Ayn Rand and Christianity

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

The GOP hearts Ayn Rand. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and his father Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), all mention the works of Ayn Rand as being influential in their lives. Even Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas references her work as influence in his autobiography. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, is an acolyte of Rand’s thinking and knew her personally.

I would like to focus on one aspect of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, and its implications for Christianity.

Rand saw the role of any philosophical system as the understanding of reality. Reality (existence) and the ability to understand reality (consciousness) are at the heart of Objectivism. Considering existence (reality) and consciousness (man’s awareness of it), Rand assigns primacy to existence, “the universe exists independent of consciousness (of any consciousness).” In other words, “wishing doesn’t make it so.”

For Rand, consciousness is the faculty of perceiving that which exists, “consciousness is consciousness of an object.” Eric Johnson, in a review of chapter one of Leonard Peikoff’s book Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, wrote:

Since the nature (identity) of consciousness is to be aware of reality, existence is prior to, necessary for, and not subject to the control of, consciousness.

Consciousness cannot be conscious only of itself because you run into the chicken-and-the-egg problem. Consciousness requires objects to be aware of in order to create consciousness. Sensory deprivation does not validate the notion of consciousness without anything to be conscious of. Consciousness of objects, and their associated memories, were already formed before any experiments with sensory deprivation.

Rand’s primary axiom of Objectivism is the Primacy of Existence. In contrast is the Primacy of Consciousness, “the notion that the universe has no independent existence, that it is the product of a consciousness (either human or divine or both).” Rand’s Primacy of Existence is the reason for Objectivism’s position of atheism with respect to religion, especially Christianity and its “creator God.”

The Christian concept of God as a disembodied consciousness that created everything, except itself, is antithetical to Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. Objectivism provides a solid philosophical foundation for rejecting the Christian worldview.

The Primacy of Existence hasn’t received the media attention that it deserves, and I doubt that Rand’s fans in the GOP/Tea Party would understand its ramifications.

H/T: AlterNetAnton Thorn, Dawson Bethrick, Objectivism Wiki, Ayn Rand Lexicon.

745 thoughts on “Ayn Rand and Christianity”

  1. “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.”


  2. I do see government as a tool, and as necessary (and dangerous) a tool as fire. The only alternative to government is pretty much huddling alone in an armored fortress you built yourself out of rocks.

    A hypothetical situation in which there exists no formal government leads inevitably to the strongest and most ruthless individuals taking whatever they want from others, and usually the weakest. Even the weakest form of cooperation beats nothing at all: Imagine a gang coming together momentarily, for mutual benefit, to do what none of them could do alone: Take down a big bad ass murdering bully.

    In my view the purpose of government is to gain the advantage of doing collectively those things that meet one criteria: Enough of the collective wants something done that they aren’t likely to change their minds anytime soon about it being done. That would be true for services like national defense, or having education for kids, or having roads or healthcare or safe food and water. There are many services it is safe to say virtually everybody thinks is a good idea if accomplished somehow, and in my view an ideal government would provide them to us, at cost, without any more waste than a typical private sector operation. (For the record, I think the current American form of government is a failure in this regard).

    I am not a socialist, I am a capitalist. I just think there are a large number of things for which no profit motive is necessary to achieve efficiency and innovation, and in some cases (like the military, police, courts and inspections services for foods and drugs and equipment and products) we positively do not want there to be a profit motive that might incentivize cutting corners, changing allegiance, or engaging in preferential treatment.

  3. Tony C. and Buddha,

    I am comfortably able to agree with Tony’s words posted at 12:05 pm today.

    I believe Buddha, had Tony and I begun our discussion without the shadow of Ayn Rand hovering, we might have been able to discuss our differences in philosophy, as it pertains to government, in a more constructive manner.

    I believe he sees government as a tool and is correct in that view. I look at government as a vast collection of humans attempting to mold themselves into a tool. It is a delicate distinction.

  4. What Buddha said, and let me add that collectivism is the natural state of the anatomically modern human; we have been living in tribes and cooperating on everything from hunting to child care to agriculture to infrastructure for at least 50,000 years. The typical human cooperates willingly for equal share, and the typical human is charitable and will work willingly to the good of society for free, as long as the work demand is of everybody, and the decisions of what is good are fairly made.

    Fairly distributed egalitarian collectivism is not evil, it is our default state. Only the terminally greedy and self-obsessed think otherwise.

