The Bible And Ayn Rand

A few days ago, a commenter asked me to write something about Ayn Rand. Since I have opinions about lots of things (I know, you’ve noticed!) let me begin by suggesting that a lot of her “fans” haven’t really read her books, and those who have, read them rather selectively.

We used to call it “cherry picking.” Researchers now have a more scientific term: “Confirmation bias.” We tend to accept at face value information that is consistent with what we already believe, and to disregard more “inconvenient” facts.

We all do it, although most intellectually honest folks try not to. And that brings me to my favorite story about Ayn Rand and the Bible.

Several years ago, I was working with a colleague who had a contract with the State of Indiana to do some research; I no longer recall what it was about. (My participation was minor.) He came into my office after meeting with the head of the agency for whom he was doing the research, and he was practically doubled-over laughing: the agency head was an outspoken Republican conservative (this is Indiana, after all) and a proud devotee of Ayn Rand.

It seemed he’d given copies of Atlas Shrugged and the Bible to everyone on his middle-management staff, and told them they were the most important two books they’d ever read.

Ayn Rand, of course, was a strident atheist. It is impossible to read any of her books–and I’ve read all of them–without being hit over the head (over and over and over)by her absolutely un-biblical worldview. Her philosophy is the utter antithesis of the Sermon on the Mount, in particular.

I read Rand’s books when I was in college, and I am continually amused by the self-proclaimed Christians who claim to have been profoundly influenced by her writing. Assuming they really read her books, they must read them the same way they read their bibles: very selectively.

Both critics and fans of Ayn Rand read her without context. She had escaped at a young age from a grim, totalitarian communist society in which the collective took precedence over the individual, and she was (over) reacting to that experience.

That over-reaction wasn’t unusual. Most ideologues I’ve known have had a desperate need for bright lines–this is bad, so its opposite is good. Good guys versus evil-doers. No shades of gray, no ambiguities. Their need for clarity, for an open-and-shut, prescriptive philosophy is so strong that when they recognize that a belief system they’ve embraced is flawed in some way, they will frequently shift to its opposite, and cling to that philosophy just as fervently. (Ex-communists helped launch National Review, and Ronald Reagan started out as a New Deal Democrat.)

If you have a need for clarity, Rand will supply it. (The Bible won’t, despite the protestations of the culture warriors.)  And that brings us back to cherry picking.

The Christian conservatives devoted to Ayn Rand–the folks who drove around with “I am John Galt” bumper stickers, who equate taxation with theft and call people who depend upon the social safety net “looters”– somehow manage to miss the militant atheism as they read her books.

They read their bibles through a similarly selective lens. They are quick to quote Leviticus (“If a man lay with another man”) but somehow miss the far more numerous exhortations about helping the poor, the widow and the orphan. You’ll rarely hear them quote the bit about it being easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

I think it was Simon and Garfunkel who wrote: “a man hears what he wants to hear,
and disregards the rest.”

Next time someone cites Ayn Rand to you, ask him (it’s likely to be a “he”) if he agrees that religion is a sop for weaklings, and there is no God. If that shocks him, you’ll know that Rand isn’t responsible for his worldview–she’s just a prop.

40 thoughts on “The Bible And Ayn Rand

  1. The refrain on the Simon and Garfunkel quote is: “lie, lie, lie…. lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, lie

  2. For another view on this subject read today’s New York Times column by Katherine Stewart titled Why Trump Reigns as King Cyrus.
    It isn’t just the selective readings of the Bible; it is the interpretation of those readings that feeds the mindset of so many Evangelicals. Scary stuff.

  3. Wait a darn minute, you just destroyed the entire alt-right conservative movement in less than 5 minutes.

    If I remember correctly, Ayn’s father had his business taken by the communists in Russia. This also added to her resentment of the collective. But you’re right, she’s the antithesis of collectivism.

