On this Monday after Easter, I was thinking of writing a piece to be entitled "Rand Wins." I was going to use this essay to reflect on the release of a survey taken in the city of Troy, MI, where I live and pastor. What this survey demonstrated was that the people of Troy have little concern about the welfare of their community -- it's all about me. That's essentially the philosophy of Ayn Rand -- the virtue of selfishness. She didn't believe in Caesar, but she also didn't believe in Jesus. Rand's teachings, interestingly enough, have had a renaissance of late among Tea Partiers, including evangelical Christians. Well, Martin Marty has beat me to it, and so I'll let him raise the issues of the day for our discussion. By the way, in answer to Cain's question, "Am I my Brother's Keeper?" I believe that God assumed he was!
Atlas Shrugged and Its Reviewers
-- Martin E. Marty
Atlas Shrugged, viewed by reviewers of most stripes as being appallingly appalling, draws crowds of devotees, and has champions on the right, including the Religious Right. Reviewing movie reviews is not standard fare in this column, but the support for this film based on the Ayn Rand perennial best-seller, deserves notice for what its plot and author tell about our nation and some religious sectors in it. And what it tells suggests profound contradictions, the reality of blind spots among ideologues, and the question of what America’s real religion, or this denomination of it, is.
Gary Moore, founder of The Financial Seminary, is the most dogged observer of Ayn Rand’s doings, reputation, and effect. He is mystified, as his online column title suggests: “Et tu, Cal? A response to Cal Thomas’s endorsement of the Atlas Shrugged movie and its attack on Caesar.” Caesar? How about “attack on Christ,” which is another specialty of Rand? Cal Thomas? Since that columnist “has famously disagreed with the worst excesses of the religious right,” his touting of Atlas, says Moore, “cuts like a knife.” Do not he and his colleagues notice contradictions in their stand? These should be obvious enough, as Moore—no leftist—and Charles Colson, etc. have pointed out.
Now, a novelist, faux-philosopher, or economist does not have to be religiously orthodox or religious at all to be reckoned with and selectively appropriated by the religious. The bearded God-killers, Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud come to mind as thinkers whose non-God and anti-God philosophies have to be dealt with by scholars, writers, theologians, and activists who use insights from them. But Moore says that the complexities in the camps need notice. Preachments are absorbed into the religious canon, and the result is “syncretism,” mixing of religions. And the public consequence of Randianism deserves notice as it befuddles Moore, Colson, and others.
Why expressive conservative Christians waste energies responding to the comparatively trivial “new atheists” while giving Rand a free ride or while taking their own ride on her renewed bandwagon is further a part of the mystery. The culture’s “new atheists” can be economic conservatives or socialists, Republicans or Democrats, humanists or anti-humanists and the world goes on. With Rand it is different, wedded as she has been to advocates and advocacies in both parties and many conservative camps.
That Rand has said that she wants to kill off all religions may bring her celebrity. She is consistently anti-government and stridently pro-selfishness. She sneers at people who care for the needs of others. As a result, Randists in the Bible-believing cohort of the population ask: is there anything in her philosophy that is not in direct opposition to the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament? Grounded in her contention that selfishness is a virtue and selflessness is a vice, she evokes a furrowed brow from columnist Maureen Dowd: “Rand is blazing back as an icon of the Tea Party, which overlooks her atheism, amorality in romance and vigorous support for abortion.” Obviously.
Give Rand in her writings credit: she did not set out to entrap or fool people. She made clear that if anyone would come after her, they had to deny all their impulses toward selflessness, take up their blinders and billfolds, and follow her. It’s been a long road already, and it threatens to enlarge as economic confusion continues to reign and religious witness is muzzled by the religiously confused.
Maureen Dowd, "Atlas Without Angelina," New York Times, April 16, 2011.
Michael Phillips, "'Message' pictures and the myth of objectivity," Chicago Tribune, April 21, 2011.
Gary Moore, "Ayn Rand: Goddess of the Great Recession," Christianity Today, August 27, 2010.
---. "Et tu, Cal? A response to Cal Thomas’s endorsement of the Atlas Shrugged movie and its attack on Caesar," This Lamp, April 19, 2011.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.
In his famous work, The Golden Bough, James Frazer (1854-1941) noted, "The custom of physically marrying men and women to trees is still practiced in India and other parts of the East. Why should it not have obtained in ancient Latium?" Drawing in part upon her own experiences as a field researcher in Nepal, Anne Mocko (University of Chicago) discusses the interpretive problems of Frazer's approach to the rituals of others in this month’s Religion and Culture Web Forum; she also analyzes several rituals involving the fact that Frazer got correct: that, "in India and Nepal, men and women do physically marry themselves to trees--or to plants, fruits, statues, and animals." With invited responses by Wendy Doniger (University of Chicago), Reid Locklin (University of Toronto), and Benjamin Schonthal (University of Chicago).
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.