Growing Up With Objectivism

My life before conversion to Christianity included a long journey of reasoned observation on the folly of authoritarian rule in this fallen world.  This was not so much my own observations, but those of my father and his favorite authors. What was missing in his unique perspective was identifying who exactly was the primary trusted author. For him, maybe Ayn Rand fit that mold more than anyone else. But according to Rand, no one could truly be “primary” because, objectively, the only reliable authority was self. I have learned over the course of my life that self isn’t always a reliable authority. My knowledge now of the eternal Author of the universe is revealing.

Looking back, I have regrets about my aimless periods and consequential sin. Oddly enough, I had a sense from an early age that something was missing from my father’s godless code of ethics. Through the years, the nagging feeling became more pronounced and I sought solace in different religious practices, but it was Christ’s message and life that finally hit home.

The death and resurrection of Christ is what gives meaning to Christianity. The consequences of collective sin, as opposed to the more familiar individual sin, are exemplified in the crucifixion. Evident when Christ was hung on the cross, few people now are ever exposed to the concept that collective group power can magnify sin in the irrational inertia of a mob or the deceivingly “civil” actions of a governing institution. Even our churches will not focus on this human corruption for some not so obvious reasons, but maybe they should. The Bible does.

As a bored kid one summer, my dad handed me “1984” by George Orwell, with its vision of a dystopian world. I wondered if my world could ever be that fearful. Fear was an increasing part of the culture used by Washington DC to raise votes. I had a sense that the authorities here on Earth, didn’t have a clue how to avoid the doom fictionalized by Hollywood. Something was not quite right, but no one told me that I was witnessing sin or that God could save us from ourselves.

The condition of the world and all the bad ethics of others didn’t go unnoticed by my dad. In fact, he was my constant reminder of all that was wrong with everyone else; specifically, everyone in government and its supporters. The blame, negativity and self-righteousness was sometimes misplaced, somewhat frightening in itself, and forever a subject of conversation in my family. Ironically, I agreed that the philosophy had some plausible morality for individuals in a just society, in spite of his aversion for modern Judeo Christian ethics; to which I really didn’t give much thought. The average Jew or Christian didn’t either, since bad public policy merged with religious agendas was not contemplated and both subjects were taboo. I adopted the libertarian creed unaware of another more eternal creed.

After college and in a rather bewildered state of mind, my father suggested that I might benefit from a self-esteem seminar by Nathaniel Brandon; which I attended, but it only left me more confused. Brandon was a psychotherapist and a romantic partner of Ayn Rand. Rand had been a household name in my home from childhood. The whole Randian phenomenon in our family was certainly unique and in hindsight, the drive behind our male-dominated classical liberal “lean-in” (my apologies to Sheryl Sandberg for the inappropriate gender appropriation).

I have two pre-adolescent memories of Ayn Rand’s influence. One was my dad’s account of reading “Atlas Shrugged”. He consumed half of the paperback version, tore it in half and gave the first section to my anxious mother. I’m still not certain how anxious she was, but he stuck to that story. The other was during evenings as a youngster and captive audience with my older brother, listening to my father’s emotional reading of “We The Living” and “Anthem”. We didn’t have The Tuttle Twins back in the early 1960’s.

I recently managed to finish “Atlas Shrugged” after letting the last half sit unread for several years. Already well-versed in non-authoritarian principles, the long pontifications were agony for me, so I didn’t have the anticipation as reportedly my mother had. I waited patiently, in generational deja vu fashion, while I worked-up the gumption to finish Rand’s tome.

“Atlas Shrugged” describes the fictional lives of limited dimensional characters, either woefully inadequate or flawless heroic, caught up in the collapse of an American economy. Another dystopian novel like “1984”. Although the economic analysis and some of the dynamics of good and bad behavior are spot-on, Rand was atheist and does not attribute the resulting collapse to sin. Her philosophy includes self-pride, human reason as the only creative force, and love that is exchanged like a commodity. Her heroes are just fictional gods. Sound familiar from Eve’s ambition in the Garden?

One important quality in her aristocrats is the rejection of mob violence or government force to attain god-like status. In her vision of a just society, all peaceful human interaction and exchange is based on voluntary cooperation. There is no government compelled trade, charity, speech, affirmative action, tariffs, currency, utility franchise, licensure or tax. Nothing about the good intentions of political power or the greater good is considered valid, and is contrasted with the results of institutionalized government violence or the threat of that violence to attain a social or economic goal. “Atlas Shrugged” illustrates this with skill, but then, in the context of the time, so does the Bible.

Before you inadvertently dismiss Ayn Rand’s morality with her writing style, look around. Consider the egomania of our politicians, media celebrities, and business titans, who think they know how to run your lives, but cannot run their own. Or the nature of voters to seek favor at someone else’s expense, and our own fantasies of maybe one day being in charge; for the common good, of course. When does this over-confidence become dangerous? When force is collected and concentrated in government. We witness the culmination of all government sins in war, its glorification, and legalized funded infanticide and genocide.

To Ayn Rand’s chagrin, or maybe surprise, revelations of God came to me more through reason and science, than through visions or a sense of His presence; not to discount my supernatural revelations, but the rationale was compelling. I deduced before conversion and after fathering children, that God played a significant role in the creation of life. Love has elements that are unmeasurable in reasonable terms. It is here, at this juncture in her philosophy that Ayn Rand’s Objectivism is significantly weak – abortion is murderous aggression on a living human if only in scientific terms, love transcends logic, God and the unborn have rights, and choice is available to men and most women before making a commitment to have sex.

Nevertheless, Ayn Rand was on to something and so was my dad, in spite of unacknowledged flaws and focus on the mind only, instead of the heart. Balance of mind and spirit is a very important concept not to be ignored in life. Economist, scientists, ecologists and many other disciplines recognize that their actions must be in balance with nature. But is there a universal balance that ties all our disciplines harmoniously together? Yes. Do we really need a powerful human creation to govern every aspect of our lives to achieve the harmony we seek? No. God has already graced us with free will, self-regulating competition, conscience, and His spirit. Most of what government assumes to be its necessary function has already been set in place. The rest is up for debate. Humanity has been fixated on a false dichotomy of authoritarian rule or destructive anarchy, but balance is at the core of God’s creation of self-governing. Those who practice that balance, humbly respect human rights and the diverse knowledge in the division of labor. Adam Smith’s reference to the free market’s invisible hand is actually that of God’s.

For these lessons, I am grateful to the Father who gave us free-will, the Son who did not bow down to human authority, and the Holy Spirit who has etched the longing of freedom on the human heart. My dad and Ayn Rand deserve credit for a rediscovery of lost morality and for passing it on.

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