    Her objectivism is also quite convenient for the Koch brothers who have financed a movement built upon it. They also have contributed to her book sales which is why I will never grasp the rationale of the bible thumping right. They were preached to about following false prophets but to this day, January 1st, 2019, still follow them. The list is too long to even mention.

    Is the word, gullible?

    Maybe the political spectrum should be replaced with the gullibility spectrum. 😉

    What’s even more ironic is we have uber-rich silver spooned assholes telling others to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. In not one interview have I seen a self-proclaimed journalist ask Charles or David Koch if it’s fair or appropriate for them to suggest this for others when they themselves inherited a fortune. They started on third base but insist everybody else should learn how to hit the ball or die off.

    Objectivism is at the heart of Neoliberalism and democrats at the national level, and even the local level, have embraced it to a certain degree. The reason why…

    It justifies self-centeredness.

  4. Rand’s biggest problem is that she is a comically bad writer, with one-dimensional characters drawn in crayon and story lines with the depth of an exhausted father squeezing out one last “Once upon a time” to a kid who can’t fall asleep. As for the “messages,” they’re not just transparent, but transparently bad. It’s utterly hysterical that the protagonist is a strong, vibrant, hard-working railroad magnate who doesn’t need help from the government, except that railroads, by definition, exist only with the government. Favorable laws, in particular the ability for private enterprise to take by eminent domain, are the core rules for railroads to exist in the first place.

  5. I read Rand as a senior in high school and knew I had found my spiritual home, or at least what I was craving: a reasonably coherent worldview. Read Ayn Rand and the World She Made. It describes how Rand would go on writing jags that included lots of chain smoking, black coffee, and amphetamines. No wonder she was the character she was. Her ideas are better off without her living presence. The founder of Whole Foods also gave copies of Shrugged to all his exec’s, as did Speaker Ryan. Shrugged was made into 3 incoherent movies a few years ago, the music was nominated for an Oscar, so get the cd’s. When John Podhoretz reviewed the first movie, he entitled it “America’s Favorite Drugstore Paperback Comes to the Screen.” It’s archived at weekly standard.com. There’s another Paul Simon lyric that includes the lyric,”I been Ayn Randed nearly branded a communist ’cause I’m left handed; if that’s the hand to use, well, never mind.” Full disclosure, I’m left handed. But see also, “Objectively Speaking, Rand is History,” in The Hoover Review, Summer, 2017.

  6. David is spot on in his analysis of Rand’s work. If it weren’t for conservative university professors, nobody would ever read them.

  7. “Back in the day”, when Ayn, et al, were the authors all enlightened people were expected to read to be enlightened, I chose “The Virtue of Selfishness”. I selected this one due to being against selfishness in general. I did gain one positive lesson from her book about maintaining one’s own health to be better able to take care of your family’s health. I thought about that book on every plane flight when the instruction was given to put on your own oxygen mask so you could help others around you. In the 40 or so years since I read “The Virtue of Selfishness”, attempted to read “Atlas Shrugged” and saw the movie made from the book; that is the only viable lesson Ayn Rand passed on which remains true today.

    Having grown up on Bible stories in the Methodist Church and in later years, the Baptist Church, I view most of it as I do fairy tales, Greek Myths and Native American Lore. All are a long stretch for reality and missing their goal by a mile. I am sure IF Trump could read and comprehend more that 3 or 4 paragraphs of any printed matter; he would be quoting Ayn Rand, he must have been born with her set of standards in his genetic makeup.

    What will 2019 bring, dragging 2018 behind it for there is no escaping what we have just lived through.

  8. To anyone who likes Any Rand I suggest they read her book, ‘Objectivist Epistemology.’ That will cure them.

  9. Irvin; “Who in the hell is Ayn Rand?” A psychological contortionist who twisted fiction into fact to suit her view of the world as it should be…and to sell books.

