Thursday, January 5, 2012

An Open Letter on Ayn Rand, Objectivism and Christianity

In the July 16, 2011, issue of World magazine, editor/publisher Marvin Olasky wrote a piece entitled "Taking a Stand Against Rand." In it he suggested that Christians should repudiate Ayn Rand's anti-Christian rhetoric. In the following letter, I suggest that Christians and traditional Christian teaching and thought are likely what kept Rand from seeing something further. In fact, these same traditional Christian teachings cause Christians who endorse free-market capitalism to appear to be hypocrites. We are not! But classical biblical interpretations fail to show this clearly.


Mr. Olasky:

I am writing in response to your article “Take a Stand Against Rand” (World, 16 July 2011), but I do not expect my letter to be published. First, because it will be too long to fit conveniently into “Letters to the Editor” standards and, second, because I do not think the contents of the letter can be sensibly edited to some 200 words or so. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to address your message in the article.
I do not disagree with anything you said about Ayn Rand and, of course, as a Christian I abhor any form of idolatry—of which there is no shortage in this age.

What I wish to point out is that I believe Ayn Rand’s disdain for Christianity and, for that matter, much of the present world’s disdain for Christianity is due in no small part to traditional Christianity’s short-sighted understanding of the economy of God.

The word "economy"—for the Greek, oikonomia and its cognate forms—appears frequently in the scriptures. The New Testament Book of Ephesians (especially chapters 1 and 3) tells us even that, while God’s economy is mysterious, it is God’s will that we all should be enlightened to see what this mystery holds for us. God is very intentional. He first has a will and a good pleasure. His will and good pleasure bring Him to have a purpose, and His purpose necessitates a plan and, therefore, an economy—a household order or rule and a dispensing—by the which it is His intention to accomplish His will and obtain His good pleasure.

It is, indeed, strange that the general teaching of Christianity is that God does what He does out of nothing but “love” in the sense that God Himself gains nothing by His actions. The scriptures, however, clearly say that God had done what He has done to accomplish His will and to obtain His good pleasure. Even Hebrews clearly say that Christ gave Himself up for us—not without thought of gain—but “for the joy set before Him.”

You see, I believe that we really are made in God’s image. As such, we are made in the same purposeful way. (I’ll get to self-sacrificial love shortly.) God has made us like Him—capable of being intentional and with a desire to achieve our “good pleasure.” Our sin—our “missing the mark”—is not our failure to be “obedient” to God. Rather, our failure—our thoroughgoing missing of the mark—is that we have failed to allow God to become the one living in us and to allow God to make us one with Him by making His home in our all our hearts (Eph. 3:16f—also connected with His economy) so that our desires—our intentions—become one with His intentions. Our “good pleasure” and our intentions are, in our sin, solely selfish and self-serving.

I say that our failure is not a failure of simply “obedience” because, if all God wanted was obedient creatures, He could have formed us to be obedient. What He wants is “sons” and “a bride” who share His life and His nature (but not being in the eternal godhead) with whom He can dwell eternally in a mutual love and a mutual coinherence. Luke 15 shows this clearly in the three parables. These three parables show how the whole Divine Trinity is working to bring sinners through the Son by the Spirit unto the Father.

In the Gospel of Luke 15, the sequence begins with the Son (as the shepherd), goes on to the Holy Spirit (as the woman who enlightens the whole house and sweeps), and culminates with the Father who receives the son into mutual feasting and enjoyment. The Son came in His incarnation—in His humanity—as the shepherd to find the lost sinner as a lost sheep, and to bring him back where he belongs. The Spirit seeks the sinner as a woman seeks carefully for one lost coin until she finds it—and thus rejoices. The Father receives the sinner—who returned with a heart of servant: “Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it”—but is received as a son (one who shares the father's very life and nature) unto feasting and enjoyment. Note that this sequence is the same as that in Ephesians 2:18: “Through Him we both have access in one Spirit unto the Father.”

Throughout the New Testament we find that the emphasis is more upon the love of the Divine Trinity than on the fallen condition and repentance of the penitent sinner.

This does not belittle repentance. Rather, Luke 15 clearly shows us that man’s sin did not surprise nor disappoint the omniscient creator God. How could it? If it did, He could not be omniscient. This fact is emphasized by the fact that the Lamb of God was slain “before the foundation of the world.”

No.

In God’s good pleasure and His intention was His desire to have a creature with whom He could share His divine nature—bringing God into man through incarnation—and with whom He could find mutual and eternal love (as a bride, in the Book of Revelation 22). In order to obtain real love from man, man must also be capable of not loving God.

God’s nature and essence as “love” caused Him to create the entire universe to obtain man. And, from before the foundation of the world, He knew that the price He would have to pay to obtain His eternal purpose and His good pleasure would be for the infinite God to become limited (finite) in incarnation and for the author of life to pay the price of death. God was willing to pay this price—make this investment, if you will—not for “nothing,” not as a “waste” or senseless “self-sacrifice,” but—to obtain His purpose and good pleasure.

Was it a great sacrifice?

Surely, it was!

Could God have been self-sufficient without doing so?

Surely, He could have or He could not be God.

Was it, therefore, a genuine “sacrifice?”

Indeed, it was.

But it was a sacrifice that Ayn Rand could have understood and embraced had Christianity not been depicted—as it so frequently is—as pure folly. Sacrifice with no gain in mind.

