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God's Libertarian Prophet?

An Interview with I Met God Author J. Neil Schulman

Former atheist J. Neil Schulman met God and wrote two books and a screenplay conveying his experience -- a nonfiction audiobook being prepared for print publication, a published novel, and a script now being packaged for production.


by Gary York © 2006


Many years ago, needing to feed my science fiction habit, I bought the book Alongside Night, written by an author new to me:  J. Neil Schulman.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book and welcomed and enjoyed his second novel, The Rainbow Cadenza.  Thereafter I visited his web-site at intervals and loosely followed his career.  I cheered for him as he published work after (non-fiction) work on strongly libertarian themes.  After an absence of a few years I returned to his site to discover that his latest book was titled I Met God. Oh, dear!


How could someone who was an atheist, as was I, who was a libertarian/Objectivist, as was I, who seemed so completely dedicated to rationalism – just like me -- go so utterly and completely off the rail?


He had written a new science-fiction book, Escape from Heaven, so I bought it and read it.  It was a splendid, funny book.  Sure, he used religious themes but so did many of my favorite SF authors; more importantly, he used those themes well and brought to the table a basket

of fresh ideas.  Clearly his religious views had not corrupted him as a writer.


And so began a furious exchange of emails.


J. Neil Schulman first appeared on the libertarian movement’s radar when his 1979 novel, Alongside Night – which portrayed a near-future where a libertarian cadre battled a U.S. government crumbling from hyperinflation – received endorsements from Milton Friedman, Thomas S. Szasz, and Anthony Burgess.


His 1983 novel, The Rainbow Cadenza – which portrayed a future that replaces conscripting young men for military service with conscripting young women for sexual service – received accolades from Nathaniel Branden, Robert A. Heinlein, and Colin Wilson.


Neil didn’t begin his sojourn into libertarianism by writing fiction. Before J. Neil Schulman had published his first novel, he had been a libertarian activist on his college campus and later organized libertarian dinners and conferences; he had written the review of Murray Rothbard’s For a New Liberty in Rothbard’s own journal, The Libertarian Forum; and he’d been an active partisan in Samuel E. Konkin’s neo-Rothbardian “radical caucus.”


Schulman has never held back on his libertarian intentions, and in a career that has taken him from New York to Hollywood, he’s often paid a price for it.  After breaking into network television writing with script sales to The Twilight Zone, Neil found his TV writing career cut short.  Apparently his 1992 Los Angeles Times Op-Ed piece, favoring private ownership of handguns, was received so unfavorably by prime-time TV producers who had promised him a writing job on their Emmy-winning network show that he was immediately blacklisted.


Undaunted, Schulman decided to do what one of his literary heroes would have done, and if Neil didn’t stop the motor of the book publishing industry, he at least gave it a long overdue oil change. Schulman founded two book publishing companies – SoftServ Publishing and Pulpless.com. They used new technology to bypass traditional bookstore distribution and made books available for immediate download or after on-demand printing.  The books were sold through computer bulletin boards and, later, through the Internet.  Both the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have recognized Schulman as a pioneer of the eBook.


Schulman also wrote one of the most effective books defending the individual right to keep and bear arms, Stopping Power:  Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns, and counts Charlton Heston among his celebrity fans.  Dennis Prager, who hosts a nationally syndicated radio talk show, once an advocate of gun bans, credits Schulman’s writing as the reason he now favors gun ownership.


A sequel, Self Control Not Gun Control, collected his libertarian essays on a wide range of other topics and won him an endorsement from Walter Williams.


Post 9/11, Schulman departed from the mainstream libertarian movement in two respects: despite his anarchist and isolationist roots he elected to support President Bush’s War on Terror; then, even more iconoclastically, Schulman abandoned his life-long atheism and revealed that on February 18, 1997, he had met God. Literally.


The results of that encounter – and the lifetime of mystical experiences leading up to it – came out in J. Neil Schulman’s two latest books:  his 2002 novel, Escape from Heaven, and his latest autobiographical book, I Met God, released in 2005 as an audiobook and being prepared for release as a printed book. 


