Because the Proof of Ayn Rand’s Pudding, Is In the Eating

About a month ago, I wrote a wee post around a television interview Mike Wallace did with Ayn Rand back in 1959. I just as easily could have used an interview she did later on. Same story, same selfish pseudo-philosophy.

You see, being selfish is easy and being a Christian is hard. And being really, and truly Christian is almost never even attempted.

Remember what G.K. Chesterton said,

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.

So why am I posting this now? A reader sent me the following story from the current issue of Salon Magazine about a family’s real life experience with Ayn Rand’s Objectivist ideal, taken to it’s literal extreme. An Objectivist Fundamentalist? Lord, have mercy!

How Ayn Rand Ruined My Childhood: My Dad Saw Objectivism As a Logical Philosophy to Live By, But It Tore My Family Apart
by Alyssa Bereznak

My parents split up when I was 4. My father, a lawyer, wrote the divorce papers himself and included one specific rule: My mother was forbidden to raise my brother and me religiously. She agreed, dissolving Sunday church and Bible study with one swift signature. Mom didn’t mind; she was agnostic and knew we didn’t need religion to be good people. But a disdain for faith wasn’t the only reason he wrote God out of my childhood. There was simply no room in our household for both Jesus Christ and my father’s one true love: Ayn Rand.

You might be familiar with Rand from a high school reading assignment. Perhaps a Tea Partyer acquaintance name-dropped her in a debate on individual rights. Or maybe you’ve heard the film adaptation of her magnum opus “Atlas Shrugged” is due out April 15. In short, she is a Russian-born American novelist who championed her self-taught philosophy of objectivism through her many works of fiction. Conservatives are known to praise her for her support of laissez-faire economics and meritocracy. Liberals tend to criticize her for being too simplistic. I know her more intimately as the woman whose philosophy dictates my father’s every decision.

What is objectivism? If you’d asked me that question as a child, I could have trotted to the foyer of my father’s home and referenced a framed quote by Rand that hung there like a cross. It read: “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.” As a little kid I interpreted this to mean: Love yourself. Nowadays, Rand’s bit is best summed up by the rapper Drake, who sang: “Imma do me.”

Dad wasn’t always a Rand zealot. He was raised in a Catholic family and went to church every week. After he and my mother got married in 1982, they shopped around for a church. He was looking for something to live by, but he couldn’t find it in traditional organized religion.

Then he discovered objectivism. I don’t know exactly why he sparked to Rand. He claimed the philosophy appealed to him because it’s based solely on logic. It also conveniently quenched his lawyer’s thirst to always be right. It’s not uncommon for people to seek out belief systems, whether political or spiritual, that make them feel good about how they already live their lives. Ultimately, I suspect Dad was drawn to objectivism because, unlike so many altruistic faiths, it made him feel good about being selfish.

Needless to say, Dad’s newfound obsession with the individual didn’t pan out so well with the woman he married. He was always controlling, but he became even more so. In the end, my mother moved out, but objectivism stayed. My brother and I switched off living at each parent’s house once a week.

It was odd growing up, at least part-time, in an objectivist house. My father reserved long weekends to attend Ayn Rand Institute conferences held in Orange County, California. He would return with a tan and a pile of new reading material for my brother and me. While other kids my age were going to Bible study, I took evening classes from the institute via phone. (I half-listened while clicking through lolcat photos.)

Our objectivist education, however, was not confined to lectures and books. One time, at dinner, I complained that my brother was hogging all the food.

“He’s being selfish!” I whined to my father.

“Being selfish is a good thing,” he said. “To be selfless is to deny one’s self. To be selfish is to embrace the self, and accept your wants and needs.”

It was my dad’s classic response — a grandiose philosophical answer to a simple real-world problem. But who cared about logic? All I wanted was another serving of mashed potatoes.

Go read the rest here.

****

Look, I’m a realist like St. Thomas Aquinas OK? Just as many horror stories about growing up in a religious household can probably be written. Many children will turn away from whatever their parents are teaching them. It seems to be the natural order to rebel when you’re young.

However, to teach our children Christianity in the Catholic Tradition is as far from teaching them a prideful, self-absorbed, self-as-idol Objectivism as the letter A is to Z. The former is Truth while the latter is a train wreck. Sadly,  I have Christian friends who oddly look up to Ayn Rand because they like the 10% of what she has to say about Libertarian freedoms (Laissez-faire economics, for example) vs. the 90% of the rest of her horror show ideals.

For an antidote, may I suggest they spend some time with the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, and Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate? Not to mention the lives of the Saints. Or maybe I should introduce them to my friend Blaise Pascal.

But first, just start with a close reading of Our Lord and Savior’s Sermon on the Mount.

UPDATE: P.J. O’Rourke issues a reality check when he reviews the film Atlas Shrugged.

  • Anonymous

    While I reject her "reason as the only absolute," what her novels express, and what appeals to many people, is that man shall not be forced to hand over their intellectual property, their inventions, their mechanical processes, their ideas, to others without payment for them, and that the man who creates these things is the one who decides whether he'll give them away for nothing and to whom, and when, or never. That is Catholic teaching. What liberals despise about her is that she skewers them and their collectivist notions. They agree with her about the first part–they are entitled to be compensated for the fruit of their labor– but they insist that forcing others to give it away for free is right and good, but only applies to everybody else but not themselves. Read her stuff before you condemn her outright. Her novels are really very poignant in these days of American socialism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18314110968832604067 Brandy Miller

