Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Atlas Shrugged

The recently released movie Atlas Shrugged is based on Ayn Rand's book with the same title. Rand (1905-1982) is best known for developing a philosophical system called Objectivism. To quote Rand: "Objectivist ethics, in essence, holds that man [sic] exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest social purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself." ("Ayn Rand," Wikipedia). While one may agree that certain forms of self-sacrifice are inappropriate, how do we square Rand's views that "Selfishness is a virtue, altruism is a crime against human excellence, and self-sacrifice is weakness" with Christ's exhortation to "feed the hungry, clothe the naked" (Matt 25) and "lay down one's life for one's friends?" (John 15:13) (Michael Gerson, "Ayn Rand's Adult-Onset Adolescence," Washington Post).

 And, were she alive, how might Rand respond to the Catholic Church's teaching on social justice, which emphasize focusing on the poor and working to correct injustice?
  • Those who are more influential because they have a greater share of goods and common services should feel responsible for the weaker and be ready to share with them all they possess. Church Document on Social Concern. #39, 1987
  • The works of mercy call Christians to engage themselves in direct efforts to alleviate the misery of the afflicted. The works of justice require that Christians involve themselves in sustained struggle to correct any unjust social, political, and economic structures and institutions that are the causes of suffering. Health and Health Care, #3
I have not read all of Atlas Shrugged. The temptation to oversimplify or caricaturize Rand's position is real. Nonetheless, it seems accurate to say that Rand unapologetically glorifies selfishness, advocating it as a necessary virtue.

My reaction to this book's continuing popularity a more than a half century after publication may have been intensified because I just read Bishop John F. Kinney's revised pastoral letter, As I Have Done For You . . . So You Also Should Do. The major content and heart of that document is the section on "The Church's Social Teaching." A fascinating project might be a simultaneous reading of the pastoral letter and Atlas Shrugged, letting each document speak for itself.

No comments:

Post a Comment