Skip to comments.Do the Bible and Ayn Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged' Share Common Ground?
Posted on 06/06/2013 9:36:05 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
A Christian scholar and author has taken the experience of growing up under the influence of a stepfather who cherished the objectivism philosophy of Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged) and his biological father who became a follower of Jesus Christ, to write a book about two world views that he feels can come together for the good of society.
Mark David Henderson's book, The Soul of Atlas, begins by asking the question, "Do the two most influential books in modern culture, the Bible and Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, share common ground?" Henderson has a unique closeness to the subject of Rand's book his stepfather (who he simply calls John in his book) produced the movie version of Atlas Shrugged.
"You can imagine these two men having the kind of influence they've had in my life, I was sort of struggling with asking the question, 'Is there a world view that would kind of mesh these two?' And I have to conclude that there probably isn't something called 'Christian objectivism' or 'objective Christianity' because these are not like chocolate and peanut butter where you can sort of mix them," Henderson recently told The Christian Post. "But it was very important to me to reconcile these worldviews as a sort of an intellectual exercise and also to reconcile these two men who, I guess, I [still] long for their approval and long for them to come together because they've shaped my life."
Henderson, who studied Victorian poetry and neuroscience at Brown University and earned an MBA from Columbia Graduate School of Business, is a life-long student of Ayn Rand, a Christian and a former elder and trustee of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.
He told CP that the two worldviews are "embodied by my two fathers."
Henderson described his stepfather this way: "John is a follower of Ayn Rand, a businessman and entrepreneur, and he's won the U.S. Poker Championship, he has owned race horses, started and taken private and public companies, and he's my stepfather. He's also the producer of 'Atlas Shrugged' the movie, parts one, two, and soon to be three in 2014.
"And he spoke into my life, I lived with him from age 11 until I left the home. I learned about objectivism at the kitchen table in every which way. I was steeped in the philosophy of atheism and Ayn Rand's rationale self-interest."
He also does not give the name of his dad in the book, simply calling him "dad."
"Dad returned to Christianity later in life," Henderson said. "He's a PhD in physiology, he taught at business schools, he worked on the assembly line at general motors, he owns a farm and runs that himself and lives very modestly in the Midwest. He is a devout Christian."
He said both fathers, who each wrote a letter included in the book, have been very supportive of his book, "but from different perspectives, and that is what I kind of get at as the theme for The Soul of Atlas.
"I used these two men to illustrate from a very unbiased perspective these two worldviews and how they interact," Henderson explained. "So, you have John representing Ayn Rand philosophy and speaking it into my life and then dad, who is coming from a Christian perspective of speaking into my life with different principles or in many cases, I contend, the same principles."
He described Ayn Rand's philosophy as based on rational self-interest "putting your own interests before anything else."
"She believed that the individual is the highest possible occupation of any one person. She believed that one should always occupy their minds, will, and emotions with the highest possible occupation and she believed that would be the self," Henderson said.
Rand believed in objective truths and objective moral values, but that there is no "objective value giver." He said, "She wanted to be known as the greatest enemy to religion that ever lived. She put together this philosophy that is all throughout her writing from Atlas Shrugged written in 1957, which is still the bestselling novel of all time."
Henderson said that one of the most impactful memories of his Christian father was one in which, as a teenager, he came upon the scene of his father and his wife kneeling inside their apartment praying.
"Now, I had never seen anyone do that before in the privacy of their own home or otherwise," he said. "I thought if they are doing it in the privacy of their own home it's not for show. I certainly hadn't seen my dad, who is this big, strong, macho (in the good sense of the word) guy who just was humbling himself on the floor. It was actually a little bit creepy and I didn't know how to respond and I ended up questioning him at some other point in time. Gradually, over time, his whole transformation was apparent to me not only in our conversations, but also in the way he was living his life. He committed his life to Jesus Christ and a lot of things changed."
Henderson said that the two worldviews discussed in his book have been hugely influential in America's culture and society, and the development of the nation and therefore, if brought together, could also be influential in a positive way.
"My hope is that as Christians and followers of Ayn Rand, or even more broadly, as people of faith and reason come together I want them to find common ground so that we can accomplish much more together than we would separately," he said. "If these two worlds have been so hugely influential independent of one another, by promoting understanding they will engage, by engage I mean be able to work on the things they agree on and accomplish much more then they could separately."
He added, "I don't think it's going to be through a book only. I think it's going to be through an application of these aspects of common ground in the real world not just on blogs, not just on Twitter, but in person to engage, to seek first to understand, then to be understood, to articulate these two world views, not just these two but others
and then honestly and genuinely find that common ground together."
I don’t think it is easy at all, almost all humans sense that God exists.
both contain lurid accounts of adultery... of course one glorifies it and the other doesn’t
It is good to grapple with such questions.
For a Christian the greatest commandments are these: (1) Love the Lord with your whole being; and (2) Love your neighbor as yourself. Of course, in Jesus’ day, these two commandments were well know to every Jew. Jesus expounded on “neighbor.” He said your neighbor is he who acts as your neighbor, not somebody of your ethnic or religious group.
Let’s turn to Rand. Supposedly her greatest commandment is to love yourself. BUT ... coming in number two is to love others who share your values. Now, what about the God thing? Rand would say there is no God. But, if you follow her novels, you find that objective truth is her God, and the objective truth is that we are made to be free. This is such an enormously important thing, that it is rational to give one’s life in witness of it.
So, in my book, here’s the difference: First, as Christians, we have a personal relation with a loving God and assurance of salvation. This speaks to our emotional needs. Atheists have an anonymous relation with nature and no assurance of anything. Atheists must have very strong characters. I don’t know how they do it. Having been in the military, I’ll just say that without God I don’t think I could handle it.
