Cautioning Ayn Rand Disciples

By Julie Roys
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I recently shared a flight with one of the founders of the Tea Party in Wisconsin. I might never have discovered this fact, though, if it hadn’t been for the book I was reading at the time – “Atlas Shrugged,” by Ayn Rand.

You see, Ayn Rand has become a darling of the political Right. This popular philosopher was born in Russia and her best-selling novels cleverly expose how socialism destroys society. And, though Rand died nearly 30 years ago, her best-selling novels remain hugely influential. In fact, a Library of Congress survey found “Atlas Shrugged” second only to the Bible as the “most influential book of all time.” Last week, bolstered by a new movie based on the book, “Atlas Shrugged” shot to #3 on Amazon’s Bestseller List.

Yet, as I told my Tea Party acquaintance, I hold conflicting sentiments regarding Rand. I admire Rand’s belief in small government and her disdain for so-called “looting”: that’s Rand’s term for taking money from the producers in society and giving it to those who produce nothing. But, I’m repulsed by Rand’s worship of the self-made man and her promotion of greed as a virtue.

My new acquaintance was surprised by my concerns. Apparently, all the
conservatives she knew were huge Rand fans – including the star GOP Congressman from Wisconsin, Paul Ryan. Reportedly, Ryan so admires Rand, he requires his entire staff to read her writings.

While liberals often look to government to save society and demonize selfish individualists, Rand demonized the government and exalted high producing industrialists as society’s savior. But, both are unbiblical. Jesus alone saves and man is helpless without Him.

I think Rand was an excellent writer and an astute philosopher and I, too, think people should read her works. Yet, I think everyone – especially Christians – need to do so critically. You see, Rand was an atheist who maintained a distorted worldview. She believed man to be “a noble being with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life” and “productive achievement as his noblest activity.” Ironically, Rand fell into the same trap as those on the complete opposite end of the political spectrum: like many liberals, she believed man to be inherently good and championed a kind of utopia only possible in heaven. While liberals often look to government to save society and demonize selfish individualists, Rand demonized the government and exalted high producing industrialists as society’s savior. But, both are unbiblical. Jesus alone saves and man is helpless without Him.

Rand also missed man’s communal nature. I appreciate that she promoted personal responsibility. I Peter 2:13 says, “Submit yourself to every ordinance of man.” And truly, even the best of Republics is doomed if people fail to govern themselves and instead look to the state to regulate personal morality. Yet, to Rand, each person was an island and she reportedly died lonely and depressed. Sadly, Ayn Rand missed that we are made in God’s triune – inherently relational image – and that we find happiness as we serve a community. You see, God intended us to govern ourselves so we can govern our family, so we can lead the church, and ultimately bless society.

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5 thoughts on “Cautioning Ayn Rand Disciples”

  1. Thanks for this enlightening post – both illuminating Rand and giving perspective on one way to read her. I also really appreciate that you are willing to reflect on Rand fairly but critically even though many might feel surprised like your seatmate was. Happy Easter!

    Lifelong Christian and religion teacher

  2. About the “looting” ideal: did not Jesus say to the rich man to sell all his possessions and give to the poor and follow him? You can’t admire Rand and be a Christian. Rand even despised Christians and thought compassion was weakness. You can’t have your cake and eat it to…And this country is bankrupt not because of social programs but rather because of warfare and military spending. Blaming social programs is all hype. The rich can’t say they want to avoid paying taxes for military spending, so they use the social programs as a scapegoat, to use a biblical term. And I am not a Christian, because I’d be hypocrite if I said so. Most people have no problem with it, though. They are saved by saying so.

  3. With respect, Ayn Rand didn’t promote greed as a virtue. She did promote a rational (as opposed to an irrational) selfishness.

    An irrational selfishness is where you might say, essentially, “I only care about myself. Everyone else can go to hell.”

    A rational selfishness is completely different. You still care about yourself, and you view your life as your most precious possession. But you also understand that your relationships with other people you care about are critical to your happiness. So a rationally selfish man doesn’t ignore his wedding anniversary simply because he wishes to go play golf with his buddies. A rationally selfish woman doesn’t ignore her children simply because she wants to work on the novel she is writing.

    Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, seems to me to be completely valid. But you have to dig into it to understand it, and if you just go with the pop culture interpretation of it, you’ll be misled.

    Thanks for allowing me to make this comment.

  4. We also wouldn’t have satanism with out Ayn Rand’s influence on Anton LaVey, the founder of satanism. LaVay found many satanic virtues in Rand’s philosophy and writing.

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