Ayn Rand and Christianity

Jun 18th, 2011 | By | Category: Christian Life, Featured Issues

One of the heroes of some Republican conservatives and of radio/TV hosts such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh is philosopher, novelist and fervent anti-communist Ayn Rand.  She is often cited at Tea Party rallies and other such gatherings as well.  Congressmen Paul Ryan and Ron Paul cite Rand as one of their personal heroes and a reason why they got involved in politics.  Former Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan, was a close associate of Ayn Rand.  Although she died in 1982, her influence has grown and today is more pervasive than ever.  How should we think about her?  Do her ideas mesh with biblical Christianity?  Ayn Rand is the subject of this first Perspective.

  • First, a summary of a few of her salient ideas.  She named her philosophy Objectivism, describing its essence as ?the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.?  As her philosophy developed, she stated that in terms of metaphysics she embraced atheism and stood opposed to anything she deemed mystical or supernatural, including all forms of religion.  In terms of epistemology, she argued that all knowledge is based on sense perception, and reason as the ?faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man?s senses.?  As regards ethics, Rand maintained that rational egoism (rational self-interest) was the guiding moral principle.  The individual exists ?for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.?  Egoism is the ?virtue of selfishness.?  Politically, she argued strongly for individual rights and considered laissez-faire capitalism as the only moral social system because it was the only one that guarded property rights.  She fiercely opposed all forms of collectivism, including communism, socialism, fascism and any form of the welfare state.  Limited government best fit her rigid requirements.  Arguably, her greatest written work was a novel entitled Atlas Shrugged (1957).  Rand detailed the theme of the novel as ?the role of the mind in man?s existence?and, as a corollary, the demonstration of a new moral philosophy:  the morality of rational self-interest.?  The novel?s plot involves a dystopian United States in which the most creative industrialists, scientists and artists go on strike and retreat to a mountainous hideaway where they build an independent free economy.  The novel?s hero is John Galt, who leads the strike and the effort to build a free society.  To drive home her vision of the free, self-interested society she hoped to see, she has Galt replace the cross with a dollar sign.  For Rand, without the rational and the productive, society would collapse.  In other words, for Rand, there is no God, no absolute ethical standard, only rational creative-thinking humans who are self-centered, selfish and thoroughly non-altruistic.
  • Second, how should we as Christians evaluate Ayn Rand?  Several key thoughts:
  1. As a devout atheist, Rand argued that man is indeed the measure of all things, to borrow a phrase from the Renaissance.  She argued for the ?the concept of man as a noble being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.?  But the Bible makes it clear that man is not the measure!  Man is not the center of all things?God is.  God therefore, as Creator and Sovereign, calls His creatures (and His children by faith in His Son) to a life of stewardship and charity, informed by love.  The life of the believer is a life of self-sacrifice and generosity.  For Ayn Rand, such virtues, so central to the Christian worldview, are actually vices!
  2. Rand actually posits a complete reversal of biblical norms and values.  Scott Ryan, whose book on Rand is most helpful, argues that her Objectivism is a ?psychologically totalitarian personality cult that allowed Rand . . . to exercise personal power over [her] unwitting victims.?  This is how she lived, including how she manipulated her husband and even justified an adulterous affair with his permission.
  3. Rand was demonstrably anti-Christian.  As an atheist, she wanted to be known as ?the greatest enemy of religion.?  The idea of God was ?degrading to man,? she maintained.  And because there is no God, humans have absolutely no ethical obligation to other human beings.  She once said that the world was ?perishing from an orgy of self-sacrifice.?  For her the trinity was ?I me mine.?  She exalted the idolatry of ?self and selfishness,? an abhorrent proposition that is in fact the very ?antithesis of biblical Christianity.?

Those in the Republican Party especially that exalt the ideas of Ayn Rand should be ashamed of themselves.  Those in the Tea Party movement who hold up signs, ?Who is John Galt?,? are promoting a worldview that is actually farther from biblical Christianity than Karl Marx?s utopian vision.  The name of Ayn Rand and Jesus Christ should never be used in the same sentence together.  Ayn Rand does not offer a vision of what America could become.  She offers a recipe for the collapse of our way of life and our values.  Conservative Christians should stay as far away from Ayn Rand as possible.  She and her worldview have nothing to offer.

See Stephen Prothero in USA Today (6 June 2011); the Wikipedia article on Rand; and ?Breakpoint? (4 October 2010, 16 October 2007, and 11 May 2011). PRINT PDF

Comments Closed

5 Comments to “Ayn Rand and Christianity”

  1. Mike B says:

    One can draw philosophical support from the ideas of another without becoming a devotee of every idea of the former. Even as Christian’s, we can give intellectual assent to ideas popularized by Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, etc. where they agree with our spiritual outlook. Why not with Any Rand? Undoubtedly, though she despised their movement, libertarians have drawn upon much from her beliefs, such as the ideas of limited government, personal responsibility, etc., although many libertarians do not share her negative views of religion, myself being one. Ron Paul, who is one of my heroes, has said that he regards her works as valuable in getting him to closely examine many ideas that he had taken for granted as true and sharpen his outlook. There is no doubt that Rand’s books, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are masterpieces of the human spirit, and I have enjoyed reading them and feel energized by them. For me, as a Christian, Rand will never be “St. Ayn” but I’m not looking to worship her, only to glean what knowledge and wisdom she might contain. Worship remains the rhelm of God only.

    • JimF says:

      The very core of her philosophy is anti-Christian. There is nothing to admire here. Move on.

  2. Robert says:

    Many things in her philosophy like private property rights, anti collectivism, individual responsibility and belief in
    reason have many things in common with our founding fathers, and some principals in the bible. I think you
    have to understand that she grow up in a communist country and a place where the church was orthodox. I don’t
    hold it against her that she said she was an atheist. Personal I think she was agnostic and rejected religion as
    most philosophers do.

  3. Tessa Wrynn says:

    I enabled comments on my blogger page nonetheless it only shows the comments link, and when it’s clicked, a fresh page opens to show the comments. Will there be a way to just have the comments show on my main page right within the blog, I don’t want just a link to the comments page..

  4. Joe Siano says:

    You mentioned Ayn Rand and Jesus Christ in the same sentence, which you say should never be done.

    Ok, let’s look at this way, Rand broke the First Commandment. Faith is a gift that she never received.

    Collectivist break pretty much every other Commandment. They covet. Because they covet, they lie, steal, kill, kidnap and defraud.

    Ayn Rand respected human freedom as did Jesus. Collectivists respect only the freedom and dignity of the elites at the top. The rest of us they move about like pawns in the games that they play.

    No Rand is not perfect. None of us are. Yet, the Leftie atheists who booed God at the last Democratic National Convention, will be the first to throw stones.