Posts Tagged altruism

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 Read the rest of this entry »

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Ayn Rand: Closer to Christianity than Marx

Ayn RandThe American Values Network recently lambasted Rep. Paul Ryan for expressing pro-Rand sentiments in several statements and online videos. In a response ad geared toward Ryan’s supporters, AVN criticized Rand’s atheism and ethics, acting as though Christian conservatives would be shocked to learn of her beliefs.

How could we, as admirers of Rand, ever be aware of her rejection of the Judeo-Christian ethos? She’s sooooo subtle.

I doubt any Christian Rand admirers were surprised at the news. Most of us draw value out of Rand in very specific ways, and we are very used to hearing the majority of our conservative brethren rejecting and lambasting her views outright (see Whittaker Chambers). What the ad really did, then, was illuminate the way the Left continues to misunderstand conservatives, particularly when it comes to what value, if any, they see in Rand.

Let us remember: For progressives, Rand is the epitome of what they are not. She boasts an emphasis on individualism that, in its most basic orientation, is opposed to their top-down, mechanical view of human engagement and society. For them, it is (supposedly) all about the “other,” and for Rand, the other only matters insofar as she is beneficial to the self (not a charming alternative, if you ask me). Faulty ethics aside, in mere political application, Rand’s message is in many ways your typical pro-capitalism shtick — rational self-interest does not negate or disregard the other; rather, it allows humans to identify ways through which they can share, exchange, and collaborate in a productive manner.

Where conservatives typically differ with Rand is on her view of the human person — the nature of the individual himself — and the subsequent moral responsibilities we as individuals have toward others. For example, what precisely is our value? Is it intrinsic? What precisely is in our self-interest? Could it actually be selflessness? It is here that we move away from the political jabber — the primary kumbaya nexus of, say, Atlas Shrugged — and toward the more fundamental disagreements over philosophy and theology (still a largely evident feature of Atlas Shrugged, if not too much so).

Yet, I suspect, even on matters of philosophy and theology, conservatives and Christians can actually find more in common with Rand than they might assume (not to mention what they might learn from their differences). As a way of illuminating this, one might consider how Rand stacks up against other atheist or “non-Christian” thinkers. For example, I continue to hear Rand compared to Karl Marx, as though Read the rest of this entry »

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Dear Ayn Rand: God Is Not a Communist Dictator

Ayn RandIn my recent post at Common Sense Concept, I tackle some issues surrounding that most beloved of libertarian icons, Ayn Rand. More specifically, I focus my critique on her views about Jesus and his teachings.

Many people have criticized Christians for admiring Rand’s political views, primarily because Rand was an atheist who abhorred Jesus’ teachings on self-sacrifice (Rand prefers the term altruism). Christians should certainly be wary of the anti-Christian elements within Rand’s thinking, but I think examining her errors will help us better understand the implications of Rand’s philosophy, as well as those of Christianity properly understood.

I think Rand’s fundamental error is that she doesn’t think any personal good or personal profit can come from self-sacrifice, whether in the spiritual realm or in the natural. Jesus taught, on the other hand, that properly executed self-sacrifice yields gains in both.

Here’s an excerpt from my post:

The message of Christ is both self-sacrificial and self-interested all in one. The Beatitudes don’t read “cursed are the poor,” yet they also don’t read “blessed are the rich.” Likewise, Jesus constantly qualifies his demands for sacrifice with promises of reward, whether in this life or the next. For anyone who reads the Gospels in full, Jesus is consistent and intentional in the way he elevates the ideal of self-sacrifice alongside the ideal of rational self-interest.

In a sense, I am sympathetic to Rand. After all, her views about the Christian God have been reinforced by the church itself. As I have discussed recently (here and here), the church consistently paints a picture of a God that elevates the role of oppression alongside salvation:

Whether or not we want to admit it, the historical church has been complicit in painting God as Rand does — as some lofty and detached communist dictator who delights in limiting our ambitions and seizing his fair share. Like Rand, many Christians opt for a one-sided Jesus who delights in our suffering and whose heavenly Father sees oppression as a prerequisite for salvation.

To read the full post, click here.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Moral Life of Babies: Does Moral Agency Have a Starting Point?

BabyPaul Bloom has a fascinating article on the morality of babies in the New York Times Magazine, in which he provides an overview of the psychological studies he has been conducting at the Infant Cognition Center at Yale University.

The article is quite extensive, so I won’t go into too much detail, but I wanted to note that his findings definitely identify signs for significant moral capacities in babies. Whether it’s showing preference for “good guys” vs. “bad guys” or smiling/laughing at “justice” vs. “injustice,” Bloom shows that babies have at least some sort of moral aptitude.

As Bloom concludes: “Babies possess certain moral foundations — the capacity and willingness to judge the actions of others, some sense of justice, gut responses to altruism and nastiness.”

I take exception to plenty of things in Bloom’s article, particularly the Singeresque notion that babies must be “humanized” (i.e. civilized) in order to be considered moral agents or worthwhile beings. Mere self-consciousness is hardly a starting point for discussing moral agency, and such arguments usually exclude the mentally disabled and plenty of others from the realm of moral capability. However, as a whole, I think Bloom’s findings are a great starting point for bringing the Blooms, Singers, and Dawkinses of the world to a proper view of human life.

If the moral agency and moral worth of babies are thought to be components we can gauge with human instruments, it would follow that such lives can be discriminated against using our Read the rest of this entry »

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Does “Going Green” Lead to Unethical Behavior?

Would driving this ugly thing make you a better person?

Have you ever felt like someone else is better than you because they grocery shop with reusable bags and you’re still snatching 10 to 20 plastic ones?

A new study says that (1) you are most likely being positively impacted by the cloth bag lady, but (2) she is most likely a selfish jerk.

Ok, maybe not quite.

The study actually found that “mere exposure” to green products can increase altruistic behavior, but actually purchasing those products can result in quite the opposite.

Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, the study’s authors, sum it up as follows:

Although mere exposure to green products can have a positive societal effect by inducing prosocial and ethical acts, purchasing green products may license indulgence in self-interested and unethical behaviors.

But why would that be Read the rest of this entry »

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