Are Ayn Rand and Christianity Compatible?

This is a guest post, written by Sean Edwards. Sean's passions include politics, economics, theology, eschatology, and the dynamic interplay of government and faith. You can read Sean's blog here. Sean also happens to be my son.

Can a follower of Jesus also accept the philosophy of Ayn Rand (author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged)? Yes, and the result is “Christian Objectivism”.


What is “Christian Objectivism”?

Christian Objectivism is a worldview that is a synthesis of the Christian faith and Ayn Rand’s philosophy called “Objectivism.” So, then, what is Ayn Rand’s “Objectivism”? It’s best let her tell you herself:

“At a sales conference at Random House, preceding the publication of Atlas Shrugged, one of the book salesmen asked me whether I could present the essence of my philosophy while standing on one foot. I did as follows:

  • Metaphysics: Objective Reality
  • Epistemology: Reason
  • Ethics: Self-interest
  • Politics: Capitalism

If you want this translated into simple language, it would read: 1. “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” or “Wishing won’t make it so.” 2. “You can’t eat your cake and have it, too.” 3. “Man is an end in himself.” 4. “Give me liberty or give me death.”

If you held these concepts with total consistency, as the base of your convictions, you would have a full philosophical system to guide the course of your life. But to hold them with total consistency—to understand, to define, to prove and to apply them—requires volumes of thought. Which is why philosophy cannot be discussed while standing on one foot—nor while standing on two feet on both sides of every fence. This last is the predominant philosophical position today, particularly in the field of politics.

My philosophy, Objectivism, holds that:

  1. Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.
  2. Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.
  3. Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.
  4. The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others.The government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.”

– Ayn Rand, 1962

Christian Objectivism holds these values as well, within the context of the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. One might wonder how this possible, since Ayn Rand herself was an atheist and many Christian precepts appear to be in conflict with Objectivism. But these are perceived conflicts, not actual ones.

1) Christian Objectivism believes that the Bible is an accurate account of history and thus its revelation should be considered fact.

2) Christian Objectivism recognizes that reason is “man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.” Reason is not purely intellectual thought, which many Christians have shunned, but “the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.” Reason puts all the pieces from all of our senses together and builds an understanding of reality from them.

Spiritual revelation is a sense just like any other, therefore, reason takes our spiritual revelation and applies it everything else we know about the world and synthesizes a understanding of reality from it. And just as it must do with all of our other senses, reason must analyze if our spiritual revelation is congruent with all of other senses and/or if it is giving us false information. Sometimes our senses (all of them) send us wrong information and it is the responsibility of our minds to weigh everything we are receiving and come to a conclusion about reality around us.

3) This point is probably the hardest for most Christians to swallow, but it is still true, though understood a little differently. The original design in the Garden of Eden was for Humanity to enjoy union with God, and their lives on Earth. There was no ministry to be done, there was no sacrificing necessary. People were to live their lives and enjoy them. Christian Objectivism holds that the enjoyment of life and God are still our ultimate purposes, and not to sacrifice ourselves for others, though service and self-denial are sometimes necessary to achieve those ends.

C.S. Lewis articulates this point well in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses:

“[In modern Christianity] The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to our desire.”

C.S. Lewis

Self-denial and sacrifice are not bad things. They are necessary if we want to achieve everything God has for us. Self-denial and sacrifice are evil if they are held as ends unto themselves and made the penultimate purposes of our lives. Hebrews 12:2 states that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him. He did not deny Himself and go through the Cross purely out of self-sacrifice. He did it because He wanted the joy of redeeming His people and knowing that God’s Children would get the lives they were originally meant to have.

Therefore, self-denial and sacrifice have their place, but only as means to an end, and they must be completely voluntary. They cannot be forced onto people.

4) Objectivism holds that there are two ways in which goods and services are transmitted between people, either through trade, where people willingly trade with each other for their mutual benefit, or through force, where one person steals from another. There are no other options.

A basic tenant of Christian Objectivism is that Jesus always made compliance with His teachings voluntary, which includes giving to charity and being generous. He never told His disciples: “Help the poor, and if you don’t have enough money to do it, then forcibly take it from someone else. Preferably someone rich.” Government run welfare and social security, though born of good intentions, force some people involuntarily support a charity with which they do not agree. This is wrong and can never be justified.

Money is the product of men’s labor and thus an extension of their lives. No one has a right their lives but they themselves, and God as their creator. Compassion does not give men the right to tell others how to live their lives or what to do with their money. Therefore, capitalism is the only moral way in which resources can move between individuals. Walter E. Williams put it best when he said:

“Prior to capitalism, the way people amassed great wealth was by looting, plundering, and enslaving their fellow man. Capitalism made it possible to become wealthy by serving your fellow man.”

We as Christians have the privilege to help those around us, those in great need, because it reflects the heart of the Father and empowers people to encounter His love. This virtue is not self-denial or sacrifice. It is integrity. If we believe who we are and who God is, then we can’t pass by one of His children who is in need. They need to be built up and brought back into their potential.

But we do not have the right to force people to help the less fortunate. To quote Terry Goodkind, “Charity must always voluntary. Otherwise it is just a nice word for slavery.”

That, in a nutshell, is Christian Objectivism.

Sean Edwards holds two Degrees, one in History and one in Ancient Studies. He is also a graduate of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, California. Sean's passions include politics, economics, theology, eschatology, and the dynamics between the roles of government and faith. He is the author of American Resurrection: The Failure Of The U.S. Constitution And The Rebirth Of A Nation.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • John Thomas

    I absolutely, whole-heartedly agree. IMO, Christian Objectivism is the Biblical model for how God wants us to live our lives.

