Why Christians Should Reconsider Ayn Rand

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Everyone loves to hate Ayn Rand—even, and sometimes especially, Christians. She’s the Left’s favorite bogeywoman, invoked as the dark goddess of capitalism—causing conservatives everywhere to run in terror, begging not to be associated with the “Guru of Greed.” Notice that Paul Ryan is still being pilloried for daring to appreciate Ayn Rand, even after distancing himself from her—5 years ago. Maybe fear of the Left’s scorn is partially to blame for the Christian antagonism to Rand. Maybe it’s that she was an atheist (because we all know that atheists are automatically wrong about everything). Or maybe it’s the fact that her views have been wildly—and reproachfully—distorted by liberal and conservative commentators, alike.

Whatever the cause of the animosity, I want to suggest that it is unwarranted. In fact, I want to present 6 reasons that Christians should reconsider Ayn Rand.

1. She Had A High View of The Mind

Whatever it means to be created in the image of God, there is a long standing consensus among Christian theologians that, at the very least, it means having the capacity of reason. That’s one of the primary things which Christians have always believed sets man apart from the animals: his mind. Rand may have been an atheist, but she was a very different sort of atheist for her time. In an era of reductionistic and mechanistic views of man among atheist intellectuals, Rand stood out as a staunch advocate for the efficacy and significance of the role of the mind in human life. While many modern atheists have a doctrine of man (or, anthropology) centered around the physiological, Rand’s anthropology was dogmatically centered around the mind. As a result, she was able to unpack some remarkably valuable insights about the unique nature of man—and thus, in all likelihood, insights about what it means to be created in imago dei. Consider the following passage in which Rand argues against “the ecologists” (those we would call “climate alarmists” today) regarding the nature of man:

Man cannot survive in the kind of state of nature that the ecologists envision—i.e., on the level of sea urchins or polar bears. In that sense, man is the weakest of animals: he is born naked and unarmed, without fangs, claws, horns or “instinctual” knowledge. Physically, he would fall an easy prey, not only to the higher animals, but also to the lowest bacteria: he is the most complex organism and, in a contest of brute force, extremely fragile and vulnerable. His only weapon—his basic means of survival—is his mind. In order to survive, man has to discover and produce everything he needs, which means that he has to alter his background and adapt it to his needs. Nature has not equipped him for adapting himself to his background in the manner of animals. From the most primitive cultures to the most advanced civilizations, man has had to manufacture things; his well-being depends on his success at production. The lowest human tribe cannot survive without that alleged source of pollution: fire. It is not merely symbolic that fire was the property of the gods which Prometheus brought to man. The ecologists are the new vultures swarming to extinguish that fire.” — For The New Intellectual, 15

Rand saw man as fundamentally different—and far more valuable—than any other animal, and much of that was tied to her recognition of the central role of the mind in man’s life.

2. She Promoted Spiritual Values—Even Above Material Ones

Because Rand was an unabashed advocate of capitalism, she is often accused of being a materialist, concerned with nothing but material wealth and material values. But this accusation betrays the fact that the accuser has never taken the time to actually read what she wrote. While Rand certainly did exalt certain material values, she saw material values as secondary to spiritual values:

“We who’ve been called ‘materialists’ by the killers of the human spirit, we’re the only ones who know how little value or meaning there is in material objects as such because we’re the ones who create their value and meaning. We can afford to give them up for a short while, in order to redeem something much more precious. We are the soul, of which railroads, copper mines, steel mills, and oil wells are the body—and they are living entities that beat day and night, like our hearts, in the sacred function of supporting human life, but only so long as they remain our body, only so long as they remain the expression, the reward and the property of achievement. Without us, they are corpses and their sole product is poison.” —Atlas Shrugged, 571

The spiritual values—which, for Rand, are primarily virtues, like reason, integrity, honesty and justice—are seen by Rand as the fundamental values for human life. This is due to her view of man, spoken of above, as a rational animal—a “being of volitional consciousness.” And just as man needs certain material values for life (e.g., food, shelter, medicine), so also he needs certain spiritual values.

“Man’s consciousness is his least known and most abused vital organ. Most people believe that consciousness as such is some sort of indeterminate faculty which has no nature, no specific identity and, therefore, no requirements, no needs, no rules for being properly or improperly used. The simplest example of this belief is people’s willingness to lie or cheat, to fake reality on the premise that “I’m the only one who’ll know” or “It’s only in my mind”—without any concern for what this does to one’s mind, what complex, untraceable, disastrous impairments it produces, what crippling damage may result… Yet men abuse, subvert and starve their consciousness in a manner they would not dream of applying to their hair, toenails or stomachs. They know that these things have a specific identity and specific requirements, and, if one wishes to preserve them, one must comb one’s hair, trim one’s toenails and refrain from swallowing rat poison. But one’s mind? Aw, it needs nothing and can swallow anything. Or so most people believe…The fact [is] that man’s consciousness possesses a specific nature with specific cognitive needs, that it is not infinitely malleable and cannot be twisted, like a piece of putty, to fit any private evasions or any public “conditioning.” — “Our Cultural Value-Deprivation,” 101