  5. The demonization of collectivism is ridiculous. Every action that is taken by more than one person in concert with another is by definition collective. This applies in every scale from deciding which appetizer to share to playing a team sport to deciding to form governments. Collectivism is inherent in any cooperative activity. Collectivism as it applies to politics and economics is unavoidable and the only people who have a problem with it are individualists more interested in the consolidation of political and economic power to the individual over utilizing collectivism to promote a greater good for all which by that goals very nature is antithetical to creating dominant individuals. Excess preoccupation with individualism – not to be confused with proper recognition of individual inherent human rights and civil rights – is simply a form of ego worship. Despite what objectivists think, no one is more equal than anyone else in an equitable system. There is no justice without equity.

  6. Ayn Rand was as much a crank as the teabaggers are. She was right about one thing, though, in her foreward to “Anthem”:


    “The greatest guilt today is that of people who accept collectivism by moral default; the people who seek protection from the necessity of taking a stand, by refusing to admit to themselves the nature of that which they are accepting; the people who support plans specifically designed to achieve serfdom, but hide behind the empty assertion that they are lovers of freedom, with no concrete meaning attached to the word; the people who believe that the content of ideas need not be examined, that principles need not be defined, and that facts can be eliminated by keeping one’s eyes shut. They expect, when they find themselves in a world of bloody ruins and concentration camps, to escape moral responsibility by wailing: ‘But I didn’t mean this!'”

    “Those who want slavery should have the grace to name it by its proper name. They must face the full meaning of that which they are advocating or condoning; the full, exact, specific meaning of collectivism, of its logical implications, of the principles upon which it is based, and of the ultimate consequences to which these principles will lead.”

    Those who are addicted to dealers of Koch-aine and other right wing stupidity are oblivious to one simple fact: collectivism is as much a far right goal as it is a far left one.

  7. @Buddha, Jim: Alright then, I’ll take my way to the highway. I’ll try to look outward, but occasionally I may look upward, or perhaps to the right and down a little. I like to mix it up.

  8. Tony,

    I had no problem understanding what Jim was saying.

    Either a governmental philosophy of action (like any philosophy) is introverted, extroverted or, more properly to be effective, some combination of both. The negatives of extreme introversion are markedly more severe than those of extreme extroversion in implementing policy although both polar extremes have their limitations and negatives. I don’t see where the “misty-eyed collection of words” is coming into play. Somethings are fuzzy simply because they are fuzzy. That does not mean they lack utility.

    To quote Strother Martin, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

  9. @Jim: The point was about whether “looking outward” as a prescription for action had any specificity to it, and it doesn’t.

    The only point of debate for which I demand “My way or the highway [for one of us]” is specificity, I cannot argue with a misty-eyed collection of words that means whatever you want it to mean at the moment.

  10. To Tony C.,

    Interestingly enough I never considered myself an inspirational type. The subject matter of the original post interested me and if you reread the post then I believe you will understand that point.

    You invited me into a conversation regarding how those philosophies pertained to governments. If you remember, I initially missed your invitation because I did not see how what we were discussing fit. I gamely came on board as I recognized the impact Rand’s philosophy had on Greenspan, and he, in turn, on the Fed. Although there were/are many, many factors that played into the financial mess that we face, Greenspan’s personal philosophy is not without blame.

    You opened the discussion but then seemed unwilling to discuss anything other than your own views. As you may respond negatively to certain phrases and/or words, I tend to respond negatively to indicators of a controlling nature, ‘my way, or the highway’ schools of thought do not impress me.

    Now, if there is specific policy you wish to discuss, I will be more than happy to leave the philosophies of Rand and Christianity in the cloakroom gathering dust.

    As to your example of the Space Program, I would have voted yes and expected exactly what happened. Space program spin-offs: Dustbuster, shock-absorbing helmets, home security systems, smoke detectors, flat panel televisions, high-density batteries, trash compactors, food packaging and freeze-dried technology, cool sportswear, sports bras, hair styling appliances, fogless ski goggles, self-adjusting sunglasses, composite golf clubs, hang gliders, art preservation, quartz crystal timing equipment, advanced keyboards, Customer Service Software, Database Management System, Laser Surveying, aircraft controls, Lightweight Compact Disc, Expert System Software, microcomputers, and design graphics, whale identification method, environmental analysis, noise abatement, pollution measuring devices, pollution control devices, smokestack monitor, radioactive leak detector, earthquake prediction system, sewage treatment, energy saving air conditioning, and air purification, Arteriosclerosis detection, ultrasound scanners, automatic insulin pump, portable x-ray device, invisible braces, dental arch wire, palate surgery technology, clean room apparel, implantable heart aid, MRI, bone analyzer, and cataract surgery tools, gasoline vapor recovery, self-locking fasteners, machine tool software, laser wire stripper, lubricant coating process, wireless communications, engine coatings, and engine design, storm warning services (Doppler radar), firefighters’ radios, lead poison detection, fire detector, flame detector, corrosion protection coating, protective clothing, and robotic hands, safer bridges, emission testing, airline wheelchairs, electric car, auto design, methane-powered vehicles, windshear prediction, and aircraft design analysis.

