What Can Christians Learn from Ayn Rand?


Ayn Rand, atheism, Objectivism, Christianity, ethicsOver the last few weeks, Ayn Rand has been a frequent topic on the blog (see parts 1, 2, and 3). Thus, I thought it might be beneficial to wrap things up with what I believe to be the key takeaways for Christians.

“For Christians?” you ask? Yes, for Christians.

Atheist and Objectivist William Schultz has done a great job of providing insight into the basics of Randian ethics and how they fundamentally differ from those of Christianity (see here and here). But rather than get into a deep debate over the merits and demerits of such an ethical framework (and/or it’s assumptions, conclusions, etc.), I figured I’d assess what the Christian might learn simply by examining it, assuming one retains their view of God, Christ, “objective” truth, etc. (I hope you have!)

In other words, what I believe we can learn from Rand would most certainly be rejected by Rand herself. In my own spiritual and intellectual journey, Rand has, most simply, challenged me to reconsider and build upon, though not abandon, specific features of my beliefs, and has, in turn, contributed more depth and dimension to the way I, as a Christian, view the individual and his subsequent relationship to God and man.

So, without further explanation, here’s what I think we can learn:

1. Truth matters. This may seem like a given, but today’s Christians have a tendency to elevate “love” above “truth,” as if one can exist without the other (e.g. Love Wins). Rand’s entire premise is that we must strive to discover the truth (the “objective” kind) and by doing so we will somehow achieve happiness (her highest value). For the Christian, our “objective” truth differs drastically from Rand’s. Ours is, shall we say, “super-objective” in the sense that it is supernatural. In addition, “happiness” — either our own or that of others — is not to be our highest end or “value”; the Glory of God is. In many ways, however, Rand seems more concerned with discovering, defining, promoting, and incorporating truth (itself) than many prominent Christian writers and thinkers. Of course, we all like to say we believe in God and the Bible and the Resurrection, and so on, but beyond that, many in today’s church think that’s as far as it goes, limiting their love along with it. In our day-to-day lives, many of us assume that the best we can do is give generously, turn the other cheek, and “do” a couple of missions trips (not unnecessary activities, to be sure). Yet we can’t be effective doers of the Word without the Word (i.e. the truth), so why do we forget this? Rand’s challenging, absolute, and energetic defense of the wrong kind of truth, and how it actually works on the praxis level, should challenge and prod us toward thinking and talking more clearly and emphatically about the right kind of truth — the Christian kind — and how we might act on it appropriately.

2. The Christian life is not about sacrifice (or “altruism”); it’s about obedience. As I’ve argued elsewhere, we have a natural tendency to take Jesus’ call to sacrifice and pervert it according to our debased, earthly understandings (e.g. Judas and the expensive ointment). Although we know we are to rely on the Holy Spirit and the Word for guidance, we are (and always will be) tempted to misalign our efforts by opting for a worldview based on the other rather than God (contrary to the First Commandment). This is simply pagan sacrifice with the community as idol, and as Samuel once told King Saul, that ain’t right. Yet because the proper approach involves a constant struggle of individual communion and relationship with God, it introduces us to a different temptation leading toward the me-centered Christianity we so often hear criticized (and rightly so). By outright promoting such a me-centered approach to life, Rand is unique in challenging our more subtle temptations in a way not typically tried and tested by those who pretend it’s as easy as it sounds (e.g. David Platt: “just curb your income at $50,000! Bada bing bada boom!”). By providing such a drastically inadequate approach to hyper-individualism, Rand uniquely challenges us to consider what value we as Christians are actually producing as individuals. We must be careful, of course, to remember that such “value” is far different for the Christian than it is for Rand, particularly because it is as filthy rags without you-know-who. (see #3)

3. The ultimate value must remain the will of God. This is somewhat similar to #2, but what I want to emphasize here is that we must be attentive to the ways in which our values are shaped and ordered, and how we, after wholly submitting to God, understand value in his terms. What does this look like on a day-to-day basis? How are we to gauge our efforts here on earth if our activities are executed for an ultimately non-earthly purpose? As Schultz argued in his introduction to Randian ethics, we know that we need oxygen before water (and so on), but the Christian must take such an ordering process further, asking these questions in the spiritual dimension, which involves plenty of earthly ripple effects. For example, should we value profits over generosity, or does it depend? How does God’s timing and specific method of execution factor in? Here, Rand’s earthbound ethics make clear the inadequacies of only looking to “happiness” and “value” as we think we understand them, challenging us to examine whether our own view of such features is more arbitrary than we assume. By being sure to conform to a Biblical view of value, we will, for example, soon discover that what is in God’s interest is also in our interest, and that what is in our interest will inevitably involve contributing to the interests of others. That’s a strong claim, to be sure, but you know I believe it.

