While Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor," Ayn Rand sings Hosannas to the rich

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Darren Mc's picture

With all due respect to the author, Jesus said a lot of things. He also said "For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him." (Luke 19:26) Sounds downright Randian (at least the author's caricature of her philosophy) to me. And that's just one example. The Gospels and the epistles are full of comments about personal responsibility. The problem with this article (my opinion) is that it takes a liberal political interpretation of two ideas (Christianity and objectivism) and then says they are incompatible. Well of course they are when they are viewed through that prism.

John Piper has an interesting discussion of Rand's philosophy and points out that her atheism is based on a flawed caricature of Christianity in her mind. In "Desiring God" he juxtaposes a quote by Rand against a quote by Flannery O'Connor and says they are both saying the same thing about Emmanuel Kant's philosophy, one from an atheist viewpoint and one from a Christian viewpoint. If one reads Rand and Piper together, it is impossible to miss the similarities (or at least it was to me).

On the surface, it would seem that objectivism and Christianity are incompatible, just as it would seem that communism and Christianity are infinitely compatible. At the theoretical level, communism seems to be a natural application of Christianity (especially the politically liberal view of Christianity) in the modern world. Of course we know different. Everywhere communism has been implemented, Christianity has been suppressed. I would argue that if a society were to implement objectivism (and the first 75 years of U.S. history are the closest any large society has come to it) Christianity would flourish.

On a personal level, I have read Rand's two major works mentioned in the article, and with filtering out a few elements, I found them to be very helpful in my view of many aspects of life. For example, Francisco D'Anconia's lengthy discussion in "Atlas Shrugged" of his (and I presume Rand's) philosophy of sex to be very helpful in my approach to finding the right person to marry. (And I have been happily married for three years now).

No wisdom, no understanding, and no counsel will prevail against the LORD. Proverbs 21:30

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Free markets, private property, and capitalism are not incompatible with Scripture. And if the Sermon on the Mount were written to be doctrinally applied to the church, Mr. Prothero might have a point.

I'm also not in favor of tossing out all ideas proposed by someone who has a few things wrong with their philosophical views. It doesn't matter if the guy who fixes my car is a Christian- to repair cars he needs to understand cars. Ditto quantum mechanics and economics. What happens, IMO, is that the research and facts presented are accurate, but one's worldview shapes conclusions. So we can take in the facts that have been unearthed, and discard faulty inferences.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The problem with Rand was not her belief in a strong connection between productivity and wealth. That's actually a much, much older idea.

But beneath the layer of practical sense, her reasons for embracing both economic and ethical liberty are as twisted as they come. She http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=objectivism_intro ] founded a philosophy call objectivism which truly worships individual human reason, rejects the idea of any transcendent moral standard and rejects the existence of any value higher than material+human mind.

But, sadly, reading modern ideas of social justice back into Jesus' words is a favorite evangelical pastime these days.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

JobK's picture

Susan R wrote:
Free markets, private property, and capitalism are not incompatible with Scripture. ...
I'm also not in favor of tossing out all ideas proposed by someone who has a few things wrong with their philosophical views. It doesn't matter if the guy who fixes my car is a Christian- to repair cars he needs to understand cars. Ditto quantum mechanics and economics. What happens, IMO, is that the research and facts presented are accurate, but one's worldview shapes conclusions. So we can take in the facts that have been unearthed, and discard faulty inferences.

First off, free markets, private property and capitalism as we now know it did not even exist back then. Those ideas are all less than 500 years old, and reflect as much Enlightenment, humanist rationalist thought as much as it allegedly does the book of Proverbs. While the Sinai covenant - the economic framework that Jesus Christ lived and taught under - was not socialist, it also severely limited the development of capitalism with such thing as the Jubilee year (requiring land to revert back to its original owning family every 50 years), a prohibition on charging interest on loans, and the Sabbath years (which meant you couldn't sell your surplus grain in year six because you needed it to live on in year seven and in year one). Second, you are not in favor of tossing out "all" her ideas because you basically agree with her economic and political beliefs. Were Rand a socialist or Marxist, you would be (I presume) much more amenable to dismissing her views out of hand. As far as presenting "research and facts" ... oh please, the woman was a "novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter", not someone from hard sciences, or even a position of some responsibility in economics, sociology or anthropology. Her undergraduate major was history, then she went to film school! The only difference between her and, say, Madonna, Sean Penn or Barbra Streisand is preferring her politics to the others.

So we can take in the facts that have been unearthed, and discard faulty inferences." My goodness, do you say the same thing about evolution? Global warming? Would you accept the opinion of when life begins from a doctor who performs partial birth late term abortions? This woman claims that human reason is the only method for acquiring knowledge. What "facts" can be obtained from such a person, and even better, is such a person capable of interpreting these "facts" correctly? I am no more willing to accept the conclusions from Rand's worldview as it comes to economics or politics than I am from Marxist liberation theologist on Biblical hermeneutics.

