Saturday, August 29, 2009

I Am Not John Galt

My foray into the writings of Ms. Rand was really a matter of coincidence. Two nearly simultaneous events stirred me in her direction. First, I tend to regularly check CNBC, as a way of keeping abreast of the churnings and whirlings of global capitalism. Earlier this month, I came across an article praising Rand, whose philosophy defined the economic outlook of the Reagan White House. With leftists in the White House, she's more relevant than ever, crowed the article, which was written to pitch a book written by one of Objectivism's disciples.

Second, I read a short blog response to Atlas Shrugged written by a conservative with whom I've often gently jousted in past, one that showed him enthusiastic about many aspects of her ideology of self-actualization. In the face of that sympathy, though, he expressed some discomfort with certain aspects of her worldview. Like most conservatives, he's a Christian, and that makes embracing some of her views...difficult.

The reason for this dissonance can be found throughout her book, but nowhere more strongly than in the radio speech of John Galt, the great noble and mighty man of mystery who acts as the mostly unseen influence over the world of Atlas Shrugged. The radio address comes as he seizes control of the airwaves, bumping the weak and bureaucratic president so that he can deliver his monologue, to which the nation pays rapt attention.

And oh, what a monologue. It runs for fifty-three full pages of the book. As someone who preaches regularly from written texts, I did a quick calculation. That's a four and a half hour sermon, with no music, breaks or pauses. Even by Baptist standards, that's starting to get a little long. Even Rush Limbaugh runs out of steam before he can complete a rant of that magnitude. The idea that everyone would sit and listen to this shows that Ms. Rand may have lacked a grasp of 1) how humans process information and 2) the capacity of the human bladder.

This is Ayn Rand's Sermon on the Mount, the pinnacle of her philosophy, and the conceptual lynchpin of Atlas Shrugged. And what it is, unfortunately for conservatives who want to embrace her, is completely antithetical to Christianity. By this, I don't mean it opposes the institutional church. I don't mean that it raises concerns about the way in which Christians have used power to oppress others. It sets itself in explicit and ferocious opposition to the heart of Christian faith.
As Galt/Rand does the monologue thing, most of his invective is against the moral and ethical code that he views as having enslaved and destroyed humanity. That dark and oppressive morality is, as he puts it, " serve God's purpose or your neighbor's welfare." For the entirety of this defining speech, Galt/Rand assails the "mystics" who would give themselves over to God, and those "moralists" who would give themselves over to neighbor. The enemy of human actualization is, for Rand, the Great Commandment.

This is, to put it mildly, a non-trivial issue. As someone who'd known the oppression of Soviet Russia, Rand hated communism, and her seething hatred of the state made her philosophy seem appealing to American conservatives. But as much as she hated commies, she hated Jesus most of all. Her whole philosophy is carefully constructed in intentional, fundamental and irreconcilable opposition to the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

You cannot be Christian and believe what Rand believes. I do not say this by way of assailing her, because she and I would agree.

And with that agreement, I think my conversation with Ms. Rand has come to a conclusion. Always nice to end with agreement.