In 2006, J. Neil Schulman expanded out of screenwriting into producing, directing, acting, and even songwriting, with his feature film, Lady Magdalene’s, with Star Trek icon, Nichelle Nichols (“Uhura”) starring in the title role. As of this writing the film will be completed in a few weeks and will be submitted to major film festivals before seeking a studio to distribute it.


A movement coalesced in modern times around the fiction and drama of a single Russian-born novelist, playwright, and screenwriter.  Arguably, Ayn Rand is as much responsible for the character of the modern libertarian movement as any economist or political figure.  While the Left has always considered artists, musicians, and writers to be essential personnel in their push for social change, both the Right and the libertarian movement are underrepresented in the battle for hearts and minds. 


Since Ayn Rand, few libertarians seem to have enlisted in the Culture War, and why should they? The left rewards its culture warriors with Academy Awards and Nobel Prizes. We don’t. Guess who’s standing on the high ground?


J. Neil Schulman has been for the last three decades, and continues to be, one of our leading cultural commandoes.


We conducted this interview by email and by telephone.


GARY YORK: You’ve come out in support of the War on Terror.  Why the change from your original anti-war position?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN: I understand the roots of opposition to war thoroughly. As a matter of fact I opposed both the original Gulf War and President Clinton's bombing of Iraq.
What changed me were the 9/11 sneak attacks, which I consider really were acts of war, as much as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Unlike previous wars, the enemy is not a nationalistic state but an ideological cadre. I wrote about exactly that sort of ideological cadre in my novel, Alongside Night -- albeit my cadre was dedicated to libertarian goals achieved by libertarian means, not attacks on civilians as part of a desire to kill anyone who can't be coerced into converting to your religion.
The madrasas and other Islamic extremist propaganda are brainwashing Muslim children with an Islamic variation of the Hitler Youth's anti-Jewish-hatred, and because radical Islam's position that any non-Muslim can be sold into slavery or killed at will, these Islamic extremists equal the Nazi contempt for anyone not fitting their approved racial profile.


Regardless of how badly anyone thinks the U.S. and the U.K. may be at prosecuting the war on terror, it would be a fatal error to think that anything short of marginalizing the Islamo-Nazis' ability to launch effective attacks can save modern civilization from these evil psychopaths. It’s a mistake to think they’re attacking us because of our foreign policy. They’re attacking us because free trade imports our modern culture and out-competes their own push for cultural world domination. Western-style civilization, while leaving much to be desired from a libertarian's standpoint, is far more protective of individual rights than any other human civilization, past or present. I'm not going to apologize to my fellow libertarians for thinking it needs to be preserved, even at the cost of allowing the Department of Homeland Security to get their hands on my Amazon.com bill.


Let me be clear, however, that the trade-off for my support is contingent on the government actually using its powers to defend our country, rather than using 9/11 as an opportunity to promote other agendas, such as internationalism or the further disempowerment of the individual. The way to win a “war on terror” is to identify those enemies who want to kill us and either kill them first or make the price for killing us so high that they will quit trying.


The United States prevailed in World War II against industrial powers in Germany and Japan and in the Cold War we prevailed against a Soviet military superpower. Radical Islam is truly a threat because it is within the ability of terrorists to obtain and deploy WMD’s against our cities, but the way to meet that threat is not by making us take off our shoes before we get on an airliner but by making it clear to the rulers of Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia that the cost of them not eliminating radical Islamic terrorists will be an American thermonuclear strike against them should another 9/11 attack succeed.


It’s not the job of the American government to diagnose and cure the psychotic worldview that leads some believers in God to think God wants their specific religion to be the only brand of faith on this planet. It is the job of the American government to defend our freedom.


That said, I also want it to be understood that I do not regard Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to be three separate religions, but a single religion. They all worship God. None of them worship Odin or Zeus. Any war between any of these three artificial partitions of God worship by religious texts, doctrines, and organizations is the equivalent of domestic violence. It may be necessary to engage in a lethal response against a family member attacking with deadly force but one should never do so with glee. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are all children of God, and if any one of them thinks God is about to play favorites, they are out of their fucking minds.


