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What is the Objectivist opinion of those who claim to be atheist/agnostic and simultaneously "culturally Catholic/Protestant," etc?

asked Dec 30 '12 at 09:46

Louise's gravatar image


edited Dec 31 '12 at 17:37

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

Okay, perhaps more informatively, I think it can be a useful shorthand description of someone's background. 'I was raised with this particular set of religious beliefs and values.' However, if it's being used to explain away irrational behavior or views - 'I'm a cultural Catholic, so I go to church sometimes/still say prayers/believe in angels' then it's damaging the personal integrity of the atheist/agnostic individual. Many people who have rejected a childhood religion still have deep-set premises originating from it, and it's useful for them to look at where certain belief-sets originate.

(Dec 31 '12 at 04:41) Arianna Arianna's gravatar image

You might be interested in Dr. Diana Hsieh's and my comments on whether it is okay for an atheist to pray, over at Philosophy in Action Radio.

(Dec 31 '12 at 18:02) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

First, I'll cover atheists. An atheist is someone who does not believe in God. If being "culturally Catholic/Protestant" means praying to God, then said "atheist" is simply a liar when he calls himself an atheist.

If he goes to church but doesn't pray, then he's a hypocritical atheist, appearing not to be one, while claiming to be one. Hypocrisy is not a virtue, according to Objectivism.

Regarding agnostics, they are a different story. An agnostic is someone who holds that one cannot be sure that God exists, and cannot be sure that God does not exist. An agnostic doesn't want to be religious, but also doesn't want to claim that religious people are mistaken. The agnostic wants to be a welcome in two antithetical crowds: the theistic, and the atheistic. He claims to deserve to be welcome in each crowd on the grounds that he does not reject the possibility that the members of that crowd are correct.

You can bet that when an agnostic has a very bad day -- when he's in dire straits -- he'll pray, because he does not believe that God doesn't exist. Pascal's wager is compelling to the agnostic, at least in his moments of great need.

But on a good day, the agnostic is not compelled by Pascal's wager. On a good day, the agnostic believes he is too worldly and sophisticated to accept the existence of God. The agnostic keeps God in his back pocket for use only on bad days.

Of course, anybody who wishes to rely on God at any time is not an atheist. The agnostic is actually a believer in God who hates to admit it, even to himself.

Quite apart from being "culturally Catholic/Protestant", the agnostic already has a very serious rift in his personal integrity. The agnostic cannot make up his mind, and so he lets his circumstances do it for him. In good circumstances, he acts as if there is no God. In bad circumstances, he acts as if there is one. For an agnostic to act "culturally Catholic/Protestant" is a little weird, but it's not really any more contradictory than being an agnostic in the first place.

The Objectivist virtue of integrity requires that you not be a person of contradictory aspects. Instead, you act on principle, and that means consistently. You don't say things you don't mean, and you don't do things which would imply you believe what you do not. For an atheist to be "culturally Catholic/Protestant" implies he act like a religious person. There is no integrity in that.

To reject integrity means you end up with two growing parts of your life which conflict with each other. For instance, your group of religious friends, and your group of atheist friends. You end up trying to be two different people. But the fact is, you are one person, and your failure to commit to one or another principle means you'll stunt your own intellectual growth in order to keep holding both views as plausible.

You cannot eat your cake and have it too. If you try, you are wasting your time.

answered Jan 02 '13 at 20:12

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦

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Asked: Dec 30 '12 at 09:46

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Last updated: Jan 02 '13 at 20:12