Faith and Force Revisited

In 1960, Ayn Rand published an essay called “Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World”. At some point around 1995, I read the essay in a book called “Philosophy: Who Needs It”. It asserted that “faith and force are corollaries”:

“I have said that faith and force are corollaries, and that mysticism will always lead to the rule of brutality. The cause of it is contained in the very nature of mysticism. Reason is the only objective means of communication and of understanding among men; when men deal with one another by means of reason, reality is their objective standard and frame of reference. But when men claim to possess supernatural means of knowledge, no persuasion, communication or understanding are possible. Why do we kill wild animals in the jungle? Because no other way of dealing with them is open to us. And that is the state to which mysticism reduced mankind –a state where, in case of disagreement, men have no recourse except to physical violence. And more: no man or mystical elite can hold a whole society subjugated to their arbitrary assertions, edicts and whims, without the use of force. Anyone who resorts to the formula: ‘It’s so, because I say so,’ will have to reach for a gun sooner or later.” (

I suspect the essay was likely written more as a response to Communism, since Rand regarded the philosophy of “materialism” as “neo-mysticism”. However, the essay applies equally to major world religions, which is what I want to focus on here. (We can leave aside the issue of whether Rand’s description of materialism as neo-mysticism is true or false here.)

In 1995, I found this essay to be very powerful. It made a mental connection for me that I had never even considered. (This often happened when I read Rand.) This connection later gave me a perspective on the events of September 11, 2001 that I have carried forward to today.

What I would like to do now is provide additional context to the following generalization: Faith and force are corollaries, and mysticism, when adopted by enough people, will always lead to the ‘rule of brutality’. (If you don’t like “absolute” statements, then I’m satisfied if you read this and think that mysticism, with a “high degree of probability” will lead to the rule of brutality.)

Before I begin, I want to note who this is written for. It is not written for someone who believes that there actually are revelations from some other realm that is not reality. I don’t expect to persuade the believer in Christianity, Islam, or any other religion not to believe  with this essay. It’s not my purpose. (This becomes more apparent when I define “faith” below.)

This essay is aimed at people who generally already have a “secular” outlook on the world, but who tend not to believe me when I say that a very religious society, regardless of its religious content, is a society that initiates a lot of physical force -either institutionally, through government, or by the acts of individuals. It is aimed at people who haven’t grasped the logical connection between “faith” on the one hand and the “initiation of physical force” on the other. (I say “initiation” of physical force because I am referring to people who start the use of force to gain a value or to destroy a value held by another person who wants to live, as opposed to the use of force in self-defense or to stop a criminal from committing further crimes by putting them in jail.)

At root, I think Rand’s argument is that there is a connection between the “psychological phenomena” of “faith” and the initiation of physical force. By “psychological phenomena”, I mean the actual mental processes going on inside the mind of a person acting on “faith”. How do I define “faith” for purposes of this article? First, I’ll say that there is, in fact, no supernatural realm that is giving people divine flashes of insight. I’m not going to argue that point here. (Which is why this is not aimed at the “believer” –there are plenty of works arguing for atheism, and I’ll leave it to the reader to research them.)

If there is no supernatural realm giving people flashes of revelation, then where are people who claim to be acting on faith getting their “commandments from god”? “Faith” is usually defined as the belief in something without proof or sensory-evidence. What does the psychological phenomena/process of “faith” consist of, if there is, in fact, no supernatural realm? That psychological process is a reliance on one’s <b>feelings</b> as guides to knowledge, or a belief that one’s feelings are the fundamental basis of knowledge as opposed to sense experience or logic derived from sense experience. An idea simply pops into the faithful’s head, probably coming out of their subconscious, and they decide that it feels right, and that is it. Or, someone tells them, either orally or through a book, that an idea is right, and they simply accept it because they feel that they have to accept what this person has told them.

With these terms defined, how can you reach the conclusion that faith and the initiation of physical force are corollaries? In other words, how do you reach the conclusion that routine and systematic use of the psychological process of “faith” will lead, with some degree of necessity, to the act of initiating physical force against others? (Obviously, I don’t want you to take what I say on faith.) I think the only way to arrive at this conclusion is to look at enough examples and try to see if you can find a pattern. I will provide you, the reader, with a few hypotheticals, and then leave it to you to come up with more:

Example 1: Your religion says that you aren’t supposed to keep certain types of meats stored together. You cannot store meat A and meat B together. You enter into a contract with a truck driver who is not of your religion to transport meat A to you in a truck, and you pay him money in advance for that.

