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Should “Atlas Shrug”?

 

A Brief Christian Response to Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Philosophy

 

By Eric V. Snow

 

“Who is John Galt”?  Well then, correspondingly, just who is Ayn Rand?  What is Objectivism?  How should Christians respond to Rand’s unique brand of atheism?  By advocating laissez-faire capitalism and by attacking altruism, she certainly poses a different kind of threat than (say) Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris.  Since the film “Atlas Shrugged Part 1” is now hitting America’s movie theaters, it’s timely for Christians to review some of the fundamental errors in Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy.  Although her philosophy is indeed correct in certain limited areas of epistemology, metaphysics, and (astonishingly) even ethics, Objectivism is wrong to deny God’s existence, the Bible as God’s revelation to mankind, and the duty for voluntary self-sacrifice to God and the poor.  

 

          Building upon the philosophy proclaimed in the 1943 novel “The Fountainhead” about the career struggles and ultimate success of the architect Howard Roark, Ayn Rand, the Russian-American philosophical novelist (1905-82), published the novel “Atlas Shrugged” in 1957.  Its basic plot describes the worldwide and especially American economic collapse that results from a “strike” by the productive rich businessmen and other innovators in society.  Much like the approach of her countryman Dostoevsky in “The Brothers Karamazov,” “Atlas Shrugged” lays out the author’s philosophical position through the characters’ actions, dialogs, and speeches.  Although it states an overall intellectual position much more completely than “The Fountainhead” did, it’s less successful as a novel since its characters’ development and actions are so subordinated to proclaiming a message.  Despite its happy ending, the novel also has a generally pessimistic, depressing air as it describes in such detail for so many pages the world’s and especially America’s general economic decline and collapse as various wrong-headed laws and regulations are implemented and more of the productive rich and capable go on strike.   Although a full review of Ayn Rand’s philosophy from an intellectual Christian perspective would require a book that rivals the length of “Altas Shrugged,” this essay will only hit upon a few obvious errors and limitations in Rand’s philosophy.  However, it’s necessary to give the devil his due when he’s right:  In certain areas, Ayn Rand’s philosophy is much more correct than the skeptical, subjectivist secular philosophy that reigns in our culture today, which is largely traceable back to the Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776).  (Corresponding to her original Russian nationality, Ayn Rand focused so much more of her fire upon the Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) than upon Hume.  But in the English-speaking world, Hume is surely more influential overall, especially when considering that so often Kant’s philosophy took Hume’s positions as his starting point.  He’s been called the “Prussian Hume” for good reason.  Hume also was a better writer than Kant, which surely promoted his influence among those who can read English).  It’s a major error for Christians to try to refute atheism by attacking human reason broadly, such as found in Dinesh D’Souza’s “What’s So Great About Christianity.”  Christianity isn’t proven to be true by (say) tearing down the metaphysical reliability of the law of cause and effect, as G.K. Chesterton did when attacking this foundational law of science by using Hume’s own reasoning.  Human reason has its place, just as sex does, but we need to keep both from jumping the tracks that mark God’s will for us, which is His law as revealed by Scripture.

 

Ayn Rand’s most fundamental error is to assume the truth of the broader skeptical culture concerning the arguments for God’s existence and the Bible’s historical accuracy.  She spends an enormous amount of effort in attacking Christian ethics, as it proclaims the need to sacrifice ourselves to help the weak and to serve God, and the place of suffering in serving a useful purpose (as Christians believe) in strengthening our character.  But she hardly ever felt the need to refute the traditional proofs for God’s existence.   Apparently she knew nothing about the standard evidence for a rational faith in the Bible as a revelation from an almighty God based upon archeological discoveries, its historical accuracy, and fulfilled prophecies.  I would publicly challenge any Objectivist to refute in detail, page by page, even my own essay that reviews such evidence, which is posted on the apologetics page of this Web site:  http://www.lionofjudah1.org/Apologeticshtml/Is the Bible the Word of God.htm  How much do those advocating Objectivism know about such writers as C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, Henry Morris, Duane Gish, J.P. Moreland, Francis Schaeffer, Phillip E. Johnson, R.C. Sproul, Norman Giesler, Gleason Archer, etc.?   How much of the Objectivist position is based upon simple raw ignorance of Christian apologetics?  Could even the likes of Dr. Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand’s intellectual and literary heir, be stunned and lose if had to debate publicly the likes of Dr. Duane Gish about the theory of evolution’s scientific merits?

 

Ironically, Rand took for granted the religious foundation left her from David Hume and Immanuel Kant, that Western philosophy had refuted natural theology in the Thomist mold (as based in principle upon Romans 1:19-21).  She accepted the conclusions of her philosophical archenemy, Kant in “The Critique of Pure Reason,” who refuted (to the reigning culture’s satisfaction) the three traditional arguments (the ontological, the cosmological, and the teleological, based on design) for God’s existence.  (The true philosophical antipode to Kant is the medieval theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274), who used Greek reason to help support the Christian faith.  It’s no coincidence, as Western culture has increasingly rejected medieval scholasticism’s general synthesis reason and faith, that it has become both more irreligious and less rational in the past three centuries).  For someone who supposedly thought through her intellectual foundation to the nth degree, she knew astonishingly so little about the theory of evolution, despite it’s our civilization’s reigning myth for refuting the argument from design.  “Darwin’s Black Box,” by Michael Behe, which it analyzes irreducible biological complexity using an ingenious “mousetrap” analogy, demonstrates that the argument from design is still a live issue.  Contrary to Darwinism’s advocates, updated versions of William Paley’s argument from design based upon finding a watch on a beach is still fully intellectually credible.  Although her truly fanatical atheism utterly depends upon the truth of this metaphysical construct that masquerades as a scientific theory, she admitted (“Philosophy:  Who Needs It,” p. 45):  “I am not a student of the theory of evolution and, therefore, I am neither its supporter nor its opponent.”  One of Objectivism’s most fundamental weaknesses comes from assuming the truth of the general secular culture’s skepticism about the rationality of faith in God and the Bible as His revelation.

