Ayn Rand on Christian Egoism: Part 1
“Christianity was the first school of thought that proclaimed the supreme sacredness of the individual. The first duty of a Christian is the salvation of his own soul. This duty comes above any he may owe to his brothers. This is the basic statement of true individualism.”
-Ayn Rand, Letter to Reverend Dudley
Ayn Rand on Christianity
Though Rand was obviously not a theologian or student of Scripture, she knew enough about Christian theology to identify this foundational moral principle in the teachings of Christ: that the chief moral imperative of the Christian is the salvation of his own soul. And, from this she concluded that Christianity did promote a similar sort of egoism to her own:
“The salvation of one’s own soul means the preservation of the integrity of one’s ego. The soul is the ego. Thus Christianity did preach egoism in my sense of the word, in high, noble and spiritual sense.” -Letter to Rev. Dudley
Elsewhere, Rand writes:
“Jesus was one of the first great teachers to proclaim the basic principle of individualism — the inviolate sanctity of man’s soul, and the salvation of one’s soul as one’s first concern and highest goal; this means — one’s ego and the integrity of one’s ego.” — Letter to Mrs. Austin
Surely, many will likely object that as an avowed atheist, Rand had no business commenting on, or presuming to understand, the foundational morality of Christianity; that she is simply mistaken about this idea of individualism and egoism being an integral part of Christ’s teaching. And so, the proper question to ask here is: is she right?
Jesus: The Chief Individualist (and Egoist)?
Did Jesus “teach the inviolate sanctity of man’s soul, and the salvation of one’s soul as one’s first and highest goal” — thus proclaiming “the basic principle of individualism” and the importance of “one’s ego”?
“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and to lose his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” -Jesus, Mk8:36–37
The implicit answer: nothing. Nothing, Jesus is saying, can possibly be of more value to you than the salvation, integrity, and perseverance of your own soul. Why? Because it is your own individual soul which values — apart from it, you cannot value anything. Why would there be no profit in exchanging one’s own soul for the whole world? Because it is the soul which profits — apart from it, there is no such thing as profit for the one doing the trading. If you gain everything that could ever satisfy your soul at the expense losing the very thing you wish to satisfy (your soul), then you gain nothing.
“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” -Jesus, Mt10:28
Translation: Your soul is of supreme value and importance. Your greatest fear should not be any physical threat, but the threat of the soul’s destruction; Value the preservation and perseverance of your soul more than this life, itself.
Add to these, and the many others which could be listed, C.S. Lewis’ observation that “nearly every description [given by Christ] of what we shall ultimately find if we do [as He commands] contains an appeal to desire,” that the motive behind all of New Testament morality is the ultimate good of one’s own soul (in its union with God). An honest look at Scripture makes it abundantly clear that, in spite of contrary ‘Christian’ opinions, the atheist, Ayn Rand, is absolutely right on this point: Christ was one of the first and greatest champions of individualism and egoism — not in the superficial and carnal ways we mean those terms today, but in the deep, ultimate, and ironically spiritual sense which the atheistic philosopher has rightly pointed out.
Contradictions Do Not Exist
Whatever else Christ may have taught, it cannot be denied that He taught this much about the supreme value of the individual soul — the ego. And if Christ is to be taken as the infallible Truth of God which Christians hold Him to be, then everything else He taught must be understood in such a way as to not contradict His teaching on the “inviolate sanctity of man’s soul” — man’s ego.
That is the direction to which Rand turns in both quotes cited above, and the topic of the next blog: did Christ’s other teachings contradict His teachings on the value of man’s soul presented above? Is Rand right that “there is a great, basic contradiction in the teachings of Jesus,” and are modern Christians right to insist that Jesus was a staunch advocate of altruism? Stay tuned.
Originally published at www.thechristianegoist.com on January 30, 2014.
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