“Atlas Shrugged,” viewed by reviewers of most stripes as being appallingly appalling, is drawing crowds of devotees, and it has champions on the right, including the Religious Right.
Support for this film, based on the Ayn Rand perennial best-seller, deserves notice for what its plot and author tell about our nation and some religious sectors in it.
And what it tells suggests profound contradictions, the reality of blind spots among ideologues, and the question of what America’s real religion, or this denomination of it, is.
Gary Moore, founder of The Financial Seminary, is the most dogged observer of Ayn Rand’s doings, reputation and effect. He is mystified, as his online column title suggests: “Et tu, Cal? A response to Cal Thomas’s endorsement of the Atlas Shrugged movie and its attack on Caesar.”
Caesar? How about “attack on Christ,” which is another specialty of Rand?
Cal Thomas? Since that columnist “has famously disagreed with the worst excesses of the religious right,” his touting of “Atlas Shrugged,” says Moore, “cuts like a knife.” Do not he and his colleagues notice contradictions in their stand? These should be obvious enough, as Moore – no leftist – and Charles Colson and so on have pointed out.
Now, a novelist, faux-philosopher or economist does not have to be religiously orthodox or religious at all to be reckoned with and selectively appropriated by the religious. The bearded God-killers – Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud – come to mind as thinkers whose non-God and anti-God philosophies have to be dealt with by scholars, writers, theologians and activists who use insights from them.
But Moore says that the complexities in the camps need notice. Preachments are absorbed into the religious canon, and the result is “syncretism,” mixing of religions.
And the public consequence of Randianism deserves notice as it befuddles Moore, Colson and others.
Why expressive conservative Christians waste energies responding to the comparatively trivial “new atheists” while giving Rand a free ride or while taking their own ride on her renewed bandwagon is further a part of the mystery.
The culture’s “new atheists” can be economic conservatives or socialists, Republicans or Democrats, humanists or anti-humanists, and the world goes on. With Rand it is different, wedded as she has been to advocates and advocacies in both parties and many conservative camps.
That Rand has said that she wants to kill off all religions may bring her celebrity. She is consistently anti-government and stridently pro-selfishness. She sneers at people who care for the needs of others.
As a result, Randists in the Bible-believing cohort of the population ask: Is there anything in her philosophy that is not in direct opposition to the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament?
Grounded in her contention that selfishness is a virtue and selflessness is a vice, she evokes a furrowed brow from columnist Maureen Dowd: “Rand is blazing back as an icon of the Tea Party, which overlooks her atheism, amorality in romance and vigorous support for abortion.” Obviously.
Give Rand in her writings credit: She did not set out to entrap or fool people. She made clear that if anyone would come after her, they had to deny all their impulses toward selflessness, take up their blinders and billfolds, and follow her.
It’s been a long road already, and it threatens to enlarge as economic confusion continues to reign and religious witness is muzzled by the religiously confused.
Martin E. Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago. His column first appeared in Sightings.