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

JobK wrote:
First off, free markets, private property and capitalism as we now know it did not even exist back then. Those ideas are all less than 500 years old, and reflect as much Enlightenment, humanist rationalist thought as much as it allegedly does the book of Proverbs. While the Sinai covenant - the economic framework that Jesus Christ lived and taught under - was not socialist, it also severely limited the development of capitalism with such thing as the Jubilee year (requiring land to revert back to its original owning family every 50 years), a prohibition on charging interest on loans, and the Sabbath years (which meant you couldn't sell your surplus grain in year six because you needed it to live on in year seven and in year one). Second, you are not in favor of tossing out "all" her ideas because you basically agree with her economic and political beliefs.

New ideas are not necessarily incompatible with Scripture. I don't see any reason not to enjoy bubble baths, John Deere tractors, air conditioning, air conditioned John Deere tractors, Folger's coffee, McDonald's drive thru, or Power Point presentations. Jewish feasts and observations were and are meant for the Jews. I'm Irish.
Quote:
Were Rand a socialist or Marxist, you would be (I presume) much more amenable to dismissing her views out of hand.
You don't know me well enough to presume anything. I try very hard to assess information based on its veracity, not its proponents. One of my favorite authors is http://www.haydenplanetarium.org/tyson/ Neil deGrasse Tyson. His worldview does not necessarily negate his observations. What it does it cause problems with his conclusions. I don't dismiss anyone out of hand unless they can't discuss something civilly and reasonably.

Quote:
As far as presenting "research and facts" ... oh please, the woman was a "novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter", not someone from hard sciences, or even a position of some responsibility in economics, sociology or anthropology. Her undergraduate major was history, then she went to film school! The only difference between her and, say, Madonna, Sean Penn or Barbra Streisand is preferring her politics to the others.

I don't care if she was chief cook and bottlewasher- did her ideas have merit? They certainly had a cultural impact. I'm a lowly housewife btw, so it would appear that in your economy, nothing I say should be taken seriously. Feel free to ignore the rest of my post.

Quote:
So we can take in the facts that have been unearthed, and discard faulty inferences." My goodness, do you say the same thing about evolution? Global warming? Would you accept the opinion of when life begins from a doctor who performs partial birth late term abortions? This woman claims that human reason is the only method for acquiring knowledge. What "facts" can be obtained from such a person, and even better, is such a person capable of interpreting these "facts" correctly? I am no more willing to accept the conclusions from Rand's worldview as it comes to economics or politics than I am from Marxist liberation theologist on Biblical hermeneutics.

I've answered these questions with my previous statements. I assess information on its own merit. If I read research done by neurologists who are also abortionists, does that render their findings on the brain faulty? I discard anything that is not consistent with that which I already know to be true, and file away for future reference and study questions about which I do not have enough information to draw a conclusion.

That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

JobK's picture

"I would argue that if a society were to implement objectivism (and the first 75 years of U.S. history are the closest any large society has come to it) Christianity would flourish."

Christianity flourished in the Roman Empire. Were they objectivist? Right now, evangelical Christianity is booming, spreading like wildfire, in parts of Latin America, Asia and Africa that can hardly be called objectivist. And in Marxist China, you have over 100 million Christians and counting risking persecution to worship secretly in illegal house churches. And as far as your marriage goes, apparently the Mark Driscoll practice of exhibiting what should be private personal information between a husband and wife for public display has taken hold. I would encourage the moderators of this Christian blog to censor that portion of your comment.

My goodness, if there ever needed to be any evidence that the 30+ year alignment between evangelical and fundamentalist Christians and Republican Party politics/ideology was harmful, the fact that so many are countenancing the views of a vicious, rabid Jesus Christ hater who made an idol of human reason (the cult of reason, anyone?), claimed selfishness as a virtue and denounced those who possessed and advocated such things as compassion and charity (as the Bible commands Christians), promoted such abominations as unrestricted abortion and "gay rights" as public policy, and proudly put her adulterous lifestyle on display is evidence of it. Rand was an evil woman with a depraved mind, and if she were a Marxist none of you would have a problem acknowledging it.

The religious right is doing the same thing to the evangelical/fundamentalist church that the "civil rights movement" did to the black church a couple of generations ago. Strange alliances - strange bedfellows - result in strange doctrines. Look, if you want to make the case for laissez faire capitalism (which by the way, Wall Street - well formerly Wall Street, now international conglomerate - ruled GOP has never supported), make it using the Bible, and on legitimate Christian scholars and theologians like John Calvin, and not people who gave over their entire minds and lives to being as ungodly as possible.

