Tuesday, August 30, 2016

NLRB ‘Grants’ Students ‘Right to Unionize,’ Which Really Means Power to Coerce

The National Labor Relations Board ruled that Columbia University graduate students are employees under federal labor law, paving the way for graduate students at private colleges nationwide to join labor unions.

But wait. Doesn’t everybody have a right to form or join a union? Isn’t that one of the inalienable individual rights covered under the right to freedom of association guaranteed by the First Amendment? Who can stop these students from privately forming a voluntary union? The Wall Street Journal clarifies, somewhat, what this new “right” actually means. In Graduate Students Can Unionize at Private Colleges, U.S. Labor Panel Rules, the Journal reports that the “Decision grants collective bargaining rights to tens of thousands across the nation.”

“In their broad-based decision, the NLRB swept aside decades of earlier history and basically said that any student who does either research or teaching in a private-sector institution will be considered a school employee entitled to be represented by a union,” said Joseph Ambash, a Boston lawyer who helped write a brief filed by several prestigious universities arguing against a pro-union decision.

My emphasis. “Entitled to be represented by a union” is a lot different from a right to unionize. Rights are not entitlements granted by government. What does “entitled” mean in this context? The Washington Post is most accurate:

The National Labor Relations Board ruled Tuesday that graduate students who work as teaching and research assistants at private universities are school employees, clearing the way for them to join or form unions that administrators must recognize.

Again, my emphasis. This ruling is not about the right to unionize. As I said in my article on the subject for The Objective Standard, which had to do with the Fast-Food Forward minimum wage/“right to organize” demonstrations backed by the Service Employees International Union, the idea that the government needs to grant the working students the right to organize into unions “is a red herring intended to make . . . unreasonable demands sound reasonable.

There is no law against “the right to organize.” The First Amendment protects the right to freedom of association . . . . The students in question already have the right to join unions and to ask for higher wages [or other benefits]. So what is this [ruling] really about?

The “rights” sought by the [students] are the “freedom” not to associate voluntarily, but to violate the rights of employers to run their businesses as they see fit and to enter into voluntary, mutually consensual contracts with employees. Specifically, the [students] want to use the force of government, mainly the Wagner Act, to coerce some people to join unions and to coerce [colleges] to “bargain” with unions under threat of government penalties if the owners do not concede to union demands.

The freedom of association includes the freedom not to associate. “No individual or group has a moral right to drag another party to the ‘bargaining’ table by government force.” But that’s what so-called “collective bargaining rights” actually mean. There is no right to force an employer, or anyone, to bargain, whether collectively or otherwise.

Related Reading:

Law-Favored Unions are Quasi-Criminal Organizations

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Obama's Criminal Assault on Coal

The president suspended new coal leases on federal land (mostly in Wyoming and Montana), which is expected to curtail construction of new plants, shutter others, and reduce U.S. exports.

If Obama's action expedites the end of the industry, let's just say it had it coming: The Bureau of Land Management says coal producers have shortchanged taxpayers out of $30 billion in royalties over the last 30 years.

So raged the New Jersey Star-Ledger.

I left these comments:

This is strong proof that the federal government shouldn’t own lands. It’s a tool for Obama’s quasi-criminal assault on the coal industry. The fact that an American president can use its control of land to compliment its vast regulatory bureaucracy to bankrupt an industry shows how far we’ve regressed down the road to a dictatorship.

The federal government should not have any authority to siphon off “royalty” fees from productive Americans. Instead, existing federal lands should be privatized using the 1862 Homestead Act as a model, an objective process whereby “public land”—i.e., unowned land—is passed to private ownership. The coal companies didn’t shortchange the taxpayers by using federal lands to extract energy-producing coal. Federal land is public land supported by taxes. The coal companies (and other productive companies), as part of the public, should have access to the land with no extra charge.

