I am an Ayn Rand fan. Actually I’m an Ayn Rand writing fan. Ayn Rand, the person, was a little crazy. I say this because I don’t want the reader to think I’m becoming a socialist. I’m not, at least not in the contemporary sense. My objective here is to use a major fallacy, in my opinion, in Ayn Rand’s philosophy to point out a major problem I’ve observed in American Christianity throughout my young life.
I loved Atlas Shrugged. Progressives hated it, for good reason I suppose. The moral of the whole novel centered on the quote by the protagonist, John Gault:
“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.”
Unfortunately, Ayn Rand’s tragic disdain for voluntary altruism overshadowed her brilliant parabolic critique of altruism by policy enforced through the barrel of a gun, the state’s gun. Ayn Rand could think of no more virtuous moral principle than selfishness. She, as I infer from her writing, thought living for the sake of another was the most sinful thing a human could do. Selfishness was a virtue. As a member of the Ayn Rand fan club, I admit that she was an anti-Christ regarding Jesus’ ethics.
Enter the Christian. Why is the Christian a Christian? Why does the Christian seek to live a moral life? Why does he want to be holy?
Before I go any farther, I must clarify that when I write “the Christian”, I mean an average right-of-center, politically and theologically, protestant Christian. I acknowledge that I’ll be making generalizations to which there is a plethora of exceptions. And lest the reader thinks I’m being unfair, I have issues with left-of-center Christianity, but I am not a left-of-center Christian, generally speaking. Conservatives would probably disagree pretty vehemently if they asked me to detail my theology and political views. So be it. I’m making an observation about my own camp here, not another’s.
Why does the Christian pursue holiness? Why does the Christian seek to affirm the right doctrines? Why is truth important? In my experience (which spans four different decades now) of Christianity in America, there are two common answers.
The first answer comes from fundamentalists: To avoid hell. According to Jesus, the most important commandment for any person to obey, is the commandment to love God with all of one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength. How can I possibly love someone like that when he threatens me with incredible suffering for eternity if I don’t? I can’t. I suppose one could do a “work-around” by reducing love to mere choice, but on what is that choice based? It is based, as I hope is self-evident, on self-preservation… selfishness, Ayn Rand’s chief virtue.
My response to this is to point out that Jesus is the one we are to follow. He explicitly rejected the foundational human instinct of self-preservation and self-interest. When a Christian reads Matthew 25, wherein Jesus warns believers who lack pro-active empathy for the poor, naked, alien, hungry, and criminal of age-enduring punishment, the Christian would rightly modify his behavior and start giving to the poor, visiting criminals in prison, etc. But what motivates this change? The motivation is fear of punishment, Ayn Rand’s virtue of self-interest.
According to Paul, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” According to John, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, for fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.” Love and threatened punishment are incompatible. At a very early age, I figured this out. Many Christians still preach this ardently.
The second answer to why the Christian does what he does comes from folks who don’t think they’re fundamentalists. This answer took some time for me to reject. The Christian does what he does for the reward he’ll get in heaven. Hopefully, since I started out by mentioning Ayn Rand’s virtue of selfishness, the problem with this answer is as self-evident as the first. I’ll still discuss it.
Love compelled by threat of punishment is not love but self-interest. So this reasoning is not defended except by the most vehement, fearful, and, may I say, consistent fundamentalists. This second one is not so easily rejected by its adherents because of the ease of dressing it up and making it look nice, possibly even inspiring.
When we strip away all the fluff and church-speak, the Christian who “seeks Jesus” is really seeking status in the supposed hierarchy of heaven. I’m not saying that there aren’t people who don’t genuinely love Jesus. I honestly can’t know that about anyone without spending a long time in their shoes. I’m making an observation about Christian culture in general, about “the Christian”. “Passion for Jesus”, “seeking Jesus”, and other church-speak catchphrases seem off to me. I smell fear of missing out. I smell a desire for greatness, acclaim, and recognition, even if not in this life. I smell a theology of glory (see Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation). I smell Ayn Rand’s virtue of self-interest.
If I love Jesus and follow him in order to achieve a certain status in the afterlife, who am I loving? I am loving myself. If I think God’s Ecclesia (church) is a corporation in which I am promoted according to my passion for Jesus, do I really love Jesus? Or am I really just loving myself? Shouldn’t it be enough to be the least in God’s Kingdom? Shouldn’t we, with David, a man after God’s own heart according to the Jewish scriptures, be content to be mere doorkeepers in the house of God? Is that not real love? If my children love me because they want to inherit my estate, do they love me? Or is their zeal for me motivated by what I can give them? To be clear, I am happy to leave them my material riches, but that’s beside the point.
This is the Gospel according to Ayn Rand (if she wasn’t an atheist, of course): For your own good, love God. For your own gain, love God. Be zealous for Jesus so you can rule the world with him. Imagine the status you will have in Jesus’ kingdom because of your zeal in this life! This world will hate you, but God damn the world!
I can’t do that. To be frank, I try not give any thought to anything that lies beyond this life. It doesn’t matter to me. I assume I will have no status, no authority, and no inheritance beyond this eschaton. I may sound arrogant or self righteous. I’m sorry if I do, but I don’t want to love God and others for any other reason than because God is good. I want my love for Creator and creation to be real, not selfish or self-preserving. I want to live a holy, pro-actively empathetic life simply because it’s the right thing to do, period. I don’t want my love to be tainted by self-interest. I reject Ayn Rand’s gospel. It’s a false gospel. I have every spiritual blessing in Jesus right here and right now. That’s good enough for me.