 

Objectivism also describes even the high Middle Ages (c. 1050 to 1300) using the crudest kind of Enlightenment-era historical bias.  Ironically, Aristotle had more intellectual influence than Plato when Scholasticism was at its height than during the Renaissance.   It’s not accurate to claim that the Medievals, including even someone like Augustine, told men “to reject their mind as an impotent tool” (“For the New Intellectual,” p. 24).  Admitting the limits of human reason isn’t the same as claiming it to be completely useless.  Clearly enough, Roman Catholicism upheld all sorts of entrenched doctrinal errors based upon tradition that required the Protestant Reformers Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli to start to clean up as they turned to the Bible as the ultimate source of authority.  Catholicism also plainly spilled a lot of blood during the wars of religion it promoted against the Muslims and various religious dissidents.  It unleashed the Inquisition against suspected heretics in its midst.  But in response, note that Dinesh D’Souza’s “What’s So Great About Christianity” usefully recounts how the Medieval church atrocities spilled far less blood than the godless Communists did historically.  The Medieval church was a piker compared to Stalin, Mao, and Hitler, despite it had far more centuries to deceive and oppress people than the 20th century’s totalitarians had. 

 

Furthermore, the church eventually nurtured in its universities a core of intellectuals who provided the foundation for the scientific revolution and the Renaissance.  After all, in what civilization did modern science first arise?  It wasn’t in China, India, or Islam, despite their generally greater wealth and political stability/unity.  The Medieval Muslim philosophers never managed to break clearly with Aristotle’s awesome authority intellectually so as to point out his scientific errors.  Islam’s leading theologians fell into a nearly blind rejection of Aristotle and belief in objective scientific law.  But even before the time of Galileo, the West’s scholars eventually managed to figure out a way to accept where Aristotle was right while also pointing out to where he was wrong.  After all, from where did da Vinci and Galileo get many of their ideas, such as about physics?  It wasn’t merely Aristotle’s Organon.  Look back to whom they built upon in their writings, to their 14th-century predecessors at the University of Paris, especially Buridan and Oresme.  To dismiss such men who advanced physics beyond its ancient classical foundation as mere “witch doctors” simply isn’t credible, except among those who remain unaware about the historical research of Stanley Jaki and Pierre Duhem into Medieval science.  How Christianity's concept of the rationality of God was tied to the rise of science in the West is best stated by the English philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947):

 

“I do not think, however, that I have even yet brought out the greatest contribution of medievalism to the formation of the scientific movement.  I mean the inexpungable belief that every detailed occurrence can be correlated with its antecedents in a perfectly definite manner, exemplifying general principles. . . . When we compare this tone of thought in Europe with the attitude of other civilisations when left to themselves, there seems but one source for its origin.  It must come from the medieval insistence on the rationality of God, conceived as with the personal energy of Jehovah and with the rationality of a Greek philosopher.  Every detail was supervised and ordered:  the search could only result in the vindication of the faith in rationality.”

 

For historical evidence about how Christian belief aided instead of retarded the development of modern science, see the books of Stanley Jaki, the Catholic philosopher of science, such as “The Savior of Science,” “The Origin of Science and the Science of Its Origin,” “Science and Creation:  From Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe.” The researcher in this matter was Pierre Duhem, who discovered the influence of the late Medieval scholars Oresme and Buridan on the development of physics in the hands of such renown men as Galileo and da Vinci.  Unfortunately, his  encyclopedic work “Le System Du Monde” is only available in French and isn’t readily accessible to most people even if it had been translated into English.  I also have written a long essay on this subject, which includes many references for further research:  http://lionofjudah1.org/Apologeticshtml/Is%20Christianity%20a%20Cause%20of%20Science.htm  For a much shorter summary version that the Institute for Creation Research published, click here:  https://www.icr.org/article/christianity-cause-modern-science

 

Likewise, the claim that educated people in Europe thought the world was flat can easily be refuted from the pages of Thomas Aquinas’ “Summa Theologica”:  They had no need for Columbus to prove the world was round in order to believe that it was, which is an easily exploded historical myth.  The late Medieval period can’t be merely dismissed as the preserve of obscurantism, dogmatism, and bloodshed.

 

Most importantly, Objectivism supplies no solution to why could be called mankind’s “existential dilemma.”  That is, we are all alive now, but know we will all die one day.  So then, what will we do about it?  Can we find a way to escape death and live forever?  If so, how?  The Bible reveals a solution, by accepting Jesus as personal Savior, so that after we die, we will be resurrected to glory (or translated, as the case may be, should we be alive when Jesus returns). After all, Jesus died, and then returned from the dead.  He experienced death, and then came back from it.  He is the resurrection and the bread of life.  If He hadn’t actually miraculously risen from the dead, the behavior of His earliest disciples wouldn’t have been transformed from dejected, cowardly fear (during which Peter denied his Savior three times) into indomitable lions who faced large crowds and publicly challenged their nation’s leadership for crucifying the Messiah.  Hence, the reports of Jesus’ resurrection are historically reliable.  If the Bible is what it says it is, then Christians are offered eternal life.  It has a solution to death, but Rand’s philosophy doesn’t.  At best, assuming it was fully right, it only makes the lives of its adherents more pleasant before the grave overtakes them.  Unlike Christianity, Objectivism offers its adherents only death.