As to coal’s alleged “dirtiness,” the answer is to clean up the coal use process, not kill off this massive source of reliable economical energy. [The coal industry has already made great strides in cleaner burning coal.] What about the climate? All the climate science elite-political-industrial complex has to back up their claims of climate catastrophe are perpetually wrong and increasingly hysterical studies and predictions. Given the record of past “expert” predictions, why should anyone believe this “new research” cited by the Star-Ledger? It’s another prediction. Predictions are not evidence. Evidence of anything more than a very gradual, generally benign warming, much of it natural, is non-existent.

Obsolete industrial processes that pollute unnecessarily—i.e., when there are better economically feasible technological alternatives available—should be legally abandoned. But the crushing of the coal industry by executive whim without any objective legislative or public process is little more than legalized criminality. Yes, there are negative side effects to coal, just as there are negative side effects to antibiotics. But just as it would be insane to abandon the monumental benefits of antibiotics, it is insane to abandon coal. Coal has been getting steadily cleaner, and can be made cleaner still. But, of course, the climate science elite-political-industrial complex knows this. That’s why they invented a new “pollutant”—CO2; why they manufactured a phony “consensus”; why they always trot out the “science denier” smear.

This last, the “science denier” smear, is proof that the climate science elite-political-industrial complex has no real case. The childish term “science denier” and its equivalents really means dissent denier. The climate catastrophist enemies of coal (and fossil fuels generally) know their climate catastrophe case is BS, because people confident in their position don’t try to silence dissent and skepticism. They welcome it. In fact, science without skepticism is not science at all: It is dogmatism. And that—plain old-fashioned dogmatism—is the altar upon which the coal industry, and our future energy security, is being sacrificed.

Related Reading:

McKibben's Call-to-Arms Against the Energy Industry of Life

Friday, August 26, 2016

Understanding Ayn Rand’s Original Ethics Requires Original Thinking

CATO published an interesting piece by Douglas B. Rasmussen, “Why Ayn Rand?”  

In the section titled “Response Essays,” CATO provides key excerpts from a few of these essays. Here is one from Why Ayn Rand? Some Alternate Answers by Michael Huemer:

University of Colorado philosopher Michael Huemer takes up Douglas Rasmussen’s question of why there is such intense interest in Ayn Rand and answers that Rand, unlike Mises or Bastiat, “was not only a philosopher, but a compelling novelist.” However gripping her novels, Huemer is not impressed with Rand’s moral philosophy. “The theory of ‘The Objectivist Ethics’,” Huemer writes, “is simultaneously the most distinctive and the least plausible, worst defended of all of Rand’s major ideas.” Huemer argues that there is a glaring conflict between Rand’s ethical egoism and her case for individual rights: “I cannot hold my own well-being as the only end in itself, and simultaneously say that I recognize other persons as ends in themselves too.” Huemer recommends discarding Rand’s egoism and setting her ban of the initiation of force and fraud on a more plausible foundation.

“I cannot hold my own well-being as the only end in itself, and simultaneously say that I recognize other persons as ends in themselves too.”

No, you can’t. But Rand never said that any particular individual’s well-being is the only end in itself. She said that each individual should consider his own well-being as an end in itself. Take out the word “only” from Huemer’s quote, and Rand’s ethics harmonizes beautifully with individual rights.

One’s moral views tend to inform one’s moral judgements of others. Hence, an altruist who holds self-sacrifice for the needs of others as the standard of morality would tend to expect others to self-sacrifice for his, the altruists, own benefit. A person of self-esteem who considers his own well-being as an end in itself—as his own highest value and ultimate goal of his actions—would also tend to respect others’ right to act in the same way.

Keep in mind that Rand’s ethics is part of an integrated philosophy. Hand in hand with her ethics is her call for a ban on the initiation of force and fraud in human relationships. Hence, Rand’s advocacy of the “trader principle” as the basis for a moral coexistence among people in a social context. The trader principle—the mutually beneficial, mutually selfish exchange of value for value—is the practical social application of the Objectivist ethics. We see the trader principle successfully at work every day, all around us, in both the spiritual and economic sphere—proof that there is no contradiction in Rand’s ethics. In a voluntary trade, each person acts within his own rights toward his own ends, and each walks away, unmolested, with a net gain. The trader principle applies in regard to the spiritual realm (friendships, romance) as well as in the material realm (economics). Rand’s ethics, rational egoism, goes hand in hand with peaceful coexistence. If you’ve ever met a practicing Objectivist, you’ll see the truth. I am living proof that this is true.

