Video: Religion vs Morality with Andrew Bernstein

The structure of the talk was a tripartite one, as follows:

• Professor Bernstein identified the philosophic essence of religion

• He then explained the fundamental requirements of human life

• He demonstrated, point-for-point, how these clash.

Part 1: The hazards of organised religion

The idea was presented that a proper ethics, required for the flourishing of human life, requires a wholesale rejection of religion, of all its premises, tenets and consequences. The mediaeval world embraced religion as the basis of fundamental truth and the source of moral guidance. Religion prescribed doctrine and proscribed free thinking. As a direct consequence, the world witnessed theocratic dictatorships that advocated (some which still advocate today) the torture and killing of heretics and non-believers.

Religion’s answers to life’s fundamental questions are, in a nutshell:

• What is the nature of the universe? It is created and governed by God and exists in two dimensions, the supernatural (spiritual) and the natural (corporeal), the corporeal being governed by the spiritual.

• What is the nature of human beings? Man is a dualistic being, flesh and spirit; part godly and good, part human and sinful, a being torn by the soul/body conflict.

• How do human beings gain knowledge? They do so by the means of faith in the truth of God’s word presented in holy texts.

• What is the good? It is obedience to God.

• What are the principles of a good society? They are whichever principles are espoused by the expert interpreters of God’s word.

Part 2: What are the requirements of life on earth?

A rational, fact-based theory of morality was expounded by Rand. Prior to Objectivism, philosophers rejected the ideas that morality could be deduced from facts. Rand was the first philosopher to state that any rejection of reason for an alternative is a rejection of mankind’s survival instrument, and thus is a rejection of man’s life. This is in direct conflict with Hulme’s repudiation that an ‘ought’ proposition can be derived from an ‘is’ proposition. Consequently, morals are subjective with no logical connection to the physical world. Man’s struggle in life do not contain any fundamental good.

Rand’s three questions and answers pertaining to moral philosophy were:

1. What is the standard of moral values? The factual requirements of human life.

2. By what means are human beings to attain those values? Fundamentally, by means of the rational mind.

3. Who or what should be the primary beneficiary of those values? The individual acting in pursuit of those values.

These 3 principles constitute her ethical code of life. They must be embraced and upheld if we are to prosper in life.

Part 3: How are morality and religion irreconcilable?

Tragically, religion stands in opposition to Rand’s list of three requirements for moral philosophy. Religion is irreconcilable with that which is required to sustain life because religion subordinates reason to faith. This is the primary reason of its destructive power, and ultimately, its evil. Faith morally requires and often physically coerces a person to accept the precepts of a received text. Religion forbids any questioning and attempting to find rational answers about the fundamentals of human life. Religion squashes the free-thinking mind, retarding progress in areas such as the arts, philosophy, science, medicine, technology.

Andrew then referred to the example of education: for most of the Middle Ages, under the aegis of the Catholic Church, the majority of the population was fully illiterate. In the modern day we see parallels with Islamic fundamentalism, e.g. the Taliban threatening violence such as shooting and throwing acid in the faces of girls who dare go to school.

Andrew also took issue with the religious idea that thoughts, rather than actions, are sinful and must be punished. The idea that thinking impure thoughts about another man’s wife can be morally damning (even if they are resolutely not acted upon in accordance with one’s own principles) was rejected.

These examples illustrated the fundamental principle in religion that man’s life is subordinated to God’s will. Egoism, the rational quest for value, is anathema to religion because on a God- based ethics virtue was achieved by means of selfless service to the deity. Countless actions that are rationally self-interested, such as charging interest on loaning money, drinking (even in moderation), sex (interestingly, Andrew uses the phrase “making love”) out of wedlock and so forth.

One of the most striking arguments made by Andrew about Objectivism was its very modern understanding of the importance and psychological significance of human sexuality. Andrew rejected the puritanical impulses of religions to police the dress and behavior of women. There run parallel streams of thought in the major religions that men are lustful creatures who are slaves to their impulses and women are the guardians of virginity. Any female enjoyment of bodily pleasures must be renounced, in favour of purity and obedience to God. The burden of guilt on women who enjoy sex is a very destructive one. The failure to incorporate healthy sexuality into its world view is therefore a great failure of religion.

