Onkar Ghate has written a series of articles on Ayn Rand and objectivism in the New Statesman’s faith column. His last article is very interesting and makes the following point about consciousness and religion:
At their root, the monotheistic religions say that a cosmic consciousness has primacy over existence. This consciousness decrees, and reality obeys. But in actual fact, existence has primacy over consciousness. The facts of reality exist and are what they are independent of any mind. The power of consciousness is not to create, annihilate or alter reality, but only to apprehend it. The facts of reality set the terms, which every consciousness must obey if it is to possess knowledge.
If the religious approach were correct, faith might be worth something. To believe something in absence or even in defiance of logical evidence—a virgin birth, say—might be a way to prove your blind loyalty to the supreme consciousness; only with proof of your submission, will you receive its sanction and enlightenment.
But if you understand that the religious approach contradicts the fundamental facts of reality, then faith is worthless. If you want to know the world, you need to use your own mind to grasp it, through careful observation and logical thought. You need reason.
Rand once observed that religion and philosophy address the same issues. Each seeks to offer us a comprehensive view of the world—of its nature and our place in it. They differ not in their questions, but in their method of answering: one by faith, the other by reason. Where am I? How do I know it? What should I do? Rand’s philosophy offers reasoned and unique answers to these.
Where am I? In a world that exists and is what it is, a world that’s firm, stable, natural, knowable. How do I know it? Only by means of my unadulterated reason. What should I do? Think rationally about all the values my life requires and about how to produce them, and then work passionately towards achieving them. The result? A profoundly personal joy, one that requires no external justification or sanction.
That explains precisely what the religious shouldn’t be public and that society should be secular. Once religion is placed at the center of a society and is the religious becomes political, denial of reality is inevitable. Reality becomes irrelevant since what matters is what ought to be. It is for this reason that societies that are non-secular are never democratic and free societies because human reality can never elevates itself to the level of the divine and human beings can never be trusted to make their own choices for they aren’t Gods.