GARY YORK: How much were you involved with Ayn Rand, her circle, and Objectivism?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  I was a little late getting to Objectivism because I was 15 years old and living in Massachusetts in 1968 when Ayn Rand split with Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, and the Nathaniel Branden Institute shut down. There really was no formal Objectivist movement by 1971 when I moved to New York City and met up with those libertarians most influenced by Rand and Objectivism.  Due to the influence of Robert Heinlein's books, I was already a libertarian rationalist by the time I encountered Rand's writings and the Objectivist remnant. I read Atlas Shrugged, and was hooked. I'd found my philosophical home.

GARY YORK: Where would you say you most passionately agree with Miss Rand?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: To start off with, her reliance on Aristotle's axioms of Existence exists, Non-Contradiction, the Law of Identity. Her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology is fine as far as it goes, but is incomplete and does not allow for sources of data not deriving from the five senses, since she never would have considered anything beyond that capable of being validated. I agree with Rand's philosophical attacks on selflessness, forced self-sacrifice, collectivism, and on Kant's demand that moral behavior has to have no personal benefits. Rand was, I think, annoyed that the Christian author C. S. Lewis, agreed with her on all of this.

I agree with Rand that an observation of the nature of man as rational, volitional beings is sufficient to derive an objective moral code, with no reference to religious documents or mystical premises. Such a moral code would apply even to immortal beings, although with somewhat distinct moral imperatives, since physical survival would likely not be at stake for an immortal.
Ayn Rand was one of the best thinkers to identify the anti-life nihilism, and envy-based hatred toward the thinker class, at the core of all variants of socialism, and anticipated both the entire political correctness movement and the loony left's ever-morphing fetishes. She was a brilliant and funny satirist, if too bitter late in life when I finally met her.  And there was a hot Russian siren buried somewhere in that little Russian babushka.  All in all, if I'd met her when she was younger, I would have wanted us to fuck our brains out.

GARY YORK: What are your strongest disagreements with Objectivism?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Interestingly, my disagreements with Objectivism as a formal philosophy are fairly minimal, partly because Rand never developed Objectivism into a full philosophical system. I find what she wrote to be true in its own context, but her context was too provincial and time-bound to encompass the possibility of an afterlife. Her dismissal of paranormal experience as sources of data about the real world negates the possibility of learning about additional continua beyond our conventional sensory experience, which is limited to local knowledge gained from our own bodily existence.

If I have more of a problem, it's not so much with Objectivism, per se, but with the cultish behavior of her admirers, who in their worship of Atlas Shrugged mirror Evangelical Christians' worship of the Bible. I also have a problem with Objectivist-influenced atheists who raise skepticism to the level of religious dogma.


GARY YORK: Neil, you say you met God. What exactly do you mean by that?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: God didn't call me for an appointment in an office building like in Oh God! or
Bruce Almighty. But I've had two distinct waking experiences where I can say with confidence that I encountered God's presence.
The first time I recognize for sure was on April 15, 1988 when God put his hand on my heart and threatened to kill me.
The second encounter was February 18, 1997, when God merged his own consciousness with my own for the better part of a day, and for that short time let me share his own mind and superhuman cognitive powers.
Both were life-changing experiences, and when my abstract skepticism came up against my actual experience, I could either conclude that I was out of my mind or eventually accept the reality of it. After a thorough analysis of my previous life's experiences, and later experiences that lent validation, I concluded that the reality was that what had happened to me were really encounters with God -- therefore proving God's existence to me -- and that sanity would lie not in denying the truth of my experience by dismissing it as a psychotic break but in embracing the reality of it, maintaining my rational faculties, and proceeding accordingly.


GARY YORK: Presumably you once believed in the separation of Church and State; has your personal encounter with God changed your opinion?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN: No, but that's because I've never been much of a fan of either church or state. I see both types of institutions as degraded functions. Both churches and states exist as attempts to channel human behavior to their own vision of the good. Combining church and state – just like combining a single political party and state, as did communism and Nazism --multiplies their power to impose conformity to their vision. The flaw is that any institution wielding the power to enforce conformity attracts Bizarro Supermen who want to remake men in their own image. Kept away from the levers of power, churches often encourage self improvement and end up being a more-or-less good thing. Libertarians, being curmudgeons, see the glass as half empty. Since my encounter with God, I'm more of a glass-half-full guy.