When the truck driver arrives with the delivery, it turns out that he has unknowingly stored meat B in the truck along with the meat A he is delivering to you. (The truck driver had another customer and he was going to deliver meat B to the other customer after stopping off at your house.) You say that you cannot accept the meat because it was stored with meat B, and you want your money back. The truck driver says you’re “off your rocker” and refuses to give you your money back or pay “damages” for this alleged “breach of contract”.

A secular court system would say there is no scientific basis for your belief about storage of meat A and meat B together. Your breach of contract lawsuit would be dismissed. You can either discard the meat you paid for, or discard your religion, but in a secular system of government, you cannot have both.

You cannot use rational persuasion to convince the truck driver to give you your money back because he thinks your religion isn’t true. The temptation would be to resort to “self-help” in order to recover your money from the truck driver. This is an initiation of physical force. Your faith has led to the initiation of physical force. If there is a court system that is based on your religion that has jurisdiction, then it will get you your money back. But, this is an initiation of physical force, since the use of physical force can only be justified in self-defense or to recompense someone whose right to life has been violated in some way. Either way, if you act on your religious principles about storing meat A and meat B together, and take it seriously, you are led to the initiation of physical force against the truck driver that doesn’t hold your religious beliefs.

Example 2: Your religion says that a particular piece of land is holy, and is not to be used for any human purpose. According to your religion, the land is just to be left as it currently is. Someone owns the land who doesn’t ascribe to your religion, and decides he’s going to build his house on it. If there is a secular legal system, you will not be able to prevent the house construction. You cannot use reason to persuade him not to build the house, because your belief isn’t based in reason. If you try to point to your holy text, he’s going to say it’s baloney, and he doesn’t believe it. There is only one way to stop him: the initiation of physical force. Once again, either you personally will have to resort to the initiation of physical force, or your theocratic government will have to resort to the initiation of physical force to stop him. Combine this with the fact that any “interpreter” of your religion (priest, imam, rabbi, or whatever), going off of his feelings, can suddenly claim that god has told him that a particular land is “holy” and belongs to members of your religion, and this is a recipe for constant conflict with the non-believers who want to use land for actually living their lives in the here and now. Then combine this with a multiplicity of religions, all claiming some tract of land as “holy” and you get the crusades, the 30-years war, or the conflict in Israel.

Example 3: Your religion has a “holy animal” that is not to be eaten or harmed. Someone who doesn’t ascribe to your religion routinely shoots and eats the “holy animal”. You cannot use reason to persuade him not to eat your holy animal, because your belief isn’t based in reason. Once again, he’s just going to say your religion is false…and he’s hungry. There is only one way to stop him: the initiation of physical force. Once again, either you personally will have to resort to the initiation of physical force, or your theocratic government will have to resort to the initiation of physical force to stop him.

The more all-embracing one’s faith is in their mind, that is, the more they rely on ideas based in nothing but their feelings, and the more they take such ideas seriously, the more they will end up in irreconcilable conflicts like the three examples above, that can only be resolved by either not taking the “holy text” seriously, or by the initiation of physical force against non-believers. There will be a multiplicity of instances like the three outlined above.

My point here isn’t concerning the content of particular directives and commandments contained within any religious doctrine. I’ve made up these particular examples for purposes of illustrating my point, and I don’t even know if they are part of any actual major world religion. My point here is that the religious doctrine is insulated from any sort of ability to resolve a dispute with followers of other religious doctrines or those who embrace a secular view-point because it will create insoluble problems with those who don’t follow the creed, or those who interpret the creed differently.

A follower of a creed based in faith, will be left with the choice of either: (1) separating himself from those who don’t believe. This is probably why you see “religious ghettos” when people of one religion move into a country with a majority that doesn’t ascribe to their faith. These minority religious groups just separate out and live in their own special areas of a city. Or, (2), the believer will use force against non-believers to the extent necessary to ensure that his doctrine based on faith is respected by the non-believers.

Additionally, note that I have made no mention of examples from actual religions concerning directives or commandments that say either: (1) kill the infidels/sinners, or (2), say something that could easily be interpreted as “kill the infidels/sinners”.

