Ayn Rand has become popular in some circles recently. I can understand that. She pushed back against socialism as an expression of “altruism”. We see similar “altruism” expressed by one political party, and members of the other pushing back with Rand’s ideas- rational individualism, or objectivism. Her philosophy is foundational to the Libertarian Party. Some in the Tea Party have been influenced by it as well.
I did a class on worldviews while pastor of Cornerstone Community Church. I’m plundering it for this post. The books I used included The Universe Next Door by James Sire, Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics by Steve Wilkens and Worldviews in Conflict by Ron Nash (as well as ideas taught in his class on apologetics). While some of what she taught can be attractive to Christians, I believe it is a faulty worldview. In other words, there may be overlap with a Christian worldview but it should not be confused with one. This is an offer to Christians enamored with Rand’s thought to consider how this opposed to Christianity, even though we agree about personal responsibility. The same goes for altruism, which encourages charity but undermines personal responsibility.
Elements in Modernism: Individualism
“Look Out For #1” “Every Man for Himself”
Individualism as a system of thought is based upon the thought of Ayn Rand. It is an extension of some of Epicurus’ ideas. She rejects altruism, which seeks the good of others. It sounds much like justified selfishness. She does take the long-range approach so we must be concerned primarily with our broad-based and life-long interests. I might forsake something I want now in order to achieve a better long term goal. She focused on rational individualism- seeing this as what made America great. She left Russia in the 1920’s distraught over what ‘altruism’ had done to that nation.
A. Beliefs about God
1. Is God Personal or Impersonal? Belief in God is irrational. It cannot be scientifically proven. As a result God does not exist.
2. Does God Matter? God should not matter. Irrational people allow Him to matter. We must forsake such mysticism and help others find more rational ways to live.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Ps. 1 (ESV)
B. Beliefs about Reality
1. What is the Relationship Between God and the Universe? There is no God, and therefore no relationship. The universe is a closed-system.
2. Is the Universe Purposeful or Mechanistic? It is mechanistic. We can observe its order and this is important for ethics. We can observe how the world works and recognize what is good and bad.
3. Are Miracles Possible? No. They are an aspect of mysticism.
C. Beliefs about Knowledge
1. Is Knowledge Possible? Yes, borrowing from the views of materialism/scientific rationalism. Not only possible it is desirable or necessary to living ‘well’.
2. Is Knowledge Comprehensible? No, there would be limits to knowledge but we must seek to know as much as we possibly can. There is the subtle idea (particularly with God) that since you can’t know it, it must not be true. The element of mystery is removed and knowledge is nearly comprehensible.
3. Are Our Senses Reliable? Yes, and the basis for gaining scientific knowledge of the universe.
4. What is the Relationship Between Faith and Reason? Faith is irrational. We should not fall prey to the irrational, but seek rational behavior. Reason is supreme.
“It began when I was in fifth grade. I came home from school one day, and my mother said to me, “What did you do in school today- think or believe?” Ralph Nader
D. Beliefs about Morality or Ethics
1. Where does Moral Authority Lie? It lies in the fabric of the universe to be discovered by us. The preservation of life, as defined by the individual, is the ultimate moral authority.
2. Is there Objective Right and Wrong? Yes there is. It is discovered through observation of the universe. Those things that jeopardize life are wrong, and those things that preserve life are good.
3. Are there Differences Between Cultures? Yes. What may jeopardize life in one culture may be different in another. The same is true for preservation of life. There is an element of relativism accompanying the objective right and wrong.
“It is only the concept of ‘life’ that makes the concept of ‘value’ possible.” Ayn Rand
E. Beliefs about Human Beings
1. What is Our Purpose? Our purpose is to live! Our goal is to sustain our life to the best of our ability. We must use our rational faculties to accomplish this goal.
2. What Happens After Death? It is the end, therefore the need to preserve your life.
3. What is Our Relationship to Animals? They exist to sustain our lives.
4. What is Our Big Problem, and the Solution? Irrationality is our big problem. People make bad choices that jeopardize their lives, and lives of others. We must teach people to think rationally. They must be taught about consequences and how to look at the big picture/long term view of life.
“Man is free to choose not to be conscious, but not free to escape the penalty of unconsciousness: destruction. Man is the only living species that has the power to act as his own destroyer- and this is the way he has acted through most of his history.” Ayn Rand
10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 2 Thessalonians 3 (ESV)
What Does It Look Like Today?
It looks very much like consumerism. This isn’t a well thought out worldview, but one which seeks life in stuff. My goal in life is to enhance my life through my choices. That is not just which product to buy, but what I do for a living, where I go to church. Everything becomes what is best for me, what do I like/want.
“The One With the Most Toys Wins.”
“But why, on the basis of one verse, has an entire theology and language of ‘personal acceptance’ of Jesus swamped a far more pervasive apostolic call to confess ‘Jesus is Lord’?” Donald McCullough
He’s lamenting the individualism that has corrupted our theology and practice.
Testing This Worldview
A. The Test of Reason
1.Is it Logically Consistent? No. It argues against a phantom foe. No person or society is completely altruistic. People are a mixture of motives. That which it reacts against does not exist.
2. Are There any Obvious Contradictions? (aside from the fact she smoked cigarettes- see the picture)
3. Is it a Self-defeating System of Belief? Yes. If you universalize it, it is. It is in my best interest to seek my own interests, AND have others seeking my best interest. If I publicize the ideas of self-interest it works against my advantage and I lose.
B. The Test of Experience
1. Does this Make Sense of the External World? I see people operating on the basis of self-interest. And I see people operating on the basis of the interest of others. I see people harming others out of their self-interest and this does not seem good.
2. Does this Make Sense of My Internal World? I struggle with my motives. I feel guilty for thinking too much of myself. I feel good when I have helped others, even when I have received no benefit. It does not make sense of my inner world.
C. The Test of Practice
1. Can You Live Out this Worldview Consistently? No, it would be destructive. If everyone seeks only their own good, no one can be trusted to keep their agreements. No one can be trusted to protect you and do right by you. I can quickly be sacrificed on the altar of the interests of those closest to me (who ought to love and care for me). Justice becomes suspect as people seek to advance their careers at the expense of law and order.
2. Do I Have to Borrow Ideas from Other Worldviews to Maintain Sanity?
“A philosophy is the expression of a man’s inner character.” William James
2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 For each will have to bear his own load. Galatians 6 (ESV)