Ayn Rand Part 1: Ayn Rand, John Piper and Christian Objectivist Love

23 Jul

This is Part 1 of a 1956 Ayn Rand interview with Mike Wallace. This was, according to the Youtube video description, her first television interview.

I watched it for the first time today, and would be interested in your thoughts.

Below are some excerpts from the end of this video and related thoughts.

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Wallace: What’s wrong with loving your fellow man? Christ, every important moral leader in human history has taught us that we should love one another. Why then is this kind of love in your mind immoral?

Rand: It is immoral if it is a love placed above one’s self. It is more than immoral, it’s impossible.  Because when you are asked to love people indiscriminately, that is to love people without any standard, to love them regardless of the fact of whether they have any value or virtue, you are asked to love nobody.

Wallace: … isn’t the essence of love that it’s above self-interest?

Rand: Well, let me make it complete for you. What would it mean to have love above self-interest? It would mean, for instance, for a husband to tell his wife if he were moral, according to conventional morality that “I am marrying you just for your own sake. I have no personal interest in it, but I am so unselfish that I’m marrying you only for your own good.” Would a woman like that? … In love, the currency is virtue. You love people not ofr what you do for them or what they do for you. We love them for their values, their virtues which they have achieved in their own character. You don’t love causes. you don’t love everybody indiscriminately. You love only those who deserve it…

Wallace: … There are very few of us then, in this world, by your standards, who are worthy of love.

Rand: Unfortunately, yes. Very few. But it is open for everybody to make themselves worthy of it, and that is all that my morality offers them: A way to make themselves worthy of love, although that is not the primary motive.

But Rand’s illustration of a husband and wife does make sense. At minimum, many types – perhaps the strongest types of love are not devoid of self-interest. You’d be dead inside if you got nothing out of your love for a spouse, or a child. Per Rand, love isn’t love if you get nothing out of it.

This objectivist view of love stands in total opposition to the current political moves that declare love means each of us should make sacrifices of ourselves for “the common good,” even when we get nothing out of it. We are to be completely devoid of self-interest.

Is this love? Can love ever be devoid of self-interest?

My initial reaction is opposed to the objectivist idea – what about the good Samaritan? What about loving your neighbor as you love yourself? If people have to make themselves worthy of love, how can we love children? What about a child born with Down’s Syndrome? What about an elderly person with Alzheimer disease? This has always left me wondering if any form of objectivism can be merged with a Christian worldview*. Perhaps the answer is in the order of Jesus’ commands: Love God, and love your neighbor. Perhaps loving our neighbors is not the purpose in itself, but we love them because we love God. Loving strangers is, then, be part of loving  God.

But what about loving God? Is our love for God devoid of self-interest, or do you get something out of our love for God as we do from loving your spouse?

Question 1 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

This basic statement of the purpose of humankind declares we are purposed to get something from God – our own enjoyment.

John Piper builds off this in what he calls “Christian hedonism,” in his book Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, and through his ministry.

Piper seems to agree with Ayn Rand! About Love for God, Piper writes:

Hebrews 11:6 teaches, “Without faith it is impossible to please [God]. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” You cannot please God if you do not come to him looking for reward. Therefore, faith that pleases God is the hedonistic pursuit of God.

Ok, what about loving our enemies? While we are to expect nothing earthly in return, Piper writes that “we are given strength to suffer loss by the promise of a future reward.”

Throughout the Bible we are in fact commanded to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven. To seek God who will give us the desires of our heart – who rewards those who seek him.

Ayn Rand’s view actually aligns with the biblical idea of following God, loving our neighbors and even loving our enemies. The politics of socialism do not.

* Ayn Rand does state in this interview that she is opposed to the Judeo-Christian traditions and opposed to churches, but that doesn’t mean that everything she thinks is wrong or that everything she thinks is incompatible with Christianity. While I haven’t studied Rand at lengths, she believes that reality is objective, and our moral guide is to use reason. If objective reality is Christianity – if biblical Christianity has the most reliable truth-claims and is the most reasonable view of reality, then Christianity and objectivism could work together.


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  • nathan

    I’m not so sure I’d agree with Rand here, especially where she suggests that sacrificial love is impossible.

    Her example of a husband and wife does make some sense, but husband-wife relationships aren’t the only game in town; we have friends, enemies, neighbors, families, acquaintances, and professional relationships, too. And I think that what the Bible does suggest at times is that true love goes beyond earthly notions of love. That isn’t to say that love can’t or doesn’t include self-interest, but that love, as in God’s love, goes beyond those things.

    Rand’s view includes loving yourself; I’m not so sure that she’s be comfortable in talking about loving God or enemies. From this perspective, I’d hesitate to align her ideas with those found in the Bible.

    Also, was the remark about the politics of socialism thrown in at the end just for the sake of it, or was the politics of socialism really weaving its way through the whole article without my knowing it?

    • I appreciate Piper, and he makes some valid points about how loving God and even loving our enemies includes self-interest. Jesus didn’t come to merely say we should get over seeking for ourselves, but that there’s a better reward to seek after – where moths and rust do not destroy.