    I was introduced to Ayn Rand as a 17 year old. Saw the truth in it about taking personal responsibility for who and what you became, but fell for the lies about sexual promiscuity and personal gain being the highest possible good. Took me a while to figure it out, but thank God I did. Neither selfishness nor sexual promiscuity will ever bring a person true happiness, because that's not the source of happiness. Happiness flows from love, and love from God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    I've read her stuff. Now I've graduated to reading Solid Food like this provided by one of the folks I mentioned in the conclusion of the post.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07293253466982778065 IttyBittyScraps

    It is interesting to see those who defend Rand with Rand's ideas. All objectivism is is a rationalization for the self and staying in the self.As I read this blog post I immediately thought, especially during this time of Lent, is the Crucifixion. Rand's "philosophy" is not new nor innovative. It has been around since before Christ's time.When I thought of the Crucifixion, then question in my mind was, "What if Christ had followed objectivism?" It is clear that what would follow that the most selfless act ever committed would not have ever occurred.BTW, Yes, I am a liberal. No, I don't believe that "man shall not be forced to hand over their intellectual property, their inventions, their mechanical processes, their ideas, to others without payment for them, and that the man who creates these things is the one who decides whether he'll give them away for nothing and to whom, and when, or never." That is the conservative's twisted interpretation of what liberal means.I am liberal because of the social justice I have learned being Catholic.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Not to mention reading "stuff" like today's readings, which are very apropos.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07293253466982778065 IttyBittyScraps

    Just a note, I reread my post and the 2nd to last paragraph doesn't read correctly. My point was that I don't believe that people should give up their ideas/personal property/etc. or have them taken away. That is not what being liberal means.I am a software developer trying to start a business with my business partner selling our software. Yes, I firmly believe people should be paid their worth and for their creation. Which is why I am for worker's rights.

  • jpkvmi

    It's interesting that when people read Ayn Rand they immediatly focus their intension and point out that is all about selfishness. We fail to recognize the premises of her philosophy that promoted the dignity of the human person, not taking advantage of others, the pedastal sexuality should be placed on and most of all the prominence of rational thought. These are all very Catholic teachings. What she lacked however was the true source of these gifts. That is what makes her philosophy flawed. Not selfishness. After all, we are ALL selfish. God, hardwired us to be that way.We are all selfish people. I challenge anyone who says they are not selfish to tell me how they are not, and I will prove to them that they are, in fact, quite selfish. I suspect if you look at it rationally you will find that every act you make is completely and 100% selfish. If you work 80 hours a week at two jobs to put food on the table for your family, you are being selfish. Why? Because in the end that is what makes you happiest. If that act did not make you happiest, then you wouldn't do it. Don't kid yourself. You know that if you didn't do that you would not be truely happy. Because that is "the Good" that God has hard wired into our soul, into our deepest being. And doing "the Good" is what really make us happy. You need only read Genisis to recognize that we all should do "the Good"."The LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.' "Then Cain slew Able which was contrary to "the Good" Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is greater than I can bear."

  • http://www.adeaconswife.wordpress.com Susan Kehoe

    jpkvmi,God did not hard wire us to be selfish. Selfishness is the result of our fallen nature and sin. Jesus calls us to Agape,that is, self giving sacrificial love. We are all called to holiness of life, and that means striving to put God and our neighbor before ourselves.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Susan breaks out the Signal Truth of this string of comments. Touché and Bravo Zulu!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    FYI…Comments the length of "Atlas Shrugged" will not be published.Semper Fidelis

  • Anonymous

    Rand certainly had some good points but nothing you couldn't find in Thomas Aquinas expressed more profoundly. And Thomas went on to demonstrate that you cannot live a selfish life and be happy let alone and save your soul. No society can survive when Rand's philosophy prevails any more than it can survive absolute socialism.

  • Anonymous

    Rand is a classic case of 'truth gone mad'. She takes parts of the Natural Law and goes insane with it. It is the clear exposition of the Natural Law that people respond to in her – not the craziness. And she borrowed her economics from Mises. Of course, her own personal life was a shambles. The Acton Institute has a better take on all this.

  • Joseph

    Hitler did wonderful thing's for Germany's economic doldrums as well..Rand was a hedonist, narcissist, and atheist. She was opposed to altruism seeing it as "evil and deviant." She hated the Papacy and thought she was the second greatest person ever to live..second ONLY to..PLATO! I know we're anxious to join forces to expell the Atheist-Kenyan and his minions, but alliances with libertines stop at the social issues. Concentrating on Rand's economic views, to the exclusion of everything else, is like saying only that Lady/man Gaga sure can dance!

  • http://www.gihtrust.co.nz Peter

    I'm one for objective truth but only that it's not a material logic, but rational. Like Karl Marx to Capitalism, Freud to the self is relations of material aspects. I validate both relations to transcend the material into objective truth and thus the material into being. This is quantified by the practice of pure principle of Faith into being, the living proof of the eating.

  • Dennis

    @jpkvmiselfish – 'lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure'.The desire to be happy is not in itself selfish. It is how that happiness is obtained.Using your example… A selfish man says "I will work two jobs to feed my family because it makes me happy." A charitable man says "I will work two jobs to feed my family because I love them." The first man acts out of concern for himself. The second acts out of concern for others.Now, if you are using a broader definition of 'selfish', such as 'doing any act that will be beneficial to you,' then your comment may apply, but causes confusion in this conversation because you are addressing a 'selfishness' different than what others are referring to.

  • Anonymous

    Prominent Republicans as President Reagan, some of his closest advisers, Justice Thomas and pundits like Beck and Stossel have declared that they were greatly influenced by Rand and recommended her books especially Atlas Shrugged

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    What a man sows, he reaps. If he sows in the field of self-indulgence he will get a harvest of corruption out of it; if he sows in the field of the Spirit he will get from it a harvest of eternal life. -Galatians 6:7-8

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07215856728880521796 Baron Korf

    I can't help myself."There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."


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