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For some years, I have been convinced that Christianity will ultimately turn the US into a theocracy because the only Objectivist position I had gotten to know was Dr. Peikoff's, who had good arguments. Some months ago, I read Robert Tracinski's article on the Peikoff/McCaskey affair where he disagreed with Dr. Peikoff on the religious impact and had pretty good arguments, too.

Living in Europe, it's virtually impossible for me to judge this on the basis of the experiences I have made myself, so I would like to get to know your standpoints. I do not expect any definite answers with which all Objectivists would agree, so feel free to post your personal opinion on it, everyone, no matter what it is.

I have heard that Dr. Peikoff backed up his viewpoint with very convincing arguments at OCON 2010, so those of you who attended his DIM course are particularly invited to share their opinions. Thanks!

asked Mar 29 '11 at 12:25

Selfmadesoul's gravatar image

Selfmadesoul ♦

This could potentially have a long answer, so I will try to limit my answer to the particular issue of religion in the United States, and Dr. Peikoff's prediction for its role.

As a cultural matter, religion is very popular in the US. This includes fundamentalist Protestant denominations, which have in many ways set up their own parallel culture with its own popular books (see the Left Behind series), Christian popular music, Christian news media, and religious colleges.

On the other hand, aggressive Christian proselytizing in the political sphere has failed to gain traction, and it often faces popular hostility. The Christian Coalition peaked in influence during the 1990s. The most successful Christian activists, Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, have also shot the movement in the foot through their insane public statements, which they tend repeat every few years so that people don't forget how crazy they are. Attempts to have creationism (or its stealth version, "intelligent design") included in the public schools have been smacked down repeatedly by the courts.

So, if Dr. Peikoff's argument were that the United States faces and imminent takeover by stereotypical Christian fundamentalists of the Pat Robertson mold, then I would not see such a prediction as realistic. However, Dr. Peikoff's prediction is actually more complicated than this.

From my notes, here is a very abbreviated outline:

  • The current state of American culture is disintegrated in epistemology, ethics, politics, and art. The best historical parallel is Weimar Germany.
  • People are disgusted by the state of the culture, but they do not know why.
  • People associate our current intellectuals and their failings with secularism as such.
  • The evidence of history is that people will tolerate centuries of misintegration (authoritarianism in politics), but not disintegration.
  • Religion offers an alternative, with a clear set of values.
  • Americans' love of the material world is an obstacle to religion, but the leftists (such as the environmentalists) have already eroded much of that, making the path for religion easier.
  • Serious religion is widespread in the universities, both political parties (no longer just the "religious right"), and the military.
  • Our society is waiting for a trigger to tip people's support toward religion instead of the status quo.
  • A popular authoritarian movement will have to be pro-American and (nominally) support private property. It may single out enemies at home and abroad.
  • The likely outcome is a religious fascist state.

Our recent elections have already seen candidates that combine statism with patriotism and religion: Mike Huckabee and John McCain. These are not stereotypical, ham-handed "religous right" candidates. Even if neither of these men would be dictators, they could be "moderate" stepping-stones along a path to an American flavor of fascism.

answered Mar 29 '11 at 18:54

Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Andrew Dalton ♦

Having lived most of my life in the US, I used to believe that a theocracy there was impossible. However, about five years ago I moved out of the country, and have used that change as an opportunity to look at the US with new eyes, from the outside. What I see now that I didn't see when I was in the middle of it is very disturbing.

Christian influence is already extremely prevalent in many aspects of the everyday lives of Americans. Everything from surprisingly heavy radio and TV censorship to the content of books to the themes of movies to the attitudes taught in public schools is tainted by flawed religious values. It's very difficult to be elected to a national political office if you aren't a Christian. Victimless crimes exist in no small part due to Christian ethics. The military has been overrun with Christian proselytizing. The religious neocons still seem to be guiding military policy. The Christian morality of altruism is prominent in many aspects of everyday life, and is increasingly reflected in government.

As religious influence increases, the ability to engage in rational, reasonable discourse decreases. Without reason, people lose the ability to persuade through debate. Instead, they move toward force. So the US is now engaged in wars with multiple countries. People traveling by air are presumed guilty and are subjected to warrant-less searches. The police are becoming increasingly militarized. People are arrested and imprisoned for what many other countries would consider trivial actions. The US now has more people in prison than any other country in history, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the population.

If you look closely at the dominant philosophy, it's hard to see how the current path could end up anywhere other than some form of dictatorship. But a dictator needs a unifying theme -- and religion is certainly a prime candidate in that regard. That doesn't mean theocracy is certain, but it's also not as far out of reach as I once thought.

answered Aug 02 '11 at 08:33

Rick's gravatar image

Rick ♦

AR had some interesting observations on religiosity in America. where she seems to think that American religiosity is more materialistic than purely mystical and as such is not a huge issue ( http://objectivistanswers.com/questions/2847/should-objectivists-support-the-ron-or-rand-paul-campaign ). What do you guys think of that in the context of this question?

(Aug 02 '11 at 12:15) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

I think American religiosity has changed since the time AR made that observation, and is becoming increasingly mystical. Religionists can and do regularly stand in our way. The influence of the culture of altruism is increasing. That doesn't mean all religionists are that way, but it's moving in that direction.

(Aug 02 '11 at 18:22) Rick ♦ Rick's gravatar image

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Asked: Mar 29 '11 at 12:25

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Last updated: Aug 02 '11 at 18:22