Ayn Rand Does NOT Support Christian Values

I find it extremely ironic to occasionally encounter Christians that laud atheist Ayn Rand, whose Objectionist philosophy was developed as a direct and scathing rebuttal not only to Socialism, but also to Christianity.

ayn-randI came across this article in Politico about the prevalence these days of all things Ayn Rand and I feel compelled to respond.  I don’t want to get into a big treatise about her philosophy of Objectivism here, nor do I really want to argue the various merits or follies of her beliefs or the influence she’s had on the American psyche since her “revolutionary” new ideas hit the scene in the early-to-mid 1900s.  I’m not really qualified to do so right now, and I’m too busy finishing up my 4th book to launch into the study it would require.  So, I’ll just speak briefly about what I can recollect of my personal impressions of her.

I read The Fountain Head and Atlas Shrugged when I was in the Peace Corps eight years ago.  I have to admit right off the bat that I LOVED the books.  They were awesome reads from the perspective of story and character.  I couldn’t put them down.  On the surface they were fun and inspirational, powerful and compelling.  Rand is a champion of the individual human spirit, and her protagonists’ rise to the top of the food chain within drab, stagnated regimes of repression and oppression are incredibly exciting.  Ayn Rand is a product of having grown up in Communist Russia, if I remember correctly, and her own journey to the U.S. (when 18?) and her rise to influence is a story that eerily mirrors the champions of her novels.  It’s not at all surprising that she would compare early 20th century Russia to the USA and come to the conclusion that it’s better to celebrate individualism over the common good.

But when I scratch under the surface of her Objectionist philosophy, and when I look at those two novels from a more analytical viewpoint, I become at best incredibly alarmed or, at worst, appalled.  In my opinion, she takes the celebration of individualism over the common good of the community to an extreme by suggesting that people are better off when they act and think for themselves at the express exclusion of considering others.

In general, this is clearly antithetical to Christian values and the message of the Gospels.

Indeed, her philosophy had never really existed before she espoused it, precisely because it fell so far out of the prevailing paradigm of social understanding, informed, in large part, by Christiandom.  By naming this idea and arguing it the context of Communism vs Capitalism and making it so entertaining and compelling in her novels, she gave countless people around the world permission and justification to be utterly selfish to a degree that had never before been permitted by the dictates of religious decency.

Before Rand lovers cry fowl I should address a major point:  (I think) she would argue that when a person strives for their fullest potential and fights tooth and nail for their own interests and success, that they inherently help society, and that this attitude, in the aggregate, lifts everyone up.

We’ve all been around the block enough times to see how this is true to an extent.  I HOPE that we’ve all been around the block enough to recognize that in its purest formulation, though, Objectivism has serious flaws from a stand point of social justice.  My principle criticism of Fountain Head, for example, is that she holds her protagonist up as this superhero of innovation and success without ever acknowledging in any way that while that works great for the Fords and the Trumps of the world, it doesn’t do a damn thing for everybody as a whole.  (Imagine a world in which EVERYONE was just as successful  and innovative as Donald Trump.  There’s just no room for it!)  She never addressed this concern to my satisfaction.

Again, there are entire institutions whose aim it is to debate and calibrate these ideas (The Rand Institute comes to mind).  I don’t want to get mired in that morass, here.  I’m simply trying to remind Christians that they tread on extremely precarious ground when they lean too heavily on the notion that you can best help others by being single-minded about your own success.  It is completely outside the context and spirit of Jesus’ teachings.  I’m reminded of Mathew 25, where Jesus runs down a long list of things that we should be doing for “the least” of our brothers and sisters.  There are countless biblical passages to point to that suggest Jesus advocates for caring for others, even–and sometimes especially–at our own personal expense.

Ayn Rand was a proud atheist who saw concern for others as a weakness brought on by a silly preoccupation for the afterlife.  She had no patience for those that advocated for and served others.  Her philosophy is clearly at odds with the very fabric of Christianity.

That is why I find it absurd to see so many “Tea Partiers” holding up her name with pride as they go about their business of protesting the Government. (From the Politico article linked above:)

Tea party protesters hoisted signs reading “Ayn Rand was right” and “Who is John Galt?” at the Sept. 12 taxpayer march.  …South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) penned a piece on Rand’s newfound relevance for Newsweek.

To be sure, there are probably many Tea Partiers who are not Christian at all, but there are countless examples of Christians who praise the merits of Ayn Rand.  I personally know of some.  And in fact, in the Politico article quoted above, Mark Sanford, the disgraced Governor of South Carolina (hardly a model Christian, I know) is a fan of Rand.

Most Christians, I suspect, who really understood that Ayn Rand developed her philosophy of Objectivism as a rebuttal to Christ’s very ethos, would never hold up a sign that says, “Ayn Rand was right.”

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3 Responses to “Ayn Rand Does NOT Support Christian Values”

  1. There are few things that drive me nuts faster than a moralizing fiction writer–and Ayn Rand is right at the top. The mystery of the moment is, who is feeding Ayn Rand to these second-tier politicians and “activists”? I don’t think many Tea Party protesters have read as much Rand as you have. And I would bet an all-expenses-paid trip to Buenos Aires that Mark Sanford couldn’t summarize the plot of one of her books if you gave him an open-Wikipedia quiz.

  2. Clare Aslan Says:

    I just wanted to note that I, too, found Rand’s books (particularly Atlas Shrugged) captivating when I read them. However, it is after the read, when the adrenaline has settled, that the unsettling views espoused in the books come home to roost and I found myself cringing as I considered their implications. In Rand’s worlds, people who give thought to the good of anyone other than themselves are weak, cowardly, and generally despicable. Her protagonists, on the other hand, are completely devoted to their own ambitions. If everyone acted this way, she argues, a utopia would result, in which all members are simultaneously striving ever upward and lifting the world along the way. However, this viewpoint completely fails to acknowledge the reality of our world that not everyone starts at the same place. This is the reality that so many on the far ends of both political spectra wish to ignore, but it is the truth that we cannot avoid if we spend any time at all traveling the world or living amongst those with different educational or economic origins. Since so many people start with such disadvantages, the idea is laughable that they could succeed if they only devoted themselves wholly to their ambitions and ignored the needs of others. This is idealism, just as surely as are the philosophies underlying Communism itself.

  3. Her world is intoxicating for a moment when you first enter. Later I just wanted to wash off everything about that world that touched me even a little bit. It was that bad.

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