In some of the responses I’ve seen to my post on Paul Ryan’s professed admiration of Ayn Rand, people who do not challenge the facts or reasoning in the post nonetheless disagree with the significance I attach to it. In light of this, it seems worthwhile to consider, from the perspective of Christ and American principle, the full implications of the issue.
Ayn Rand clearly and explicitly rejected not just the morality of Christianity, but the moral heart of Christ. In doing so she rejected the truth of God’s will for all creation.
In what is, by its context, the most explicitly political accounting Christ gives for himself, he says (in answer to Pilate’s assertion the he (Christ) is a king,) “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.” (John 18:37) In his epistle to the Phillipians (2:1-11) the Apostle Paul describes the nature and depth of Christ’s testimony in this respect:
2 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
By contrast Ayn Rand says:
Rand: “According to the Christian mythology, [Christ] died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the non-ideal people. In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the non-ideal, or virtue to vice. And it is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors. That is precisely how the symbolism is used. That is torture. ” (Print Interview)
Rand: “If you take Jesus Christ as the example of the ideal human being, and that is properly the view of Christians, what do you do with your ideal human being? You put him on the cross. You torture him and murder him for the sake of those who are less virtuous . . . I think that is a monstrous idea.” (Ayn Rand on Donahue 1979 (at 3:03))
Ayn Rand is not just a disbeliever. She positively rejects the mind of Christ. She rejects the notion that a superior and perfect being should sacrifice his perfection for the sake of inferior beings.
But Christ accepts human form in the service of God toward humanity. In this service he is obedient unto death. On account of his self-sacrifice God exalts him to be the peerless witness of God’s glory to all articulate creation. For what is Creation itself if not the archetypal instance of self-sacrifice, whereby God, the wholly perfect being, lets go the absolute self-identity of that perfection to allow for the existence of other forms of being which, though necessarily inferior to His own, are yet and still freely served by His being, so that they become, as it were, parts of His perfection.
The fallacy in Ayn Rand’s account of Christianity begins with her conflation of inferiority with vice. As far as we human beings are concerned, inferiority is an objective and inevitable aspect of particular being, for any particular is, by definition, inferior to the whole in respect of which it is a part. But this objective fact has no moral implication unless we assume that the perfection of the whole takes no account of the parts that comprise it. But this makes no sense from our human point of view. For if we take no account of the whole in particular, what account can we give of the whole as such? We cannot account for the self-identity of the whole except we perceive it in relation to itself, in which perception it appears as divided from itself, but yet and still united with itself by the activity of the understanding by which we affirm its self-identity.
But self-identity is an aspect of perfection. So except a being appears inferior to itself it cannot, from our human point of view, appear to be itself. (In the equation 1=1 the one on either side of the equation must appear apart so that its relation to the other can appear as a whole. Thus taken apart, each one is inferior to the whole conveyed by their equality.) Thus, for the whole to take no account of that which is inferior to the whole contradicts the possibility of our consciousness of the whole, which puts the very idea of perfection beyond our reach.
But if we exclude the idea of perfection, what becomes of any assertion of superiority, for the notion of less and more must be judge in light of some understanding of completeness which encompasses both terms of the comparison, so that in light of it one can be measured against the other.
Thus, unless perfect being admits the possibility of imperfection, the being conscious of perfection cannot exist. What becomes of the superior men Ayn Rand speaks of if we exclude from their make-up any consciousness of their superiority? Their much vaunted superiority would have no more significance, for better or worse than a large boulder that crushes stones and pebbles as it rolls downhill; or a powerful snake devouring a field mouse. What vice or virtue can be known to creatures who cannot appreciate the difference?
It’s ironic that someone whose fame rests on works of the imagination promoted an understanding of moral things that ignores the extent to which moral perception, sensibility and action all depend upon the consciousness of diverse possibilities within ourselves. This is part of what makes works of imagination possible. No doubt for hours every day Ayn Rand, the particular individual, disappeared from view, displaced by characters in her imagination and the worlds in which they lived. Intellectual endeavors are by their very nature acts of continual self-effacement and self-sacrifice in which, for the sake of those who lack the talent and skill to do so (her inferiors?) an author engages in an activity very like creation.
Perhaps Ayn Rand’s supposed philosophy was ultimately an expression of her own deep-seated self-hatred and contempt. Or else her deprecation of altruism was her almost tragic attempt to perfect in herself that which she sub-consciously recognized as Christ’s perfection of our humanity. For if self-sacrifice is the ultimate expression of evil, what are we to make of all those hours she spent engaged in it? And why should we see wisdom in an author’s account of moral things when the good will it most strikingly condemns may be her own?
The self-sacrifice of Christ is precisely what makes Christianity rationally appealing. Christ is God’s healing balm for what is otherwise the festering wound of the divisible consciousness that makes possible humanity’s special understanding of things, and of itself among them. He is the affirmation of God’s willingness to see Himself in us, and to allow us to know ourselves in Him, against the backdrop of what would otherwise be His all effacing presence. Christ’s self-sacrifice is like the moment of resolution, which casts into high definition the manifold union of diverse beings that constitutes the universe. He is the word, spoken in time, that in the midst of what might otherwise seem an all destroying storm allows us to see ourselves, in human form; there, in the eye of God, holding our own.
But in that sight, which as it were reflects the vision of God, we see as well that we all fall short of His perfection even as, by His grace, He makes possible our own. Compared with God we are all inferiors, and therefore equally in need of the altruism of God, which Christ incarnates. This aspect of the truth Christ came to witness is echoed in the truth the founders of the United States declared: “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator…” not by their own will or achievements. Whether it be the truth in their Declaration, or the superior truth in Christ, Ayn Rand rejects them both. So can it really be of no significance if the same must be said of those American politicians who admire her way of thinking?