The Radical Atheistic Agenda of Ayn Rand (by Jeff Fulmer)
I enjoyed “Atlas Shrugged” when I read it several a few years ago. While it is on the long side, it is an epic tale with bigger-than-life characters. Led by the mysterious John Galt, important people begin to disappear (Spoiler Alert) to form their own little society in the mountains of Colorado. These heroic men and women have become so tired of the oppressive, ungrateful world; they “shrug” it off, letting civilization crumble without their leadership.
It sounded cool to escape the day-to-day grind and start over with this elite group. Then I began to wonder why I would be picked to join this league of luminaries… I wasn’t a captain of industry, or a genius artist, or a brilliant inventor. That put me squarely in the dark along with the rest of the unwashed masses. Ayn Rand’s followers might want to ask themselves the same question – on what grounds would they qualify for the John Galt Society?
What is even more difficult to comprehend is the number of Christians who promote Atlas Shrugged as a manifesto of their personal beliefs. Although she partnered with social conservatives to further her own agenda, Ayn Rand was a devout atheist. One of Ms. Rand’s core beliefs was that the individual “should exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others, nor sacrificing others to himself.” This is in stark opposition to the teachings of a carpenter/healer who lived and died for the salvation of others.
Digging a little deeper into the Ayn Rand books is a disturbing disdain for the less fortunate. The poor are poor basically because they are lazy dullards who deserve their lot in life. Actually, they deserve worse, if only the government would get out of the way and stop propping them up. Ayn Rand condemned ethical altruism, eschewing it for the “virtue of selfishness.” She knew and accepted this was antithetical to Christ’s teachings (“what you do to the least of these, you do to me”), and she would be the first to admit her true religion was capitalism.
As a Russian girl, Ayn’s (or Alisa Rosenbaum at the time) upper middle-class family lost their business during the Bolshevik Revolution. This understandably had a major impact on shaping her world-view. Sympathies for her stop there. As her writing gained popularity, she reputedly fostered a cultish atmosphere among her followers and called herself “the most creative thinker alive.” A two pack a day smoker, Ms. Rand scoffed at government warnings about cigarettes, until she developed lung cancer. It’s also worth noting that she took social security and Medicare when it was in her interest.
Perhaps Ayn Rand’s brilliance was to convince average Americans they are the John Galts and Dagny Taggarts (the female protagonist in Atlas Shrugged). If only the government would lift its heavy hand, these individuals would finally be free to build skyscrapers, invent jet-packs, and cure cancer. Blaming our dashed dreams on a big, bad bully is always popular theme – and the government makes a good fall guy, especially when a Democrat is in office. It is the perpetuation of this myth that actually gets the “little guy” to vote for policies that benefit the rich and against his own self-interests.
Ms. Rand’s argument that taxes and regulations will reduce the incentive for the best and brightest is a long way from the world we actually live in. Reduced tax rates on the upper end of the economic scale have created an even wider dictionary ‘wealth chasm’ and corporations are doing better than ever. Even when tax rates were significantly higher, I don’t remember anyone dropping out of society because they were too oppressed. The rich may winter in the Caribbean, but they will never stop participating in the economy because they need the rest of us to buy their goods and services.
Capitalism works best when government provides restraint and balance. We got a tiny taste of laissez faire capitalism when an under-regulated financial industry sold trillions of dollars of credit mortgage default swaps and nearly took down the whole economy. We caught a glimpse of what the world could look like without government intervention when FEMA was slow to respond in the wake of Katrina. I don’t know about you, but that is not the kind of world I want to live in – and it’s certainly not “Christian.” If you think you can do better, John Galt has a nice spot in Colorado for you.
Jeff Fulmer lives in Brentwood, Tennessee and is the author of the book Hometown Prophet.