  10. The human mind is a marvelous gift given everyone at birth. The brain is often like the dangling rubber band. There is not much energy in just dangling. Read both Ayn Rand and The Bible? To get the most would require adaptive thinking. That is more challenging than selective. The rubber band is removed from the peg on the wall and stretched. The opposing forces creates new energy. It is in this tension where the adaptive thinker lives and grows. Sometimes it feels good but most of time it is disturbing and raises new doubt about the world order. Selective looks for comfort. Adaptive looks for tension of new ideas and insight and for me to decide what is for claiming as my own. But when others share that same space in a virtual conversation, stimulating as it may become, the more complex. “Behold, I make all things new.” – Revelations.

  11. I have never read any Ayn Rand books.

    What little I know about her has come out of the mouths of far right extremists and that is enough for me to choose not to pollute my mind or waste my time on reading her trash.

  12. JoAnn;
    Thanks for telling hill-billy Irvin and I who Ayn Rand is it saved me a trip to the library.😊

  13. Sheila is right. I, too, like to read stuff that confirms my biases, but I admit to a prejudice in favor of working people and the poor, the same group many religious people say they favor, but that’s only in the house of worship. They become Randers out in the real world, the world of greed and confirmation bias, armed with ambiguous scripture that reads that God commands us to help the poor, but this is the same God who commanded leaders in biblical history to fall upon cities and put all of its inhabitants to the sword. The latter commandment cannot be logically reconciled with the former one since God’s order to kill everyone does not distinguish between rich and poor victims, among other Aristotelian misfits in logic.

    Thus religious people are necessarily cherry pickers (as I am in other contexts) in looking askance at logic if they are to be religious. I have long held that in Christian circles we do not have the religion of Jesus but rather one about him, and that it was the religious monks of medieval times who set the stage for Christianity as we know it today, a Christianity in dire need of objective scholarship divorced from the Robertsons and Falwells of this world who selectively choose from the medieval menu while inserting themselves into secular as well as religious control of the state.

    On the other hand, we should not be surprised that there are unresolved ambiguities in religious history. Take a look. We have ambiguities in secular history galore. Rand presents a comforting resolution of ambiguity with her stark choice of alternatives, a choice with which I disagree, but which is still a choice. I still see humanity as a work in progress, where “we’re all in this together” over the Randian dog eat dog and libertarian “I got mine and individual greed is the way to go” claptrap, and I am reminded of the sage advice of an old farmer back in the Thirties who advised my father that “It’s all in the way you look at it.” He was right.

  14. I was thinking that it would be good to be able to offer Ayn addicts a literary cure for their narrow mindedness. The more I think about it the more I realize that folks who already know the answer to every question probably can’t be pursuaded to read anything more. What would be the point?

    But I will ask. Any suggestions out there for another book that might appeal to those who never let a mirror go to waste by denying it a vision of their perfection?

  15. Yes, humans cling to those things that make them comfortable and confirm their biases. Where do we get our biases? From our life experiences. When do we start going to church? Usually before we start going to school. Hmmm. You don’t suppose….

    George Lakoff, in his excellent and illuminating book, “Don’t Think of an Elephant”, describes the basic differences between so-called conservatives (they are NOT) and liberals/progressives. The conservative, strong, authoritarian, hard-working, take no B.S. father model works in those churches and is pounded into the heads of the kids from the beginning. They are, therefore, pre-disposed to become non-thinkers and continuous seekers of the fiction they were taught.

    When I was writing my weekly newspaper column for two progressive papers, I coined the phrase “intellectual dwarfism” for such self-aggrandizing dolts like Jim Jordan, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul and most other Republicans who buy into the nonsense of the Bible and Ayn Rand. They feed the beast of learned ignorance and accepted authoritarianism. Of course, this “model” is ancient, older than written language, so I guess that’s what we’d expect from non-thinking, non-caring hypocrites who populate the Republican party and so-called conservative “thinking”.

  16. Wonderful. I so agree. I’m always thinking of the Biblical exhortation that it is harder for a rich man to go to heaven than a camel through the eye of a needle. Not a month goes by when someone in the news – always conservatives – remind me of that passage. Whoever authored that passage was right on.