One thing I’ve noticed about critics of Ayn Rand’s Objectivist ethics of rational egoism is that they tend to approach the issue through the filter of the conventional understanding of selfishness as the self-centered pursuit of one’s interests without regard for means or consequences. But to truly and fully understand Rand’s highly original ethics, you’ve got to completely let go of any moral preconceptions—to wipe the slate clean in your mind regarding everything you’ve been taught about morality since childhood. Granted, that’s a hard task. Take it from me. It took me years to gain a firm grasp of rational selfishness—and to thus gain the confidence to argue in support of it. But that’s what’s essential. Then, and only then, can one truly understand rational selfishness. That may be Huemer’s original mistake.

Related Reading:

Objectivism, the Philosophy of Ayn Rand—Leonard Peikoff

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Obama’s ‘Best Investment’ Was Crony Socialism

The New Jersey Star-Ledger labeled the General Motors bailout “arguably Obama's best investment”:

[H]istory will show that the industry is thriving because it had a government that trusted it could redefine itself back in 2009 – the year President Obama refused to let General Motors and Chrysler die by completing a $79.7 billion bailout that saved the two companies and their parts suppliers – along with the one million jobs that depended on them.

I left these comments:

It doesn’t take an economist to see the fallacy in the alleged “success’ of the GM bailout. It just takes some knowledge of basic economics, a proper moral compass, and the willingness to think.

A thoughtful person knows there’s no free lunch. As [the great classical liberal economist Frederic] Bastiat taught, proper economic analysis must take into account not just what is seen, but what is not seen. What we see is what the Star-Ledger reports. What is not seen is the private investments not made. What is not seen is the more competently run auto company(s) that would have emerged or expanded (including a new GM and/or expanded Ford, which did not take a bailout). What is not seen are the jobs that would have been created. What is not seen is that investments, automaking, and jobs would not have disappeared: They would have taken on a different, market-oriented form. The GM and Chrysler assets, including much of the existing workforce, would have been re-deployed. Many of the existing employees would have been hired for the new auto jobs that would have opened up. What you don’t see are the new people who would have gotten jobs in the restructured auto companies but who today are still unemployed or underemployed because of the jobs “saved” for the beneficiaries of cronyism. No one can know precisely what is not seen. What we do know is the assets would have been put to work creating wealth and jobs.

What is ignored is the terrible moral hazard going forward. What reckless behavior will American auto companies engage in knowing that the politicians will be there to loot the taxpayers to bail them out? Why should the auto companies use flush times to prepare for the inevitable downturn? After all, the government will be there to break the taxpayers’ piggy bank on their behalf. The GM/Chrysler story is not over.

What is definitely seen is the immorality of the bailout. That bailout crushed the new opportunities that would have opened up for auto industry entrepreneurs and job-seekers to step in to fill the void left by a legitimate GM bankruptcy. What we see is the bailout money was forcibly seized from private citizens who did not volunteer to lend or invest the billions of dollars GM received. What right do politicians have to “invest” where private citizens won’t voluntarily do so?

Political hacks see GM as a government success story. Thoughtful people see that the bailout was, is, and never will be anything more than what it was—crony socialism. To call this an “investment” is an insult to real investors. To speak of “conscience” in the context of crony socialism for big business is a moral atrocity. The “clueless narrative” belongs to those who don’t consider what is not seen.

Related Reading:

That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen—Frederic Bastiat

Monday, August 22, 2016

Obama and Congress Mandate Fraud

President Obama signed a bill mandating food labeling indicating whether the food product contains “genetically modified organisms” (GMOs)—that is, ingredients bioengineered to improve the quality, nutrition, or productivity-enhancing traits. I call it fraud labeling. Why do I call this fraud labeling?

Here is the definition of Fraud: “A false representation of a matter of fact—whether by words or by conduct, by false or misleading allegations, or by concealment of what should have been disclosed—that deceives and is intended to deceive another so that the individual will act upon it to her or his legal injury.”

What is concealed? The fact that GMO foods have never been proven to carry any more risk to human health or the environment than non-GMO foods. But, thanks to the hysterical and unsupported propaganda claims of the anti-science primitives, GMO’s carry the stigma that non-GMO foods are safer. That’s what the label “non-GMO” implies. It’s a smear of genetically engineered foods or food containing GMOs. The label “non-GMO” is fraudulent for what it implies and is intended to imply.

Of course, supporters of the bill, which passed a heavily Republican Congress, argue for the labeling based on an alleged “right to know.” As Fortune reports:

GMOs are estimated to be in the majority of our food, somewhere between 75% and 80%. The Food and Drug Administration has said that they are safe for consumption, but most consumers argue that, safe or not, they have the right to know exactly what is in their food.

But there is no broad-based “right to know.” There is only the right to know that the product you are buying has been truthfully and fully represented with relevant information. Since GMO technology tells you nothing relevant about the food product—GM technology is just the latest and most precise method of employing the millennium-long practice of genetically modifying crops, which includes selective breeding, ionization radiation, and chemical processes—there is no reason to place GMO labeling on food packages other then to pander to anti-biotech alarmism and ignorance.

The government should not mandate food labeling. It should focus its energies on vigorously prosecuting fraudulent claims in food labeling. It’s bad enough that the FDA allows voluntary food packaging containing the non-GMO label, thus allowing backdoor fraud to go on unrestricted. At the least, the “non-GMO” label should be accompanied by a disclaimer that “The FDA has determined that GMO ingredients are safe for consumption.” It’s worse that GMO labeling will now be mandatory, even if in the watered-down form approved by Congress and signed by Obama. The government is pandering to ignorance and anti-science to the point of contributing to fraud.

Related Reading:

Are GMO crops safe? Focus on the plant, not the process, scientists say.—Washington Post

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Unholy Alliance Between the Climate Change Catastrophists and the Christian Left

The similarities between religion and climate change has often been noted. Sometimes, it is explicit. Here are excerpts from Why climate change is a moral concern for the religious community, a January 2016 New Jersey Star-Ledger guest column by Ellen Lei & Sarah Clark:

While New Jerseyans enjoyed unseasonably warm weather this holiday season, the nations of the world gathered in Paris for a monumental convening on climate change.

. . . As people of faith, we believe that it is a pivotal time for us to take the lead in addressing climate change.

The outcomes of the Paris Agreement [to “fight climate change”] highlight two key themes that should be taken very seriously, especially by those in religious communities. We must make clear that people of faith have a moral responsibility to be stewards of the Earth and care for God's creation. And we must play the role that Christian communities and communities of faith have played for generations — reminding those in power that they bear responsibility to defend the powerless.

Non-governmental organizations – and religious communities in particular – have already taken up this charge.

. . .[O]ur current commitments to reduce carbon emissions fall short, and we continue to accelerate our consumption of natural resources. God calls his people to be stewards of all natural creation. Therefore, we must protect the Earth in any way we can and push towards a more sustainable future.

There are certain mechanisms, such as the Green Climate Fund, that enable richer nations to provide monetary assistance to poorer countries. Funds such as this are intended to minimize all nations' reliance on fossil fuels and ideally, all nations will see it in their interest to do so. Currently, the goal is to raise $100 billion for the GCF by 2020. It is expected that nations will commit $100 billion every year after 2020.

I left these comments:

The opening reference to this year’s holiday warm spell indicates the religious nature of the authors’ “moral concern.” The unseasonably warm December was likely caused by the confluence of two naturally recurring phenomena—a powerful El Niño and an unusually strong polar vortex, not climate change as implied in the first paragraph. But, hey, when you’re a person of faith, you don’t have to bother with facts.

