A Mystic Reads Rand, Part III
Theism, Consciousness, and Objectivism
by Jonathan Wilson
July 23, 2005
This article is the third in a series in which I, the pastor of an evangelical church, respond to Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy. These articles are intended to engage those who found Rand inspiring and would recommend her novel Atlas Shrugged, or portions of it, for others to read. Such are the Libertarian Atheists, a subset within a pluralistic Libertarian movement, all of which is completely ignored by the bi-partisan political establishment and the news media which panders to it.
These articles are also intended for those who want to talk about the moral value profit, which is Rand's chief concern, without having to wade through her writings. In soft cover at 1063 pages, Atlas Shrugged took me two years to read. As with most novels of this length, I was alternately bored and in suspense, inspired by it and tired of it. It has never been out of print in 48 years. Its strength is that as one engages its themes a discussion of human values takes place. From Rand's own comments that was at least part of her intent, so by that standard the novel is very effective.
I am what Rand describes as a "preacher" and a "mystic," which are terms of derision in the lengthy speech made by her hero John Galt. My first comment was that, "more important than the premise of atheism in objectivist philosophy, is the premise of consciousness." For this essay I expand on the second of my theses:
Theists who have come to personal consciousness will be exhibiting objectivist principles in all of life. Except, of course, the principle of atheism.
These are the principles in Rand's own words:
If we begin with Objective Reality the rest will follow. Rand joins other critics of religion in supposing that preachers and mystics (like myself) are more interested in a subjective (and delusional) experience of the supernatural rather than the sensate experience of the natural. Reason, ethics and politics are then rooted in the magical spheres of wish-fulfillment which religion promises, including the Christian Faith's ultimate "pie in the sky" irrational daydream of a resurrection from the dead into eternal life. For Rand, speaking through John Galt, the irrational foundation of religious hope leads to skewed ethical outcomes, such as, fostering the poor in their relationships of dependency, which as a value system leads to the ultimate social evil of collectivization.
I am an expert on only one Theistic world-view, the Christian faith, which is anchored in the Bible. (For believers reading this, lest you be confused: I am a fervent preacher of the hope of the resurrection—First Corinthians 15.) Biblical rationalism as it has informed Judaism and Christianity is more concerned with objective reality than any other issue. As Rand puts it, "Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed." This is as concise a summary of the Five Books of Moses as I have found.
The first two chapters of Genesis describe the operation of Nature and humanity's relationship with it. Exodus chapter 20 provides 10 Commandments. After the first three, which have to do with a person's religious obligation, the rest expound the human being's function within the natural order.
Remember the Sabbath: Once interpreted as a religious obligation, it has long since been understood that a period of rest is part of the rhythm of the natural order. The human mind and body function better when rest is regularly included, and dormancy is part of the cycle of renewal for plants and animals.
Honor your Father and your Mother: The family functions better when conscious personal respect for each other's humanity, Rand's concern, is present at the core.
Do not murder: Through Galt Rand argues for a moderate pacifism which rejects the initiation of violence. Murder is neither a right for an individual to claim, nor is it the right of the state.
Do not commit adultery: Through the actions of her two lead characters, Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart, Rand hints that America's public sexual moralism in the 1940's and 1950's was hypocritical. Rand described the base sexual motivations in her unawakened characters, and celebrated the Hank's and Dagny's adultery as a truer reflection of a fully conscious sexuality. Rand's critique of sexual hypocrisy remains forceful, although a lot of progress has been made among conservative American Christians in the issue of personal consciousness and its importance to a functioning and joyful sexuality. What is telling about Rand's convictions is that her heroic characters are monogamous. Hank takes up with Dagny and never touches his own wife again. Francisco D'Anconia, in love with Dagny himself, only cultivates the image of a playboy to a crass media—he in fact remains true to his first love.
Do not steal: The inalienable right to one's own property is woven into the Bible; it is neither the right of the individual nor the state to confiscate what belongs to another.
Do not share false testimony: Rand has no patience with people who lie to cover themselves or who slander others for personal gain. Galt's speech is clear that truth is Rand's highest value.
Do not covet: Rand identifies envy as the core failing among mediocre people who resent the grace and productivity of excellent people. Envy is the motive of what her heroic characters call the "looters," those who want the benefits that hard-working geniuses bestow upon humanity, while removing profit as a motive from those geniuses. I agree with Rand here as well. Why not, it's in the Bible! The 10 Commandments are as much a reason I moved to the Libertarian camp as anything else.
There are, by Rabbinic authority, 267 commandments in the Bible. They are derivative of the ten big ones. This includes many times in which God does command helpfulness to one's neighbor. Rand critiques this as religion's fall into support of the ethical monstrosity of collectivization. This has been too true among too many preachers, especially in the 1930's and 1940's when American intellectuals were believing Stalin's own press releases. What, then, is the true ethical basis for God's command to help one's neighbor?
When Jesus in the New Testament was asked to interpret the identify of one's neighbor, Jesus did not describe the sloth living in your attic waiting for dinner. Jesus described a victim of a crime, who because of the violence done, was incapable of helping himself. This is precisely the attitude seen among Rand's heroes when they mount a rescue of John Galt from his federal prison.
Here is the key point: God nowhere commands that the productive become co-dependent enablers of the slothful. In fact, another New Testament rabbi, named Paul, stated quite firmly that "those who will not work shall not eat." Willful sloth is not to be coddled. Rand is quite right. I, a preacher and mystic, applaud her.
The Old Testament Book of Proverbs urges the sloth to wake up, in other words, to become conscious, to lay a claim to that spark of volition which Rand sees as setting apart the human being from the rest of nature, and which I and Christian Theists call the image of God. Rand is silent on the subject of those for whom productivity is impossible—except for the important clue that Galt, helpless, was rescued. Here, the Bible is not silent. Compassion is part of the conscious human character which renders the image of God. When filtered through an unawake consciousness, compassion is codependency, and codependency is rightly criticized by Rand and the Bible.
Thus the Theist, awakened to volitional consciousness, will exhibit objective principles through all of life. This does not occur out of a dutiful obedience to external commandments, which is the refuge of the unawake and has led to the kinds of abuses that Rand rightly criticizes. Instead, the Objectivist principles that Rand recognized are true because they are revealed to be true. It is no surprise that a conscious Atheist can articulate a moral world-view; in the New Testament Romans Chapter One states that the truth is revealed in nature and occasionally great minds have glimpsed it. To Christians this is called "general" or "natural" revelation. That which Rand has determined to be true in nature is true in scripture and true to the heart of God.
[i]This is found in the appendices to the novel, "The Essentials of Objectivism" Atlas Shrugged p. 1074 (return to text)
About the Author:
Jonathan Wilson is the pastor of Cuyler Covenant Church in Chicago.
This article was printed from www.partialobserver.com.
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