Friday, December 16, 2016

Ayn Rand, Donald Trump and the War on Christian Ethics

Ayn Rand (1905-1982)

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!”
Genesis 4:8-10

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.

Her philosophy, which has always had a very strong (though typically brief) following among college freshmen, has recently been adopted and endorsed by a significant group of folks who really ought to know better.

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. Our responsibility is to take care of ourselves. Period.

In a recent report in the Washington Post, James Hohmann identifies Donald Trump as an “Ayn Rand-acolyte” and notes that as a connection among several of his recent nominees for key positions in a Trump administration. He 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.’”
Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, has been nominated for Secretary of State. Although they had not previously been acquainted, one of the things Trump and Tillerson found that they have in common, in addition to being billionaires, is that they are both Rand enthusiasts. Tillerson lists “Atlas Shrugged” as his favorite book. It tells the story of John Galt who secretly organizes a strike among the creative class in order to undermine and destroy the bureaucrats who are running the country.

In an interview with Kirsten Powers last spring, the president-elect 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.”

Andy Puzder, Trump’s choice for Secretary of Labor, also identifies with the hero from “The Fountainhead.” He wants to automate fast food jobs and is opposed to increasing the minimum wage. He is CEO of CKE Restaurants, which is owned by a private equity fund named for Howard Roark, Roark Capital Group.

Although Rand’s philosophy is explicitly and intentionally anti-Christian, Puzder sees it differently. “There’s no contradiction,” he argues, “between raising my children in the church, and urging them to lead the kind of lives of achievement, integrity and independence that Ayn Rand celebrated in her novels.”

Mike Pompeo, the Kansas congressman and Tea Party member whom Trump has nominated to direct the Central Intelligence Agency, is also a Rand fan. In 2011 he told an interviewer from Human Events, “One of the very first serious books I read when I was growing up was Atlas Shrugged, and it really had an impact on me.”

It has become fashionable in recent years for Christians to talk about the “war on Christmas,” and to crusade in favor of saying “Merry Christmas” and against saying “Happy Holidays.” In a world facing the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War (among other crises), the outrage about the “war on Christmas” is at best a distraction. 

Ayn Rand was a second rate philosopher and it might seem that her fans should not be taken seriously. But her war on Christian faith and ethics is real and it is dangerous.

In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge who is both terrified and inspired by the spirits of Christmas to move from a selfish and miserly character who hates Christmas because it celebrates goodwill and caring to become a man who keeps the spirit of Christmas all year round. 

Rand wants us to go in the opposite direction. She invites us to celebrate what she calls the virtue of selfishness.

“Capitalism and altruism are incompatible," she argues. "They are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society. Today, the conflict has reached its ultimate climax; the choice is clear-cut: either a new morality of rational self-interest, with its consequence of freedom… or the primordial morality of altruism with its consequences of slavery, etc."
“To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you, and your passkey to trade your effort for the effort of the best among men.”

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish. 


  1. Doesn't the Bible say that the love of money is the source of evil in the world? That last quote really ties the whole article together. Thank you for bringing this issue to the forefront.

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  3. Good perspective and good share, Bill! Rand's view of capitalism appeals to the individualistic yearn in many of us, and there is a place for that. However, she sets up an either/or dichotomy that I'm convinced is unnecessary and short-sighted. It promotes a "Me, first!" mentality, which flies against the Golden Rule counsel of all great faith traditions and sound philosophies and which further prevents the nurturing of care and trust among people involved with and impacted by the activities of capitalism as we generally understand and practice it. If everyone is out for himself or herself, employees can't fully trust one another or management and vice versa; and customers, shareholders, vendors and others can't fully trust the organization. The result is under-performance and a lot of insufficiently satisfied and loyal and all too often injured people. The better both/and idea is "Us, together!" Yes, be a rugged individualist, but know that all others merit fair and just consideration from me. It's the right and best things to do morally and fiduciarily. Sadly, Trump and some of his leadership picks don't practice that. Bad things happen, and inferior people seemingly end up on top in some situations, but that doesn't mean we can't continue to encourage and reward the much better "Us, together!" behavior!

    Robert Moore
    Columbus, OH