And it is indeed a religious fight, as “fighting climate change” has become a religious crusade. So it stands to reason that the most consistent Christians—the Christian Left—would align with the climate change catastrophists.

It’s also logical that Lei and Clark would frame climate change in moral terms. There is indeed a fundamental moral divide on the issue of fossil fuels vs. climate change. On one side is the environmentalists’ moral standard that holds pristine nature, unaltered by humans, as the ideal. This naturalist standard stands in sharp opposition to the humanist premise, which holds human life and well-being as the moral standard.

Since man can only survive and thrive by improving on and altering the natural Earth through productive work—by, for example, mass producing reliable, affordable energy through fossil fuel extraction—the naturalists stand in opposition to human progress, while the humanists embrace progress.

On the naturalist standard, human impact on the climate is bad, no matter the human benefits. On the human life standard, human impact on the climate must be measured against the benefits of fossil fuels. On the naturalist premise, fossil fuels must be done away with no matter the energy deprivation to humans. On the humanist premise, fossil fuel use is an immense moral positive because the benefits dwarf any negative side effects, which should be mitigated where rationally possible but not at the expense of depriving humans of the energy of life.

Both the environmentalists and the Christian Left are naturalists. Both see climate change, to the extend humans are contributing, as intrinsically evil. Both believe stopping climate change is paramount, no matter the cost to human well-being. Both, therefore, want to sacrifice human beings to what they view as a higher value; to “pristine” nature, in the case of the environmentalists, or to “God’s creation,” in the case of the Christian Left.

Both know that the most economically progressive societies are the least endangered by climate extremes, implicitly acknowledging the connection between nature-altering industrialization and human well-being. Yet neither side cares to lift the poor by bringing to them the same free market liberty and industrialization-driving energy that the wealthy societies enjoy. Instead, in keeping with their anti-humanist moral standards, they align with socialists in calling for another massive wealth redistributionist scheme, this time from the prosperous nations to the poor nations. This, as they simultaneously fight to deprive progressive nations of their fossil fuel lifeblood, in the faith-based hope that someone, somehow will find a way to make so-called “green energy” a viable replacement—a double blow to our prosperous, safer, cleaner, flourishing living standards. Both want to “protect the Earth” from human progress. Both want to “push towards a more sustainable future”—i./e., a new Dark Age, the last extended period in which sustainability won out over progress.

The result of this unholy alliance of Leftist Christianity and climate change alarmism can only be expanding poverty and misery, the reverse of recent world trends. In the name of avoiding an alleged “major environmental crisis,” both would roll back the clock to the days when humans confronted daily a “major environmental crisis”—no clean running water, no healthful sanitary waste disposal, no central heating or air conditioning for clean indoor environmental control, no modern cooking appliances for clean indoor food preparation, no advanced transportation, no electric lighting, no instant communication, no advanced agriculture, no protection from infectious diseases, none of the modern protections against weather and climate extremes the average person takes for granted today. Yet, neither cares. Their goal is to protect God’s pristine Earth from human progress. This, in the name of “loving others?”

It is indeed a moral fight. It is a clash of moral visions; human progress vs. naturalism, a classic good vs. evil battle.


Additional from the article:

We have a national self-interest in addressing climate change, protecting our economy and security for the next generation, but we also have a moral obligation. The poor and vulnerable suffer most from the impacts of climate change, though they often contribute least to the problem.

Note the “but.” “[P]rotecting our economy and security for the next generation” requires continued progress. “But” that is not a moral obligation. The poor “contribute least to the problem.” Translation: Climate change is a side effect of “economic security.” We must address climate change for the sake of the poor. Why not expand economic security to the poor? Because that would add to “the problem” of climate change. Can’t have that. Any doubt that the “fight to limit global warming” is really a fight to stifle economic progress? It’s certainly not a fight for “the poor and vulnerable”—unless poverty and vulnerability to climate dangers is the goal.

Related reading:

The sustainability myth—Alex Epstein

Wrapping our minds around climate change—Alex Epstein

Friday, August 19, 2016

How Much Does Trump Owe His Nomination to Democrat Voters?

