Rebirth of Reason

Sense of Life

The Pope, Objectivism ... and "The Best Within"
by Lindsay Perigo

Waiting for the Pope to die has been a salutary experience. We Objectivists, and secularists generally, tend to think of the Catholic Church, wishfully, as being in as terminal a condition as its "Holy Father" over the past few years—the domain of fetid old moral despots and contemptible child-molesters. The events surrounding the death of John Paul II have given this Objectivist, at least, a rude reawakening.

Old and terminal? I have watched a succession of young acolytes, good-looking, articulate and vibrant, speaking eloquently of their love for their standard-bearer and for their faith. I watched one new priest in particular, Father John Bartunek, an atheist-turned Catholic, enthusing about the direction this Pope had inspired him to take. As I type this very homily, another young priest is spiritedly arguing the toss with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour about Catholicism’s teachings on celibacy and the role of women in the church. I have heard for the first time of such groups as Legionnaires for Christ, Catholic cells that are alive with missionary zeal. I have seen magnificent cathedrals around the world … spilling over with followers of all colours and nationalities. I have observed the teeming thousands in St. Peter’s Square standing throughout the night in silent, candle-lit reverence for their dying leader

Improbably, I have even heard the most marvellous humour. The elderly Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, a New York Times columnist, told the story of his last meeting with the Pope. It was recent, and the Pope was very ill. "You know," Albacete bravely said to his spiritual commanding officer, "everyone is getting ready for your departure. CNN have asked me to go on and say nice things about you when you die." "That’s fine," replied His Holiness, "but what makes them think I’ll die before you?" Not to be outdone, the Monsignor riposted, "Well, if I do, you can go on CNN and say nice things about me!"

Over the last two days, I have been forcefully reminded that for some of the world’s greatest architecture, sculpture, painting and music, we have the Catholic Church to thank.

Yes, we also have it to blame for some of the most shameful episodes in human history. Its doctrines remain shameful—and downright silly—to this day. But we must recognise also the awful paradox that the church of the Inquisition, the church of the persecution of Galileo and science generally, the church of sexual repression on the one hand and child molestation on the other, the church of the glorification of suffering … this institution at the same time has managed to engage and inspire what Ayn Rand called simply "the best within." Especially as embodied in John Paul II. Somehow he projected in his demeanour the quest for the highest possible. The total passion for the total height.

Therein lies both inspiration and a challenge for Objectivists. We have demonstrably failed thus far to persuade people that reason and spirituality are not mutually exclusive; that reason, indeed, is the source of authentic spirituality; that reason must continually inform spirituality; that spirituality is no less quintessential for being of this world, this mind, this body, rather than some other fantasy dimension. We have inherited and passed on a revolutionary philosophy by which the world may save itself from precisely such irrationalities as religion; we have failed to create a culture to match it. Our culture has been repressive, persecutorial, joyless, prudish and downright nasty. Objectivism’s worst enemies have been … Objectivists.

We have failed in part because we have eschewed the very idea of a culture. In celebrating the "I" we have performed a kind of Anthem-in-reverse. We have become too afraid of the word "we." By dismissing anything undertaken with others as "collectivism" (ignoring the fact that real collectivism entails coercion) we have blinded ourselves to the impact we might make if we acted as a fellowship of individualists, in voluntary, life-affirming concert. (Where we have come together, as in the ARI, we have displayed the unappetising qualities listed above.)

Pope John Paul II is a salutary, sobering reminder that it’s time we changed all that.

In the west, it has been monopolised by Christianity for two thousand years. Now, we Objectivists must wrest the ground that is rightfully ours from the mystic imposters who still occupy it. The sphere of "the best within."

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