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A Fountainhead of Political and Theological Heresy

            There is much to be concerned about in this typical election year of heated and superficial political vituperation that goes under the wholly misleading name of debate.  As a teacher at a Christian school, I am more troubled by the peculiar attraction that the militantly atheist writer Ayn Rand (1905-1982) holds for a number self-styled, right-wing libertarian Christians.

            Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy holds to several explicitly anti-Christian tenets.  According to Rand, all knowledge is based upon sense perception, and reason interprets the data provided by sense perception.   Consequently, she rejects the Christian belief in revelation and in God, who in some fashion is beyond the reach of sovereign reason and sense perception.  In ethics she supports rational egoism, which argues that the happiness of the individual is found in pursuing his own interests and thus refusing to sacrifice himself for others.  Such an ethics is hardly conducive to a Christian lifestyle based upon the God who gave of himself on the cross for others.  Finally, according to Rand, society prospers when the elite of creative and strong individuals is allowed to pursue its artistic and scientific visions.  Once again, this runs contrary to the Lord who taught that the meek will inherit the earth.        

            For those who, like me, do not want to wade through Rand’s philosophical essays and long novels (The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged), I would recommend viewing the 1949 movie The Fountainhead.  Since she wrote the script and zealously guarded its integrity, the film is an accurate portrayal of her philosophy.  While the film is overly melodramatic, it is enjoyable, has an outstanding cast and some stunning visual effects.   

            The story is about Howard Roark, played by Gary Cooper, an architect who will not compromise his unique artistic vision to the mediocrity and vulgarity of the crowd.  His strength and integrity convert the cynical newspaper publisher Gail Wynand and wins the heart of the bored and disillusioned socialite and columnist Dominique Francon, played respectively and effectively by Raymond Massey and Patricia Neal.  All three despise the mob mentality of the common man.  Roark emerges triumphant at the end of the film.

            From the perspective of a Christian, Rand’s film is a paean to the great man.  Its superman elitism is clearly in tension with the biblical view that all men are created in the image of God.  It is destructive because only the very few can live up to its creed.  All others fail in the attempt, as is shown by the suicide of Wynand, who could not resist the pressure of society to conform.  Its idolatry is explicit in the closing scene in which Dominique, ascending to the heights in an elevator, worshipfully gazes at Roark standing godlike against the wind at the top of his new skyscraper.

            Two anecdotes surrounding the movie are quite telling.  The first illustrates the human failure of Rand’s philosophy in contrast to the Christianity that she rejected.  I could mention the poisonous relationships between Rand and her objectivist followers, but instead will tell the stories of Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal.  They began an affair while making the film.  In order to demonstrate their support for Rand’s philosophical egoism, they made the affair public but, after breaking up, discovered in the end that Rand’s philosophy was not the source of true happiness.  Late in his life Gary Cooper converted to Roman Catholicism.  Patricia Neal, who was later reconciled to Cooper’s wife and daughter, also converted to Roman Catholicism four months before she died.

                Finally, the special features commentary on the DVD states that Hollywood was hesitant to produce the film because of its anti-Christian message.  By this they meant that it opposed the Christian ideal of love and sacrificial service to others.  Strangely and unfortunately, sixty-three years later there is a segment of the American Christian population that is attracted to Ayn Rand’s ideas, and sadly, it is doubtful that Hollywood still associates Christianity with sacrificial love.  May God forgive us.


6 thoughts on “A Fountainhead of Political and Theological Heresy

  1. Excellent, Billy! Among other things, the strange attraction to Randian ideology by the evangelical church has really turned me off to mainstream evangelicalism. As I am sure you know, the Catholic church has called Paul Ryan out on this. Funny, the mission-minded church wrings its hands over syncretism in the church of the third world! You and I are at different poles from a political perspective, but I really admire your integrity as well as your fealty to the gospel. I seriously doubt you will cast your vote for Governor Romney in Tuesday’s election. Obama (from my perspective is) only slightly less distasteful. I cannot vote for him, either. I shall write in Green Party candidate Jill Stein. God bless…and looking forward to seeing you around Christmas!

    1. Thanks, Tim. It means a lot to me. I think the main thing is to try and think from the gospel and not grasp at partial truths, which then are partial falsehoods. Your point about syncretism is well taken, which is just what happens when we don’t start and finish our thinking with the gospel. We look forward to seeing you all too.

  2. Hey, Bill, great article. Thanks for sending it to me. I thought it was well-written and brought out some excellent ideas. Mrs. Carnahan from Carmel High School would be very proud of you. The Fountainhead is a favorite of mine,too. Turner Classic Movies showed it recently as it is in their regular rotation of old movies. You may want to watch for it early next year. There usually is an old review accompanying it that may surprise you in its comments.

    I understand that you will be coming home for Christmas. Call me so that we can get together.

    1. Thanks, Mike. We got the movie through Netflix. I often do find the TCM commentaries helpful. Mary and I will be in Indianapolis just a couple of days for Christmas. I doubt that we’ll be able to do much else but see family. Mom’s getting on, and I don’t often get a chance to see her. I’m sorry that I missed your call. Let’s chat sometime. Maybe even by Skype, if my old face wouldn’t shock you too much!

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