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:

“ 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.