it is likely to do so: clearly it has repeatedly done so throughout history. My question is: why does it have to lead to force, on principle?"

Ok, if Ayn Rand's own statement as quoted in the question is unconvincing, how about the following:

  1. To deal with nature, you must either follow reason or not. "Faith" means not.

  2. To deal with others, you must either follow reason (which means persuasion) or not (which means force).

  3. If you try to deal with nature by faith, you'll lose. Nature won't yield. You will then be compelled (by your nature as a living being seeking to remain alive) to live off of the products of others (unless you're willing to keep to yourself and die quietly).

  4. How, then, will you deal with others? If you don't reason with them, you'll need to force them.

I grant that religions today may try to "water down" the actual meaning of their doctrines, but I maintain that any such approach to religion is merely a reaction to the Enlightenment -- an attempt by religion's supporters to salvage what is left of religion after the rise of reason. It's not an acccurate reflection of the true nature of faith. If you want to see what faith really means in practice, look at the Medieval-Christian era in Western history (prior to the rebirth of reason) -- or equivalent religious theocracies today (untouched by reason). It is only the vestiges of reason today (fast disappearing) that are dissuading religious proponents from more aggressively promulgating their theocratic totalitarian agendas, and it's not for lack of trying on their part (though people who've been influenced by reason may not comprehend it yet).

If the question is: why can't reason be infused into religion and combined with it -- the answer is: it's already been tried. Thomas Aquinas tried it. You can study his work and later commentaries on it for yourself.

answered Nov 18 '10 at 16:07

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

The answer to your question is indeed contained in Miss Rand's statement that you quote. You ask why Faith must lead to Force, but then give an example asking why one man can't hold religious beliefs peacefully. The point is not about what happens within a single man's thoughts, while he lives on an island. Miss Rand states that: "Reason is the only objective means of communication and of understanding among men...", she is commenting on what happens when men have to deal with another in a group or in a society. So long as different beliefs and desires are possible, i.e. so long as man is man and has freewill and is not omniscient, then disagreements are inevitable. Force is the only tool available when reason is subjugated to Faith. It is in this context that force necessarily follows faith.

answered Dec 17 '10 at 22:16

la_phil's gravatar image

la_phil ♦

Stephen King's "The Mist" paints a picture of why faith leads to force. When pressure enters a situation (the fog and unknown creatures), Mrs Carmody (who believes it is the start of Armageddon) gains a zealous following amongst the previously mild-mannered citizens who are trapped in the shop with her, which nearly leads to human sacrifices and is only avoided by her own execution. The mist or fog is a very good comparison for religion, and that which cannot be rationally explained. The equation is: Faith + Fear = Force. In times of security faith hides under a fleece of benevolence.

(Jan 10 '11 at 08:21) jucedupp jucedupp's gravatar image

Follow this question

By Email:

Once you sign in you will be able to subscribe for any updates here



Answers and Comments

Share This Page:



Asked: Nov 07 '10 at 07:17

Seen: 2,707 times

Last updated: Jan 10 '11 at 20:08