  17. I would suspect your average cult follower of Agent Orange and Pastor Pence has never read any of Ayn Rand’s writings or has as Sheila has pointed out selectively read their bible to justify “fire and brimstone” for non-believers.

    It does seem ridiculous that someone might base their beliefs on a novel, like Atlas Shrugged and expect it to work in real life. I suppose it is like reading a Steven King novel and expecting the novel to reflect reality.

    I do believe it is safe to say the underlying belief of the Ayn Rand followers closely bind with the prosperity gospel – that is selfishness is a virtue.
    =====================================

    Gerald Coles’s recently published book, Miseducating for the Global Economy. Coles points to materials developed by the Bill of Rights Institute (an organization created by the billionaire Koch brothers) as an example of the ideological distortions present in corporate-funded educational materials.

    Miseducating for the Global Economy lists six imperatives that structure corporate-funded curricula:

    1) the global economy must be presented as a natural phenomenon;

    2) schools must be silent about the global economy’s hierarchical structure;

    3) the global economy’s nature is not open to critical inquiry;

    4) the curriculum must assume there are winners and losers, and the student’s job is to get an education to become a winner;

    5) schooling assumes the legitimacy of businesses paying people as little as possible; and

    6) schools must not teach about the global economy’s harm to the Earth and its ecology.

    Corporate curricula thus have an agenda – promoting capitalism at the expense of open inquiry – which also spills over into the corporate attack on public education.
    https://truthout.org/articles/us-corporations-are-micromanaging-curricula-to-miseducate-students/
    ==================================================
    The Corporate curricula does champion and approves of the Voucher Schools that teach an adherence to a hierarchy and unquestioning faith.

  18. A better classics companion for bilblical thinking would be John Steinbeck. He’s to benevolence what Rand is to selfish malevolence/indifference, and he’s also an infinitely better writer. I’m an atheist/agnostic (depending on the definition of “god” being used), and Steinbeck is just plain good for the spirit (and never insults the brain).

  19. I didn’t see mention of the alpha female guru status held by Ayn Rand and the affairs and devotions of her male harem. She had a near-cult following in real life and somehow that got translated into greed-worshiping free market Republican politics after her death, as I see it.

    The chain-smoking Rand was shunned right out of the Republican and Conservative movements while alive, by the likes of Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley, mostly for her strident atheism and her rejection of kindness and charity as basic human values. However, she was adored by the growing movement of libertarians and neoconfederates, where her neo-liberal defense of greed was used to help re-invent the teachings of that other Jewish prophet, Jesus.

  20. Sheila,

    First of all, Happy New Year to you and everyone that frequents your fine blog.

    If Todd is indeed right and you have destroyed the entire alt-right movement in 5 minutes by what you have keyed today you deserve the Presidential Medal of Freedom, maybe a couple of them. Fortunately for me, I have not read any of Ayn Rand’s works and have actually seen the classic film based on one of them, “The Fountainhead”, only once and then only because Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal were in it. Sometimes, even if it’s accidental, ignorance can be bliss.

    I did read somewhere along time ago a description of Ms. Rand as being a failed communist. Since at that time I was spending a great deal of time reading about non-failed communists, the ones with a theoretical first-strike nuclear strike capability against us near the tail end of the Cold War, I’d took that description of her at face value and moved on, never for a moment thinking that a future Speaker of the House of Representatives would be one of her disciples or anyone else for that matter. I also didn’t contemplate that the philosophical stances of, again, a failed communist would end up being center stage and a component of contemporary political discourse in this country for any reason. Little did I know just how stupid and inane that political discourse and some of those that wage it would be as its and they descended into utilizing her writings as inspiration for their actions that end up being diametrically contrary to what this country and the purpose of its government is supposed to be all about.