 

A key flaw of Rand’s metaphysical perspective stems from her refusal to see how superficial and temporary man’s life on earth is from the viewpoint of the universe.  For example, she has Dominique Francon tell her second husband Gail Wynand (“The Fountainhead,” p. 447), “May I name another vicious bromide you’ve never felt? . . . You’ve never felt how small you were when looking at the ocean.”  The natural world is a visible witness of how puny and insignificant mankind is by comparison with the God who made it all. We’re mere mortal creatures made from the dust doomed from conception to return to dust.  We’re just mayflies living fleetingly on one bluish dust speck from the viewpoint of the (supposed) billions of years and trillions of galaxies that compose the universe.  As James observed (4:14):  “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.  You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”  From the eternal almighty God’s perspective (Isaiah 40:15):  “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales.”  So given the bible’s or even secular science’s viewpoint of man’s place in the universe, it’s simply realistic and practical for men to have (“The Fountainhead,” p. 447)  “that idea of feeling small before nature.”  Wynand objects to this line of reasoning (p. 448):  “Have you noticed how self-righteous a man sounds when he tells you about it?  Look, he seems to say, I’m so glad to be a pygmy, that’s how virtuous I am.”  Sure, self-righteousness is a sin, but the motive of some being moral show-offs doesn’t change the intrinsic, essential situation that man is in, of being a sinner made of flesh who is doomed to die if he isn’t delivered from death by faith in God.  The presumptuous pride Rand promotes in men for being men is patently metaphysically absurd in this light.  In this context, consider the challenges Jehovah issued to Job out of the whirlwind (Job 38-41) about the natural world’s wonders and its construction.  Today we are hardly in any better position to answer the Eternal’s questions than Job was despite all the advances of scientific knowledge over the (perhaps) past 4000 or more years since then.  The most reasonable response is Job’s once we have such knowledge (42:2-3, 5-6):  “I know that Thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted.  Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand. . . . I have heard of Thee by the haring of the ear; but now  my eye sees Thee.  Therefore, I retract and I repent in dust and ashes.”  Once we human beings realize our intrinsically limited lifespan and importance in the great scheme of things, it’s perfectly reasonable for us to turn to God for deliverance from the limitation of mortality and insignificance.  Here Wynand simply doesn’t reflect deeply enough upon our real metaphysical position in the universe by asking (p. 448):  “What is it they fear?  What is it they hate so much, those who love to crawl?  And why?”  In humanity, to allude to a statement traditionally attributed to Pascal, there is a God-shaped vacuum in every heart.  We’re made to serve and worship God, but our evil human nature and physical desires for pleasures we can have in the here-and-now distracts us from realizing how we can truly have joy in our lives by serving a God and a cause far greater than ourselves. 

 

Furthermore, man’s evil nature under the sway of Satan chronically leads to much of the world’s misery and pain, including war, poverty, ignorance, and bad health.  As a result, even such great achievements as the New York skyline could be vaporized in an instant by an atomic bomb.  Man’s technology, the product of his reason, is a two-edged sword that cuts both ways:  The same skills used to make cars can be used to make tanks, the same talents used to take X-rays can be used to produce nuclear warfare.  Instead of promoting man’s well-being and life, man’s reason can be used to injure and destroy.  By accepting the truth of Scripture, the human heart can be increasingly healed from sinful tendencies that lead to so many of these trials, tribulations, and troubles. 

 

Let’s commend Ayn Rand for believing morality is absolute, which she argued for in her essay, “The Cult of Moral Grayness” in her collection of essays, “The Virtue of Selfishness:  A New Concept of Egoism.”  So far as it goes, she’s right to find a basis for values in man’s relationship with nature, that indeed “ought” can be derived from “is.”  As she explains (her emphasis, p. 17):  “An organism’s life is its standard of value:  that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil. . . . Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality.  The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do.”  However, Objectivism falls short by not discovering that the values that man needs for a rational life (including a rational happiness, not just mere survival) in relationship to the world that are only there because God built them into nature and set up that relationship.  (Objectivism plainly agrees with the spirit of the 19th-century British philosopher John Stuart Mill’s statement that it’s better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied since not all pleasures or means of survival are commensurate or morally equal).  It’s for this reason that the pagan gentiles, who knew nothing about God’s word, could still obey some of its dictates, based upon their human reason and psychological needs (Romans 2:14-15): 

 

“When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them.”

 

Most importantly, Objectivist morality emphasizes justice at the grave expense of mercy, which Christianity unites through the sacrificial atoning sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross.  It’s a major reason why so many objectivists in the “Ayn Rand cult” of New York in the 1960s were so often generally unhappy people:  They would condemn others as well as themselves, and find no way to get forgiveness for the inevitable moral faults that they felt they committed according to their own absolute moral code.  They were like atheistic self-righteous Pharisees who would judge and condemn others for their faults based on the Objectivist moral code instead of the Torah and the Mishnah (traditional oral law).  The truth of Scripture is a relief by comparison (James 1:13):  “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”  The same writer in the same verse, however, also warns:  “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy.”  Ayn Rand herself routinely showed no mercy towards friends and associates who deviated from the Objectivist party line in any significant detail in the 1960s and 1970s, not realizing how much misery she was making for others and inflicting even upon herself by constantly breaking off relationships with others.  In this context, it’s worth pointing out that to have unconditional love for someone need not lead to condoning or ignoring their sins or moral faults, much as God loves the human race, but wants us to have faith and repent before we can have the gift of eternal life.  Love must be tough (cf. Hebrews 12:5-11), not mere squishy “kindness” as C.S. Lewis defined it in “The Problem of Pain.”   True love seeks the improvement of the one so loved, not merely the removal of his, her, or its pain.  This is the trap that Ellsworth Toohey lures Peter Keating into when speaking (“The Fountainhead,” p. 293):  “‘Kindness.  That is the first commandment, perhaps the only one. . . . We must be kind, peter, to everyone around us.  We must accept and forgive.”  However, much as God loves us but demands everything of us before ultimately rewarding us with even more than we can imagine spiritually, we can’t always be nice to others when they sin, since if we condone sin, we help perpetuate it.  It’s better to challenge (say) an alcoholic to repent than to keep comforting him in his miserable condition.  As it is written (Proverbs 27:5):  “Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed.” 

