Friday, January 22, 2010

Thoughts From a First Time Atlas Shrugged Reader

I want to talk about a book. I know, I know; that's so old fashioned. After all, when was the last time we actually talked about literature on this blog? Well I'm not sure, and I'm too lazy to comb through the archives and find out. But I venture to guess it's been a while [ed. Josh posted one on Jan. 10th, you dope].

After having received an Amazon Kindle as my early birthday present, I quickly set to reading Ayn Rand's ubiquitous novel Atlas Shrugged, a book which I have been intimidated by for years, every time I walked past it in my high school library. While I don't plan on doing an in-depth review of this book, I have finished almost half of it and wanted to share a few thoughts.

I'm approaching the book with half-delight and half-dread. Here's what I'm excited about. I know that Rand was somewhat of an anarcho-capitalist, and I have long been drawn to the libertarian/anarchistic view of government espoused by the likes Mises and Rothbard.

I somewhat dreaded reading it, in part because of her atheistic views. Now, I'm not afraid that she'll make persuasive arguments for atheism, per se. Rather what I'm afraid is that she will present a compelling defense of laissez-faire capitalism, but that it will lean completely upon her atheistic presuppositions. That, and the book's just really long.

I can report, having made it to the halfway point of the book, that her defense of capitalism, while certainly consistent with her worldview of "man as a heroic being" does not, to my mind, suffer if one holds theistic presuppositions.

One thing which I have noticed is that Rand's concept of pleasure and delight in others has tended to make me a better worshipper of God. Here is what I mean by that. At one point, Rand describes two friends:
Francisco seemed to laugh at things because he saw something much greater. Jim laughed as if he wanted to let nothing remain great.

In another passage:
Of what account are praise and adulation from men whom you don't respect? Have you ever felt the longing for someone you could admire? For something, not to look down at, but up to?

In another location, a character remarks that
If ever the pleasure of one has to be bought by the pain of the other, there better be no trade at all. A trade by which one gains and the other loses is a fraud.

Now, certainly, a statement like this applies to economics and the "looters" as Rand calls those who favor redistribution of wealth (the Robin Hood mentality). In fact, that's what she's referring to, in the context of the book. But an absolute statement like this applies broadly to many things, and what I am thinking of in particular is the implications of a statement like this for worshipping God. If Rand is correct, and this principle may be applied broadly, then worship of God should not seem like a sacrifice. Rather, it should be a matter of the creature delighting in a being who is to be greatly admired. In Atlas Shrugged, it becomes quite apparent that the concept of admiration is very important. The characters of Dagney and Reardon, early on, consider one another the only people worth admiring, and it is quite apparent that both have been looking for someone worthy of their admiration. This leads to an intense romantic relationship, but one just wants to scream at the page, "Look even higher! There is an even more admirable person whose value is infinite! You will never run out of worship if the one you admire is infinitely worthy of that admiration, such as God is."

Really, the book has convinced me that Ayn Rand has had a profound influence upon John Piper's Christian Hedonism. Now, while he has certainly said as much in his own writings, I am almost tempted to argue that the influence of Rand is the thing which causes Piper to stand out most from the evangelical/Reformed preachers of our day. There are times in Atlas Shrugged when it almost feels like Piper is the one writing. The concept of worship and delight and admiration are so prevalent in both Piper and Rand that it seems beyond coincidental. While Piper normally points to the Apostle Paul, Jonathan Edwards, and C.S. Lewis as having the greatest influence on his Christian Hedonism, it's almost as if he's embarrassed to include (perhaps justifiably) Rand in his list.

The other side of this coin is that the overlapping areas of Rand, Edwards, Lewis, and Piper demonstrate, I think, that even in the musings of an atheistic philosopher who would most certainly repudiate the worldviews of these Christian thinkers, there is nevertheless a fascinating similarity. The desire to worship God is a universal desire and in my opinion, Rand is simply giving voice to this human need while at the same time "suppressing the truth in unrighteousness." She has taken this desire to worship the greater and most admirable and cut the possibility of God (the greatest and most admirable of all beings) out of the running. When you do that, the only thing you have left to worship with any admirable qualities is a human. In fact, Rand's views of gender roles echo this:
the essence of femininity is hero worship — the desire to look up to ideal woman is a man-worshipper, and an ideal man is the highest symbol of mankind.

I could share more, but I'm only half done with the book. I'll share more, later. By the way, I know that there are like, scholars who spend their whole life studying Ayn Rand, and for my own sake I hope none of them read this, because they'll probably tell me I have no idea what I'm talking about.

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