The Danger of Sanitized Biographies: Ayn Rand Edition

April 16, 2011

With Atlas Shrugged coming to the big screen this month a lot of people are wondering whether this could be the equivalent to the Passion of the Christ in the fervent boxoffice turnout of evangelicals. In recent years, Atlas Shrugged has become mandatory reading for conservatives. Its author Ayn Rand is held up as the prototypical conservative.

The problem? Ayn Rand was not a conservative. She was:

1) Strongly pro-abortion
2) Strongly atheistic (she once told William F Buckley, ‘you are too smart to believe in God”)
3) An outspoken feminist
4) Personally quite immoral (addicted to amphetamines and had a rotating cast of lovers)

Her philosophy was not that of a principled constitutional conservative, it was that of a radical individualist. Christians believe strongly in individual rights and freedoms but we are not individualists. We recognize that our lives are dependent on others and others are dependent on us. We have a duty to serve others and a responsibility to look out for those who cannot look out for themselves. We believe in individual responsibility of course but we don’t believe than any man is an island.

Further, Ayn Rand’s conception of capitalism is not the Christian conception. Christians support capitalism because it is free and allows people to provide for their family; to buy and sell according to their needs. Christians do not believe as Rand did that greed is good. Selfishness is not, as Rand said, “The only virtue” in fact it is not a virtue at all. Capitalism works because people look out for their needs at the family level, not because people are greedy or selfish. Capitalism works despite greed not because of it.

Greed is not good but freedom is good. Capitalism is simply the process of giving people freedom to buy and sell as they see fit. The best form of capitalism is for people to be selfless and serving. As John Wesley said, “Make all you can; save all you can; give all you can.” No golden facets in the bathroom. No wealth for self promotion. Remember that your treasure is in heaven.

Does this mean we should reject Atlas Shrugged and its author? No. It just means we need to be careful to remember that its philosophy is not fundamentally a Christian one.

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