Conclusion

Many good people pay lip service to religion but are in fact of mixed spirituality. By analogy, the United States has a mixed political system, a combination of individualism and collectivism, of Capitalism and Socialism, of freedom and statism. The free Capitalist elements lead to greater achievement and prosperity and the controlled statist elements lead to stagnation and suppression. Similarly, many religious people have a mixed intellectual system; a combination of reason, self-interested policies and, of course, religious self-sacrifice. The degree to which religious beliefs are renounced is the degree to which a person’s life is successful.

Demonstrating in Defence of Capitalism

My family has been resident in the London borough of Haringey since the early 1970s. For those readers outside London, Haringey is a socially diverse area of north London, encompassing one of the wealthiest postcodes in London, N6 (Highgate is home to politicians and millionaire celebrities), as well as some of the most deprived neighbourhoods of the UK (most notably Tottenham, the location of much social unrest and rioting a few years ago). Last night I found myself in the unusual position of demonstrating alongside members of the Socialist Workers’ Party, Momentum and the Green Party. The reason? Haringey Council’s creation of the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV). You know something is amiss when the hard left and a solitary libertarian unite to protest against the same thing!

So what is this HDV? According to Haringey Council’s own website,

“….the HDV will be a 50:50 partnership between Haringey Council and a private partner, Lendlease, a leading property group which has been chosen following a lengthy selection process. [Italics mine – more about this selection process later…] The way the partnership will work is that Haringey provides some of its council land to be developed and Lendlease matches this with cash and its development expertise.”

So far, so cronyistic. Nothing new there, then. I think I’m preaching to the converted on this blog when it comes to advocating for free markets in all things. Unfortunately, the HDV is that ugliest of things: a “public-private partnership”. That such an enterprise continues to be regarded as a capitalist solution to the economic stagnation in Haringey points to gross misunderstanding on the part of the public about what capitalism and free markets actually are. I demonstrated against this partnership to make a stand for free market ideas. If the HDV comes into effect, it will be a £2 billion exercise in turning the public further against the principles of capitalism…because incompetence and financial mismanagement are the only outcomes that I foresee.

It’s no secret that local councils have had their budgets slashed – and I am all in favour of pruning back the excessive bureaucracy of underperforming state structures, especially in Haringey, which has some of the highest council tax rates of any London borough but some of the worst social outcomes for residents.

What’s specifically wrong with the HDV?

The HDV is meant to be a 50/50 partnership, but we as residents have not had access to any clear documentation on the duties and liabilities of each partner. Previous disasters with other PFI council schemes in London, such as the £15 million failure of the Paddington Health Campus, give taxpayers just cause to be wary of such opaque initiatives. When these things inevitably go wrong the council, and therefore the taxpayer, foot the bill. The army of consultants and executives from the private provider walk off with the funds. Oh, and that “lengthy selection process” that the council website told us about? Last summer, the council website published a shortlist of just three bidders for a whopping £2 billion contract: Lendlease; Morgan Sindall with Affinity Sutton and Circle; and Pinnacle with Starwood Capital and Catalyst.

Really? Only three tenders for one of the biggest building contracts in London? Haringey residents have not had access to documents detailing why, out of the three tenders,

Lendlease has now been picked for the contract.

According to Councillor Zena Brabazon,

“There are massive issues of risk, due diligence, democratic accountability, impact on people’s homes, tenants, leaseholders and 508 businesses renting from the Council whose leases/license/contracts will be transferred to the HDV private limited liability partnership.

Interestingly, Haringey has signed up to central government’s “Transparency Code” – and even Westminster has advised councils to eschew Commercial Confidentiality in public procurement processes. Why, then, have we not had access to documents detailing why the other two tenders were rejected? In the interests of competition, why has the sale of council assets not been thrown open to the market, rather than putting them all under Lendlease’s control?

This looks like it could be a protracted 20-year process of unaccountability and ultimate business failure. All because the basic principles of competition and due diligence are alien to our culture where government bails out its private partners. The HDV is not a minotaur, half government, half private enterprise. I fear it’ll be more like Medusa, with the taxpayer having to foot the bill to cut off all those snakes of unintended consequences.