3. She Worked Hard At Integrating the Spiritual & the Physical

Gnosticism was an early Christian heresy which taught that the physical world—and all of the pleasures and values which come along with it—is evil, while the spiritual world was good; that the goal of morality and religion is to escape the evil, material, world, and to reach the paradise of a purely spiritual existence. Unfortunately, this is a heresy which—at least, implicitly—seems to rear its ugly head in every new generation within the Church. The fight against gnosticism is a perennial one. And Ayn Rand is one of the rare atheists who recognized the dangers of gnosticism (though not by name) and sought to fight it:

“They have cut man in two, setting one half against the other. They have taught him that his body and his consciousness are two enemies engaged in deadly conflict, two antagonists of opposite natures, contradictory claims, incompatible needs, that to benefit one is to injure the other, that his soul belongs to a supernatural realm, but his body is an evil prison holding it in bondage to this earth—and that the good is to defeat his body, to undermine it by years of patient struggle, digging his way to that glorious jail-break which leads into the freedom of the grave. They have taught man that he is a hopeless misfit made of two elements, both symbols of death. A body without a soul is a corpse, a soul without a body is a ghost—yet such is their image of man’s nature: the battleground of a struggle between a corpse and a ghost… You are an indivisible entity of matter and consciousness. Renounce your consciousness and you become a brute. Renounce your body and you become a fake. Renounce the material world and you surrender it to evil.” Atlas Shrugged, 938

Gnosticism is often the result of recognizing the above point—that spiritual values are indeed primary over material values—but then failing to understand how the two should be integrated. Without seeing how spiritual and material values can—and should—complement each other in an integrated fashion, we will inevitably start thinking of them as opposed to each other. And if the material is opposed to the spiritual, and the spiritual is the higher good, then the only conclusion to be drawn is that the material world should be opposed for the sake of the spiritual. Thence, gnosticism. The key to avoiding gnosticism, then, is integration—specifically, integration of spiritual and material values. Such an integration was one of Rand’s primary goals in her philosophy. To see that integration on full display, I suggest reading her fictional novels (especially Atlas Shrugged). As a hint toward her theory of integration, I’ll close this point with the following quote:

“Matter has no value except as a means for the satisfaction of human desires. Matter is only a tool of human values… Your morality tells you to renounce the material world and to divorce your values from matter. A man whose values are given no expression in material form, whose existence is unrelated to his ideals, whose actions contradict his convictions, is a cheap little hypocrite—yet that is the man who obeys your morality and divorces his values from matter. The man who loves one woman, but sleeps with another—the man who admires the talent of a worker, but hires another—the man who considers one cause to be just, but donates his money to the support of another… these are the men who have renounced matter, the men who believe that the values of their spirit cannot be brought into material reality.” —Atlas Shrugged, 942

4. She’s Had a Lasting & Growing Influence on the Culture

In spite of the insults hurled at her from both sides of the political aisle, Ayn Rand has had a profound impact on the culture—and that impact is growing, not shrinking. In a poll conducted by the Library of Congress in 1991, her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, placed second—next to the Bible—as the most influential book among readers. In 2009—more than 50 years after it was first published—Atlas Shrugged sold more than 500,000 copies. The Ayn Rand Institute holds one of the largest scholarship essay contests every year, paying out up to $130,000 to students who have read her novels and entered the contest. In addition, the institute provides thousands of free books to middle & high school classrooms for educators to teach them as part of their curriculum every year. Last year, teachers ordered 205,000 books from the institute through this program.

But it’s not just Rand’s writing which is growing in popularity and influence: Many of the intellectuals associated with ARI, and with Rand’s philosophy, are gaining traction in the culture. Yaron Brook, former CEO and current Chairman of the Board at ARI, has a rapidly growing audience through his Yaron Brook Show, and has published 3 popular level books in the last few years. He has speaking engagements to talk about Ayn Rand’s philosophy—especially her political and moral philosophy—on college campuses and high schools around the world. He has been featured on The Rubin Report with Dave Rubin twice, and ARI has partnered with Dave Rubin in a number of events. And there’s recent news that popular film-maker, Zack Snyder, is planning to do a remake of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.

While media commentators enjoy pretending otherwise, Rand’s popularity and influence are certainly growing, and that is something that Christians should care about. Even if some Christians don’t agree with her ideas, we should at least make the effort to honestly understand them, in order to interact respectfully with those who hold to them. As it is, there is intense animosity between most Christians and most followers of Ayn Rand. As Rand’s audience grows, so will the number of people on the other side of that animosity. That’s not a pretty prospect when we consider that they are part of our mission field, as well. If none of the other reasons in this article persuade you, as a Christian, to reconsider Rand, this one should: Rand’s followers represent a rapidly growing mission field which will never be reached so long as Christians dogmatically insist on following the culture in turning their noses up at the very mention of her name.