GARY YORK: You claim to have met God, to have “mind melded” with him and so you feel free to say what God would and would not want. But what about all those others who weekly proclaim from pulpits their version of God’s demands and desires?  Should something be done about them?  Surely, if God in fact exists, He must deplore this incredible cacophony of error!


J. NEIL SCHULMAN: That's easy. My answer is, don't take anything religions say on faith and don't take anything I say on faith, either.  Test second-hand knowledge for its truth. Existence -- or God, if you prefer -- will give you independent validation. Ground your beliefs in testable reality. Find me a church that has the confidence in God’s craftsmanship to make the same disclaimers I just did, and I'll consider joining it.

GARY YORK: What do you think God wants taught in the classroom?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN: What makes you think God finds classrooms the best place for education?
OK. Maybe classrooms, like factories, are useful for mass-production. I don't tend to like the products that come out of a lot of classrooms. I do like the products that come out of the Internet, talk radio, and late-night libertarian science-fiction beer-fed bull sessions.

GARY YORK: Doesn't “freedom of religion” necessarily imply “freedom from religion?”


J. NEIL SCHULMAN: It implies that one should be free to practice religion. Demanding others join you is where freedom ends. Demanding that others stop their own practice because you feel excluded is tough shit. Everyone needs to lighten the fuck up.


GARY YORK: You once were a rationalist; you claim that you remain a rationalist.  How, as someone who now believes in God, a supernatural entity, can you simultaneously espouse a belief in the supremacy of reason?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Because I don't believe the supernatural is unreal, therefore reason can eventually discern supernatural operations and supernatural laws.


GARY YORK: Perhaps you can both believe in a God and remain a rationalist because you had personal experience of a nature that was convincing to you; but what about someone who adopted a belief in God because of reports of your unverifiable personal experience? Wouldn't that be irrational?  In other words, wouldn't it be irrational to believe in God because of what you say?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Sure. Nobody should take anything I say on faith. But I think an ungrounded belief in God is a self-correcting problem. If you don't have some personal experience that has convinced you of the reality of God -- if you only accept the existence of God based on other people's assertions -- then you don't really believe in God anyway. You only believe in whatever propaganda you've been fed, and that's not really making good use of the independent soul God gave you. I think God has use for people who question his existence, so long as they're willing to be open to however the personal evidence plays out.

GARY YORK: I've heard you claim that God is a libertarian.  On the face of it, this seems absurd; what do you believe that makes this seem true to you?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  God gave up being the only person who existed so he could live forever after as a less-than-omnipotent person within an existence containing other individual persons.  And those he created with the power to disagree with him. How fucking libertarian is that?

GARY YORK: In what respects would you say that God is not entirely libertarian?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  From the standpoint of someone who’s been around forever, even the smartest among us are just precocious children. It's hard to be entirely libertarian in dealing with beginners who are going to harm themselves and others through their own inexperience and ignorance if the parent doesn’t set some outside limits. Here’s where I differ from most religions. God doesn’t expect us to stay children. The more we increase in wisdom and power, the more God can deal with us like grown-ups.

GARY YORK: I know that there are people who profess to be “Christian libertarians.”  Some libertarians are pleased to welcome them, at least as fellow travelers. Others chuckle, and some do not care to share the same room with them.  Has your perspective on Christian libertarians changed since you met God and if so, how?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Both Christianity and libertarianism are, in essence, worldviews with their own base premises, leading to moral conclusions. There is room for overlap, but they are not the same and there are divergences, particularly because much Christian scriptural interpretation is dogmatic rather than analytical.  Conversely, many libertarian atheists are as smugly dogmatic in their dismissal of Christianity as some Christians are in their conviction that anyone who doesn't accept their script is deceived by demons. It requires particularly tolerant individuals to be open minded enough to embrace both.

GARY YORK: You have long been a libertarian activist; how do you see your role changing?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  I no longer think all, or even most, of the problems of the human species can be solved solely by replacing coercive governments with private and voluntary institutions. Pushing as much as possible into the private sector brings economic forces into play that are often corrective, but I'm no longer a utopian "Marxist of the right" who thinks the private sector can solve all human problems.  Not all human behavior is motivated by economics because economic behavior is a rational calculation, and much of the human experience is simply not rational.