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

GregH's picture

Susan, your cute play with words appears to be an attempt to draw attention away from the main problem that JobK brings up which you really can't argue with. And that is this: Ayn Rand's philosophy is unquestionably at odds with what the Bible teaches. You do not have to read her too carefully to figure that out. I will admit that on the surface, her ideas have appeal especially for those who lean conservative. But the second time I read Atlas Shrugged, I was just disgusted. And as disgusting as her financial philosophy is, her personal life was even much more so. Even a pig can find an acorn or two and I am sure she was right about some things. But Christianity should not be looking to Rand for very much if anything.

Rand's view on altruism is perhaps a good start if you want to compare what she says to the Bible. Her view that altruism is evil is absolutely anti-Biblical.

JobK's picture

Susan R, if my words were offensive, I apologize. I happen to believe that separating the message from the messenger is impossible. Further, even if it were possible, I believe that it would not be desirable. For example, Adolph Hitler said a lot of things that sounded mighty agreeable, as did Lenin, Marx, Stalin and Mao. But I am not going to take the things that Hitler said about family values, Lenin said about workers, or Mao about China's need for self-determination apart from the context that those guys were monsters. Now Ayn Rand may not have committed large scale crimes against humanity (because she was never had the political power to do so) but her ideological system was monstrous, and it is no different to take the bits and pieces of her ideas that we like than it is to praise Hitler for creating Volkswagen and for being a genius in terms of military and political strategy.

No, we do not live under the old covenant. But the purpose of the restrictions of the old covenant was to inhibit the exploitation that inevitably results from man in his fallen nature seeking his own interest above all other considerations. As Jesus Christ came not to destroy the Sinai covenant but to fulfill it, then the moral/ethical/civil principles that things like the jubilee year and the anti-usury laws are carried over to the New Testament. Ayn Rand not only rejects the boundaries that God places on man seeking self-interest, but she makes human self-interest into an idol that she worships and makes the foundation for her economic, social and political theories. So, even if she happens on a correct idea every now and then, it is as meaningful as the fact that thanks to Hitler you can go out and buy a good car from Volkswagen, or thanks to the military machine that Mao built, China never has to worry about Japanese aggression again.

We conservative Christians (and I speak in general terms, not aimed at anyone specific) oft pay a lot of heed to the Bible's teachings on temperance, restraint, self-control etc. when it comes to our fallen human tendencies in areas like sexuality and alcohol use only to ignore the same Biblical principles when it comes to economics. This despite the obvious overlap of fallen moral and economic behavior as it relates to illegal drugs, pornography, gambling, prostitution and abortion.

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

When people start pulling Hitler out of the bag to make a point about the cultural impact of a novelist, I'm inclined to check out of the conversation. I won't argue points I haven't made, such as

1) Christianity should to Rand for answers about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
2) Considering scientific research conducted by an evolutionist is analogous to considering Hitler's views on family
3) Information is an all or nothing proposition

Example- Do you all know your family doctors personally? Or any of the surgeons who have performed operations on your or your family members? What church do they go to? Are they an atheist, agnostic? What do they believe about God, family, morality? Do they ever cheat on their taxes? Their spouses?

Or do you accept their expertise in the area of medicine without knowing anything about their personal life or beliefs?

GregH's picture

Susan, as has been pointed out multiple times, you cannot reject her philosophy and accept her economic theory. They are intertwined. If you have studied her work at all, you know that is true.

For that reason, your whole line of argument is irrelevant and moot.

Darren Mc's picture

I was unable to get to a computer today, and it probably would be better for me to get on with more important things, but here goes.

Of course Rand was an atheist who flaunted of her sin. I am not denying that; that was not the point of the original article. The original article had to do with the relationship of free-market economics with Christianity. I added my own personal experience to bolster my argument, which obviously could have been worded better.

I really do resent the attack that somehow I was being prurient and anti-Christian. If you have read the book (maybe it has been a while; not saying you haven't read it JobK) you would know the discussion I am referring to has nothing to do with the act of sex. The characters in the book do that as well, but that is not what I was referencing. The discussion has to do with the kind of person a noble person wants to have relations with. The upshot of the discussion is that who a person is interested in is a reflection of their own view of what is good. I was merely saying that I applied those ideas (filtered through the grid of my Christian faith) and found they were helpful in guiding me to the right lady and being patient for God's will.

I agree that the evangelical/fundamental community in America has been co-opted by conservative politics, and that some individuals in the movement have sold their soul for political power. Both the religious right and the religious left are very adept at buttressing their political views with selected proof texts, and that is something we all should want to avoid.

Why is it that many of us (not accusing anybody here in particular) have no problem "chewing the meat and spitting out the bones" with people that we like, but then with people we don't like, it is an all or nothing proposition. Either you accept everything they do/did, teach/taught or write/wrote or you reject them completely. I choose (I am not perfectly consistent at it, either) to find the helpful ideas in everything I observe, read and study, and I reject what is not helpful.