    My question about these people, however, is how they, as products of this country’s educational system and growing up and living in our society, ended up embracing ideals and also become so strident in implementing them when they all are, again, so contrary to our more traditional American ideals and ethical standards and just the writings of just one specific individual that is, again, a failed communist of all things.

    I sometimes wish, actually quite frequently actually, that all of what is going on today is actually some stupid reality show on cable TV and that all I have to do is grab my remote and change the channel and as a result everything will be OK and sane once again.

  21. Thank you JoAnn and you also Jerry. Happy New Year to you all. I shall raise a single malt scotch whiskey toast to you! That includes you Todd ! 🙂

  22. Thanks Sheila for responding to my inquiry. I note that many of your readers don’t seem to have read the Biblical scholars as I have. For me, as a very progressive UU Christian, the early Christians and yes, the gospel writers were getting in the face of their Roman oppressors when they said Jesus was the Son of God. By doing so, they declared that they did not see Caesar as a divine son. I note many people who have rejected Christianity read the Bible just like fundamentalists do. I look at the historical, cultural backdrop to try and understand the radical counterculture teachings of Jesus. They remain teachings of radical love that are counterculture to the extreme capitalism and wealth inequality that I see in our country today.

    Depth psychotherapists would say that Ayn Rand had a conversion reaction to Communism. In my opinion, her philosophy really ignores the seductive power of greed. Selfishness should not be confused with self-care. Her characters seem to think they are “entitled” to their wealth and power, as if they were predestined to have so much power. This year I have resolved to increase my generosity to others even though I am now on a fixed income as a retired citizen.

    I believe that our capacity to extend compassion to others, to the stranger is essential to the survival of the human race. We will also need to extend it to the earth and her oceans if we are to survive. This year I have also resolved to decrease my use of plastic which is why I now have steel straws so I can avoid using plastic ones.

    It is my opinion that people on the far right who embrace Ayn Rand and and extreme individualism, do not understand that such a philosophy is ultimately destructive of a nation whose founders held to democratic ideals that led to the creation of the American constitution.

    Thanks again for opening up a conversation about Ayn Rand and her influence on the far right. Maybe someone should do a comparative study of Ayn Rand and Karl Marx. Oh, there’s an intense debate!

  23. I read recently that Ayn Rand ended up on the dole before she died. You don’t know someone until they die, I’ve read that someplace too!

  24. After reading today’s blog and the responses to it, I went to my dictionary (thank you, JoAnn, for your good example) to look up the word origins of both democracy and republic.
    Both of those word are built on “the people”, democracy = demos + kratica, the people rule.
    Republic = res + publicus, entity or concern of the people or public

    I read both the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged in my mid-twenties, outside of the formal classroom where discussion and philosophical and literary criticism would cause some reflection. That said, I rejected what I saw as extreme selfishness to the point of personal injury as contrary to survival. Collective action for the public good seemed much more sensible for me personally. Maybe that was due to my Catholic upbringing, maybe just my own life experience up to that time.

    To my uneducated eye, predatory capitalism and personal entitled greed/power are dangerous both to the individual and collective public good. Shrouded in religious demagoguery, it is a recipe for authoritarianism to a killing degree, meant to allow the entitled and amoral few to dictate the lives of those who feel personal grievance and despair, clinging to the false god of hitting the jackpot, being “saved” and “getting theirs” because they deserve it more than others.

    One that note, Health and Good Cheer to all as we enter another year of chaos and uncertainty. Hope for a better future will depend on each of us in times like this. Do what you can and be kind.

  25. It’s easy to dismiss Ayn Rand’s fatuous philosophy. Her contribution to the world of thought can be summarized as, “Ruthless capitalism good. All else bad.” But using what Norris Lineweaver calls “selectivity” she creates a world of absolutes, one in which empathy is evil, and one in which if you are not astonishingly brilliant, beautiful and rich, you are merely taking up space. This vision appeals to a lot of wannabes, including influential ones like Allen Greenspan, who in their own befuddled brains, hold title to the space reserved for exceptionals.