    To name a few.

  11. @Jim: I suspect you have interpreted my words as spoken by a Christian with a hidden agenda …

    You suspect wrong.

    I don’t think you have an agenda, or care if you do. I think you are not a concrete thinker. I believe that is what I was trying to tell you: Your phraseology does not translate into executable actions or policies.

    I think you are trying to force a pretty-sounding phrase or metaphorical imagery that inspires you personally [“looking outward”] to mean something, when I think it is too vague a prescription with which to operate. It is not concrete. The reason I say that is because I can cast anything I want to do as “looking outward.”

    So, for example, should I have a space program?
    Answer: YES, that is looking outward to new frontiers!
    Answer: NO, that is a self-centered indulgence with no practical value, you should be looking outward to the starving world in pain, that is where that money should be spent!

    A similar argument holds for “new solutions.” “NEW” sounds exciting, but “NEW solutions” are obviously UNPROVEN solutions with unknown long term effects and unknown complications. NEW solutions have not been refined for a century, and in just a few decades may seem like a ridiculous fad with obvious downsides.

    It may be just me (it usually is) but I find negative value in inspirational phrases, unless they connect to the concrete world and clearly divide actions into good and bad. A poetic phrase like “all men are created equal,” or “… and justice for all,” or the image of the blind-folded Lady Justice, to me that is poetry with meaning.

    Your characterization of Rand’s philosophy in terms of self-help or religious imagery of looking outward, looking inward, selfish or losing self is all meaningless to me in terms of policy. Like I said, I think YOU find it inspirational and meaningful, and perhaps you think I should grasp that too, but I don’t. I do not even think of my own life in terms like that, I certainly do not want to personify my government in terms like that.

  12. To Tony C.,

    Attempting to communicate without the aid of non-verbal (body language, tone, etc.) entities on a subject such as this is challenging.

    I will attempt to give you some understanding of my views taking into account that which I believe you have misinterpreted.
    I have no agenda other than to explore the subject matter of Ayn Rand, Christianity, and, at your invitation, how individual philosophies affect government.

    At one time I might have described myself as a Christian in that I was raised within a belief system that subscribed to a superior being, God, and a prophet known as Jesus. I was never encouraged to view Jesus as God which means I was not taught to revere the Trinity. I was taught to consider the teachings of Jesus as enlightened and to attempt to use those teachings as a guideline in developing my own relationship with my fellow man and with the unknown (what some call the I AM).

    Further, I was taught that faith does not transcend knowledge. Faith, when faced with knowledge, must adjust. As my thinking matured, the word God came to mean, “knowledge not yet perceived or learned.” At one time, hundreds of years ago, I may have stood with a crowd of my fellows holding my breath as the wizard, with much drama, climbed to the top of the altar and at just the right moment, as the mid-day turned black, threw the flash bang in the fire and brought the sun back. Today, knowing the timing of eclipses, I would laugh at the stupidity of those who have faith in the abilities of the wizard to save the world from everlasting darkness. Faith should not transcend knowledge.

    As to the choice in wording of “looking inward” and “looking outward” in describing government, this is not touchy/feely, new age, mumbo jumbo. “Though government be an invention very advantageous, and even in some circumstances absolutely necessary to mankind; it is not necessary in all circumstances, nor is it impossible for men to preserve society for some time, without having recourse to such an invention.” – Hume

    Man invents and the individual philosophy which each man brings to that entity determines the actions and outcomes of government invented and operated. I would suggest that many of the men who wrote the Constitution were deists but they were also well aware that Christian evangelism was rampant within the states. As it walked that careful line between differing schools of thought, the Constitution was a masterpiece.

    Thus, back to the subject of this post, Ayn Rand and Christianity, the Rand philosophy of “self” (looking inward) versus the Christian philosophy of “losing self” (looking outward) impacts upon government and governmental institutions through the decisions and performance of the individuals involved in government.

    That having been said, I suspect you have interpreted my words as spoken by a Christian with a hidden agenda of evangelizing government. Not so.