No wisdom, no understanding, and no counsel will prevail against the LORD. Proverbs 21:30

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

of Atlas Shrugged is that when individuals are not free to be creative and productive and reap the benefits of their creativity and productivity, that society essentially collapses. This basic message is not incompatible with Scripture. Sowing and reaping. Righteousness and rewards. Obedience and blessings.

Now, if you get out a magnifying glass, you will absolutely find problems with many of her philosophical underpinnings. She completely rejects religion and faith, for instance. But free markets, individualism, and profiting from one's efforts are not economic ideas that I have a problem with. And rational self-interest is not as problematic as it sounds. For instance, the question Rand asks is what does altruism demand? Do you have the right to NOT give to the poor? Does the Bible really teach that you MUST give to any beggar who might approach you? Rand doesn't negate respecting others and showing kindness. She argues that altruism requires that one always act with others in mind, even to the point of self-destruction. While we are taught in Scripture to be unselfish and of a sacrificial mindset, we are not expected to destroy ourselves 'for' someone else. It's OK to prioritize relationships and stop when certain boundaries of sense and propriety have been crossed. Paul was willing to die for his people, but he didn't throw himself on any grenades for Alexander the coppersmith or Demas, did he? I think the author if this article neglects to portray this question of altruism vs rational self-interest accurately.

I'm not a Rand disciple, and not a card-carrying objectivist. I also think that people who aren't grounded in Scripture shouldn't be exploring such complex and problematic writings. But that doesn't mean that Christians can't read and glean and learn from someone like Rand. There are very, very few books (nonfiction) that I will put down because I don't think the ideas presented are worth observing, considering, and quite often exploring. For instance, I don't read Sylvia Browne. But that's me- read and recommend whatever you like. I'm certainly not going to try to talk you out of it.

As to Rand's current renewed celebrity status, I understand why it is happening. It's a knee-jerk reaction to the socialist policies of our current administration and the possible destruction of our prosperity and freedoms. For some (and maybe most?) people, the only exposure they will ever receive to economic conservatism of any kind will be the movie based on Rand's book. It's sad and pathetic, but I'll take it if it makes someone think about the direction our country is headed.

I don't think we should organize our national budget or gov't policies according to Rand, and I wouldn't look to her for any sort of theological insights, but her book provides a rather accurate illustration of what happens when free markets, creative productivity, and individualism are sacrificed to a coercive and collectivist gov't.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Lost track of this thread for a while.
There's a whole lot of inaccurate lumping and dumping going on.

First, Rand's economic philosophy is not hers. Rather, she takes ideas about free enterprise, productivity and prosperity and reimagines a philosophical foundation. A good way to look at it is to imagine someone lifting a house and moving it to a new site with a new foundation. The house can be "plopped" on top of more than one worldview, though it does not fit all of them equally well.

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First off, free markets, private property and capitalism as we now know it did not even exist back then. Those ideas are all less than 500 years old

This is a very popular misunderstanding. It's true that banking and currency are relatively new ideas. However, property ownership, free trade, investment, and lending have been around since at least the days of Moses.
Calling "free markets" a new idea is like looking at McDonalds and saying fast food is a new idea. But grabbing a bite of hanging fruit is as old as Eden. There are modern forms and executions of these ideas but the ideas themselves are ancient.

More to the point, economic philosophies are built on beliefs about human nature and purpose. And we can refocus closer to the main issues by asking a few questions:

  • Was Rand wrong to believe that individuals should be encouraged to view their livelihood as their own responsibility?
  • Was Rand wrong to believe that great achievement should result in great reward?
  • Was she wrong to claim that a culture that punishes achievement in the name of equality will impoverish everyone?

Her reasons for exalting the individual were deeply flawed. Her critique of the effectiveness of collectivism was brilliant. FWIW, I read Atlas Shrugged a month or so ago.

(Rand did not "sing hosannas to the rich." She sang hosannas to great achievement. Sadly, she could provide absolutely no reason why achievement should matter or why prosperity is better than poverty. Well, the closest she could come is the pleasure the achiever takes in achievement. She seemed to have a strong instinct that the human being was intended to subdue the earth and create. She just rejected the only real basis for that conclusion and rejected any context that could give it meaning beyond the here and now. Christians know that the human calling to subdue the earth and create derives from the pleasure of the Creator who made us in His image. And they know that the meaning of it all is the glory of God.)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I posted http://sharperiron.org/forum/thread-freedom-attracts-citizens-according-... ]this link around the same time I noticed this thread.

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...researchers at George Mason University's Mercatus Center.... used a variety of statistics to rank the 50 states for their just-published report on which states are the freest -- and least free -- from taxes and government regulation.

Interesting to note how the states ranked in proportion to the increase/decrease in population.