5. She Is Our Best Ally Against The Rising Tides of Postmodernism & Marxism

Postmodern relativism and Marxist-style envy are running rampant in our culture—and increasingly, in the Church. Many Christians are beginning to take notice, and are trying to rally ideological forces in order to combat this dangerous trend. But there is no more competent, consistent, and passionate ally against those dangers than Ayn Rand. As an immigrant from the Soviet Union in the early 20th century, Rand was intimately aware of the nature and horrors of socialism. However, when she fled to America, it wasn’t just to escape Russia. It was because she had a tremendous love and admiration for America as a nation. That’s why she could say the following:

“I can say—not as a patriotic bromide, but with full knowledge of the necessary metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, political and esthetic roots—that the United States of America is the greatest, the noblest and, in its original founding principles, the only moral country in the history of the world.” —Philosophy: Who Needs It, 13

The realization that Americans were beginning to contemplate socialistic ideals was devastating to her, and she worked tirelessly to combat that trend. Her philosophy, in essence, was a full-blooded defense of what she saw as essential to the American spirit and the American way of life. Her defense of the American ideal of capitalism was not limited to the pragmatics of economic advantage. She saw what many conservatives are just now beginning to see: that capitalism must be defended on moral grounds.

“The moral justification of capitalism does not lie in the altruist claim that it represents the best way to achieve “the common good.” It is true that capitalism does—if that catch-phrase has any meaning—but this is merely a secondary consequence. The moral justification of capitalism lies in the fact that it is the only system consonant with man’s rational nature, that it protects man’s survival qua man, and that its ruling principle is: justice.” — “What is Capitalism?” 20

And in order to reclaim the moral high ground, she knew that the battle would require a complete devotion to objective truth—over against the relativism of those on the left. Indeed, she saw that the ability to pursue objective truth and the morality of capitalism were inextricably linked: “Intellectual freedom cannot exist without political freedom; political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom; a free mind and a free market are corollaries.” This is why ARI has joined the fight to defend free speech—especially on college campuses. In 2017, ARI sponsored and participated in free speech events on college campuses all across the country, partnering with other big name advocates of free speech, including Dave Rubin, Jordan Peterson, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Michael Shermer. As the combination of those people suggests, and as many have noted, we live in a time of strange alliances—partially because of the radical polarization of the contemporary left. As Christians partner with unlikely allies on various issues, we would do well to reconsider Rand as an extremely valuable ally in the defense of reason, objective truth, and the full morality of the American way of life, rooted in capitalism.

6. She Will Help You Worship God More Fully

It’s no secret that Rand raged against the morality of altruism. It’s one of the primary reasons she is so maligned—especially by Christians, who think that the Bible teaches the morality of altruism unequivocally. While I think a closer reading of both Rand and the Bible would reveal more similarity on this issue than most expect, I don’t think you have to be convinced about Rand’s morality of rational self-interest—for human beings—in order to see the value of it when it comes to thinking about God.

Scripture is absolutely unambiguous when it comes to God’s ultimate motivation for everything He does:

For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.”  —Isaiah 48:9-11 (emphasis added)

There’s simply no getting around the fact that the God of the Bible is an unabashed egoist. But when egoism is seen as the prime example of evil, that causes problems for Christians. Is God evil for being an egoist? Is the God of the Bible a moral monster? Many have concluded that He is, and have rejected Christianity as a result. Most Christians, however, find themselves with a severe case of cognitive dissonance. They want to affirm that God can do whatever He pleases (that sort of comes with the territory of being God), but they avoid like the plague the follow up question: why is God pleased by the things He is pleased by—namely, His glory? And is it morally right for Him to have His pleasure rooted in such a self-oriented, egoistic, fashion? Most Christians do not have a satisfactory answer to this question, because they believe that self-interest, as such, is inherently evil. The result is a hesitation to look too closely at the nature and character of God, in order not to discover how much of a moral monster He really is—or, a hesitation to think too consistently about moral principles, in order not to discover that it really is one or the other: either God is a moral monster, or egoism—as such—is not inherently evil.

The good news is that egoism is not inherently evil, and Ayn Rand is the best resource for seeing how and why that is so. More than explaining, philosophically, why egoism is moral, she painted vivid portraits of the beauty and glory of egoism in the characters of her novels. I challenge any Christian to read Anthem, The Fountainhead, or Atlas Shrugged, and not to see glorious pictures of the moral character of the God of the Bible reflected through the heroes of those stories.

Our culture is overrun with reasons to think that God’s egoistic moral character is ugly, twisted, and evil. In order to look at God in full, worshipful, adoration, Christians must learn to see the staggering glory of God’s moral character—of His egoism. And the writings of Ayn Rand—particularly her novels—are the best resources available to help the Christian do just that.

Join Us In Reconsidering Rand

Believe it or not, there are a lot of Christians who have benefited from reconsidering Rand—but many of them feel the need to hide it. We’re working to change that. And we’re working to help Christians understand Rand’s thought in order to take full advantage of the potential value hinted at above. In fact, we’re starting a course to explore Rand’s ideas from a Christian perspective.

Email us for details.