I listened to Anthony Bradley’s recent interview of Paul Maxwell with fascination and apprehension. I knew little about Maxwell prior to listening, and the interview proved intriguing. Maxwell had gone from an intellectually robust, thoughtful proponent of Reformed Christianity to an intellectually robust, thoughtful atheist.
And his biography mirrors my own. We were born in the same area of the country a year apart, both became interested in philosophy as a means to power in college, both devoured Van Tillian presuppositionalism, both attended a Westminster school (Redeemer Seminary, in my case) following the Pete Enns debacle, and both left the seminary having been burned by the community. I normally find deconversion narratives personally uncompelling since there is typically dogmatic distance between myself and the other person prior to their deconversion.
Not so with Maxwell. It was like watching a martial artist and realizing that not only did he train at the same dojo as me, he wears a more advanced belt. Usually the motivations and methods of deconversions aren’t capable of landing a blow on me, but Maxwell could not only penetrate my objections, but could anticipate my best counter-attacks. Maxwell is clearly much smarter and more educated than me…
The Satanic Temple is at it again, and has unveiled a new abortion ritual that, in their view, “sanctifies the abortion process by instilling confidence and protecting bodily rights when undergoing the safe and scientific procedure.” The Satanic Temple is really a Objectivist-libertarian organization masquerading as a religious group in order to provocatively promote their vision of individual human autonomy. Their goal in this ritual is to invoke religious freedom protections against state obstructions to abortion. The Satanist Temple had previously argued that Missouri’s abortion restrictions were the imposition of Christian values on non-Christians, and therefore violated the separation of church and state. I addressed the subject at the time and agreed with the Satanist claim on the merits, though not the legitimacy of the practice. Why? A society cannot be organized with shared values that are morally or religiously neutral because there are no such values. The attempt at a secular American has only worked because of the preponderance of shared values, which is now unraveling.
The Satanist Temple’s approach to this via claims of religious liberty will again bear this out. Religious liberty in any society only works if that religion’s practice does not violate the society’s understanding of what is right and what are rights, and a secular society has to pretend that these values that transcend religious liberty are morally neutral. That is where the effectiveness of the Satanist’s strategy will be evident – the assertion that abortion restrictions trump the Satanic religious value of bodily autonomy cannot stand on a claim of moral or religious neutrality. Like with the Missouri cases in past years, the Satanists may fail in court, but the exposed fissures in American culture are widening and eventually some political body will rule a law constitutionally illegitimate because of the values it expresses. American culture and laws were premised on Christian values in many ways (e.g. respect for the life of the unborn), but our constitutional framework is atheistic (no laws allowed that establish religion); the less Christian the American people become, the greater the tension will grow between laws that enact Christian values and their constitutional legitimacy.
This post is based on two essays that I originally wrote six years ago, edited to fit your screen.
This summer I read everything that Ayn Rand wrote, fictional and nonfictional. I had read all of her nonfiction before, so that was mostly review, but I had never touched her fiction. Her four prominent fictional works are We The Living, Anthem, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged, which are the ones I’ll be addressing here.
Rand was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in the early 20th century and lived through the Soviet revolution as a young adult. By the late 1920s she had escaped to the United States and started writing a decade later. Her work was clearly directed against Karl Marx, Soviet Stalinists, and their guiding philosophical principles.
Historical context is important because Rand was not writing in a vacuum, but addressing a particular philosophical movement. Like many thinkers, what Rand opposed shaped the things she supported. Her works make sense when read with people like Marx, Harold Laski (the basis for the character Ellsworth Toohey in The Fountainhead), or Plato in mind. Rand intended her philosophy, Objectivism, to be a grand unifying theory, but it only addresses her immediate world…
The Missouri Supreme Court will be hearing a case on whether the state’s abortion laws violate the religious rights of a woman who is a member of the Satanic Temple. The Satanic Temple is an activist and religious organization started in 2012 that employs Satanic imagery to bring attention to its actions. Similar to the Church of Satan, the Satanic Temple is atheistic and rejects any notion of the supernatural, including the idea of a devil. Its beliefs are very similar to that of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism…