Jesus and Ayn RandPosted: July 1, 2012
Jesus and Ayn Rand
When I was in High School, Ayn Rand was a very popular author among young people, especially white, bright and talented adolescents. Her novels the Fountain Head and Atlas Shrugged, were very popular and since Rand worked as a Hollywood screenwriter, she wrote the screen play for the film version of her novel Fountain Head. Since I had made a personal spiritual commitment to the way of Jesus during my confirmation I found myself almost diametrically opposed to Ayn Rand’s philosophy she called objectivism.
I don’t want to go into a full explanation of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, but I would like to lift up some of her ideas I find most objectionable, and I feel are most in contrast with the way of Jesus. Rand believed reality is solely made up of concrete objects, our perceptions and thoughts about those objects, and reason. She had no room for feelings in her reality. She also had no room for God or the divine, or any form of religion or mysticism in her thought. Rand also taught that the highest good was the pursuit of one’s own self-interest, as exemplified by this quotation from her book, Philosophy Who Needs It? “If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that people have to reject.” She again reiterated her commitment to selfishness in her book The Virtue of Selfishness: “Just as man cannot survive by any random means, but must discover and practice the principles which his survival requires, so man’s self-interest cannot be determined by blind desires or random whims, but must be discovered and achieved by the guidance of rational principles. This is why the Objectivist ethics is a morality of rational self-interest—or of rational selfishness.”
It seemed to me even as a fourteen year old that a good summary of the way of Jesus is “love God, love your neighbor,” and Ayn Rand is sort of diametrically opposed to the way of Jesus. So why should we even consider the philosophy of Ayn Rand in church and on Fourth of July Sunday? Ayn Rand and her “Virtue of Selfishness” have once again become part of our national political discourse. Prominent members of Congress have posted on their websites that Ayn Rand is their philosophical hero, and they have encouraged their staffs and their supporters to read Ayn Rand as a theoretical model for understanding national policy and the debates over the national budget.
The re-emergence of Ayn Rand’s philosophy as part of our national political discussion surprises and disturbs me. While we try to avoid political partisanship in the life of our community of faith, I believe people dedicated to the way of Jesus can still participate in our national political dialogue especially about issues of public policy concerning the poor and the marginalized in our society. Pippa has been faithful about lifting up for us the affects of Medicaid Budget cuts on the impoverished, especially children who are poor. Because our congregation has a commitment to the mentally ill we have also lifted up the affects of public policy on the mentally ill. I believe as followers of Jesus we can bring an important perspective to the national dialogue about loving our neighbor, when there are those in Congress who are advocating for “rational selfishness.”
Loving our neighbors means being willing to share. As Jesus said, “when everyone shares, everyone can have enough to eat.” Or as Mahatma Gandhi said, “live simply so that others may simply live.” We are living in a very, very selfish culture. The income gap in our society is growing and many of our richest citizens engage in lavish life styles, while the working poor find themselves unable to afford basic necessities even while working forty and fifty hours a week. As more employers drop health care as a benefit, health insurance and health care becomes unaffordable for an increasing number of people including some of our own members. Pippa’s blog has provided documentation about people who are dying for lack of appropriate health care. I hope and pray I will not be called upon to conduct a funeral for a member of our congregation who has been unable to afford a crucial medication or surgery. The Deacons have helped some people with medications and medical treatment, but the Deacon’s fund will only stretch so far.
I am concerned Ayn Rand’s objectivism has been resurrected in order to justify a segment of wealthy people, who selfishly do not want to help others. That reminds me of an old story about a young volunteer who went to call on a wealthy and miserly member of the community to ask for a donation to the United Way.
“Mister Smith, I was asked by the fundraising committee to call on you as a responsible and prosperous business owner of our community to make a donation to support our community’s United Way,” began the young volunteer.
“Well,” interrupted the miserly Mister Smith, “does your committee know that my nephew is an invalid with no means of support?”
“No,” replied the volunteer.
“And does your committee know that my mother is in a very expensive nursing home?” continued the miser.
“And is your committee aware that I have three employees with catastrophic health problems?”
“No, I’m sorry we didn’t know.”
“Well, if I’m not helping any of these people, why do you think I would give to your United Way?”
The way of Jesus is not opposed to capitalism. There is a difference between free enterprise and selfishness. A couple of years ago our Monday Bible Study read a book entitled Moral Capitalism. Allow me to share several important points from the introduction to Moral Capitalism.
Capitalism seems to be the best economic system for promoting the general over all prosperity for everyone. But can it be made to work ethically and morally? This book presents a case for how capitalism can be both moral and ethical and promote the general welfare.
To sustain our profits over time, we need to replenish the capital we invest in the business. That capital comes in five different forms: social capital, reputational capital or “goodwill,” finance capital, physical capital, and human capital. These forms of capital are the essential factors of production.
Social capital is provided by society; it is the quality of laws, the cultural and social institutions, the roads, ports, airports and telecommunications, the educational achievements, the health and value environments that encourage or discourage successful enterprise.
Reputational capital adds value to a business by attracting and keeping customers, employees, investors, and suppliers. Finance capital is the classic form of capital: access to money. Physical capital is land, plant, and equipment. And human capital embraces the quality, creativity, loyalty, and productivity of employees.
When a business contributes to social capital, it is acting responsibly and ethically. When a business invests in its reputation, it better serves the needs of consumers and meets the expectations of society. When business invests in its human capital, it provides better lives and working conditions for its employees.
The problem we are facing in the second decade of the 21st Century is a reckless pursuit of self-interest without an appropriate appreciation of the general welfare. Our scripture from Paul lifts up the need to be concerned for others as well as self. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty egotism, but with humility regard one another to be as more important as yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” The way of Jesus calls upon us to be mindful that we are all in this together. If I prosper at my neighbor’s expense, sooner or later we will all lose. If I grow rich by polluting the environment or exploiting my neighbor, then I have stolen my wealth by sacrificing the general welfare for my own selfish ends.
In addition if I prosper, by the grace of God, then Jesus asks me to share with my neighbor who has not prospered. There is no shame in making money, or investing resources wisely, or being rewarded for entrepreneurship, only remember the poor, share, and consider the interests of others to be as important as our own.
As we prepare to celebrate our national Holiday of the Fourth of July, allow me to read the preamble to the Constitution of the United States:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
I believe a philosophy of “rational selfishness” fails to establish justice or promote the general welfare. As for me and my house we will follow in the way of Jesus.