By: Mark David Henderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Objectivism of Ayn Rand and the Christianity of the Bible have both left their thumbprint on the United States. But their compatibility is often a matter of debate: We have seen conservative candidates for office be attacked for claiming to be a Catholic and citing Rand as inspiration for entering public service. I have been surprised in the past to hear the Left equivocate Christianity with Objectivism (as well as using capitalism and Objectivism synonymously). So where do these two systems agree, and are they irreconcilable in other areas? This is the question Mark David Henderson unpacks in his recent book “The Soul of Atlas.”
I started this book expecting to find a side by side comparison of Christianity and Objectivism, complete with Venn diagrams showing overlaps and distinctions. Instead, what I found what something much different: Henderson shares his life story in great detail, and with remarkable honesty. He maps out his life growing up with a father and stepfather, one of which is a Christian and the other an Objectivist. Both men defend and articulate their beliefs, and Henderson wants to please them both. The book is an account of how he tries to reconcile the competing beliefs and where his search leads him.
Many of my friends, Christians included, have found Ayn Rand in high school or college and decided to read several of her books. Her books and characters have a unique draw on the reader. Rand’s commitment to rational consistency is apparent, and many of her ideas strike a chord, or leave a hint of familiarity for many readers. But, too often this sense of familiarity is not complete. There seems to be something amiss, and her insistence on rational discourse seems too restricted. I have often thought, “I agree with this, this, and that—but definitely not those ideas.” Henderson’s book provides the Rosetta stone needed to make sense of how her ideas and definition of terms fit or are incongruent with a Christian worldview.
Beyond comparing the two systems, Henderson discusses how Objectivism and Christianity handle crucial life topics, including: sex, power, money, capitalism, joy, and others. In other words, “It’s all here!” He shows how these systems deal with real life issues, and how the logical consequences of these systems arrive at completely different answers on key issues.
This book is long overdue; I appreciate that Henderson tackles these questions head on with such transparency and vulnerability. Committed Christians and Objectivists will both find an intellectually robust and compelling discussion of these systems. Objectivists who have been curious about Christianity, but have found that many Christians are not well versed in Objectivism, will find Henderson particularly engaging since he can speak both languages so fluently.
The short answer to the big question is that these two systems are irreconcilable in their totality. Objectivism does not allow for faith since it insists on the use of reason alone; it follows that Objectivism is atheistic. Christianity believes faith is necessary to be properly related to God. That is the quick answer; but, if you think this question deserves a full discussion, this book is certainly worth your time. This question has been the long arc of Henderson’s life, and he shares it with sensitivity to the reality that people are more than the sum of their ideas. We will all benefit from a discussion of the areas in which Objectivists and Christians can work side by side, and the areas in which we are forced to admit the consequences of the great differences.