Republican voters nominated Donald Trump. That’s the conventional wisdom.

Certainly, many Republicans—disappointingly, in my view—voted for Trump. But there may be more to Trump's shocking rise to the top of the GOP ticket in 2016.

Trump has bragged that he pulled in a lot of Democrat voters during the primaries. This is certainly plausible. While NJ has a traditional primary, at least 20 states feature open primaries “in which voters can take part in either the Democratic or Republican nominating contests regardless of their party affiliation.”

I consider open primary voting a corruption of the party system. I don’t know the extent to which the primary process was corrupted by “open primary” voting. But given this corruption, it’s entirely possible that Democrats handed Trump the nomination.

Even in states like NJ, where a Democrat would have to re-register as a Republican 55 days before the election to vote for Trump, many Democrats may have done just that. After all, the Star-Ledger itself actually called on Democrats to Switch parties now, and fight Trump in the NJ primary. Different reason to switch, of course. But how many switched to vote for, rather than against, Trump?

It would be interesting to know just how much of a hand Democrats had in nominating Trump. Two polls indicate that between 8 and 15 percent of Trump’s voters were former Obama voters. Enough to put him over the top?

Related Reading:

Independent Voters are Independent for a Reason

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Larry Doby's Overdue Congressional Gold Medal

NJ.com reports that two NJ congressmen have sponsored a bill nominating Larry Doby, America's 2nd black major leaguer baseball player, for the Congressional Gold Medal. The Medal is one of the highest civilian awards in the United States.

I left these comments:

This is long overdue. Doby should never have been overshadowed by Jackie Robinson (no disrespect meant for Robinson). Doby is a true American hero. What’s especially admirable about Doby’s achievement is that he broke the American League’s color barrier without “benefit” of forced integration laws. All he needed was the freedom to do it; i.e., the absence of forced segregation (Jim Crow) laws. As I wrote four years ago in a tribute to Doby for The Objective Standard magazine:

This kind of personal achievement and cultural progress is a testament to the power of courage and reason, and to the ultimate impotence of ignorance and bigotry. All it took to set this change in motion was two rational, courageous individuals—[Cleveland Indians owner Bill] Veeck and Doby—free to act on their judgment. Veeck signed Doby, Doby took the field, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Kudos to Representatives Pascrell and Renacci for their nomination of Doby for the Congressional Gold Medal.

Related Reading:

Larry Doby, American Hero

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Is Religion Responsible for ‘Fulfilling Family Lives’?

Is religion good or bad? In an article for the Washington Post, W. Bradford Wilcox argues that The latest social science is wrong. Religion is good for families and kids.

This is a good chance for me to weigh in on religion—and offer why I believe Wilcox is wrong. Or rather, why Wilcox misinterpreted his own observation in stating, as the sub-heading states, “On average, people of faith lead more fulfilling family lives.”

Wilcox acknowledges that

Religious faith is not a cure-all when it comes to families and children. And, of course, millions of secular Americans enjoy strong and stable families — indeed, a majority of husbands and wives who rarely or never attend church report that their marriages are “very happy.”

If both religious and non-religious people can live fulfilling family lives, how can Wilcox make the claim that “religion is good for families and kids?” Clearly, some other force is at work in people’s lives.

Essentially, religion is faith. Faith is the acceptance of “truth” in the absence of any evidence.

To be clear, by faith I do not mean the term loosely, as in a belief based on the weight of secondary evidence. For example, you may try a new dentist on the recommendation of friends. You do not know for certain if the dentist is good, because you haven’t used him yet. This is not acting on faith. You have reason to think the dentist is good, because you trust your friends’ judgement. People often use “faith” to describe rational confidence, as in “I have faith in you,” which is a belief that someone will succeed at some task against uncertain odds. This, too, is not faith. Your “faith” is actually a reasoned judgement based on your assessment of the person’s character and past actions. Neither case is about real faith.

