Friday, September 20, 2013

Jesus and Ayn Rand

A friend of mine sent out a group email about Ayn Rand a few days ago.  The recipients were mostly church members.  Here’s the gist of it…..
A few days ago, (spouse) and I watched a documentary about the life and work of Ayn Rand.  She summed up her philosophy in two words:  objective reality.  Even though her parents were Jewish, at about age 10, she confided to her diary that she was an atheist.   Possibly she used objective reality because, leaving The Soviet Union in 1926, she saw how propaganda and coercion could create false reality and control people.  She abhorred altruism, the idea on which Communism and Nazism were able to function by convincing people that the individual is unimportant, that only the group, the nation is worthy of dedication.  She believed each person should pursue self interest openly without deception.

Is it possible that, when we do something good or charitable, we do so in order to feel better about ourselves, to earn approval of our peer group or, in some cases,  to earn a reward after death?  If true, it would mean the person doing good is acting on enlightened self interest. 
I realize you may consider this silly and unworthy of thought or comment, but if you have any thoughts on Rand's work or this  subject, I would be glad to receive them.   Possibly you will share your thoughts with this group of addressees.

I sent back the following, from Rand’s 1964 Playboy interview:
“My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.
The fact that a man has no claim on others (i.e., that it is not their moral duty to help him and that he cannot demand their help as his right) does not preclude or prohibit good will among men and does not make it immoral to offer or to accept voluntary, non-sacrificial assistance.

It is altruism that has corrupted and perverted human benevolence by regarding the giver as an object of immolation, and the receiver as a helplessly miserable object of pity who holds a mortgage on the lives of others—a doctrine which is extremely offensive to both parties, leaving men no choice but the roles of sacrificial victim or moral cannibal . . . .
To view the question in its proper perspective, one must begin by rejecting altruism’s terms and all of its ugly emotional aftertaste—then take a fresh look at human relationships. It is morally proper to accept help, when it is offered, not as a moral duty, but as an act of good will and generosity, when the giver can afford it (i.e., when it does not involve self-sacrifice on his part), and when it is offered in response to the receiver’s virtues, not in response to his flaws, weaknesses or moral failures, and not on the ground of his need as such.”

This prompted a few emails about Rand’s atheism, and the vast philosophical chasm that separates Ayn Rand and Jesus.  Here’s a sample, from a guy I genuinely admire:
Ayn Rand was very clear that her personal philosophy is the antithesis of the Christian teaching on selfless love.  She disagreed with Jesus in a fundamental way and made no bones about it.  It follows, therefore, that if Christians are attracted to her philosophy they are either confused, they think Rand seriously misread Jesus, or they see Christianity as a private matter with few moral implications.  I think Rand was right on the money.  The two philosophies are antithetical.  Jesus has my vote.

It went on for a while longer.  Most of the people copied on the email were good church people, all of whom I respect and admire.  I like to think that these are the people who would come to my aid if my family were to get into serious trouble.  I like to think that I would help them out in similar circumstances.  But I started thinking about what Rand said and what Jesus said.  NOT how they’ve both been interpreted, but what they actually said. 
Jesus supposedly said the following, in Matthew 6.  The additional italics are mine, for emphasis:

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon (money).
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

ehold the birds of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much better than they?

Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his height?

And why do you worry about clothing?   Look at the lilies of the field, how they grow; they don't work, neither do they spin fabric for themselves:
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these flowers.

Wherefore, if God so clothes the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, you of little faith?
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, How shall we be clothed?

(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knows that ye have need of all these things.
But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

That's kinda intense. 
Don't worry about what you're going to eat or drink. 
Look at the birds.  They don't grow crops, but God cares about them and provides for them.  Aren't you better than they are? 
Consider the flowers.  They don't work.  They don't make fabric, or anything else, yet they're more beautiful than Solomon! 
Here’s Matthew 5:40 – 42:  And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. And if someone forces you to carry his load for a mile, go with him for two miles. Give to him that asks upi, and from him that would borrow of you, turn not him away”.
Translated: If the damn lawyers take away your jacket, let 'em have your overcoat also.  If someone forces you to carry their load for a mile, go ahead and put in two miles.  GIVE to anyone who wants what you have, and if someone wants to borrow from you DO NOT turn them away. 
Luke 14:12-14: “Then said he also to him that asked him, When you make a dinner or a supper, call not your friends, nor your brethren, neither your kinsmen, nor your rich neighbors; lest they also ask tyou again, and a recompense be made thee. But when you make a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and you shall be blessed; for they cannot recompense you: for you shall be paid back at the resurrection of the just”
Don't have family over for dinner.  Ever.  Never, ever, ever.  Always feed the street people first. 
Now.... Compare Ayn Rand's statements on charity with those of Jesus.  I only know of one Christian who lives his life according to the statements of Christ quoted above, and most people think the guy is stark raving mad.  Maybe he is. 
Everyone that I know, and I mean everyone, Christian or not, tries to maintain health and life insurance, and keep up their house payments.  They try to get educations so they can provide for themselves and their families.  I've never seen anyone go into debt so they can feed more strangers, and I've never seen a robin drop worms into every nest in the forest. 
The average yearly income on this planet is $6,000 per person.  I've never known any follower of Christ to give away his stuff until he had less than that.  Ayn Rand advocated giving to people you feel like giving to, but only if it's not going to put you at risk.  Jesus taught that we should sacrifice ourselves, our stuff, and our security. 
In short, there has been an ongoing battle in the Christian church between the philosophy of Ayn Rand and the philosophy of Jesus. 
Ayn Rand has won it. 


Dale Netherton said...

Yes she has won for the rational minds with the courage to understand what she has said and have the integrity to implement it in their lives.

The Freeholder said...

Probably explains (at least in part) why I'm mostly good with the Old Testament and not so good with the New. Just never thought of it in those terms.

Travis said...

Jesus also said, "If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority."
As a Christian, I believe we are called to follow the sermon on the mount - and we all fail pretty badly. Of course, it makes no sense whatsoever if there is no God. Why would I trust God to clothe me if He does not exist? Why would I give up my time and treasure, if I don't trust that God will provide for me?
I don't think Jesus calls people to go into debt in order to give to charity; nor does he recommend not paying a bill or breaking a contract in the name of helping someone. However he does call us to help others - all those whose needs are before us - as much as we can with the resources we have - but we should not incapacitate ourselves in doing so.
By the way, Ayn Rand did not win. I would predict that her name will soon be more or less forgotten, but Jesus will continue to have millions or billions of followers (at least in name) around the world.
For those with spiritual eyes, the words of Jesus which you quote appear beautiful, while those of Ayn Rand merely human.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Did you not read the scriptures that I quoted? The guy was black and white about what we should do.
Jesus didn't advocate that we go into debt, but he advocated getting rid of our "stuff", and our security.
Your 3rd paragraph is almost a paraphrase of the Ayn Rand quote !!