 

Are human beings born into this world with no duties towards their Creator or others?  Atheists and agnostics naturally assume there aren’t any towards God, even as they inconsistently endless carp and complain about God’s supposed failure to end the pain and misery in the world.  That is, they don’t feel any responsibility to obey God, which would end a lot of those evils, even as they feel God has a responsibility to them.  If there is no supernatural revelation, such as the bible’s, then this perspective makes some philosophical sense.  But if there is such revelation, and the revelation says that (well) we owe God a lot, then this kind of reasoning collapses.  Consider in this light the mentality of the character Gail Wynand in “The Fountainhead,” when he reasons (p. 550):  “If it were true, that old legend about appearing before a supreme judge and naming one’s record, I would offer, with all of my pride, not any act I committed, but one thing I have never done on this earth:  that I never sought an outside sanction.”  Notice this perspective’s astonishing level of defiance proclaimed, since it assumes that a creature never owes anything to its Creator.  It also claims that we can just make up whatever moral code we want on our own, whether it be based on reason, tradition, or emotion.   But if the bible is true when it says, “All men sin and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and “For the wages sin pays is death” (Romans 6:23), we had better look for a solution to this essential, unavoidable problem of our existence.  The Creator morally has us in His crosshairs with His finger on the hair trigger.  Only by having faith in God’s Son the Savior (John 3:16, 18) do we humans get the privilege of having that gun of eternal death turned away from us.  Furthermore, the Creator gets to define the terms of the deal, not us; we just get to choose the benefits if we accept it, and what the consequences are if we choose to reject it.  As Moses told ancient Israel before entering the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 30:19):  “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.  So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants.”  In addition, the self-assertion of a creature’s superiority against other creatures and against God is called “pride.”  Besides stirring up much strife and conflict among men, it also renders a man ridiculous in God’s sight, much as Job appeared when Jehovah confronted him out of the whirlwind.

 

Ayn Rand was keen about the problems inherent in pursuing a good reputation or popularity with other people when such opinions are so ephemeral and slippery.  People’s opinions of others can be so easily distorted for bad reasons, including the maliciousness and enviousness of others.  Furthermore, to find out who is responsible for one’s unfairly poor reputation is nearly impossible to find or trace; it’s a headless monster.  She has Dominique Francon, who marries successively three of the leading male characters of “The Fountainhead,” cynically tell her first husband, Peter Keating, who is obsessed with his image in other people’s minds (p. 425):  “But you have to flatter people whom you despise in order to impress other people who despise you.” Rand’s novels serve as a warning against conformity for the sake of conformity alone.  Her deeper insights into this problem make her work generally superior to that of Sinclair Lewis, who also dealt with the problem of conformity to social pressures in such novels as “Main Street,” “Babbit,” and “Arrowsmith.”  Indeed, a most interesting extended literary comparison could be made between “The Fountainhead” and “Arrowsmith.”  It would be worth considering whether the latter novel had some influence on the former.  (In the same light would be to compare the descriptions of the respective rape scenes of “Gone with the Wind” and “The Fountainhead,” although the latter was plainly by implied invitation.  Furthermore, to a degree like G.K. Chesterton, Rand was fond of paradoxes at times, and indulges in them frequently when describing her characters’ actions and thoughts, which we see with the sadomasochistic aspects of Roark’s sexual relationship with Dominique Francon).

 

Despite being an atheist, Ayn Rand is to be praised for never complaining about the problem of evil:  She never morally condemns God for giving humanity free will.  Indeed, she denied the spirit of most of her fellow atheists and agnostics by optimistically upholding what she called the benevolent universe premise, that pain need not be an intrinsic, fundamental part of mankind’s relationship to the universe.  Since death and much pain from bad health simply can’t be avoided in this life before Jesus’ return, she was unduly optimistic.  As it is written, it’s appointed once for all men to die (Hebrews 9:27).  Rand’s follower, Robert Hessen, fails to realize this when writing, “The misery in which women lived before capitalism, might have made them cherish the New Testament injunction:  ‘Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world.’  But the productive splendor of capitalism vanquished that view” (“Capitalism the Unknown Ideal,” p. 117).  But does materialism ever fully satisfy us?  Does having modern luxuries solve the problems of death, bad family relationships, and even much bad health?  Does having indoor plumbing fix bad marriages?  Does having electricity ultimately prevent death?  However, there’s some Scriptural foundation ironically Rand’s optimism:  Revelation 21:4 shows that evil is indeed a temporary intruder in the universe.  After having served its ultimate purpose, the evil that entered the world when Satan rebelled and when Adam and Eve sinned will one day be banished by the power of God.  Because Objectivism upholds a code of moral absolutes that it attempts to objectively derive from nature and mankind’s relationship with it, it parts company from most atheists and agnostics, who opportunistically attack God for allowing evil despite they also deny evil exists based upon moral relativism.  (Of course, if one believes nothing is immoral, then it would be consistent to believe it’s fine for God to allow anything and everything “bad” to happen.  If it’s always immoral to judge and condemn others, then it’s also immoral to judge and condemn God for anything He does or doesn’t do).  In this regard, Objectivism isn’t totally wrong, but definitely falls short, by properly but selectively perceiving how life need not be miserable all the time, but it passes over how inevitably we’ll all grow sick and die, even if we’ve all lived rational lives by its moral code. 