    Thanks or putting this out there.

  • Ryan McGrath

    FYI, this John Piper tribute to Ayn Rand is moving, and heartbreaking at the same time:

  • Sean Edwards

    Hello Dan,

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. I always appreciate a good discussion!

    Ayn Rand’s philosophy cannot be swallowed in it’s entirety by a Christian, you are correct. The Kingdom of God and the person of Jesus require that we modify some aspects of her philosophy (that’s why I call my self a “Christian Objectivist” not an “Objectivist”). That being said, I believe virtually all of the basic tenants of her philosophy are compatible with Christianity, just not all of her conclusions.

    Jesus promises rewards in heaven for helping the people, ministry, and even martyrdom. Everywhere you look He appealed to people’s self-interest in order to motivate them.

    Furthermore, Ayn Rand said, “The virtue that causes you to help those you love is not selflessness, but integrity.” Why? Because when you love someone you respect them. You recognize the great potential in them, you have seen them do great things, and you know they can do many more great things. It is because you understand who you are and who they are that you are forced out of integrity (defined as living in completely harmony from the inside out; not living in an internal conflict of ideas) that you realize you must help those you love.

    One of Ayn Rand’s conclusions with which I disagree was her fatalistic view of mankind. In her books, her characters made judgment calls on whether or not people had reached their potential. If they hadn’t, then the fault was their own, and they shouldn’t be respected. Only those that had discovered the greatness inside of them and acted on it deserved her respect. Everyone else were worse than animals because they had chosen to be victims of the world. She left very little room for people to “come to their senses” and rise up to be all that they can be. If they chose to be mindless robots, then they should be treated as such.

    Faith in Jesus forces us to have a different perspective on mankind. Every person has the capability to become more than they are. Every person is made in the image of God and can at any moment choose a new course for their lives. But many people are blinded and deceived by experiences growing up and choices they have made along the way. They do not know who they are or what they capable of. But I do. Because I know who I am, and because I know how they are, and I know who’s image in which we are created, I cannot let them live in darkness without at least trying to help. My integrity requires me to act, because if I left them in the ditch, in a sense, I would be leaving myself there as well.

    Therefore, helping people, either through day-to-day ministry, or going to the missions field, is not an act of selflessness, but integrity. Or at least it should be. On top of that, we are promised great rewards in heaven for the work we do. So no matter who you look at it, self-interest is the root ministry work, either by reward, or complying with your conscience and integrity.

    As to Jesus’ response to taxation, we have to take that point into context. First off, the Herodians were attempting to trick him so they could legally kill him. He was not making point on civic engagement, he was evading their trap.

    But this does bring up an interesting point because Jesus never discussed civic engagement in politics at all. This does not mean, however, that we should not be involved. Jesus never spoke on many topics in which we must be involved every day – parenting, medicine, and business just to name a few. We must remember that Jesus was talking to a specific group of people at specific time in history.

    He knew the people to whom He spoke had no chance of affecting their political climate. These were not questions they needed answered. The early church needed answers to questions like how to hold onto their faith when they are being oppressed by a hostile government. They are needed to know how the promises of God could still be true when they were being killed as public spectacles.

    We live in a very different world today, which requires us to use interpret and extrapolate Jesus’ teachings for the world in which we live. We do not live under a tyrannical government that was built on conquest and iniquity. We have a representative government specifically designed to allow us to have a say in our politics. Jesus’ response to the Herodians was not an excuse to abdicate political responsibility.

    Since we have to extrapolate conclusions on life from Jesus’ teachings for our world today, we can arrive at a free-market economic model. How? Because Jesus never forced anyone to do anything. He didn’t force people to live by his teachings (It even says in John 12 that He doesn’t judge people for not obeying His teachings) and He didn’t force people to give to the poor. Everything Jesus asked us to do was completely voluntary. And that’s capitalism, a voluntary trade between individuals.

    There are only two ways in which goods and services move between people. Either through voluntary trade, or force (i.e. theft). Since Jesus never condoned theft (even to support the poor), we can safely assume that he wouldn’t support a welfare system that forcefully takes money from one person in order to assist another.

    It is true that Jesus said to give to all that ask. But He made that a voluntary action. Terry Goodkind put it this way in one of his books, “All charity must be completely voluntary, otherwise it is just a nice word for slavery.”

    Furthermore, Jesus also said to cut out your eye if it causes you to sin. How many Christians have you seen that have cut out their own eyes? This is because we have to take what He is saying into context. We are called to be generous, but not out of selflessness, but because Jesus doesn’t want money to become our security. How can I say this? Because He promises that you will receive back whatever you give, but multiplied in volume. He obviously doesn’t have anything against personal wealth. He has something against making money your God. Again, He appeals to our self-interest in order to motivate us.

    I hope that helps answer some of your questions, or at least offer my perspective on the issues.

    Have a great day,

    – Sean

    • Dan A.

      Wow, thanks for the detailed and respectful response. Great clarification.

  • Ryan McGrath

    Dan: I posted this above, but you might want to read through this, as it answers many of your excellent points:

    Take care, Ryan

  • Joseph Daly

    Christianity is a philosophy of selflessness. Objectivism is a philosophy of selfishness. They are not compatible in any way. Jesus bore the weight of man’s inherited guilt. Objectivism rejects both suffering for others and the concept of inherited guilt. Furthermore, accepting the bible as a factual, or spiritually reliable text, constitutes a suspension of reason, which is also in opposition to Objectivism. Christianity requires that we live our lives in service to God. Objectivism requires that we live our lives in service to ourselves.