Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”
Cain assumes that he is asking a rhetorical question.
But he is mistaken.
The question is real and it will be fundamental to the long biblical narrative that follows through the Hebrew Scriptures to the end of the New Testament. Cain poses the question for God, but it is quickly turned back as the question God asks of us.
And Jesus will tell his followers that it is the question by which their lives will be judged.
Ayn Rand, on the other hand, sides with Cain.
I first encountered Ayn Rand (her first name, she said, rhymes with swine) late one night in the fall of my freshman year in college. I was quite entranced for at least half an hour.
My brief enthusiasm for her philosophy was, I thought, a sort of “rite of passage;” something everybody did at least once. But it was not anything to be taken seriously.
In the movie “Dirty Dancing” one of the major sub-plots is that Baby is trying to help Johnny’s dance partner get an abortion. She confronts the college kid who got Johnny’s partner pregnant and asks him to pay for the abortion. The young man, who is also romancing Baby’s sister, refuses.
Then he pulls out a dog-eared copy of Rand's “The Fountainhead” and tells her she should read it, that she’ll like it, but that when she finishes it, he wants it back because he has notes in the margins.
He tells her that she needs to understand, “Some people count, and some people don’t.”
“You make me sick,” she tells him. And then she pours a pitcher of water down the front of his shirt and pants.
The philosophy of Ayn Rand should make us sick.
Her basic position is that selfishness is a virtue and altruism is a sin, though as a staunch atheist, she would not call it a sin. It is not just that we are not obligated to help others; we ought not to do it.
In Rand's view, our responsibility is to take care of ourselves. Period.
In a report in the Washington Post, detailing connections between Rand's philosophy and key players in the Trump administration, James Hohmann describes Rand as “perhaps the leading literary voice in 20th century America for the notion that, in society, there are makers and takers, and that the takers are parasitic moochers who get in the way of the morally-superior innovators.”
“Her books portray the federal government as an evil force, trying to stop hard-working men from accumulating the wealth that she believes they deserve. The author was also an outspoken atheist, something that oozes through in her writing. Rand explained that the essence of ‘objectivism,’ as she called her ideology, is that ‘man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself.’”In an interview with Kirsten Powers, Donald Trump described himself as a Rand fan and said that he identifies most with Howard Roark, the hero of “The Fountainhead,” an architect who blows up a housing project he designed because his blueprints were not exactly followed by the builders. He told Powers, “It relates to business, beauty, life and inner emotions. That book relates to ... everything.”
It is ironic that the evangelical embrace of Donald Trump has not been hindered by his admiration for one of the most famous atheists of the twentieth century.
But for serious Christians, her atheism is not the most important issue.
Unlike the theoretical atheism of those who reject the idea of God as unnecessary or unscientific, Rand’s rejection is primarily a moral one.
Many atheists reject Christian theology while expressing an admiration for the ethics of Jesus. Rand rejects the core of Christian ethics as “immoral.”
Onkar Ghate, a Senior Fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, posted an essay titled, “Does America Need Ayn Rand or Jesus?”
Ghate argues that for Rand, “morality is not about subordination or service to others or to some ‘higher power’; it is not about self-sacrifice. Hers is a morality that upholds egoism and individualism: it seeks to teach you the difficult task of pursuing the values that achieve your own individual self-interest and happiness.”
In the ethics of Ayn Rand, pursuing your own self-interest and happiness is a “difficult task.” And she believed it was “immoral” to love others more than you love yourself.
Hers is a curiously non-ethical ethics. Historically, the task of ethics has been to balance the self-interest of the individual against the needs and interests of the community. Ethics restrains our natural selfishness. In Rand’s system selfishness is a virtue.
Ghate is to be commended for his honesty in clearly stating that Rand's philosophy is opposed to the central core of Jesus’ teaching.
And he is right. We have to choose Ayn Rand or Jesus. We can’t have both.
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