 

Rand was gravely wrong to confuse the sacrifice of physical values with the sacrifice of one’s moral beliefs.  For some reason, she assumes that altruism requires not the giving of some money to the poor or quality time to the disadvantaged, but the forfeiture of fundamental beliefs when it would be dishonest to do so.  In effect, altruism preaches a duty to lie and to deny reality in her viewpoint.  In his confessional speech to the mediocre, copycat architect Peter Keating, the leading villain of “The Fountainhead,” Ellsworth Toohey proclaims this perverse reasoning, which isn’t at all biblical or truly Christian (p. 636):  “Since the supreme ideal [of altruism] is beyond his [mankind’s] grasp, he give up eventually all ideals, all aspiration, all sense of his personal value.”  Similarly, she has Gail Wynand, the corrupt newspaper publisher, proclaim when he’s trying to overcome a lifetime of selling out his integrity for power and money (p. 625):

 

“Is sacrifice a virtue?  Can a man sacrifice his  integrity?  His honor?  His freedom?  His ideal?  His convictions?  The honesty of his feelings?  The independence of his thought?  But these are a man’s supreme possessions.  Anything he gives up for them is not a sacrifice but an easy bargain.  They, however, are above sacrificing to any acuse of consideration to any cause of consideration whatsoever.  Should we not, then, stop preaching dangerous and vicious nonsense?  Self-sacrifice?”  

 

When a Christian martyr chooses to die instead of denying Christ, as has happened so often in history, that’s no different in spirit than Howard Roark’s decision to choose to work in a quarry rather than build a large skyscraper that incorporated compromises in design that he deemed unacceptable.  The sincere Christian simply believes that his relationship with his Savior, which is founded on specific beliefs about Him, should never be publicly denied, even at the expense of his continued life.  For example, Polycarp, whom Rome martyred around 155 A.D. when he was 86 years old, reasoned with the official interviewing him: "How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? You threaten me with a fire that burns for a season, and after a little while is quenched; but you are ignorant of the fire of everlasting punishment that is prepared for the wicked."  For those Christians who could have worshiped Caesar, and then saved their physical lives, that would be a betrayal like John Galt’s choosing to stop striking to please his torturers in order to avoid the pain of the electric shocks administered to him near the end of the novel “Atlas Shrugged.”

 

Let’s examine further this concept that altruism somehow requires people to give up their fundamental beliefs.  Is this a biblical concept?  It clearly isn’t.  Rand has set up a straw man and knocked it down, at least from a conservative Christian viewpoint.  Let’s give a concrete example of a command to help the poor as found in the Torah (Deuteronomy 15:7-8):  “If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother [i.e., countryman]; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.”  Does giving up some money to help the poor require anyone to sacrifice their fundamental religious beliefs?  Clearly not. The Bible is full of commands that Jews and later Christians should never compromise on their worship of the true God by worshiping other gods.  Unlike the gods of pagan faiths that surrounded ancient Israel, Yahweh was utterly insistent upon mankind’s exclusive devotion to Him and Him only.  According to the First Commandment, He is  a “jealous God” (Exodus 20:5) who is utterly intolerant of any worship of or service to other gods.  As a result of these commands, conservative Christians (and Jews) who really believe the bible (or Tanakh) is the infallible, inerrant word of God will not compromise or bend on their fundamental beliefs for any reason.  There’s no reason why giving up X percentage of our income to help the poor or others in need would cause us to give up our belief in Jesus as the Savior of the world and God as its Creator.    

 

When Ellsworth Toohey, the intellectual collectivist and chief villain of the “The Fountainhead” explains altruism to his somewhat perplexed and unhappy niece, he uses exaggerated descriptive terms that are reminiscent of a Buddhist perspective, not a Christian one:  “You must stop wanting anything.  You must forget how important Miss Catherine Halsey is. . . . Why make such a cosmic tragedy out of the fact that you’ve found yourself feeling cruel toward people [while working as a social worker for the poor]. . . .  You must be willing to suffer, to be cruel, to be dishonest, to be unclean—anything, my dear, anything to kill the most stubborn of roots, the ego.  And only when it is dead, when you care no longer, when you have lost your identity and forgotten the name of your soul—only then will you know the kind of happiness I spoke about, and the gates of spiritual grandeur will fall open before you.”  (Rand’s emphasis, p. 365, 1971 New American Library version).  In the Christian perspective, what makes man matter is that God cares.  If God didn’t care about mankind in general, and each individual soul in particular, as demonstrated by the awesomely terrifying voluntary sacrifice of God on a couple of pieces of wood at the hands of His creatures, our lives would matter no more than those of dogs, cats, rats, and bedbugs.  Our mortal lives, by their very nature, are as superficial and temporary as the mayflies and butterflies that live for a few hours, days, or weeks.  But because Jesus died for us, each individual ever born matters to God.  The problem isn’t the individual nature of the human race, but how we react to it.  If we love God above all and our fellow men as ourselves, as per the two great commandments, then our motivation will be correct.  Furthermore, the end doesn’t justify the means, since Christianity is a system of moral absolutes.  So Christians should never be cruel or dishonest in fighting their own personal individual moral flaws or those of other people.  Clearly, the passivity encouraged her by Toohey is clearly much more like that of Buddhism and Hinduism, including the idea of losing and forgetting one’s identity.  Unlike the Hindu perspective, in which the goal is to gain an ultimate end to the suffering of the birth/death/reincarnation/transmigration lifecycle by being absorbed into brahma, Christians have souls that will always have a personal identity that’s separate from God’s.  We must reject the pantheistic, “All is one, God is all” viewpoint, which logically leads to the idea of the extinguishing of each individual’s identity and sense of consciousness that’s separate from others. 