4. Christians and Objectivists can find common ground on the role of government. This series was, in part, spawned by the flush of negative criticisms directed toward Rand’s political views and the Christians who admire them. As Schultz indicated, and I agree, Rand’s political views — most marvelously outlined in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal — can find a great deal of synthesis with the political views of Christians (yes, for some of us, capitalism is supported by Christian ethics). Just because Ayn Rand thinks the individual is a god and the Christian thinks the individual is an active servant of God doesn’t mean we can’t agree on the individual’s role in political society. (i.e. I smell an alliance.)

For some, such takeaways will seem completely unnecessary, if not bizarre. Indeed, I would not be at all surprised to learn that some readers either disagree with my beliefs or don’t understand why we need Rand to “challenge” us toward them in the first place (I felt the same way about The Shack — terrible book!).

That’s fine and dandy, and I’m happy for them. But for me and countless others, Rand challenges us — even inspires us — to critique and solidify our own views on the role of the individual, the other, and, above all, God. If you still think she’s disposable, than by all means, disregard at will. But hopefully this series will demonstrate that some people take her views seriously and that admiring certain features of Rand does not automatically transform one into a blind, anti-altruism zombie. It does not, as Whittaker Chambers famously put it, lead to the gas chamber, even if Rand herself may have been packing her bags for precisely that.

The author of Hebrews wrote that “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” In discussing Rand, let’s stop pretending that Christians are a bunch of babies. Maybe then we can start separating the poison from the peas.

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  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/94072148792066048 Remnant Culture

    Final wrap-up of our series: "What Can Christians Learn from #AynRand?" You might be surprised. http://t.co/TjMR05t

  • http://twitter.com/commonconcept/status/94091383014555649 Common Sense Concept

    Final wrap-up of our series: "What Can Christians Learn from #AynRand?" You might be surprised. http://t.co/TjMR05t

  • http://twitter.com/jstevenmoore/status/94116014488420352 Steve Moore

    RT @RemnantCulture: What Can Christians Learn from Ayn Rand? http://t.co/znIiMwK

  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/94414422101073920 Remnant Culture

    What can Christians learn from #AynRand? Let's separate the peas from the poison: http://t.co/TjMR05t

  • http://twitter.com/commonconcept/status/94416781564850176 Common Sense Concept

    RT @RemnantCulture: What can Christians learn from #AynRand? Let's separate the peas from the poison: http://bit.ly/rqlKRY

  • http://twitter.com/josephsunde/status/94423336829988864 Joseph Sunde

    What can Christians learn from Ayn Rand? I try my best to separate the poison from the peas: http://t.co/b1f7EHo

  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/94424166039683073 Remnant Culture

    In admiring Ayn Rand, I manage to diss Love Wins, The Shack, & D.Platt's Radical. Yes, I'm still a Christian: http://t.co/TjMR05t

  • http://twitter.com/commonconcept/status/94559356753948672 Common Sense Concept

    RT @josephsunde: What can Christians learn from Ayn Rand? I try my best to separate the poison from the peas: http://bit.ly/rqlKRY

  • http://twitter.com/commonconcept/status/94802712536944642 Common Sense Concept

    ICYMI… RT @josephsunde: What can Christians learn from Ayn Rand? I try my best to separate the poison from the peas: http://t.co/b1f7EHo

  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/95620132998610944 Remnant Culture

    What can Ayn Rand teach Christians about truth, altruism, values, and the role of government? http://t.co/TjMR05t

  • http://twitter.com/kalimkassam/status/95620565443940352 Kalim Kassam

    What can Ayn Rand teach Christians about truth, altruism, values, and the role of government? http://t.co/TjMR05t

