Thursday, November 5, 2009

Why Ayn Rand is Wrong

I have just finished reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, which was surprisingly engrossing in spite of being absolutely infuriating.

As a self-proclaimed libertarian and die-hard fiscal conservative, I found her ideas about the role and functioning of government to be refreshing.  But when extended to the individual level, her philosophy advocates a self-centered and indulgent lifestyle that embraces no truth and will only lead to misery.

She does not believe in God. In her novel, Rand presents a world shaped by man, rather than by God.  All good things flow from man's effort and he owes his success to no power but his own. Because of this one-to-one correlation she sees between effort and success, Rand believes each man is entitled to no more and no less than the results of his labor. She denies our debt to the Being who gave us life, who gave us our abilities that we might succeed, and who continues to sustain us from day to day. No matter how effectively we use our lives and our abilities, we will always remain unprofitable servants who cannot claim anything as our own.

She does not believe in Christ.  In Atlas Shrugged a handful of self-made men, possessing a great but finite amount of virtue (or dollars), are bled dry by "the looters". They are the victims that would have saved the world, if they had been left to forge their own paths. In truth, there is only one self-made man and He is our Savior. We all rely on His merits; He possesses the infinite virtue and strength needed to redeem us all.

She does not believe in a resurrection. Rand sees this life as the only time of importance and, consequently, accuses anyone who would diminish her pleasure of stealing away her life. However, once you understand the doctrine of the resurrection, the race to preserve and enhance your life at all costs seems a lot less pressing. It becomes less important that we gather and savor treasures now when we see the eternities stretching before us.

She does not believe in an eternal reward. "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." Rand does not understand this true law of compensation, which is that whatever we loose in this life will be returned to us in the next. Even when we are not just with each other, God is just with us--as long as we take into account our eternal, as well as our mortal, lives. It is virtue--and not sin--to sustain another at our own expense, for that expense will be returned to us by the Loving Father of us all.

How wonderful that existence is more beautiful and merciful than Rand imagined it!

8 comments:

Jeffery Small said...

Carolyn:

As an Objectivist who is also an atheist, after reading your article, I am curious about one thing. Assuming for the moment that we lived in a world of people who all accepted the libertarian and fiscal conservative principles that you profess, where some were deeply religious and motivated by God's will, while others held the view of man projected by Ayn Rand, and determined there own purpose in life. What I am wondering is, for you, whether this situation implies any particular political ramifications?

In other words, do your libertarian views lead you to a live-and-let-live position, where everyone could coexist in harmony, even though you did not agree with the underlying approach that the non-believers took towards their life, and judged that the choices they were making were a tragic mistake? Or does the mere existence of people with an atheistic viewpoint require some special political measures? And if so, what would those be?

I ask this in all sincerity. I can appreciate the frustration that you might have with my views, and only wonder just how far that might extend.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Regards,
--
C. Jeffery Small
go-galt.org/Galt_Pledge/

Anonymous said...

I bet you're a fun person to debate with.

Carolyn said...

Jeffrey:

I do not think there should be any difference in the eyes of our government between an atheist and a believer, objectivist or not. I do not know what you mean by it but, NO, there are no special political measures necessary to deal with the differences between us.

I happen to agree with Rand that most government regulations are an egregious wrong and that the dole, as administered by the government in its many forms, breaks our society. The blind and forced "charity" of wealth redistribution rarely improves situations and often makes them worse.

I do not think the government should force me to share the wealth that God has blessed me with. They are not wise stewards of those resources. But I do chose to give, above and beyond the taxes we pay. I believe that freely given wealth, distributed through thoughtful and informed organizations, can make the world a better place.

And it enriches my life; it does not diminish it.

Jeffery Small said...

Carolyn:

Thank you very much for your considered reply. I am in complete agreement with you, and support everyone's right to determine their own religious position and follow their own moral guidance in life, so long as they don't violate the rights of others.

I didn't mean to imply that you were suggesting otherwise in your piece above, which caught my eye because of the reference to Atlas Shrugged, but lately I have been seeing a number of organized efforts by some groups to redefine the political debate in this country in explicitly Christian terms. In effect, they are attempting to turn the United States into a country based upon "Christian law", similar to how many countries now operate by "Muslim law". I think that it is critical that we maintain a complete separation between religion, which provides moral guidance for the choices that one make in life, and politics, which should be charged with the sole task of defending the individual rights of all citizens and nothing more.

Thank you for clarifying you position. It allows me to more accurately understand your other comments. And I support you in your pursuit of whatever efforts you find make your life richer and happier.

Best wishes,
--
C. Jeffery Small

Fabius said...

I agree, Ayn Rand was wrong. But, she was wrong in a much more profound way than the various permutations of the "she's-not-a-believer-therefore-she-is-wrong" arguments presented here purport. You will never convince a rational, thinking individual with such arguments.

Strictly speaking, philosophy (Objectivism and Christianity alike) is the study of the "problem of man." The problem of man consists of answering: what principles should man adopt to live a noble life, moreover, what is man's purpose in life? An Objectivist would recommend that we start (deductively) by defining and logically validating the standard of "the noble." Let's not make that mistake and start (inductively) by looking through the pages of time and analyzing the civilizations that have produced the most notable men, and *then* ask why they are notable. Let's look at history as the lab and men's actions of the past as the data.

*This* is a clue into how Ayn Rand was wrong: she is a system builder, a master at developing self-consistent structures that are easily defended if their premises are accepted. But why accept the fundamental premise of Objectivism, the answer to the question "What is man's purpose in life?": "Man is his own highest end." Why is that correct? Show us the civilizations in the past that lived and thrived on that premise! None exist, yet great civilizations *have* existed. *Why is that?* Why have most of these civilizations been Christian or at minimum religious?

In the end, Christianity, though it can be shown to be true by the validity of the scriptures, is just as, if not more, true by the fact that it provides the correct solution to the problem of man.

Steve said...

Carolyn,

It's good to see someone that realizes that Atlas Shrugged isn't simply a political book. It demonstrates some of the principles of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. If you understand the things that Ayn Rand was for it will help you to understand why she's an atheist. First off, she's an advocate of reason and using one's reasoning capacity to the fullest of one's ability and in all areas of one's life. Second off, she's an advocate of egoism and the virtue of selfishness or rational self-interest. Basically the argument against or for a belief in god boils down to whether you believe in reason or take things on faith. Ayn Rand chose reason and had some very good reasons as to why she did.

AJ said...

Steve,

You posit a false dichotomy: reason and faith are not at odds (or should not be). Read Aquinas.

Jeffrey Small, I have never met an Objectivist who wasn't an atheist. To be an Objectivist is to be an atheist. Let's not pretend otherwise...

Carolyn said...

AJ,

I don't think Aquinas is the perfect model for reconciling faith and reason; you shouldn't use bad logic tricks to uphold good religion.

Why not try Henry Eyring?