The motion picture Atlas Shrugged - Part 1 was released in theaters last week, and coupled with the positively prophetic mapping of the plot of Atlas Shrugged to current events, Ayn Rand and her Objectivist Philosophy are front-burner topics. I know that many Christians read Rand and want to stand up and cheer, but at the same time are racked with guilt because of her atheism and decidedly anti-church professions. Can Rand be reconciled to the Gospel? Can Christians read and learn from Rand's writings? I say yes, and emphatically so.
The first thing we must do is approach this question from an adult perspective. It is patent absurdity to argue that atheists and other non-Christians have nothing to offer society or the Christian milieu itself. To argue that the work of atheists be dismissed is to argue for the dismissal of a large percentage of the advances and breakthroughs in mathematics, physics, and biomedical science that have been achieved over the last several centuries. Furthermore, any Christian worth his salt should be able to defend his beliefs, and should welcome honest challenge and questioning -- not run from it. Steel sharpens steel. Raw squid left out in the sun for six hours sharpens nothing.
One of the hallmarks of Rand's Objectivist philosophy is the supremacy of an individual's capacity for logic and reason. Those two words, logic and reason, appear over and over again in all of Rand's writings. Here is a quote from Rand herself, emphasis mine:
My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.
The Christian reconciliation of all of this lies in the Gospel of John, chapter 1, verse one: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
In John's creation narrative, he immediately identifies and establishes Jesus Christ as divine, co-eternal with God the Father, begotten, not made. Today, we simply say that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. But what we must focus on in terms of this discussion is the word that John uses to name and identify Jesus: John calls Him "the Word." In the original Greek, the word John uses is "Logos." The word "logos" in Greek is the same word used for the concepts of logic and reason. This Greek root is indeed the etymological source for the modern English word "logic." What John did in the very first sentence of his Gospel is to specifically identify Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, as Logic and Reason Itself. Logic and reason are intrinsic, constitutive qualities of God. They are His essence. They are who He is. This is why Christ identified Himself as "The Truth." Logic and reason are the process and mechanism by which statements are determined to be either true or false. A true statement is simply a statement that is aligned with God. 1+1=2. True. Why is this true? Because it is in alignment with the existential reality that is God Himself. Or, for you math buffs, consider Euler's Identity, which I and many, many others consider to be the very thumbprint of God:
Here are the five great constants of mathematics: e, the base of natural logarithms; i, the imaginary number which is the square root of negative 1; pi, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter; the number one -- the multiplicative identity; and the number zero, the additive identity. Now look at how simply and beautifully these numbers combine to form a true statement. That, dear readers, is God winking at us. Rand was right -- reason is our only absolute, because Reason is God Himself. If one re-reads Rand making this simple, conceptual substitution, it will literally knock you to the floor.
There is one more postulation I would like to make, and this one is going to make heads explode on both sides. It is my considered opinion that Rand probably influenced Pope John Paul II's masterwork on human sexuality, "Theology of the Body." When I first read Atlas Shrugged, one of the most powerful and astounding passages to my mind was Francisco d'Anconia's monologue on sexuality in Part 2, Section 4, "The Sanction of the Victim." I had just finished reading "Theology of the Body" and was dumbstruck by the similarities between the two works. Both works center around sexuality as a total, complete gift of self. Further, both works emphasize how the individual must first hold himself in esteem before he can possibly give himself to another unreservedly as a gift. Additionally, both works explain how the lack of esteem of self, and even self-loathing, pervert the sexual act and drive people back inwards upon themselves, eventually leading to highly destructive sexual behaviors.
Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957. At that time, Karol Wojtyla, who would later become Pope John Paul II, was wrapping up his second doctorate in philosophy. Wojtyla, as a Pole, was intensely interested and personally invested in fighting Marxist Communism. He had personally experienced the horrors of both National Socialism under the Third Reich during World War II, and then Communism under the Soviets in Poland. The notion that Wojtyla, a post-doctorate level philosopher himself, did not read Rand, who provided a scathing critique of the very system Wojtyla knew it was his vocation to fight, is laughable. I contend that Francisco's monologue may have planted, or at the very least fertilized, Wojtyla's nascent philosophy on sexuality, which later became "Theology of the Body."
And somewhere this morning, a grad student in theology has just been handed the topic of his doctoral thesis.