  • http://twitter.com/commonconcept/status/95641451354005505 Common Sense Concept

    What can Ayn Rand teach Christians about truth, altruism, values, and the role of government? http://t.co/TjMR05t

  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/98801603661934592 Remnant Culture

    One of our most-viewed posts: What Can Christians Learn from Ayn Rand? http://t.co/TjMR05t

  • http://twitter.com/commonconcept/status/99931252706127872 Common Sense Concept

    RT @RemnantCulture: One of our most-viewed posts: What Can Christians Learn from Ayn Rand? http://bit.ly/rqlKRY

  • http://twitter.com/foolsconfidence/status/100086520484073472 Alexei Laushkin

    RT @RemnantCulture: One of our most-viewed posts: What Can Christians Learn from Ayn Rand? http://bit.ly/rqlKRY

  • http://twitter.com/ferfermarie/status/101244526680752129 mrsjones

    RT @RemnantCulture: What Can Christians Learn from Ayn Rand? http://t.co/cBx6FJ2

  • http://terry.iPearson.net/ Terry Pearson

    I agree with almost everything you say here. (I have a minor objection to your opinion of “The Shack”).

    On a lighter note, your comment “Maybe then we can start separating the poison from the peas” reminded me of a certain president who recently said “It is time to eat our peas!”

  • http://twitter.com/josephsunde/status/118382747277459456 Joseph Sunde

    @eliseamyx Thanks for the tweet! I did another 4-pt. series on Rand recently. Here's part 4: http://t.co/5Gp3ZciG

  • http://twitter.com/rjmoeller/status/118382846007189504 RJ Moeller

    @eliseamyx Thanks for the tweet! I did another 4-pt. series on Rand recently. Here's part 4: http://t.co/5Gp3ZciG

  • Pingback: Chosen Instruments: Obedience and Socio-Economic Decision Making « Remnant Culture

  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/156484278966951936 Remnant Culture

    Read our #7 most popular post of 2011: What Can Christians Learn from Ayn Rand? http://t.co/8sfMuzbB #tcot #tlot #AynRand

  • http://twitter.com/valuesandcap/status/156526934753423360 Values & Capitalism

    RT @remnantculture: Read our #7 most popular post of 2011: What Can Christians Learn from Ayn Rand? http://t.co/9XRi1Y3H #tcot #tlot

  • http://twitter.com/jordanballor/status/215834983636545536 Jordan Ballor

    @danielsilliman Check out @JosephSunde http://t.co/39qRpMle

  • http://twitter.com/josephsunde/status/215874318138228737 Joseph Sunde

    @danielsilliman Check out @JosephSunde http://t.co/39qRpMle

  • http://twitter.com/josephsunde/status/235091943682609152 Joseph Sunde

    REMINDER: Reading & admiring Ayn Rand doesn't constitute robotic ideological alignment. Consider http://t.co/HVO49TRz & http://t.co/5GoZrChM

  • http://twitter.com/cfmpl/status/235092466091577344 CFMPL

    REMINDER: Reading & admiring Ayn Rand doesn't constitute robotic ideological alignment. Consider http://t.co/HVO49TRz & http://t.co/5GoZrChM

  • http://twitter.com/remnantculture/status/235100105454268416 Remnant Culture

    "Rand’s theory is self-defeating because it denies that the free market is based on our social nature." @robertsirico http://t.co/8sfHWZ2r

  • http://twitter.com/josephsunde/status/235102399646298113 Joseph Sunde

    What can Christians learn from Ayn Rand? Separating the poison from the peas: http://t.co/3yMR0YA2 @MarvinOlasky @ThomasSKidd @Walker_Andrew

  • http://twitter.com/stephenkokx/status/235102748000006144 Stephen Kokx

    What can Christians learn from Ayn Rand? Separating the poison from the peas: http://t.co/3yMR0YA2 @MarvinOlasky @ThomasSKidd @Walker_Andrew

  • http://twitter.com/rickttormala/status/235104493652561920 Rick Tormala

    What can Christians learn from Ayn Rand? Separating the poison from the peas: http://t.co/3yMR0YA2 @MarvinOlasky @ThomasSKidd @Walker_Andrew