If you know me, then you know that I am fan of Ayn Rand. Though she was an atheist, I believe she understood the world better than most anyone I’ve read. In one of her books, she outlined 5 lies that destroy a person’s soul.
Her illustration is poignant and chilling.
The terrible thing is that most of us proclaim these concepts as a pathway to ultimate fulfillment.
We have been lied to, and it is destroying our lives.
This passage, which will offend many, comes from her work The Fountainhead.
The manner in which Ayn Rand lays out how you destroy a man’s soul is so powerful — so revealing — that I think we all need to hear it.
We enter the story during a conversation between the “bad guy,” Ellsworth, and one of his disciples, Peter. For most of the book, Ellsworth has not come off as the bad guy. He was a spiritual leader to many, and he exalted self-sacrifice as one of the highest virtues towards which man should aspire.
He has been a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Now he reveals to Peter that his actual goal: To rule people. He explains that in order to that you must first crush a man’s soul. Which has been at the heart of his teachings his whole life.
Peter’s beloved leader has just removed his mask, and for the first, Peter sees his terrible motives. Shocked at what he as heard, Peter timidly asks, “Rule whom?…”
“You. The world. It’s only a matter of discovering the lever. If you learn how to rule one single man’s soul, you can get the rest of mankind. It’s the soul, Peter, the soul. Not whips or swords or fire or guns. That’s why the Caesars, the Attilas, the Napoleons were fools and did not last… The soul, Peter, is that which can’t be ruled. It must be broken… Once you’ve broken a man’s soul, uou won’t need a whip — he’ll bring it to you and ask to be whipped.
“Want to know how it’s done? … See if you haven’t heard all this for years, but didn’t want to hear, and the fault is yours, not mine. There are many ways.
“Here’s one. Make man feel… guilty. Kill his aspiration and his integrity. That’s difficult… Kill integrity by internal corruption. Use it against itself. Direct it toward a goal destructive of all integrity. Preach selflessness.
“Tell man that he must live for others… Not a single one of them has ever achieved it and not a single one ever will. His every living instinct screams against it. But don’t you see what you accomplish? Man realizes that he’s incapable of what he’s accepted as the noblest virtue — and it gives him a sense of guilt, of sin, of his own basic unworthiness.
“Since the supreme ideal is beyond his grasp, he eventually gives up all ideals, all aspiration, all sense of his personal value. He feels himself obliged to preach what he can’t practice… To preserve one’s integrity is a hard battle. Why preserve that which one knows to be corrupt already?
“His soul gives up its self-respect. You’ve got him. He’ll be glad to obey — because he can’t trust himself, he feels uncertain, he feels unclean. That’s one way.
“Here’s another. Kill man’s sense of values. Kill his capacity to recognize greatness or to achieve it. Great men can’t be ruled… Don’t deny the conception of greatness. Destroy it from within. The great is the rare, the difficult, the exceptional. Set up standards of achievement open to all, to the least… Don’t set out to raze all shrines — you’ll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity — and the shrines are razed.
“Then there’s another way. Kill by laughter. Laughter is an instrument of human joy. Learn to use it as a weapon of destruction… Tell them to laugh at everything… Don’t let anything remain sacred in a man’s soul — and his soul won’t be sacred to him. Kill reverence and you’ve killed the hero in man. One doesn’t reverence with a giggle…
“Here’s another way. This is most important. Don’t allow men to be happy. Happiness is self-contained and self-sufficient… Happy men are free men. So kill their joy in living… Make them feel that the mere fact of a personal desire is evil. Bring them to a state where saying ‘I want’ is no longer a natural right, but a shameful admission… Unhappy men will come to you. They’ll need you. They’ll come for consolation, for support, for escape.
“Nature allows no vacuum. Empty a man’s soul, and the space is yours to fill. I don’t see why you should look so shocked, Peter. This is the oldest one of all. Look back at history.
“Look at any great system of ethics, from the Orient up. Didn’t they all preach the sacrifice of personal joy?… Haven’t they all had a single leitmotif: sacrifice, renunciation, self-denial?… Look at the moral atmosphere of today. Everything enjoyable… is considered depraved or sinful. Just prove that a thing makes men happy — and you’ve damned it. That’s how far we’ve come. We’ve tied happiness to guilt. And we’ve got mankind by the throat.
“Every system of ethics that preached sacrifice grew into a world power and ruled millions of men.
“Of course, you must dress it up. You must tell people that they’ll achieve a superior kind of happiness by giving up everything that makes them happy. You don’t have to be too clear about it. Use big vague words. ‘Universal Harmony’ — ‘Eternal Spirit’ — ‘Divine Purpose’ — ‘Nirvana’ — ‘Paradise.’ … The farce has been going on for centuries and men still fall for it.”
“The farce has been going on for centuries and men still fall for it. Yet the test should be so simple: just listen to any prophet and if you hear him speak of sacrifice — run. Run faster than from a plague… The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master.
“If ever you hear a man telling you that you must be happy, that it’s your natural right, that your first duty is to yourself — that will be the man who’s not after your soul. That will be the man who has nothing to gain from you.
“But here you might have noticed something… Men have a weapon against you. Reason. So you must be very sure to take it away from them. Cut the props from under it. But be careful. Don’t deny outright.
“Never deny anything outright, you give your hand away… Just say that reason is limited. That there’s something above it. What? You don’t have to be too clear about it either. The field’s inexhaustible. ‘Instinct’-‘Feeling’-‘Revelation’-‘Divine Intuition.’