 

Notice that in the Christian perspective righteousness and ultimately happiness are gained by believers even in this life as they embrace God, including His Son Jesus.  God isn’t a giant Killjoy desperately seeking to make human beings miserable by imposing His law on them.  If we obey the Ten Commandments, we would be much happier than if we don’t.  To march through the last five of these commandments for some examples, if no one murdered other people, or stole from them, or committed adultery, or lied, or wrongly desired someone else’s possessions, we would all be much better off.  Because God loves us, His law is given to us to help us, not to hurt us, including in this life, not just the next life.  So if we feel chronically unhappy and alienated, such as the character Gail Wynand, the wealthy, powerful, ruthless newspaper chain owner, appears when he is meditating upon suicide (“The Fountainhead,” pp. 391, 416), we should examine how much sin, which is the rejection of God’s will for our lives as described by His law, is the source of our trouble.  Happiness often comes, as has been observed by many, when it is pursued indirectly, not directly.  Playboys are seldom truly happy, even as they have virtually unlimited budgets and time to pursue fleeting pleasures.  People who have a purpose or cause above their own personal material concerns are much more likely to feel their lives have meaning and thus feel contented.  To allude to a statement traditionally attributed to the French scientist Blaise Pascal, in every human heart there is a God-shaped vacuum seeking to be filled.  In the case of Christianity, since it is a religious worldview that’s most compatible with the nature of mankind, it will produce the most contentment and even joy in the long term when sincerely believed and actually practiced even when trials, tests, and tribulations inevitably appear in life.

 

The practice and definition of “love” advanced in “The Fountainhead” doesn’t fit the Christian perspective, which is based on the two great commandments (Matthew 22:36-38).  If a Christian is to love his neighbor as himself (Leviticus 19:18), then he shouldn’t show partiality either way, regardless of the behavior of others.  This is the foundation for Christ’s teaching that Christians should love their enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) as God Himself does, not just their friends.  In the case of Ellsworth Toohey’s mother, she perversely loved her healthy daughter less than her sickly son (“The Fountainhead,” p. 295):  “The girl was so obviously more deserving of love that it seemed just to deny it to her.”  To attend to the narrow point first, a Christian parent should aim to love all of his or her children equally, which means to have an outgoing concern for their well-being.  The Book of Genesis is full of the family troubles provoked when parents played favorites, such as Isaac and Rebekah with Esau and Jacob, and in turn Jacob with Joseph.  And as many today can attest from personal experience, parental favoritism still leaves behind it a devastating emotional and psychological toll in many cases.  But to make the broader point, since Christians are to become like God in character (Matthew 5:48), we should have an outgoing concern for everyone while avoiding partiality (James 1:1-4).  So although Christians shouldn’t love the more lovable more than the less lovable, they shouldn’t fail to love them either, as Ellsworth Toohey’s mother did.

 

Rand also routinely described altruism in exaggerated terms that assumed it had to incorporate the use of force to accomplish its objectives, such as in her definition of socialism’s goals in “For the New Intellectual” (her emphasis, p. 43):  “Socialism is the doctrine that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that his life and his work do not belong to him, but belong to society, that the only justification of his existence is his service to society, and that society man dispose of him in any way it pleases for the sake of whatever it deems to be its own tribal collective good.”  But true Christianity follows the spirit of the Sermon of the Mount:  If Christians are really supposed to be pacifists and to turn the cheek, they obviously shouldn’t be forcing people to care for the poor in violation of the eighth commandment.  An officer of the Salvation Army who robbed people door to door in order to really help the poor is plainly acting immorally:  The end doesn’t justify the means.  If we say altruism should always be voluntary, at least on this side of the millennium, so many of Rand’s objections fall to the ground.  Consider this exaggeration, from the same book, p. 54:  “The primordial morality of altruism, with its consequences of slavery, brute force, stagnant terror, and sacrificial furnaces.”  How does the Salvation Army’s voluntarily helping the worthy poor to not starve in the streets necessarily cause the kinds of miseries unleashed by Communist and Fascist dictators? 

 

Another deep error of Rand’s philosophy is to see altruism as merely a moral weapon used against the independent creators to subordinate and to enslave them.  For example, Roark says in his defense during his trial for having blown up the public housing project called Corlandt because its builders didn’t follow his exact design (“The Fountainhead,” p. 684): 

 

“From the beginning of history, the two antagonists have stood face to face:  the creator and the second-hander.  When the first creator invented the wheel, the first second-hander responded.  He invented altruism.  The creator—denied, opposed, persecuted, exploited—went on, moved forward and carried all humanity along on his energy.  The second-hander contributed nothing to the process except the impediments.  The contest has another name:  The individual against the collective.” 

