Does the Catholic Church Offer a Proper Guide to Life on Earth?

By Edwin A. Locke

With worldwide attention and adoration focused on the death of Pope John Paul and the election and celebration of his successor, no one has sought to ask the question: what does the Catholic Church stand for today? If one examines this question closely, the answer does not give cause for celebration.

Consider, for example, the church’s position on the issue of reason vs. faith. In his 20th century encyclical “Fides et Ratio” (Faith and Reason) Pope Paul II argued that reason (secular philosophy) and faith are both important and necessary but adds that “there exists a knowledge which is peculiar to faith, surpassing the knowledge proper to human reason.” Reason, he claims, is “limited,” because it cannot deal with issues like revelation. The beginning of true knowledge is not reason but “fear of God.” But how do you validate faith and fear as tools of knowledge? No answer is given. So what happens when contradictions arise? For example, revelation says that than man is born in sin, but how can this be when reason makes clear that your moral stature can only be a matter of the choices you make? Revelation says there is an omniscient, omnipotent God whose commandments must be blindly obeyed (or you go to hell), but reason offers no evidence for such a contention. Revelation claims that the soul is immortal, but this contradicts everything reason tells us about the inability of the mind to exist once the brain is dead. Resolving these contradictions is critical but the Church says your mind is impotent to deal with such mysteries. It wants you to strop thinking and cripple your mind when it comes to the most important issues of your life.

What does today’s Church have to say about living in society? Consider Pope Paul VI’s 20th century encyclical, “Populorum Progressio” (On the Development of Peoples). Even though history and reason show that capitalism is the only method of creating large-scale wealth and eliminating poverty, the encyclical is basically an impassioned manifesto against capitalism—in the name of abolishing poverty! The encyclical calls for a socialist global state with worldwide power over economic planning. This vision rejects the concept of individual rights (including property rights) and asserts that the more productive people and the more productive nations sacrifice themselves—their minds, their efforts, their earned wealth—to those who have not produced. Quoting St. Ambrose, Paul writes, ”You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his.” Given that very little wealth would ever be created by the Pope’s socialist system, it is obvious that the goal of his proposal is not to end poverty but to induce guilt among the successful, to destroy the desire for any action motivated by rational self-interest.

If one cannot get pleasure from successful work, what about from marriage? In “Humanae Vitae” (Of Human Life) Pope Paul VI reiterated the Church’s opposition to contraception other than the (unreliable) rhythm method. Why? Because it is allegedly God’s will that people procreate. Observe that the effects of such a doctrine on sexual pleasure: it introduces fear (of an endless stream of unwanted children) into the sex act, promotes sexual frustration, and turns sex into a duty—a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. This attack on sexual pleasure is a direct expression of the church’s traditional—and arbitrary–view of the body as evil.

What is the motive behind the Church’s undermining of reason, economic self interest, and sexual pleasure? It is to make men feel intellectually impotent, insignificant and unworthy of celebrating their own lives—in sum, to undermine men’s life and happiness on earth. But what is the motive behind that? To make men believe, on faith, that only the Church can save them from their helpless misery–misery which is promoted by the Church’s own doctrines!

If success and happiness on earth are one’s goal, then men need a philosophy that upholds reason as their only guide to knowledge, that affirms their right to their own lives and property, and upholds the sanctity of sexual pleasure with a valued partner as an end in itself. Men need a philosophy based on love of life rather than fear of an unperceivable God and an unverifiable hell. For such a philosophy one must turn to the 20th century’s antipode of the Church’s teachings: the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

About Edwin A. Locke

Edwin A. Locke, a Professor Emeritus of management at the University of Maryland at College Park, is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute ( in Irvine, Calif.