    In her world of empathy-less existence, Rand foreshadowed today’s Republican leadership and the power they aspire to. It’s telling, perhaps, that the apotheosis of her views can’t or doesn’t read but claims to be an acolyte. Trump’s views on winners and losers are strikingly similar to hers and his aspirations identical. Did she imagine that the person who best represents her point of view would be so consumed with neuroses that is incapable of forming an intelligible sentence? Did she imagine her followers would help lay the groundwork for an autocracy not unlike the one she escaped from?

    As pathetically pointless as her views were, they live on in the hearts and minds of millions, including my neighbors who ask, “I got mine. What’s the matter with you?”

  26. Monotonous; I like your observations here, “I would suspect your average cult follower of Agent Orange and Pastor Pence has never read any of Ayn Rand’s writings or has as Sheila has pointed out selectively read their bible to justify “fire and brimstone” for non-believers.”

    We know Trump is not a “reader” and we here in Indiana watched as Pence enacted laws reflecting his personal religious views on issues not found in the Bible. Yet, having never read her books, Trump has has applied Ayn Rand’s basic philosophy to the United States government with his “America First” by systematically destroying much of our diplomatic relations with allies of many years. His tax cuts for the wealthy has combined and put “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Virtue of Selfishness” into action. His demands for a wall which, it turns out isn’t a “wall” but a barrier or fence, feeds his ego as he claims he is trying to keep his campaign promise. We haven’t forgotten he promised Mexico will pay for it. But he hasn’t done this alone; the Republican Senate and House control of the Legislature has not even pretended to “cherry pick” from the Constitution to aid and abet him in all of his “deconstruction” of this government, democracy and tossed the Constitution aside. They are Ayn Rand followers one and all and the evangelicals are not familiar with humanitarian meanings in the Bible.

  27. Katie Williams and Eron Davis. Neither of you are regular contributors to Sheila’s blog but your brief commentary today was excellent and worth calling attention to. I have long believed that Steinbeck is the near-perfect anti-Rand in re her glorification of “the virtue of selfishness”. In addition, it is worth remembering that influential and respected conservatives once dismissed Rand in terms that would be entirely consistent with the collective commentary found on today’s blog. What a pleasure to read such an intelligent collection of responses on this first day of the new year from “the usual suspects” as well as from some who are not frequent contributors… yes, yes I know…confirmation bias is alive and well. Happy New Year best wishes to one and all.

  28. I think it’s time to bring the phrase “cherry picking” back. Fighting Trumpism with intellectual descriptions and logical or scientific arguments didn’t work and won’t work in this era of short attention. Moderate Republicans, Independents, and Democrats need to catch up on catch phrases. And stop being so damned polite. Call Trump a liar. Call Pence a fake Christian.

  29. JoAnn – I don’t think I define selfishness like you do. Talking care of your own health isn’t selfish — unless you harm others to do so (tossing everyone from the liferaft so that you can have all of the provisions). Likewise, putting on your mask first is just rational protocol — unless you just sit back afterwards and let others die while you wait.

    I don’t remember where I go this quote, but it seems appropriate here:

    “There’s an age when boys read one of two books. Either they read Ayn Rand or they read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. One of these books leaves you with no grasp on reality and a deeply warped sense of fantasy in place of real life. The other one is about hobbits and orcs.”

  30. Thank you Shelia. You are always a breath of fresh air in these troubled times.

    Len, your quote is attributed to John Rogers, an author, television producer, etc. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Rogers_(writer)). The actual quote is:

    “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”

    (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/366635-there-are-two-novels-that-can-change-a-bookish-fourteen-year)

    Also, Ayn Rand was a guest on Johnny Carson’s show several times. These visits were quite revelatory.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMdlUhTGFbY

  31. Shades of Bill Clinton: I read one of her books once, didn’t like it, and never tried it again.

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