Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Ayn Rand, the famous atheist and novelist, died 32 years ago today, on March 6th 1982, in New York City. Pastor John, I have for you a host of related questions, including: What drew you to her fictional works? What did you appreciate about them? How does Christ fulfill the intuitive direction she set out to express in her works? And, finally, did you ever meet or reach out to her? [letter: July 26, 1979; http://dsr.gd/1b7jaN6]?

Yeah. In the late 70s maybe 75 to end of the decade or so I was in my early 30s and I read Ayn Rand voraciously. I read Atlas Shrugged, The Fountain Head, Virtue of Selfishness, New Intellectual, The Romantic Manifesto, probably some other things I can’t remember. To some kinds of minds Ayn Rand is very luring and very dangerous. She is luring for her philosophical braggadocio. She is unbelievably articulate and logically rigorous. And she dangerous for coming so close to truth and missing it so far. Ayn Rand is like a spaceship that is supposed to land on the moon and just misses the gravitational pull of the moon and is lost in outer space. I think you watch her coming to the moon. You say, “Yeah, me, too, me, too, Miss Rand, me, too. Let’s land there.” And she goes... And you think: Oh, no. It is just endless outer darkness, which is, I mean, that is an absolute accurate way of describing where she went.

I wrote a long appreciative critique and I sent it to her. So in response to your question did I reach out, I sent it to her in 1979 with a letter. I never heard from her personally. I have a sense that it probably got to her or at least to her side kick, because I went over to the book store at Luther Seminary way back in the 80s and I found this book about her and my name was in the index in a footnote that even, you know, a fundamentalist Baptist pastors have been influenced by such {?}. Well, why would they even say that? I had never published anything about her.

But here is what attracted me and how I think she points to truth and to Jesus ultimately. She esteemed reason individualism and hedonism. And so do I. At least taken in the way the Bible thinks about those three things. She was a brilliant and aggressive rationalist with the laws of reason, the law of identity. A is A and not non-A. Law of contraction. Two things can’t be true in the same way at the same time and yet contradict each other. Law of causality. All effects have sufficient causes. I believe all those. And they are unbelievably foundational to the way we think. I think Jesus believed all those and represented them in his teachings. And so without using any of the technical terms Jesus assumed and used the laws of non contradiction. I tried to show that in my book Think.

Number two, she prized individualism. So do I and so did Jesus the way God intended it. I loathe communistic pressure towards sameness and conformity. I saw the ugly effects of it back in the 70s in Europe with the horrible architectural and other ways that communist deadens people, kills the individualism of people, squashes out all their... the beautiful distinctiveness that God has given to each person. Jesus was relentlessly focusing on the individual. You, individual, don’t be angry. You, individual, cut off your hand. You, individual, stay in you marriage. You, individual, don’t take an oath. You, individual, love your enemy. You, individual, follow me. You, individual, leave your business, Matthew. Just over and over and over again Jesus is on the individual. None of this {?} corporate thinking that people try to, you know, escape from the very personal pointed way that Jesus deals with individuals. But the unity and the harmony... so I am circling around to avoid criticism here. The unity and the harmony that God prizes in the body of Christ is precisely the kind that has every one being their full created individual selves. And because of that making a beautiful mosaic and a harmony and truth in the body of Christ. So yes to the beauties of the Church and the togetherness of individuals in oneness and truth and beauty.

And, thirdly, hedonism. She espoused it and hers was merciless. She hated mercy. She hated altruism. Her biggest problem.... this is her biggest problem. She thought that the highest virtue was happiness through reason and I want to say yes, through the right use of reason to know what is really there. And then she made one massive flaw that totally created many other flaws. That is, she totally rejected the existence of God. And that made her blind to what true happiness is and what virtue truly is. Christianity—and this is what blew me away and I wanted to recue her and call her back, because she just totally misunderstood Christian altruism. Christianity stood for altruism which in her mind stood for giving people what they don’t deserve which, for her, meant rewarding and honoring stupidity and rewarding and honoring vice and rewarding and honoring weakness and so you are honoring the dishonorable which is a loss of truth and a loss of integrity and, for her, the ultimate evil. That is her reconstruction of Christianity.

You can see where it veers. It goes to the moon and it veers off. Here is what she said. Sacrifice is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of a non value. The rational principle of conduct is the exact opposite. Always act in accordance with the hierarchy of your values and never sacrifice a greater value to a lesser one. Well, I just totally agree with that principle. Why would she think that in my having mercy upon a person and treating them better than they deserve, I have somehow forsaken my highest values. And the reason she can’t see it is because she has no God in the picture who is our highest value. If God is our highest value and he satisfies our soul and joining him with millions of other people who have been brought from death to life and won over to enjoy him as their supreme value through being treated better than they deserve on the cross, if that is true, you don’t have to sacrifice your highest values in order to show mercy, in order to be kind and to love your enemy, because your goal in that is to bring them out of sin and out of irrationality and into a place where they see clearly, they think clearly, they love clearly, they admire clearly which are all the things that she wanted. And so her key problem is: once you cut God out of the picture you just can’t make sense of reality. And so she was almost landing on the moon with her rationalism, almost landing on the moon with her individualism, almost landing on the moon with her hedonism and she missed it, because she had no God in her system and therefore the highest value of enjoying him and bringing others with you, even if they don't deserve it, made no sense to her.

Hmm. So you look back on her life with a sobered appreciation.

Yeah, I mean, I cannot but stand in awe of her mental powers and her creative story telling ability. A lot of people think Atlas Shrugged is a bad novel, because it is a preachy novel. Well, I like that kind of novel. I mean, she has got a speech in there by John Galt that goes for 90 pages. I mean that is a book on philosophy in the middle of a novel. That is why, you know, novelists say that is a ridiculous way to write a novel. Well, there was an interview a few years ago. I think it was in the 80s that said among Americans after the Bible, Atlas Shrugged has been the most influential book of all. That was an interview. I don’t know who they interviewed, but several thousand folks said: Which books have influenced your life most? And the Bible is number one. Atlas Shrugged was number two. Well, you can call that a bad novel if you want, but is and in awe, number one, of that John Galt speech and the rational powers. But to praise it would be like praising the powers of a blind person to incredibly understand everything they touch and use all of those discoveries to curse light. That is what she does. She is a brilliant blind person. So she has got these hands of rationality and she is feeling things. And she is saying them with such incredible insight and she is using all of her insight as she uses these hands to curse the concept of light. And so she can’t get it. She is getting it and then she is totally missing it.

Tragic.

It is tragic.

Thank you Pastor John. For more details, see Pastor John’s lengthy and detailed critique of Rand, which you can find for free at desiringGod.org. Search for the article by its title: “The Ethics of Ayn Rand: Appreciation and Critique.” This is the article that was originally written in the 1970s, and the paper Pastor John sent to Rand in the summer of 1979. Apparently she got it, but it’s not clear how she responded to it. … And the book Think, is free of charge for you online at the desiring God as well. Click on the book tab and brose for the title. … Speaking of critique, a brand new book is out, criticizing you, Pastor John, and Jonathan Edwards, and neo-Calvinism. Tomorrow I want to ask you one specific question that’s been raised by this book about the interplay between God’s love and his glory. Until then, I’m your host Tony Reinke, thanks for listening.