    Protecting the minority from the tyranny of the majority is accomplished by looking outward for the tyranny of the majority is always self-centered in that it states, “what is good for me is good for you and you will accept that because there are more of me than of you. “ In my opinion, avoiding that pitfall while maintaining majority rule (an indispensable part of republican government) was the sheer genius of the Constitution. I have tried to express that view while remaining within the parameters of the Rand/Christianity post and to express my disapproval of the manner in which that genius is being undermined by our present-day government.

  13. @Roco: Then it depends on what you mean by “free.” Freedom is the freedom to take action (or express opinion, which we consider an action) without being punished by the government for doing so.

    Crimes can be considered actions that (if detected) the government is supposed to punish.

    So you have to define what “more free” means, or there is no content to your assertion. What makes individuals more free … to do what? How do we distinguish actions that should not be punished actions that should be punished?

    “More FREE” is not a good thing if it means people are allowed to take actions that defraud others, for example, or exploit the survival desperation of others, or engage in deceptive trade, or endanger others without their knowledge, or damage or deplete resources we all share or all own (even if we do not realize those resources are being used up).

  14. Tony C:

    And that is what separation of powers is all about. An objective rule of law that protects the minority from the majority and vice versa.

    What makes individuals more free within the confines of government should be good for all.

  15. A Little Founding Arithmetic: Rule By Minority.

    This is just a little idle exercise on my part.

    The Constitution can be changed dramatically by Amendment. Amendment is supposed to be hard, but 2/3 of states can demand a Constitutional Convention, and 3/4 of State Legislatures can ratify its proposals: 3/4 is 38 states.

    The 2010 census puts us at 308M people (adults AND children, so this is only a quick approximation since we are talking about voters). The 38 least populous states have 40.5% of the population, but their “state legislatures” are voted in by simple majority votes.

    So somewhere around 20.3% of voters could theoretically completely rewrite the Constitution; first by voting in compliant state legislatures, then by having them call a Constitutional Convention and ratifying the results.

  16. @Roco: I would have figured you an advocate for democracy.

    I know this was directed at Smith, but how do you feel about that? What percentage of people (or how many people, if you prefer the randomized jury route) does it take to declare some act a crime punishable by fine or force?

    When criminals innovate, how do we decide something new is a crime? To anticipate one possible answer, saying we appeal to the logic of Objectivism doesn’t answer the question: Who gets to devise and present that logic? How are they selected? What logicians check the logic? How many have to agree for that logic to bind us all?

  17. @Mike Appleton: I don’t think the Christianity point was conceded; I just think no Christian Objectivists are willing to debate that issue.

    It wouldn’t be hard for a Christian Objectivist; they can simply argue that they subscribe only to the economic, political, and governmental prescriptions of Ayn Rand, and her atheism was a human, emotional flaw that does not negate the importance of her more carefully thought out academic work.

    Were I on their side (and I am not), I would point out that Rand’s rejection of God relies upon assertions she cannot prove; but whether or not God exists does not enter into the remainder of her work, so her atheism can be seen simply as a flawed over-interpretation of principles that work on Earth but do not apply in the spiritual realm.

    To address their stance on taxation: Christ exhorted people to voluntary charity; forced charity will not save your soul. Christ did say about taxation, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” but that can easily be interpreted as an instruction not to resist a thief. Christ gave similar instructions of non-resistance to crimes elsewhere. So Christ’s stance on paying taxes does not mean that Christ thought taxes were a good thing. Given the right to vote, for a Christian voting against taxation can be seen as a vote against organized crime.

    I am an atheist progressive liberal, but I don’t think their side is hard to defend on the terms they usually adopt. Christian Objectivists will do with Rand what they have done with the Bible: Ignore and dismiss all the crazy, brutal and repellent parts, and endlessly repeat the few parts they love.

  18. @Jim Smith: Show an example, I don’t think you can. I’m not worked up into an emotional lather, I can’t figure out what the hell you are talking about; you explain one meaningless prescription (look outward!) with another meaningless prescription (find new ideas!) and then explain that with yet another meaningless prescription (Don’t be “I” centered!).

    I do not think I have misattributed anything to you, although it is certainly possible I have misinterpreted something you said, because what you have said is amorphous and I have been trying to suggest possible concrete meanings to it.

    But apparently “new ideas and solutions” is as concrete as you can manage, so I will leave you to your daydreaming.

  19. To Tony C.,

    You post one idea and then completely contradict yourself in the next post. You ask questions that have already been answered. At times you have asked a question, given the answer, and railed against me as if the answer you typed was from my keyboard. You seem to work yourself up into an emotional lather over your own misinterpretation of my words and then blast me for it.

    It has been a somewhat ludicrous conversation and I leave you to your paranoia.

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