Around the world today, Christians are celebrating Good Friday — a commemoration of Christ’s crucifixion.
Catholic and Protestant traditions alike offer special services on this day. Hymns, processions, reverence, and solemnity are the mainstays.
I submit that this ritual is one reason for Christianity’s success. Not this particular ritual, but ritual itself, and the reverence that accompanies it.
In philosophical terms, they provide a concrete symbol of an abstraction. In layman’s terms, they’re food for the soul.
Many fans of Ayn Rand’s work go on to embrace her philosophy, and consequently — in many cases — become atheists themselves. Ayn Rand herself said that she was not a “militant” atheist. She didn’t discard religion outright: She maintained it was an early attempt at philosophy. But she’d never heard a convincing argument for God’s existence, and refused to take anything on faith.
At the same time, she said she didn’t dislike the phrase “God bless you,” because it expressed the wish for the best possible to a person. And she did not dislike Christmas because — even apart from its secular flavor in modern Western society —it expresses a natural goodwill toward loved ones.
Following this example in particular, many Objectivists have sought to reshape holidays for their own purposes, stressing the good aspects of even overtly religious holidays and implementing their own traditions along the way.
I’ve personally always liked this, because it recognizes that we are people at a certain time in a certain place. We come from families that, in many cases, celebrate the major holidays — and perhaps even the minor ones — and there can be a sense of needless loss at the idea of discarding all observance.
It is also a statement of independence to look at a holiday with fresh eyes, consider its meaning, and make it one’s own, providing a bridge from our past to our present.
It is in this tradition that I offer a suggestion for a way to ritualize Good Friday: You can celebrate Good Friday by celebrating the Good.
For those atheists who can see no way to make this particular holiday your own, perhaps you’d be willing to reconsider.
We hear about, and are exposed to, hatred of the good for being good. But what about celebration of the good for being good?
I would argue that this is one of the most inspirational elements of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. Ayn Rand knew that reverence and beauty are essential to the human soul. Her books are full of people who make one’s heart ready to burst, simply knowing they can exist.
As Leonard Peikoff notes in his discussion of justice in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, the novel Atlas Shrugged is an homage to the creators. It’s a grand work of justice.
The virtue of justice is the act of giving each person what he or she deserves. Objectivists have plenty of experience with one side of this — denouncing what deserves denouncing. In fact, we’re known for it. What is not widely enough recognized — or, I submit, practiced — is the joy of celebrating and praising what deserves celebration and praise.
Isn’t that, after all, the purpose of philosophy — to learn how best to live, so that one can enjoy living? And isn’t it downright enjoyable to see and praise the excellent, the hard-won victory, the pinnacle of achievement — in whatever arena, grand or minor?
Justice means recognizing not only the mistaken or bad things a person does, but recognizing — and praising — the times when a person does things right. This is when a parent, a sibling, a friend, or a son or daughter says, “I’m proud of you for that.” This is the celebration of excellence and virtue.
On a smaller scale, but no less important, is praising the person who was honest and didn’t have to be, was wrong at one time but recognized and admitted it, or refused to make a decision on insufficient evidence.
When someone is particularly committed to the facts or particularly honest in recognizing truth, it should excite you. It should remind you that most people strive to be reasonable and good, that virtue is a practical means of obtaining values.
Our very psychology depends, for its health, on knowing that the virtuous life is practical, and that we’re not the only ones practicing it. There are many good people out there, and there are many more who are mixed. Even in mixture, however, there is goodness that often can be found and enjoyed.
Independence and honesty are recognizing what is. And part of what is — a large part of it — is good.
A life should be lived with a head raised high, with a salute to the excellent. It shouldn’t consist of only disdaining the horrible.
When you hear someone say “All men are pigs” or “People are just stupid” or “Women are gold-diggers” — it’s an enormous injustice to those who aren’t pigs, stupid, or after your cash. But such sweeping generalizations are easy; what’s worse, they often become a bad habit.
Good habits have to be cultivated; to practice virtue, you must practice virtue.
So, on Good Friday — and every day — help yourself and those you care about practice virtue.
Celebrate the Good on Good Friday.
Jason Dixon is a telecom billing consultant living in Atlanta, Georgia. An aspiring amateur linguist, he’s long maintained a love of words and their power and hopes to integrate this passion into a writing career. He is also editor of the Atlasphere's columns section.