The “miracle,” if one might use that word in such as case, is that since man was made in God’s image—since man is intentional and purposeful in seeking his “good pleasure”—the economy founded on free-market capitalism uniquely transforms man’s God-given proclivity for seeking to improve one's own condition into service for those around him in the same way that God’s seeking for His own heart’s satisfaction was transformed into loving service for all mankind.

Free-market capitalism is the unique economic system that transforms what some view as “selfishness” into genuine altruism—and profits are the reward and measure of this altruism.

If what I have said above is an incorrect analysis of God’s economy, then surely those who claim that free-market capitalism is pure “selfishness” are correct and Christians should abandon, not only the concepts promulgated by Ayn Rand, but capitalism itself. But I do not believe it is wrong, which is why free-market capitalism has led to blessing and prosperity wherever it has been allowed to flourish.

And, if we, as believers, cannot gain converts—such as Ayn Rand—it is, in large part, due to the fact that our understanding and presentation of God’s economy is askew.

Let’s not idolize Ayn Rand.

But, as Christians, let’s stop promulgating a gospel that is too small, too shortsighted and does not thoroughly reveal God’s ultimate intention in the universe. I think it is the general presentation of “purposelessness” in Christianity that too frequently turns thoughtful persons away from Christ.

Thanks for listening.

3 comments:

Jason Reinhardt said...

After reading this blog entry, I have to say that some interesting points have been made.

My understanding of what you are saying is that most Christians have an inaccurate perspective of what a "free market economy" is and what it should be. That may be in many cases.

The other critical point that I think you are making is that many Christians misunderstand "rational selfishness" from that which might be considered to be blatant "irrational selfishness." And, if I am understanding your point, the Randian version of "selfishness" (ref. her book - "The Virtue of Selfishness") is good for a "freemarket" economy. Is that the point you are making?

Am I hitting the market yet? Did I comprehend your blog entry in the manner you would have intended?

I will say this much. For certain, SOME of what Ayn Rand says is indeed truth. I have also read her husband's writings...i.e. the famed psychologist (self esteem guru) - Dr. Nathaniel Branden (Nathan Blumenthal). Both have also written things that are blatantly unbiblical as well. Those who truly study the Bible can point those out. Discernment is of critical importance.

I am all for a "free market" economy.... We are now lightyears away from any such a thing now as you indicate in your post.

The other point I should make is this...just what is "prosperity" and HOW is that to be measured? Does it always mean that a higher percentage of people can afford more and bigger and better THINGS?

My point is simply that the term "prosperity" is a tough one to define. Those who have more THINGS often become MORE decadent! And decadence leads a soul to hell! In such a case, is "prosperity" a blessing or is it a curse? Are we to serve mammon or God?

I am not against a comfortable living, but most people of means have WAY BEYOND that which is biblical, and they end up serving mammon. Those people are lost souls.

I just toss that point out for people to consider, just so we are not always making blanket assumptions about what prosperity is and what it is not.

Another point I will make, is that the Bible contains *ALL* that we need to know to live in this world and to make it to the one beyond. Sure, it does not tell us what color shirt to wear tomorrow morning, or what we should have as our maincourse for dinner tonight. However, every principle that we need to know regarding "economy" can be found in this great book!

Anyone who thinks the Bible is not enough is in essence stating that the Bible is insufficient.

Again, the Bible does not specifically state what a modern free market economy should look like; however, it does lay down each and every principle that would constitute a modern free market economy.

The Bible serves as a "yardstick" for ALL other books ever written...Rand's books included. The Bible should not bend and conform to Rand's views. Rand's views need to bend and conform to the Bible.

In addition to what I've said, here are a few things said about Rand from other sources:

1. Christians Must Choose: Ayn Rand or Jesus
http://americanvaluesnetwork.org/aynrandvsjesus/

2. Rejecting the Cult of Ayn Rand
http://www.redstate.com/leon_h_wolf/2011/04/13/rejecting-the-cult-of-ayn-rand/

Lastly, I will also say that while some of Rand's teachings are truthful, her books are top sellers at Barnes & Noble. To me, that is a scary thought. That means the "elitist establishment" agrees with what she had to say. That means she is feeding us truths along with info that is unbiblical. And, there is more than plenty of things that she (and her husband) said that were unbiblical.

I tend to believe that Libertarians are at a point of choosing one or the other - Ayn Rand (and other humanistic teachings) or Jesus.

Blessings,

Jason

RDCushing said...

Thank you for your comments, Jason. Your final sentence was really my reason for writing the post: "I tend to believe that Libertarians are at a point of choosing one or the other - Ayn Rand (and other humanistic teachings) or Jesus."

It is a mistake to believe that seeking to improve one's own position is a selfish act. This was God's motivation in His divine economy, and it was Christ's motive, as well. The scriptures, properly understood, make this very clear.

What IS "selfish" is to seek to improve one's own happiness or satisfaction at the expense of others through fraud, deceit or coercion. These are tactics God never employs and truly free markets--where fraud, deceit and coercion are properly dealt with--also preclude the exercise of such tactics over the long term.

Traditional Christianity often portrays the sacrifice of God in Christ as self-sacrifice without also showing how God improved His own happiness, satisfaction and even His organic expression in the universe as a result of this sacrifice. This is the folly against which Rand correctly spoke out, but the failure is upon us, as believers, for having understood and expressed the real gospel message so very poorly.

Jason Reinhardt said...

I can certainly agree that the gospel has been poorly taught, and that is WHY God's judgment is upon us all!

I feel as though I am doing a substandard job of it myself!