In the Name of God, Creator, Redeemer, Inspirer
The Rev. Denise Giardina
Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm 119: 9-16; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33
I recently learned that a book published in the 1950’s is having a resurgence in popularity. As a writer, I would normally find this to be good news. In this case, I think the opposite. The book is Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. Thanks to Stephen Colbert, of the Colbert “Repor” on Comedy Central, for pointing out this trend on his March 11 show. As clips played on Colbert’s show indicate, a number of commentators, from Michelle Malkin to Rush Limbaugh to Sean Hannity to Glenn Beck are praising Atlas Shrugged as a prophetic masterpiece and are swooning over the idea of “Going Galt”.
What is “Going Galt?” As Stephen Colbert explains, John Galt is a character in Rand’s 1957 novel who organizes a strike. Except the strike he organizes is not your typical one. Business leaders in the novel are upset because their profits are being siphoned off by the government to help those less fortunate, those Galt characterizes as “Moochers who claim your product by tears.”
So these wealthy business people withdraw themselves and their funds from society in order to keep the less fortunate from getting their hands on the goodies. Colbert describes Galt spending the last 60 pages of the book going on a rant in praise of selfishness. To the poor, Galt declares, ““Do not cry that you need us. We do not consider need a claim. . . You have nothing to offer us. We do not need you.”
That is “Going Galt.” And that, in the face our ongoing economic crisis and the government’s attempts to address it, is what the political commentators praising the book seem to suggest would be a good thing to have happen.
Because he pretends on his show to be a right-wing talk show host, Stephen Colbert spends a great deal of time with his tongue in his cheek. But I have noticed something while watching the Colbert Report, as I have done somewhat regularly for several years now. Colbert often brings issues of morality, and even directly, of Christianity, onto his show. If you look behind the humor, Colbert seems to take Christianity seriously. This particular show on Ayn Rand got me interested in researching both Stephen Colbert and Ayn Rand further.
Turns out my hunch was correct. Stephen Colbert graduated from an Episcopal high school, is a practicing Roman Catholic, and has been a Sunday School teacher. His reactions to the teachings of Ayn Rand, then, come from a specifically Christian perspective. When Colbert calls Atlas Shrugged “A 50 year old novel set in an America that never existed” which calls for “putting yourself first,” I believe he does so for theological reasons. Then I examined Ayn Rand’s ideas more closely. So I decided to do what Stephen Colbert might call setting up a smackdown between Ayn Rand and the Bible.
Here it goes. Ayn Rand. “Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper's bell of an approaching looter.” Take that St. Timothy. I Timothy 6:10 replies, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith.”
Now, -- I am the referee of this smackdown, and I will allow a protest. Some Randians point out that Timothy does not call money “evil,” but only the love of money. But I wonder if there is anyone who has money, or who wants it, who does not love it to some extent. Certainly the John Galts of the world do, they love their money so much they will not willingly part with a penny of it, especially to benefit those mooching poor people.
But back to the Ayn Rand/Bible smackdown. In one corner, Ayn Rand Going Galt. In another corner, the Bible, Going God. (And you’ll have to pretend I’m two people here!)
Ayn Rand Going Galt: “If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.” In others words, the survival of civilization depends on people NOT helping others less fortunate.
Jesus Christ Going God. “If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.”
Ayn Rand Going Galt: “Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life.”
Jesus Christ Going God: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Ayn Rand, Going Galt – “The question is not who is going to let me. The question is who is going to stop me.”
Today’s Gospel of John, Going God – “Whoever serves me must follow me.” And today’s Epistle to the Hebrews jumps in and adds – “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications. . . because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.”
Ayn Rand going Galt. “It is one’s own personal selfish happiness that one seeks, earns, and derives from love.” The Bible Going God. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Ayn Rand Going Galt – “I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” Jesus Christ in today’s Gospel, Going God -- “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
By the standards of John Galt/Ayn Rand, Christianity is a wimpy religion. Rand called Christianity the spiritual equivalent of Communism. Christianity and Communism, she said, share the same enemy (“man’s mind”) goal (“global rale by force”) and morality ("altruism").
History shows, unfortunately, that when economic times get tough, some people do Go Galt. They take their goods and hoard them. They turn their backs on the less fortunate. They take the view of Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’s Christmas Carol, who suggested the poor die and decrease the surplus population. Some people even turn aggressive and hateful, and attack minorities who they scapegoat and kill. I hope we are not facing times such as these, although the renewal of interest in Ayn Rand is not encouraging.
But Stephen Colbert, in his “repor,” pointed out one of the websites pushing Rand's ideas, called Goingjohngalt.org. Prominent on the website, Colbert showed, is a plea by its author for someone to give him a job. “It takes a brave man to call for a work slowdown,” Colbert deadpanned, “when his site features a prominent announcement that he’s looking for work.”
Well, yes it does. It is also quite sad. In fact, in the real world, most people of immense wealth do not go on strike and withdraw their goods from society. The Bill Gateses, the Warren Buffetts, the George Soroses, often contribute tremendously to society and use their wealth to help others in ways that are the antithesis of what Ayn Rand called for.
No, the people most inclined to actually “Go Galt” are not the wealthy, not the entrepreneurs. They are the average people whose situation is most vulnerable in uncertain times like these. They are the people who listen desperately while the Michelle Malkins and Glenn Becks rile them up and manipulate them and urge them to act upon their fears. And we, as Christians, are called to include them in the circle of our love, to help them with our charity, to calm and sooth those who are Going Galt, and urge them to reconnect to their own altruism, their own humanity. Ayn Rand would hate it, but hey, she lost the smackdown. And that’s this morning’s repor.