 

However, when we view almost all of history, in almost all civilizations and major cultures, the elite normally did little to nothing to earn their positions.  (Sure, some partial exceptions arose, such as China’s system of selecting its civil servants by their ability to pass tests based largely on their rote memorization and interpretation of their literary classics).  People were born into the positions that they later occupied, whether they became slaves, serfs, artisans, soldiers, aristocrats, or kings.  Social mobility was nearly zero, especially within the same generation for the same individuals.  One of the most provocative assertions of W.H. McNeil in his general history of humanity “The Rise of the West” concerns the necessity of an elite to be exploitative in order for a high culture to exist (p. 313):  “[The] limitations of ancient technology made civilization very costly.  Only when many toiled and suffered deprivation could a privileged few have the leisure and ease needful for the creation and maintenance of high culture.”  That is, most of the difference between the rulers and ruled was due to accidents of birth, not merit.  Their condition of superior education and polished culture was ultimately based upon involuntary expropriation in the form of taxes, tribute, labor services, etc. from the rude, crude, ignorant slaves, serfs, and/or peasants who composed 90% or more of most civilizations’ people. Therefore, to ask the members of the ruling class to aspire to a system of self-sacrificing paternalism that was less exploitive and more kind to those they controlled by mere happenstance of birth is perfectly reasonable.  To ask a landed aristocracy to give something back in charity to those from whom their wealth was (often forcibly) derived was merely a request to sacrifice some needless luxuries. It’s hardly “exploitive” to ask the wealthy of such social systems to take less by force or by trickery from those on whom they have their boots firmly planted.  Very, very few of the wealthy of most of human history could be called some kind of creative geniuses or be men of superior merit before the industrial revolution began in Great Britain c. 1750, including when their wealth was based on the exploitation of high rates of compound interest, trickery and violence in trade, not just a great lord’s demand for one-sided labor services from his serfs on his land several days a week.

 

Another deep error of Ayn Rand’s was to assume that all Christians everywhere at all times had to give up everything to the poor and weak, if they lived by what the Bible teaches, in order to be saved.  She always equated altruism with sacrificing everything to someone else, leaving nothing for oneself.  For example, notice how Rand describes altruism so exaggeratedly in this passage from John Galt’s speech in “Atlas Shrugged,” her emphasis: 

 

“You fear the man who has a dollar less than you, that dollar is rightfully his, he makes you feel like a moral defrauder.  You hate the man who has a dollar more than you, that dollar is rightfully yours, he makes you feel that you are morally defrauded.  The man below is a source of your guilt, the man above is a source of your frustration.  You do not know what to surrender or demand, when to give and when to grab, what pleasure in life is rightfully yours and what debt is still unpaid by others--you struggle to evade, as 'theory,' the knowledge that by the moral standard you've accepted, you are guilty every moment of your life, there is no mouthful of food you swallow that is not needed by someone somewhere on earth--and you give up the problem in blind resentment, you conclude that moral perfection is not to be achieved or desired, that you will muddle through by snatching as snatch can . . .”

 

Now self-sacrifice and good works on the model of Mother Teresa’s in Calcutta should be greatly admired.  But a proper interpretation of the Bible when all the relevant passages are considered, not just that concerning what Jesus told the young rich ruler, shows most Christians need not live as she did in order to receive salvation.  There’s a difference between having the faith and the corresponding good works that show one’s truly saved and going beyond the normal call of duty.  For example, note that the standard amount to be given to the poor under the Old Testament law works out to an annualized basis of 2.7% of gross income, since the third tithe was only collected every third and sixth years in a seven-year cycle.  “Tough love” also has a role to play when wisely but charitably attempting to aid the poor (cf. II Thess. 3:6-11).  The old Victorian distinction between the worthy and unworthy poor is fully sound, although naturally many gradations among a continuum exist between both groups.  For example, to give cash to a known unrecovered alcoholic homeless man will likely increase his misery eventually, not reduce it.  Christians indeed do have a duty to care for the poor, but it’s hardly an unlimited responsibility that requires them to feel constantly guilty for every dollar that they don’t give away above their bare survival needs.  

 

          This Randian straw man needs more examination.  Does God really require us to never act from a self-interested or pleasuring-seeking motive of any kind?  C. S. Lewis, in “The Problem of Pain,” examines the flaws in this kind of reasoning in some detail (p. 98):  “Those who would like the God of scripture to be more purely ethical [in destroying a creature’s sense of self-sufficiency by appealing to its self-interest], do not know what they ask.  If God were a Kantian, who would not have us till we came to Him from the purest and best motives, who could be saved?”  After all, the Christian goal from all this self-sacrifice in this life is to gain eternal life and to have a higher rather than a lower position in the kingdom of God.  Furthermore, so much of what is supposedly “given up” really isn’t good for us anyway.  Obedience to God’s law is for our own good even in the short-run in this life, let alone to show that we have sufficient faith to receive eternal life in the world to come.  If people didn’t murder, steal, lie, commit adultery/fornication, and covet, we all would be much better off in this life, sooner or later.  The same is true from serving only the true God faithfully without using graven images as an aid to worship and without using His name in vain uselessly.  That would eliminate so much of the present world’s sense of alienation and meaninglessness about life.  The great paradox of self-sacrifice from a Christian viewpoint is that we give up everything to God just to receive far more back ultimately, often in this life, not just the next (Luke 18:22-30).

 

          Does the self-serving abusive use of a good principle invalidate it?  Rand, using Toohey as her mouthpiece, cynically observes (“The Fountainhead,” p. 638): 

 

“It stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting sacrificial offerings.  Where there’s service, there’s someone being served.  The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters.  And intends to be the master.”

