An Age of Selfishness
According to the Gospel of John, as Jesus was in the Garden, just prior to his arrest, he told the disciples who were with him:
This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:12-13; Common English Bible)
This statement stands at the heart of the Christian message, a message that is also contained in the commands to love God and love your neighbor. Jesus divided the sheep and the goats from each other on the basis of how persons loved him by taking care of the "least of these" (Mt. 25). The question that Cain raised: "Am I my brother's keeper" has been answered in the affirmative by Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Following the example of the Samaritan, Jesus said: Go and do likewise.
American may be a predominantly Christian nation, but recently it seems as if an ideology that is quite foreign to the gospel has taken root. One of its prophets has been Ayn Rand, author of the novel Atlas Shrugged, which Martin Marty discussed in a Sightings piece published here yesterday. As noted there, Ayn Rand has become something of a hero to a growing number of people, especially among Tea Partiers and Libertarians. She is apparently the inspiration for Alan Greenspan and Paul Ryan, among others. At the heart of her message is the "virtue of selfishness." According to a book of essays by that name, Rand lays out her "philosophy of objectivism." Now, she might not be a respected philosopher, nor even a great novelist, but she is influencing a culture that seems intent on abandoning the common good for the good of the individual. She writes that "the Objectivist ethics holds that the actor must always be the beneficiary of his action and that man must act for his own rational self-interest."
As David Heim, Editor of the Christian Century, writes in Century blog post:
Rand has never been taken seriously by those who know philosophy or care about fiction, but plenty of people take her seriously as a guide to politics. That number is on the rise, and it includes people like House budget chair and GOP economics guru Paul Ryan. Ryan has cited Rand's novels as the reason he got into politics, and he reportedly encourages his staff to read her books.
Other prominent politicians inspired by Rand include libertarian lawmakers Rep. Ron Paul and Sen. Rand Paul. The Atlas Shrugged film has been pushed by Fox News host Sean Hannity, by the Heritage Foundation and by FreedomWorks, the Tea Party organization headed by former House majority leader Dick Armey.
Few people are worried that Rand's "in praise of selfishness" ideas will take over university philosophy departments or that her novels will be hailed as great art. Hart and the rest of us can rest easy on that score. But there are reasons to worry that her thinking is shaping American economic policy and inspiring political leaders.
The sentiments of Ayn Rand seem to stand at cross purposes to that of Jesus, about whom apparently Rand spoke of disparagingly in Atlas Shrugged, so whose ethic should we seek to support?