I don’t remember when the name Ayn Rand first came on my radar, but I’m guessing it was some time around the turn of the millenium. (I love writing that. It sounds so much cooler than ‘the turn of the century.’ No, I lived through the turn of a millenium! But I digress.)
As I was saying, I first heard of Rand when I was in my early twenties. I didn’t really explore any of her writing until I was nearly thirty. And the first (and only) book of hers that I read was Atlas Shrugged. (If you’ve never read the work, you can see a summary of it here: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/atlasshrugged/summary.html) As I read the book I kept thinking, “Yes! Yes! Yes! This lady really gets it. She really gets the problem with progressive thought processes.”
However, there are some glaringly obvious problems with Rand’s concept of morality throughout the book – not the least of which is her notion about opposite sex relationships. She obviously believes that a relationship can be traded in at will just like your old Chevy when the engine is blown – or, more to the point, when you just decide that red really isn’t your color anymore. Then, there is the long, complicated speech at the end by main character John Galt, who trumpets such misguided sentiments as, “If you give money to help a friend, it is not a sacrifice; if you give it to a worthless stranger, it is.” and “Accept the fact that the achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness-not pain or mindless self-indulgence-is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values.” He winds up the whole speech by proudly proclaiming, “I swear-by my life and my love of it-that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”
I finished the book with mixed sentiments. I was raised in an ultra conservative home. My parents (who have variously worked for others and also owned several businesses) definitely raised me to believe in this basic concept taught by Ayn Rand – that men should “deal with one another as traders, giving value for value.” I believe that this concept is also Biblical (Romans 4:4, Leviticus 19:13, James 5:4, Jeremiah 22:13, 1 Timothy 5:18.) The Proverbs 31 woman is highly praised for many things including her ability to make a profit on her trading.
Quite a few modern conservative leaders, among them many who are professing Christians, highly praise and revere Ayn Rand. Paul Ryan said in 2005, “I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are … It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff.” (To be fair, Ryan has since distanced himself from Rand. I’m always willing to give people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to growing, learning and maturing. Perhaps Ryan has matured past his Rand loving days.) The problem with all of this is that Christian conservatives, by embracing Rand and proselytizing for her for so long, have injected into the modern Tea Party and many other conservative and libertarian groups, the idea that it is every man for himself – that a person’s happiness should be his loftiest goal. And, as Christians, they should know better. Jesus came to turn the world upside down. To take what seems right to man and turn it on its head and prove the ridiculousness of it. Jesus the Messiah was a suffering servant (Isaiah 52:13—53:12) who called his followers to serve others no matter what the personal cost.
At first I was stunned and confused when I began to read all of the nasty recent protests against Glenn Beck and his mission to serve the large illegal immigrant population (a large portion of which are children traveling alone) which is being settled all around our country by the current administration. My heart hurt as I read conservatives and libertarians who are claiming to be in my ‘camp’ decry those efforts as misguided and even stupid, possibly treacherous. Well, perhaps it has come to that. If it is treacherous to care for those less fortunate than ourselves, to give succor to children and needy, dare I say even share a warm hug and a warm meal with a person who might be a gang member (and likely was drawn into gang membership by a need to feel accepted and even loved,) then traitor I shall have to be. Because, after all, I serve a different Kingdom.
Glenn’s mission is NOT to naturalize these people or to make them citizens of the US. Indeed Glenn would be among the first to tell you that their being here is evidence that our system has become disastrously broken and that that is likely to have dire consequences for our nation as a whole. Glenn’s mission IS to share love and hope with people who desperately need to hear that message.
Ayn Rand’s message has been heard loud and clear by the ‘conservative right’ in our country. Every man for himself. Serving others be damned. Especially serving others by whom we feel threatened or whom we deem to be worthless. But this is, quite obviously, the opposite message of the Christ that so many on that far right claim to serve. He said, in John 15:13, ”Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And then he went even further and said, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:44-45)
I hope that one day soon conservative leaders will lay down the bible of Ayn Rand and pick up the Bible of Christ. Perhaps the words contained therein can actually change a nation. Thank goodness my hope doesn’t lie in the preservation of any earthly nation!