 

But if someone is indeed a hypocrite and is caught being so, that will destroy his moral authority.  Those who exploitatively use the principle of altruism to exploit others inevitably receive their comeuppance, including public embarrassment that wrecks their credibility to ask for financial support.  A classic example was the eventual blowback generated by the Papacy’s burdensomely expensive project of building St. Peter’s in Rome, which was the straw that broke the back of Rome’s financial support in Germany and elsewhere.  The Italian popes of the Renaissance were notoriously corrupt, sexually licentious, and financially grasping. The abusive practice of having people pay for indulgences, as famously promoted by Johann Tetzel’s promotional campaign that when stated when coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs, led to Martin Luther’s response that upheld the principle of salvation by faith through grace alone that eventually resulted in the Protestant Reformation.  Christ Himself warned against those hypocritically using their spiritual positions to serve merely for money (John 10:11-14).  He told His disciples, when they argued about who was the greatest “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’  But not so with you, but let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant.”  Christ mentioned his own personal example, that He Himself was the one who serves (Luke 22:25-26, 28).  When Christians don’t live up to their own moral code, inevitably it wrecks their moral authority.  Hypocrisy doesn’t actually refute the truth of Christianity metaphysically (http://lionofjudah1.org/Apologeticshtml/Does%20Hypocrisy%20Refute%20Christianity%20Karamazov%201106.htm), but it has wrecked much of its potential public support nevertheless, since people expect more from those who profess and teach in Christ’s name.  To invert Toohey’s cynical observation, they can’t expect to be served any if they don’t serve others well.

 

It’s a biblically sound principle, however, for those engaged in service, such as the pastoral ministry, to receive some reasonable material compensation for their spiritual work, as the Apostle Paul observed (I Corinthians 9:13-14):  “Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share with the altar?  So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.”  However, Paul made a point of not actually using this right (verses 12, 15) while asserting that he had it.  The work of organizing people to worship God and to help others in an organized manner deserves compensation as well (verse 7):  “Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense?  Who plants a vineyard, and does not eat the fruit of it?  Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?”  Indeed, the principle that the laborer is worthy of his wages (Luke 10:7), which contradicts the mentality behind socialism and communism, is directly applied to those working in spiritual service to serve fellow Christians.  So although people working in spiritual service can indeed be abusive, that doesn’t invalidate the principle of compensating them in some reasonable manner for their work on behalf of others who benefit from it.

 

          Toohey, in the same speech to Peter Keating, also mistakenly associated these thoughts (“The Fountainhead,” p. 636):  “Make man feel small.  Make him feel guilty.  Kill his aspiration and his integrity.”  However, from the Christian viewpoint, when someone confesses his sins because he has realized his guilt, that will allow him to gain integrity, not lose it.  His aspirations, if his repentance is sincere, will change from idly seeking his own will against God’s law and from indulging in wrongful pleasures, will drastically change as he becomes a new man with discipline fueled by his new perspective in life.  Furthermore, by realizing how small he is in God’s sight in this life, it ultimately allows him to become a mighty spirit being in the next life (I John 3:2; Hebrews 2:5-14; John 17:20-24).  Christians are abased for now, but are to be exalted later (Matthew 23:12).   

 

Finally, a key flaw in Rand’s general perspective is how unimportant family life is in forming people’s characters and general personalities.   Although she generally perceives marriage as a good institution, her heroes almost never have children of their own.  That shouldn’t be a surprise, when she had no children of her own either.  (She also had an abortion, which explains much of her deeply ironic enmity against the pro-life position). Although one can play games with the words, much like the psychological egoists do who believe nobody is ever really self-sacrificing, it’s obvious that raising young children requires great sacrifices from their parents until they become truly self-supporting.  Altruism, unconditional love, and undeserved transfers are the order of the day within the family unit, not rational selfishness based on mutually agreed exchanges.  The struggles involved in teaching children to become responsible adults are among the most important in most people’s lives.  For nearly all people, what they do in raising children well or badly is much more significant in affecting the future course of society than what they do at their occupations on a daily basis.  Furthermore, even the important professions such as medicine and law, in which their practitioners often make life-and-death, make-or-break decisions for others on a daily basis, turn people into narrow specialists; good children rearing and married life use much more of the whole person’s capabilities and talents than even these professions.  The classic problems caused by neglecting family life at the expense of work, such as portrayed in “Death of a Salesman” and “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,” receive no attention in Rand’s work.  Ironically for a female writer, she puts forth a male-oriented view of self-esteem, which is derived from achievements at work, not personal relationships well maintained.

 

In conclusion, Christians can easily intellectually derail the John Galt line of Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy.  As an atheistic Jew, she plainly never seriously investigated the intellectual foundation for Christianity, including the newer proofs for God’s existence, the flaws in the theory of evolution, and the historical evidence for the Bible’s accuracy and inspiration.  She was unaware of the Medieval period’s positive intellectual developments.  She described absurdly altruism as unlimited and as necessarily incorporating the use of force against those not sacrificing enough.  She ignored the importance and necessary self-sacrifice of family life in forming people’s characters and developing our whole personalities.  True, in certain cases her philosophy is correct, such as when it attacks the general relativistic skepticism of the reigning philosophical culture in epistemology, metaphysics, and even ethics.  Her general philosophy is certainly preferable to David Hume’s and Immanuel Kant’s, but it’s dreadfully inferior to Thomas Aquinas’ general position.  Finally, although it claims to celebrate life, Objectivism can only offer death to its adherents.  Jesus Christ offers life to those who are called, repent, and believe (John 11:25):  “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”

 

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