“If you get caught at some crucial point and somebody tells you that your doctrine doesn’t make sense — you’re ready for him. You tell him that there’s something above reason. That here he must not try to think, he must feel… Suspend reason and you play it deuces wild. Anything goes in any manner you wish whenever you need it. You’ve got him.
“Can you rule a thinking man? We don’t want any thinking men.”
Peter had sat down on the floor, by the side of the dresser; he had felt tired and he had simply folded his legs.
“Peter, you’ve heard all this… You see it being practiced all over the world. Why are you disgusted? You have no right to sit there and stare at me with the virtuous superiority of being shocked. You’re in on it. You’ve taken your share and you’ve got to go along. You’re afraid to see where it’s leading. I’m not. I’ll tell you.
“The world of the future. The world I want. A world of obedience and of unity… A world where no man will hold a desire for himself, but will direct all his efforts to satisfy the desires of his neighbor who’ll have no desires except to satisfy the desires of the next neighbor who’ll have no desires — around the globe, Peter. Since all must serve all…
“I want power. I want my world of the future. Let all live for all. Let all sacrifice and none profit. Let all suffer and none enjoy… All subjugated to the will of all. Universal slavery — without even the dignity of a master… The world of the future.”
I find this to be a sobering picture of the world we live in. These principles are preached day and night, and most people believe them. As Ellsworth says, they’ve “got mankind by the throat.”
And what is the only logical end game from these “viritues”? Subjugation. Slavery. Conquest. There is no other reason to preach these principles other than to crush people’s souls.
I am not saying that everyone who preaches these lies are attempting to do so. Just like Peter, 99% of the people out there don’t realized they have been lied to.
This is so powerful, let’s summarize these 5 lies so we can more easily identify them:
- Make people feel guilty by setting up a goal of complete selflessness. Since our wiring makes this goal unreachable, a person is crippled by the shame of never being able to achieve their highest virtue.
- Kill a man’s sense of value. Don’t exalt greatness and the accomplishments of great people, but enshrine mediocrity. If you make mediocrity great, people will not aspire to true greatness.
- Destroy a person’s ability to be reverent. Kill reverence for the truly sacred things in life and you kill the hero.
- Don’t allow people to be happy. Make every self-interested desire sinful. This way, every time someone has a personal desire, they prove their own unworthiness to themselves. Replace it with a hope of a different kind of joy. But that it can only be achieve through utter-selflessness. Since this is impossible, it keeps people condemned and working forever on an impossible goal. All the while suffering under the yoke of guilt and shame.
- Undermine reason — man’s ability to think. Reason and logic will destroy this strategy. Thinking men can’t be fooled and ruled. But don’t get rid of reason outright. Tell people that there is something greater than reason. That way, if they challenge you, you can undermine their ability to see through this deception. And once you’ve weakened reason, you can say anything. They will believe it, because you’ve taken away their ability to think for themselves.
As a Christian, I know some of these principles can strike the very heart of our faith. Ayn Rand seems to be advocating hedonism and violating the teachings of Jesus. But I wager that we’ve gotten many aspects of our faith wrong, and that these tools are used every day in almost every church to unwittingly disarm mankind. We have unknowingly aligned ourselves with evil.
This post is already far too long, but I can’t end here. Let me end with this… Any Rand’s character said to watch out for two different kinds of men, those that demand sacrifice, and those that preach joy. What kind of man was Jesus?
Jesus always appealed to our self-interest. Any time he asked us to sacrifice something, it came with a promise that our desires would ultimately be fulfilled. He did not say that our desires were evil. He said that if we wanted a deeper joy, we would have to changed how we live.
This is like the “sacrifice” of choosing to live a healthy lifestyle.
If one day you decide that you want to be healthier, then you will have to change how you live. But you want to be healthier so that you’ll have more energy and be able to do more things that you enjoy. Basically, you life will be filled with more joy and happiness.
So, you “sacrifice” certain things for that goal. You don’t eat donuts. You spurn french fries. You deny yourself cookies. And you also cause yourself physical pain and discomfort at the gym. But you do this because you want a better life full of joy.
Jesus offers the same kind of deal. He did not redefine joy to something vague. He did not say that if you empty yourself of desire, you will achieve a higher kind of joy that you can’t currently understand (like the Buddha). He said that if we follow Him, He will fill us with joy, peace, and abundant life. Real tangible things that meet real tangible desires.
And what would Jesus have to gain from our obedience? Nothing. Would He gain authority and dominance over the world? No. He already has that and chooses not to exert it. He gains nothing from our obedience — except the joy of seeing his children free from suffer and happy.
Yet we cannot say the same thing about the church throughout history. It has repeatedly twisted Jesus’ words to support obedience to it’s own agenda. It has unknowingly aligned itself with death in its attempt to preach holiness.
Nor can you say the same thing about other schools of religious and political thought. These are dangerous ideas. They can lead to oppressive dictatorships like that of communist countries. There is a reason that people under communist governments seem crushed and dejected. It is because they have bought these lies hook, line, and sinker. In their attempt to achieve a better life, they allowed other men to rule their souls.
Let us make sure that in our attempt to do the right thing we do not mistakenly exalt ideas who’s ultimate purpose is to put is in chains.
Originally published at www.seanedwards.com on July 24, 2014.
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