Ayn Rand, the famous atheist and novelist, died 32 years ago today, on March 6, 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?
In the late seventies — maybe 1975 — to the end of the decade, I was in my early thirties, and I read Ayn Rand voraciously. I read Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, The Virtue of Selfishness, For the New Intellectual, The Romantic Manifesto, and probably some others I can’t remember. To some kinds of minds, Ayn Rand is very alluring and very dangerous. She is alluring for her philosophical braggadocio. She is unbelievably articulate and logically rigorous. And she is dangerous for coming so close to truth and missing it so far.
So Close to Truth
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, Miss Rand, me, too. Let’s land there.” And she goes off, and you think, “Oh, no. It is just endless outer darkness,” which is an absolutely 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 about whether I reached 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 sidekick, because I went over to the bookstore at Luther Seminary way back in the eighties, and I found this book about her. My name was in the index in a footnote that even fundamentalist Baptist pastors have been influenced by such and such. Well, why would they even say that? I had never published anything about her.
Three Partial Truths Rand Embraced
But here is what attracted me, and how I think she points to truth and ultimately, to Jesus. She esteemed reason, individualism, and hedonism. And so do I — at least taken in the way the Bible thinks about those three things.
1. Laws of Logic
She was a brilliant and aggressive rationalist with the laws of reason, the law of identity. A is A and not non-A — the Law of Noncontradiction — two things can’t be true in the same way at the same time and yet contradict each other. The 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 Law of Noncontradiction. I tried to show that in my book, Think.
2. Individual Over Group
She also prized individualism. So do I, and so did Jesus — the way God intended it. I loathe communistic pressure toward sameness and conformity. I saw the ugly effects of it back in the seventies in Europe with the horrible architecture and other ways that communism deadens people, kills the individualism of people, and squashes out all the beautiful distinctiveness that God has given to each person. Jesus was relentlessly focusing on the individual:
You, individual, don’t be angry (see Matthew 5:22). You, individual, cut off your hand (5:29). You, individual, stay in your marriage (5:31). You, individual, don’t take an oath (5:34). You, individual, love your enemy (5:44). You, individual, follow me (8:22). You, Matthew, leave your business (9:9).
Just over and over and over again, Jesus is on the individual. None of this smooshy, 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 — that God prizes in the body of Christ is precisely the kind that has everyone 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.
3. Never Sacrifice the Greater for the Lesser
And, thirdly, hedonism — she espoused it, and hers was merciless. She hated mercy. She hated altruism. 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 rescue her and call her back, because she just totally misunderstood Christian altruism — stood for altruism. In her mind, altruism 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. 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. (The Virtue of Selfishness, 44).
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 if he satisfies our soul, and if we join 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, 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 showing mercy 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, and they admire clearly.
“Once you cut God out of the picture, you just can’t make sense of reality.”
Those are all the things that she wanted. Her key problem is that once you cut God out of the picture, you just can’t make sense of reality. 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. Therefore, the highest value of enjoying him and bringing others with you, even if they don't deserve it, made no sense to her.
Brilliant, But Blind
So you look back on her life with a sobered appreciation.
Yes, I cannot but stand in awe of her mental powers and her creative storytelling 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 ninety pages. That is a book on philosophy in the middle of a novel. That is why 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 eighties — 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 responded to the question, “Which books have influenced your life most?” And the Bible is number one. Atlas Shrugged was number two.
“Ayn Rand is a brilliant blind person.”
Well, you can call that a bad novel if you want, but I stand in awe of that John Galt speech and Rand’s 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. So she can’t get it. She is getting it, and then she is totally missing it.
It is tragic.