By faith I mean belief in something for no rational reason whatsoever. In religion, it means unconditional, unchallengeable acceptance of God’s truths, as revealed in sacred texts written by people who claim to know God’s will through revelation or some non-sensory power. Observation, logic, and facts are not to be consulted. Blind obedience to the sacred texts, not observation-based independent thought, is the order of the day.

Faith, to borrow a phrase, is a wall of separation between your mind and reality.

Once one accepts faith as a valid form of knowledge and guide to action, one erects that wall. Once erected, where do you draw the line between rationality (a focus on reality) and faith—between when to face reality and when to retreat behind that wall? Rationality and faith are incompatible. The wall is always there, ready to retreat behind whenever one finds the facts of reality challenging, or wishes for something different from what the absolutism of reality offers.

The author states:

French sociologist Emile Durkheim explained that what makes religion vital, in part, is that it provides rituals, beliefs and a sense of group identity that deepens people’s connections to the moral order. In his words, the faithful “believe in the existence of a moral power to which they are subject and from which they receive what is best in themselves.”

But how many people in America see themselves as subjects? How many are, in fact, “the faithful.” In my view, not many, thankfully.

Why do I say that? Consider what real faith actually means.

Real faith is when parents abandon their 6-month old child so they can go out and slaughter 14 people, as the San Bernardino shooters did, or steal airplanes to knock down buildings, as the 9/11 Islamists did, just because they believe it’s what God wants them to do. Wilcox acknowledges this aspect of faith:

[R]ecent headlines — from terrorist attacks perpetrated by radical Islamists in Paris and San Bernardino to the strange brew of warped Christian fundamentalism that appeared to motivate alleged shooter Robert Dear at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs — feeds the idea that religion is a force for ill in the world.

But there’s more to real faith than terrorism.

Real faith is when a parent refuses medical treatment for their child in the belief that God will heal. It’s when a parent will kill his child because he believes God ordered him to do so. It’s when people forgo prosperity and live generation after generation in abject poverty-laden obedience to the Church, rather than direct their energies toward reshaping nature’s raw materials into resources and resources into material progress, for fear of upsetting God’s plan, as they did in the Dark Ages. It’s when someone lives a completely selfless life of serving the poor, in the belief that an Earthly lifetime of self-denial and  self-immolation will guarantee eternal happiness and bliss beyond the grave. That’s real faith.

In America, religion does not have a firm hold. Far from it. That is my observation. Religion in America is heavily tempered by a tradition of reason (i.e. Enlightenment). Most people who consider themselves religious profess faithful adherence to their religion. But these same people live by reason. People are fact-oriented. They think things through. They investigate and research solutions to problems. People may thank God for things. But they know that God doesn’t and never will provide them with material goods. Goods must be created by thought and work and paid for by earning money. That’s why Americans value education and a good, decent earning career for their children.

The same goes for spiritual values. People profess to believe that friendships and romantic partners are gifts from God. But they choose and build their relationships deliberately and carefully based on common values. Few people actually believe in or wait for miracles or divine intervention, despite regularly saying their prayers. People don’t self-deny. They love their material comforts and pleasures. Faith, in the everyday lives of most “religious” people, is background noise. In choices between relying on faith or reason, people choose reason when it counts most—in making choices governing their lives. In ethics, people profess the virtue of selflessness but practice rational selfishness. People profess self-sacrifice but rarely self-sacrifice. They extoll Mother Teresa but would never want to emulate her. They’d rather live.

And live most Christians I encounter do. Religious ethics means altruism. But few people attempt to live by altruism. Altruism is a subjective ethics, with no facts of reality to back it up. Egoism, properly understood (which few people fully do), is objective. Holding altruism as the moral ideal yet living egoistically may foster unearned guilt. Nevertheless, most Christians I know live more like rationally selfish individualists than servants of God. Put another way, most American Christians live more like Objectivists than Christians. They may not admit it, or like to hear it. But it’s true. Few people, atheist or religionist, live by altruism, because to live requires a healthy selfishness.