Second, as Christians, we love others as ourselves. For followers of Rand, they love others as instrumentalities of their own happiness, not as ends in themselves, not because they share with us in the same dignity that comes from being a child of God. I think I exaggerate this difference. I really sense from her writings that Rand’s characters come to truly love others. So, maybe there really is only one difference and his name is Jesus.
BTW I think the movie “Life of Pi” did a good job in contrasting belief in God and belief in reason. The rational self and the emotional self are both valid and both good. And, it is important to tie one’s emotions to reality.
If you're a Christian, you're bound to think of Rand as (at best) rudimentary and incomplete. If you're a Randian, you'll probably think of Christianity as wrong-headed.
I can't see what difference it makes. It's like knowing how old you are--you just have to take someone's word for it. If you are off by a year or two, who cares? What's important is that you always know what you are doing and why.
What year is that pickup? Looks like it has lead a hard life.
Logic and emotion are both gifts from God; I suspect they were intended to balance our souls, and placing more emphasis on one over the other seems to invariably lead to dysfunction.
Per Rand, it - the Creator - is nature, nature made us rational. The only way we can live at all is by our mind, and by using our mind we can live exceedingly well.
Let me digress. In the Jewish perspective both we and the animals are animated or move, hence we both have souls. But, we have a distinctly human soul. The missing link is not to be found in bones. It is all around us. The smartest animals register something like an IQ of 40. An IQ of 60 would be an imbecile amongst us humans. We are amazingly off the charts. There is a huge enormous gap or missing link between us and the closest thing to us. So, simply on a scientific basis, without invoking any religious reference, we are amazing. It appears, in particular, that we are pre-wired for language and for reasoning. Now, I will interject that in addition to our wonderful mind, we humans are equipped with a couple marvelous hands. To be sure, so are some other creatures. But, the combination of our mind and our bodies to include our hands enables us to act by which I mean to purposely do things that make the future probability of things different. OK, ignore probability, let’s just say make the future different. For example, we can fashion a tool. With a tool, we can become more efficient in our work. Imagining that possibility, we forego immediate satisfaction and make ourselves better off in the future. There you have it. We are neither ruled by instinct nor by immediate gratification. Hence, we are moral creatures with the power to choose between right and wrong. Ayn Rand argues that right and wrong are not choices, or social mores, or pronouncements from on high, but are scientific facts and that acting based on morality is the most selfish thing you can do.
There is a certain emotional hollowness to the argument. You are honest, productive, prudent, courageous, etc., because you are selfish. Kind of turns everything upside down, doesn’t it?
upchcik, 1980 Ford F250 Ranger (yes Ranger which at the time was a trim level).
it’s a daily driver. As reliable as a new Honda Accord except that instead of getting 32mpg, it gets 32ypg (yards per gallon).
sorry for the typo on your name Upchuck. Breaking up a fight amongst my 2 kids right now.
I was guessing 1982. How many hundreds of thousands of miles?
RE: Per Rand, it - the Creator - is nature, nature made us rational. The only way we can live at all is by our mind, and by using our mind we can live exceedingly well.
Well, that’s all relative isn’t it, this “living well” thing?
If I decide that I want to be more like a Nazi because nature made me the way I am, what “objective” natural law tells me this is irrational?
Let’s put it this way to Ayn Rand -— if we came as a result of random collision of matter and atoms, then a random collision of atoms called Nazis just happened to “hit on” a random collision of atoms called “Jews”... why is this not “living exceedingly well” for the Nazis?
Thank you, yes, emotion and reason, being from God, are good. But, we generally feel reason is more secure and emotion more prone to error. As Christians, we want to discipline our emotions during the good times, so that they help us to deal with the tough times. Rand would say we want to fall in love with what is good. Yet, in her novels, it doesn’t always work out that way. Rand’s characters are flawed. But, aren’t we all. In Christianity, we say there is forgiveness. For us, the victory is won and our salvation is secure. In Rand’s novels, there is drama.
Look, I am very forgiving of Rand. She wrote at a time when socialism was ascendent and the church corrupted by Marxist thinking. So, she was strong against collectivism and strong for the heroic individual, when that was what was needed. Today things are different, or are they? The prior Pope skipped over Centisimus Anus in his social teachings and returned the Catholic Church to its accommodation with the welfare state, or so it seems. And this current Pope doesn’t sound like an advocate for free market capitalism. So, if church leaders are so wrong on matters of economics and physical science, why is Ayn Rand held to the standard of perfection?
RE: I can’t see what difference it makes.
Well I think I can.
If we simply exist because of nature, then our ultimate end is the same regardless of whether we decide to be like Ayn Rand or Osama Bin Ladin.
Since ones destiny is ultimately unrelated to ones behavior, you may as well just live as you please. As Dostoyevsky put it: If there is no immortality then all things are permitted.
On this basis, a writer like Ayn Rand is absolutely correct to praise the virtues of selfishness. Live totally for self; no one holds you accountable!
Indeed, it would be foolish to do anything else, for life is too short to jeopardize it by acting out of anything but pure self-interest. Sacrifice for another person would be stupid.
In which case, I don’t see why either desiring to subscribe to Ayn Rand’s philosophy or not would matter in the end if her idea of how we came into being is right.
For in Ayn rand’s universe, REAL good and evil, rationality or irrationality do not exist. There is only the bare valueless fact of existence, and there is no one to say you are right and I am wrong.
The metaphysics and epistemology of Objectivism and Christianity are irreconcilable, but they are allies in the war against statism and socialism.