GARY YORK:  Have you significantly altered any of your libertarian positions since meeting God?



I've come to the conclusion that when human beings are determined to be free, no institution can chain them; and when their hearts no longer crave freedom, no institution can preserve it for them.


I no longer accept as a basic premise that just because someone works within the State that they are necessarily or irredeemably evil.


I see important differences between Western democracies, republics, and federations with reverence for the individual, and tyrannies that attack the individual with ideology, theocracy, and crude gangsterism. I prefer what we tag Western Civilization and think it’s worth preserving.


I continue to regard much that American government does as shoddy, unthinking, unimaginative, and short sighted, but I've met enough politicians at this point to know that many of their hearts are in the right place.


GARY YORK:  With the understanding that you say nobody should take it on faith alone, what are you trying to get the readers of I Met God to believe?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  That God is real, funny, warm, and very, very human.


That we have free will.


That what we choose to do will be with us forever.


That religious prophetic writings can't tell us what will happen in the future because that is not predetermined by some master plan but by our free will choices.


That God is good and wise and our creator and eternal, but God is not all powerful and all-knowing because He has chosen to share his power with us and we are free to hide from Him and ignore our highest interests. 


That God 's creation was an act of experimental invention thus the outcome was unknown to Him when He did it, and there were and still are enormous personal risks for Him.


That for any intelligent being – even God -- “perfect” is not a noun but a verb, and any perfection is only a temporary way station in an unending adventure.


That denying God because he takes risks and his experiments don’t always pan out is like a child finding out that his parents aren’t perfect, and while God isn’t perfect, he’s still way smarter, better informed, wiser, and better at making the hard choices than the rest of us are.


That God is our Biggest Fan, because while he wants us to win, we have to do it.


GARY YORK:  With the same caveat, what are you trying to get the readers of I Met God to disbelieve?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  To disbelieve that life on earth is finite and that death is real.


To disbelieve that we don't have a real chance to win the brass ring.


To disbelieve that misery is our natural state and fate.


To disbelieve that the afterlife is an end to strife, growth, adventure, grief, and pleasure.


GARY YORK: Based on your experience, what do you think God wants people to do?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  To choose to do good rather than do evil.


To act rationally and benevolently. 


To be smart and think outside the box. 


To try to be as good at making excuses for those who screw us up as the excuses we make when we screw up ourselves; but that does not mean that we have to be tolerant of great evil or great fraud.


GARY YORK:  Based on your experience, what do you think God wants people to stop doing?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Stop killing in God's name.


Stop thinking that God cares more for land than he does for people.


Stop thinking that scripture puts a muzzle on God, and that your holy book is the last holy book and that your prophet was the last prophet and that your religion is the answer to everything.


Stop thinking that you get the kind of God that you want rather than the one who really exists.


Stop thinking that just because you can't understand how God could be real doesn't mean that other people don't have a better handle on it than you do.


GARY YORK:  Given the lack of personal revelation (such as yours), why should someone believe in God?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  They shouldn't, until they’re convinced.


GARY YORK:  Others have often held religious faith to be a virtue; it seems to be little more than believing in something because you want to believe in it.  On the face of it, this practice seems a massive violation of personal integrity.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  It depends on how you define the word "faith."


Rand usually used the word (and Heinlein did, too) to mean the acceptance of a fact without proof or other adequate reason. (Some things, being self-evident, don't require proof.) 


C.S. Lewis talked about faith in the sense of obstinacy in belief after already being convinced.


The first stage of faith, in my path, was "willing suspension of disbelief," on the theory that if I was living in a created universe, it would make sense to extend its author the same initial courtesy as the author of a novel I was reading -- or as Johnny Carson used to say about a joke, "You buy the premise, you buy the bit."


The act of faith I made was praying to God to see if he answered. When I started identifying the answers I was getting as being other than a conversation I was having with myself -- bicamerally or not -- I was more in a position of taking seriously the possibility that the person at the other end of the conversation was the person whose phone number I had dialed (so to speak).
From my current perspective, faith has nothing to do with an acceptance of something without proof or reason. I feel I have plenty of both. The problem is that I can't lend my experience to someone else because it's internal/subjective.