For instance, the Bible talks about killing adulterers: (“‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.” Leviticus 20:10) The Koran talks about killing infidels: “And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah [disbelief or unrest] is worse than killing… but if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful. And fight them until there is no more Fitnah [disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah] and worship is for Allah alone….”

This is because my analysis of “faith” and how it necessitates the initiation of physical force doesn’t rely on the content of any particular religious doctrine. The psychological process of faith itself necessitates the initiation of physical force against others to resolve the conflicts that will occur.

However, when you start looking at the content of actual world religions and some of the things they say regarding how the “sinful” are to be dealt with, and then combine those words -that religious content- with a method of “thought” (faith) that provides no means of dealing with non-believers because reason is jettisoned, you can see why it can be a potent psychological cocktail motivating the initiation of physical force.

Why are the countries in Europe and North America relatively peaceful and free compared to countries in the Middle East? After all, America, and, to a lesser extent, Europe is full of church-going people who believe. I think the difference is the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. If you’re atheist and you talk about religion and science with even the most religious Westerner, he will probably, eventually, say something along the following lines: “There is a place for faith and there is a place for reason.” I suspect this represents a sort of centuries-long compromise or rapprochement between religion and secularism in the Western World. It has sufficiently delimited faith in important areas of human life, especially in the realm of politics, and allowed for the creation of a (generally) secular legal system. I suspect that most Western intellectuals do not realize how “all-encompassing” faith is in the mind of the average Middle Easterner, because we haven’t been there ourselves for centuries. It is why Western politicians and intellectuals tend to describe Islam as “ideology” rather than as religion. For instance, a Dutch politician has noted:

Let no one fool you about Islam being a religion. Sure, it has a god, and a here-after, and 72 virgins. But in its essence Islam is a political ideology. It is a system that lays down detailed rules for society and the life of every person. Islam wants to dictate every aspect of life. Islam means ‘submission’. Islam is not compatible with freedom and democracy, because what it strives for is Sharia. If you want to compare Islam to anything, compare it to communism or national-socialism, these are all totalitarian ideologies.” (“The Lights are Going Out All Over Europe”, by Geert Wilders, emphasis added, )

Christianity once was a system that laid down detailed rules for society and the life of every person too –we just haven’t seen it for about 500 years. As a result, people who take religion that seriously seem strange to the average Westerner –you would have to look to what would widely be regarded as a “cult” here in the West to find a similar mindset. (For instance, the “Branch Davidians” in Waco, Texas.) This is why I believe the average Westerner has a difficult time thinking of Islamic terrorism or the theocracy of a country like Iran as being based in religious faith. Faith is just not as all-encompassing in the mind of even the most religious Westerners.

After the November 2015 attacks in Paris, in which 130 people were murdered, I saw comedian Bill Maher ask, in a not so comedic mood, “Why do they hate us?” ( )

Based on what I’ve said above about the mind of someone who operates primarily on the basis of faith, this is my theory on why so many in the Middle East seem to hate us:

Part of the reason is examples like 1, 2, and 3 above. In these instances, the non-believer doesn’t even know he’s done something that violated their religious faith. I think this is going to enrage a member of the faith, not just because of what the non-believer is doing, but because the non-believer, rightly so in my opinion, doesn’t care about their religion. The non-believer wants to live. The Westerner, with a much more delimited view of religious faith, will take numerous actions to live his life, all of which are offenses against Islam. This lack of concern for religious rituals will tend to infuriate the faithful, and is a spur to violence.

People in the West will tend to think there is some secular reason for the faith-based mind’s antagonism. They will look at factors like “US bombing in the Middle East” or “poverty” or anything besides the terrorist’s proclamations of fidelity to Islam. This is because people in the West have trouble conceiving of a mind that is that “faith-based”. Westerners assume there must be some secular reason that is the “real” reason planes are getting blown up, journalists are getting their heads cut off, and innocent people on sidewalk cafes are being shot. The reality is that they hate us because we aren’t just ignorant of their religious tenants, but because, on some fundamental level, they know we don’t regard their dogma as having any basis in reality. They hate us because we want to live this life, which is the only one we’re going to get.

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I am Dean Cook. I currently live in Dallas Texas.