The 'Ayn Rand vs. Jesus Christ' Campaign
The American Values Network, a left-wing group, with considerable funding by George Soros, has launched a media blitz under the banner "Ayn Rand vs. Jesus Christ." As an Institute founded by Ayn Rand's heir and devoted to advancing her philosophy, Objectivism, we would like to respond. Since this is an issue Rand faced repeatedly in her lifetime, our response is basically to let her speak for herself.
The AVN campaign is right in saying that Rand opposes accepting any ideas on faith -- i.e., in the absence of rational evidence. Reason, based on sensory observation, is man's only means of knowledge -- the knowledge on which his life depends. Accordingly, she considers not only religious faith but any departure from reason to be destructive both personally and culturally.
But the AVN is wrong in bringing religion into politics at all. The American system treats religion as a private matter, not something to shape government policy. This is a corollary of the separation of church and state. The AVN campaign goes to shocking lengths in violating this principle. A recent video shows a young man pursuing Paul Ryan in a parking garage urging him to follow the Bible not Rand (whom he has praised) in his congressional budget proposal. Bringing religion into politics doesn't get much cruder than that.
In a 1963 letter to Congressman Bruce Alger, who had questioned Rand on much the same grounds as the AVN, she wrote:
In accordance with the principles of America and of capitalism, I recognize your right to hold any beliefs you choose -- and, on the same grounds, you have to recognize my right to hold any convictions I choose. I am an intransigent atheist, though not a militant one. This means that I am not fighting against religion -- I am fighting for reason. When faith and reason clash, it is up to the religious people to decide how they choose to reconcile the conflict. As far as I am concerned, I have no terms of communication and no means to deal with people, except through reason.
Although religion does not belong in politics, reason certainly does. And it is a rational philosophy to which fans of Atlas Shrugged and Rand are responding. Atlas Shrugged dramatizes a non-contradictory form of the original American philosophy of reason, individualism, and free enterprise -- i.e., capitalism. Many in the Tea Party movement admire Rand because she provided a moral defense of those values, particularly of capitalism. She showed that it is immoral -- unjust -- for the state to rob some to benefit others. It is even worse when the state sacrifices the productive to the unproductive, punishing success while rewarding failure ("too big to fail" being the latest manifestation of that perversity).
To live, man must use his mind; he must think. All human values -- from money to art to love -- are based on and require unbroken commitment to rationality. This is why, in the Objectivist ethics, rationality is the primary virtue.
If I were to speak your kind of language, I would say that man's only moral commandment is: Thou shalt think. But a "moral commandment" is a contradiction in terms. The moral is the chosen, not the forced; the understood, not the obeyed. The moral is the rational, and reason accepts no commandments.
As to those on the "right" who seek to combine reason, individualism, and individual rights with the religious faith and the primordial view of man as an object of sacrifice, Rand was clear: "In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit."
To those who seek such a compromise, we say: if you think you can reconcile reason and faith in your personal life, go ahead and try. But we urge you not to base your support of freedom and capitalism on religion: to say freedom stems from faith is to say that reason is on the side of dictatorship.
Harry Binswanger, PhD, is a member of the Ayn Rand Institute Board of Directors, and teaches philosophy at the Objectivist Academic Center.