GARY YORK:  Given that one is already doing the right things and not doing wrong things and not believing wrong things, what's the benefit in believing in God?  How is that going to change anything?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  The last thing I think God wants is for anyone to believe in him if they think they shouldn't. But one of the things that I gleaned from my experience is that God can use just about anything to start up a conversation. A chess club works as well as a church, if that's the symbol structure you're used to. As to what’s the benefit to discovering a primary fact of reality, I think even Ayn Rand would argue the benefit of knowing the nature of existence, even if the truth is unexpected or personally discomfiting.


GARY YORK:  Does God care if we believe in him?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Well, it's hard to talk to someone when they're thinking, "I don't believe I'm hearing this." Disbelief is inconvenient for God.

GARY YORK: How might our belief advantage God? 


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  The advantage for God is like a parent who gets a call from a child who went away and never phones. But there is a point to God’s customary invisibility. Not knowing how we got here is an irritation that can stimulate pearls of wisdom.


GARY YORK:  Would that belief also advantage the individual?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Beyond being grounded in the truth, the upside is having God as a buddy, which I can tell you is way cool.


GARY YORK:  Does God care if we disbelieve in him? Is our disbelief detrimental to God or us?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Well, God's not going to stop existing or going about his business because you don't believe in him. As for the disadvantage to you, think of it this way. It's like not having Internet access.

GARY YORK: Given that personal revelation is somewhat rare, how is one expected to know God and God's will?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Once you're looking at the universe around you as an artifact that has a creator, one can deduce a great deal of the author's intent and personality by looking at the art. 


GARY YORK: Why do you think God chose you to communicate with?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Maybe God was sick of working with amateurs and I have a Writers Guild card?


Okay, more seriously.


I think God got particularly interested in me because while I was praying I started asking God questions he wasn't used to hearing, like, "Is there anything about yourself that you can't know?"  Most religious people don't seem to be interested in God, personally -- and of course the atheists are even harder for God to talk to. For example, I think it's hard to read the Bible and not feel sorry for God. I think God found it unusual that anyone was feeling sorry for him rather than blaming him for everything that goes wrong in their lives.


GARY YORK: That’s original. I never before heard it suggested that, to get God to answer your prayers, it’s helpful to make yourself into enough of a good conversationalist that God will take your call. Is that why you made God’s earthly avatar in Escape from Heaven a radio talk show host?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Jesus. H. Christ. I only spent a dozen years writing Escape from Heaven and I never thought of that! Just chalk it up to one more case of divine inspiration.


GARY YORK:  Surely a few thousand years of experience relying on holy scriptures, organized churches, and word-of-mouth transmittal has shown this to be a really, really poor technique for God to get his message out!  Even one with the leisure to dedicate his life to discovering "God's will" could easily end that life aged, forlorn, desolate and discouraged.  Granted that someone so dedicated would probably do little damage but it’s far from clear he'd do much good either.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Well, there's a bunch of things I could say here. Maybe God is biding his time until he reveals himself. Scripture promises a restored earth someday. Maybe the people God really needs to recruit are the ones he's getting through to by other means, and they just aren't blabbermouths about it the way I am.  Or maybe being on our own most of the time is the point of this experience. You can't grow up until you leave the nest.

GARY YORK:  How is one more voice, yours, "crying in the wilderness" supposed to help?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, I’m not in the wilderness, am I? I’m media savvy, can express myself effectively, and have spent years with teachers like Robert Heinlein and Ayn Rand developing my intellect, my imagination, and my communication skills. I think I am pretty well suited to the job I’ve been given. God is suffering not from underexposure so much as overexposure, and he doesn't need a new church as much as he needs a new publicity flack. I guess I see my mission essentially as giving God a PR makeover. It's as hard to live down bad publicity as to generate new publicity.


GARY YORK:  If God’s so powerful, why doesn’t everyone like him already?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Power has limited usefulness and tends to drive people of independent minds away, leaving the zombies who don’t like the hard work of thinking for themselves. Isn’t this what we’ve seen in every cult?


GARY YORK:  As a libertarian, I could get by for a very long while with one commandment:  "Thou shalt not coerce!"  Aren’t ten commandments really too many?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Actually, like the Bill of Rights, ten seems about right. And in Hebrew, it's not the ten "commandments." It's the ten "blessings."


