Ayn Rand and Christianity

My senior year in high school, our English teacher had us read Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, a sturdy and wordy book that this particular teacher was, to say the least, a big fan of.

I loved the book, and so did most of my class. On the surface, our love for Rand was odd, since The Fountainhead is 752 pages long, not particularly action-packed, and a narrative argument for Rand's philosophy of objectivism.

But here's how Rand summed up her philosophy in the 35th anniversary edition of Atlas Shrugged:
"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." -Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged 35th anniversary edition
Read that quote again, and it should be clear why objectivism would appeal to high school students. When a famous author of a classic book tells a 17 year-old it is his moral imperative to be as selfish and as uncompromising as possible...well, that's going to be like telling a fat kid Coco Puffs are part of a balanced breakfast.

But then read that quote through the lens of what we believe as Christians, and it becomes almost the exact antithesis of Christ's ministry. It espouses the belief that human beings are heroic (completely disregarding The Fall), reason is the only absolute, and one's happiness is one's most important pursuit. The only overlap that could be argued is the concept of "productive achievement", or hard work.

In a segment the other day, Stephen Colbert discussed the growing popularity behind Rand's Atlas Shrugged in light of the Obama administration's bailouts.

Ayn Rand has always been popular with secular conservatives. Essentially, American conservatism has two opposed philosophical hearts: Christianity and Randian Objectivism. The problem is, Christian conservatives seem to either ignore this discrepancy, or, worse, merge the two.

And this is my biggest problem with present-day conservatism: that it has somehow married Biblical truth with a philosophy that not only rejects God, but also claims man can be perfect.

I am not saying Christian conservatives are wrong, and I'm certainly not saying Christian liberals are right, only that we need to understand the dangers of aligning ourselves with principles outside our faith.

For me, Ayn Rand's ideas strike a chord because I was so impacted by The Fountainhead. It was my favorite book at the time, and I still recommend reading it...it's superbly written. But Howard Roark is not a hero, and objectivism is a dangerous and disgusting lie.


  1. wait, so are you saying Coco Puffs Aren't good for me?

  2. I love John Piper's appreciation and critique of Ayn Rand.


    Also, I think we have a ridiculous amount to learn from Ayn Rand and objectivism. She has taught me how to treat people more fully as human beings and how to reject false martyrdom. I have learned from her how to be more discerningly compassionate.

    - Kenny

    PS. She uses the term "selfish" in a very different way than many people do, particularly Christians, and I think how she uses it makes a lot of sense.

  3. i had pretty close to the same thought process when i saw that on colbert. except i've never actually read anything by rand, just read about it.

  4. @Kenny:

    Great link...I do appreciate Piper's treatment of Rand, since I also understand the attraction to her work. Part of me wonders, however, if the attraction is rooted more in our belief in American individualism, and confusing that as holy.

    While she does use the words "selfish" and "ego" differently than most, a change in semantics doesn't get her off the hook.

    I'm interested in how she would teach you to treat people more fully as human beings, since her theories both treat man as God and to dismiss those who fall short of her ideal (Peter Keating, for instance). I do think there is value to be had in her writing, so please feel free to elaborate.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. So...there is this verse in the Bible that says before Christ laid the foundations of the earth he called out our names. A dive into Hebrew basically shows that before the whole, "let there be light" God actually called forth our destiny. This is important to note because it happened before The Fall. So, before 'original sin' there was 'original glory.' While you are right, we are born into sin and a fallen world I challenge to think about the 'life' and 'name' that God spoke for you before He fashioned our planet. He bought back that destiny for you with His death on the cross, He reversed the curse of sin and death on your life so that through your life He might live and be glorified. And I'm pretty sure in that plan for your life you are a hero!


  7. Good point, Becky. What I intended to say was Rand essentially ignores the Fall of Man. Her heroes are examples of ideal man, which is impossible separate from God.

  8. One needs to exercise care in comparing religion with Rand's philosophy. The question of man reaching the status of God does not arise in objectivism because Rand does not believe in God. God in religion has several implications - as creator of the universe and determiner of human destinies. Rand fully believes in the power of man over his own destiny. This does not mean that unexpected things won't happen. It means that when they do, the rational man will move on to work things out to reach his goal with the same vigour and belief in himself.

  9. Becky -- Thanks for such a clear reference and explanation of God's focus on His glory in calling by name before the creation (Hebrews).