||“Atlas Shrugged part 1” opened in theaters Friday, April 15 (tax day), and although most movie reviewers howled about the acting and production values (made on a $10 million budget), I liked it, and apparently so did many others: “Rotten Tomatoes” currently reports that 85% of 7,431 viewers “liked it.” It’s true that the movie’s characters are one-dimensional, but so they were in Rand’s book. As Alex Altman for Time put it, “The movie's flaws are largely her own.”
Ayn (rhymes with “mine”) Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged in 1957 and it has sold millions of copies ever since. In fact, a Library of Congress survey reportedly revealed that Atlas Shrugged was second only to the Bible as the “most influential book of all time.” A Modern Library survey of 217,000 readers for the top 100 novels of all time, voted Atlas Shrugged first.
But what should the Christian think about it?
The good. Frankly, there’s a lot to like in Atlas Shrugged. Rand recognized what should be “duh” to everyone: contradictory statements cannot be true, “a leaf cannot be a stone at the same time, it cannot be all red and green at the same time.” This, of course, is the foundation of all logic, math and science but Christians might be surprised at how many American’s don’t believe that. Rand demanded that we can know reality and in this age of postmodern poppycock that’s just downright refreshing. Obviously, if we can know reality then we must stop making excuses and get to work. Rand called the lazy who always want a handout “moochers” and the government that enables them “looters.”
Although this is too simplistic—many poor people are not lazy and do need the Christian’s help—it is also true that many are government co-dependents. As Paul put it, “if anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). Similarly, Rand realized that humans are selfish and will not work hard (or maybe not at all) unless they think their efforts will be rewarded. Failure to recognize human selfishness caused communism’s failure and will forever pound socialism against the ropes.
The bad. Rand was an atheist with all of the hijinks that entails. There were two non-nudity sex scenes in the movie (one of them adulterous) reportedly toned down to attract a Christian audience which were not gratuitous. Rand thought that a man’s “own happiness” was the “moral purpose of his life” and if intelligent, hard-charging people want to have sex with each other, it’s not wrong. Rand even succeeded in talking her husband and self-esteem pioneer Nathaniel Branden’s wife into letting her and Nathaniel have an affair. Rand rejected the concept of original sin and did not think that people were naturally inclined to evil in any way. Rand sees man as a “heroic being” who should be worshipped and so Jesus death on the cross was just a horrible waste. She was revolted by the “Ideal” dying for the “non-ideal.” Perhaps if she recognized her own viciousness in her affair with Branden she might have welcomed Jesus’ sacrifice for her.
The ugly. Rand’s philosophy permeates our society in two distinct ways. First, Rand was all about self-esteem and so it is no surprise that her “inner-circle” disciple, Nathaniel Branden, would become what many call “the father of the self-esteem movement.” The self-esteem movement has been damaging our children for the last 30 years causing many to become lazy, sometimes thuggish, ne’er-do-wells who nonetheless are star-struck by their own wonderfulness. Thankfully, recent psychological studies reveal, as one study concluded, that “Praising all children for just being themselves… simply devalues praise and confuses the young people as to what the legitimate standards are.” After all, saying “I’m valuable because I’m human” isn’t saying anything more than “I’m one in seven billion.” Christians should teach Christ-esteem “for it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” 2 Cor. 10:18. Second, Rand didn’t believe in government oversight of business and so little was implemented by her “inner-circle” disciple Alan Greenspan who was the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board from 1987 to 2006. Testifying before Congress about the subprime mortgage crisis, Greenspan admitted that he found “a flaw” in his philosophy and was “very distressed by that fact.” He said, "Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder’s equity (myself especially) are in a state of shocked disbelief."
The Bible is clear about human selfishness and even our Founding Fathers understood it: that’s exactly why they wisely established the three branches of government as a system of checks and balances.
Professor Clay Jones is Assistant Professor in the graduate program of Christian Apologetics at Biola University. He has written various scholarly and popular articles on the problem of evil and he is the author and producer of the creative apologetics software, “Prepared Defense.”