Real faith is mind-closing and therefore both self-destructive and destructive towards others. It eliminates any possibility of rational persuasion. How do two people with opposing faith-based beliefs settle their differences? As we’ve seen throughout history; with bullets, bombs, or swords.

Wilcox seems to acknowledge this. He envisions “scenarios in which religion can be a source of tension,” both in regards to society at large and within the family. “[W]hether between husbands and wives or between parents and children, [religious disagreement] can spell trouble, especially when this disagreement is deep and heartfelt.” The problem is not the disagreements as such, but that religious faith closes the door to any possibility of reconciling differences, which requires a mutual respect for and adherence to facts and reason.

After basically telling us that we don’t need religion and religion can be dangerous to our well-being, Wilcox nevertheless concludes:

But religion in America is not the corrosive influence that it’s often made out to be nowadays.

On the contrary, for many Americans, it’s a source of inspiration that redounds not only to their benefit, but also to their families and communities.

It’s true that, as the author observes, religion can occasionally inspire. A faithful belief that Godis a wind at your back might inspire confidence to keep trying. But God won’t get the job done—God won’t actually “provide”—and people know it. The reason why “religion in America is not the corrosive influence that it’s often made out to be nowadays” is, quite simply, that on balance it’s not taken too seriously.

On the contrary, life is better to the extent people live by reason, and worse to the extent people actually try to live by faith. Religion dominates American culture—as far as people professing a belief in God or adherence to a religion goes—but only down to a certain level. For now, in my observation, religion in America is wide but shallow. If people ever began to take their religion and faith seriously, it would destroy America.

So religion, in my view, appears to contribute positively to people’s lives only because few people actually let their religious faith direct their lives, instead relying on reason. There is, however, a sense in which even America’s watered-down religion is a deep threat, and Wilcox points to the threat. He references “New Atheist” Sam Harris’s book “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason,” in which

Harris not only asserts that the “greatest problem confronting civilization” is religious extremism, he further waxes that it’s also “the larger set of cultural and intellectual accommodations we have made to faith itself.”

I agree with Harris. The very acceptance of faith as valid, even if not fully practiced, disarms us intellectually against Islamic imperialism and terror. After all, how can a person who accommodates any level of faith—believes in the validity of faith—morally condemn a terrorist who kills innocents based on the faith-based belief that he is doing as his God demands? By reason, the very antipode of faith? Any accommodation to faith justifies all religiously motivated actions, including the most barbaric, because faith-motivated actions are by definition beyond reason and logical persuasion. On what basis can any adherent of faith claim that a faith-motivated terrorist is wrong to kill innocents? He’s following God’s unchallengeable truth. As Craig Biddle observes:

[B]y failing to explicitly acknowledge and articulate the fact that reason is man’s only means of knowledge—by granting legitimacy to the notion that faith is (or might be) a means of knowledge—Westerners have granted and continue granting legitimacy to the absurdity that jihadists have knowledge that they should convert or kill infidels. When hundreds of millions of Westerners grant such legitimacy—as hundreds of millions do—it adds up to a lot of spiritual aid. That aid is taking a toll, and we are paying the toll in Western lives.

Interestingly, Wilcox acknowledges several ways in which religion is bad for the world, and even for families, but still manages to find religion to be good, on balance, for “families and kids.” But there is no paradox. By defending religion, Wilcox defends faith. Faith, when you get right down to it, is feelings. By defending faith, Wilcox implicitly but inexorably justifies any action anyone may feel like doing. Despite his condemnation of “religious extremism,” his article is a gift of backdoor support to fundamentalist extremists of any religion. This is not good for families, kids, or anyone else. Faith is poison. It will kill. Maybe slowly, for the minimally faithful, or rapidly, as with serious religionists. But it will kill. It’s only a matter of time and degree.

Reason and faith are antithetical. They can’t both be good—and they’re not. Reason, not faith, is the force for good.

Related Reading:

Reason or Faith: The Republican Alternative—John David Lewis for The Objective Standard

Freedom Of Religion Demands Freedom From Religion