GARY YORK: Is God entitled to use force to defend his own rights?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  God owns stuff and offers use of it under certain specified conditions. I think he has the right to defend his property from interlopers and enforce contracts made with him by withdrawing his protection when we fuck with him.

GARY YORK:  Well, "withdrawing his protection" is not at all equivalent to using force.  Full agreement on that. Did you have something else in mind?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Sure. What obligations does a child have to a father who loves him and has given him everything he has, and what may such a father rightfully do when that child uses force to break into the father's office, hacks into his private business and banking files without permission, steals from the father, screws things up not only for the father but for the rest of the family, and so forth?
Sound familiar? If this were a comic book, you could call this our origins story.


GARY YORK:  If we understood paranormal phenomena as well as we understand physical science, might we not become as gods?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Absolutely.


GARY YORK:  Isn’t that – hubris?  I thought God didn’t like competing Gods.


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Depends on what we mean by a god and what a god would do with it. God never says anywhere that he's the only god, and in fact -- by demanding that no other gods are placed before him -- acknowledges there are others whom he considers inferior to him. 


What makes God unique is that he was the Eternal even before the creation of other conscious souls. Before God began creation, existence and consciousness were two words for the same fact – Existence itself was conscious, and the only consciousness. But even God’s eternal consciousness evolved, because a living mind can learn and alter its views and opinions based on experience. Even God has a learning curve, and that’s what makes his consciousness ultimately of the same kind as our own.


Now, if God spun off parts of his own soul into “free spirits” – independent souls, each free spirit with its own independent will – then these created spirits have a beginning that starts with their new identity but, like God, can be eternal spirits from that point onward.  You can call these created spirits gods, angels, supermen, whatever – and this would be true even if they put on human bodies and lived for a time in a finite, closed-in universe as mortals.  And if, like God Eternal, we will have the power to create closed universes of our own -- or even planets with designed self-conscious life forms -- the word "god" would be descriptive and useful.
Now here's where I distinguish myself from Milton's concept of Satan, and from Nietzsche's concept of the superman/god.
When you live forever and have the powers of a god, one must adhere to a degree approaching perfection to a code of conduct that subordinates one's desires, goals, and actions to an understanding that the consequences are inescapable, last forever, and sooner or later must be accounted and paid for. With the powers of god comes the necessity for the wisdom and self-honesty of a god. The antics of the Greek pantheon won't cut it; they are portrayed as capricious and petty brats.
GARY YORK: Story idea?  The Greek pantheon (and a plethora of other gods) did exist and do and are walking around today being (with perhaps a rare exception) humans with bodies who think they're bodies.  Why?  'Cause God got tired of cleaning up after them and basically said, "That's it!  I'm finished playing janitor for you guys.  Come on back when you can rent a clue."
"And God waxed wroth with them and cast them down from the heavens, saying unto them, Be ye now subject to such as ye have wrought.  He made them bodies of stone and clay and bound them up with a terrible Geas that they might trouble the Earth no more.  Thus did He diminish them; in love and loneliness did He deliver them unto their fate."


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  That’s wonderful! And that may well have been a description of the angels/gods that needed the lesson of coming to earth, where our natural laws could give them a finite classroom/playground to learn a code of values suitable for an immortal. If "Thou Art God" then "Thou had best not screw up." Even the consequences of a Hitler, Mao, or Stalin are limited in scope because they were confined to one planet, one continuum, and the victims were not permanently destroyed. An immortal Hitler might be able to destroy self-conscious beings permanently, and God can't allow those sorts cruel and foolish gods to play in his eternity.


Further discussions with J. Neil Schulman:

   “I Met Ayn Rand”

   Escape from Heaven

   Lady Magdalene’s

   How to Talk to God

   Religious Dos and Don’ts



About the interviewer: Gary York lives in the Midwest, has a Master's in Computer Science, and occasionally takes a break from reading science-fiction to play at the piano or choke a guitar.


J. Neil Schulman Official Website

Lady Magdalene's Official Website

Escape from Heaven by J. Neil Schulman (book review) [Dec 2002]

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (book review) [May 2000]

Terry Goodkind - Interview with fantasy novelist and Objectivist [Aug 2003]


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