      As I mentioned, Rand was a strong anti-Christian. I’m reading Atlas Shrugged right now, and am wondering if there could be a Christian objectivism. John piper wrote a long article about Ayn Rand’s philosophy which I didn’t know about at the time of writing this blog post. I’m interested to read it, but haven’t had time yet.

      Regarding the contrast between Rand and Socialism, re-reading the blog post now, it seems quite out of place. I’m not the best at editing my blog posts as I’m usually in a hurry to head out the door when I publish them. Most likely I deleted a good chunk of what I wrote that glued these pieces together.

  • MichaelM

    Second Jon,

    The primary barrier for a Christian in attempting to accommodate Objectivism is his own skepticism of the capacity of his own mind. Objectivism holds that existence is objective, meaning independent of consciousness. The job of consciousness is to identify the nature of reality and never attempt to contradict it. The capacity we have for that task is reason. Our goal is to survive and thrive as a human being (consistent with that which is our actual nature) by applying reason to our actions.

    Christians assert (implicitly if not explicitly) that reality is not objective. That there is an additional reality that is unknowable (inaccessible by reason processing sense perceptions), one that requires a super-rational means to grasp it—i.e. faith. Faith is inherently anti-rational, and that is the edge of the canyon between the Christian and the Objectivist.

    Faced not just with the fallibility of man, but also the impossibility of reaching certain knowledge, their list of virtues will not coincide with the Objectivist list that includes Rationality, and Independence (intellectual as well as physical). Furthermore, Christians (like all mystics who believe in extra-rational “knowledge”) must conjure up some other means to justify the choices men make from the streaming alternatives that are life.

    Mystics of all stripes will take two separate alternate paths to knowledge:

    1) subjectivists will assert there no fixed truths, there is no world but the material one and truth is what one personally feels to be right individually, and what the consensus feels socially.

    2) intrincicists will assert truth is not directly accessible because it lies on some higher plane needing special spiritual access, by faith individually, and by authority socially (traditions, history, etc.)

    You might already recognize the manifestation of these two factions in politics: the subjectivists are the left who believe that truths of the past are not necessarily the truths of today or tomorrow and will advocate CHANGE! as a value without any necessity to demonstrate a relationship to objective reality. the intrincicists are the right who believe truths are eternal—handed down from an indefinable God to the Founding Fathers.

    Beware when trying to apply these principles that men are seldom consistent, and they will be 1) on one issue while being 2) on another. The Catholic church, for instance, is clearly a 2), but within its massive system there are the divisions of the Jesuits who are 2) and the Fransiscans who are 1)s relative to them.

    The common denominator, however, appears in the ethics that follows these two epistemological paths: altruism. Both dis-value the human capacity of reason and agree that men must necessarily be dependent on each other and on authority. Both will hold pride as a vice while Objectivists hold it to be a virtue. The 1)s will naturally gravitate from the socialist left, to communism, and totalitarianism, depending on how far they pursue their ethic. The 2)s will descend from the conservative right to fascism, and totalitarianism. What we learn from Rand is that the philosophical debilitation of renouncing the full capacity of one’s own mind is the prerequisite for capitulation to a tyrant. She points out in one essay, that there can never be an Attila without first being a Witch Doctor—they are symbiotic.

    Objectivism maintains that man can know the nature of reality with certainty if he restricts that certainty to knowledge for which evidence is at hand, and all else must be categorized as probable or possible until evidence supporting certainty is acquired. That alone precludes any certain belief in any gods. Nothing can be “super-natural”, because the natural is by definition everything that exists, so knowledge of God, like knowledge of life on distant galaxies cannot be held with certainty, and should not be used as a standard for the choices we make in our present lives. Those choices must be made by identifying the relationship of the rest of reality to our lives by using our reason and acting accordingly.

    The more one studies the history of Christianity and realizes the centuries of writing and rewriting the sources on which it is based, including ages in the absence of science, and recognizes the countless contradictions, not only of actual external reality but also contradictions within the traditions themselves, the less logical it seems that any assortment of mandates from it all can be logically held to be absolutes handed to man by a Being he cannot even cogently define. And if one cannot escape the urge lived with for a lifetime, so far, to expect something else “out there,” the least irrational position for a Christian would be the Deism of the brighter of our Founding Fathers, without which this nation would never have survived.

    What, after all, would any God condemn if a person decided to perfect his life in accordance with it’s created nature, by relying on its created capacities of reason and action. Well, that is what Objectivism is—a philosophy for living life on this earth that is consistent with the nature of existence as it really is—not as one would wish it to be.

    And if it were a God’s intention that his creations fulfill the potential of the capacities they were given, it would be way more logical to conclude that God would not want man to conjure up some fantasy about His nature or even His existence and then use that conjured nature to control the lives of others in the same pursuit.


    Re love: The most fundamental alternative man faces is life or death. The choice to pursue life implies that life will be the standard of measure for all one’s values. The good will be that which contributes to one’s life (not just physical existence, but also consistent with one’s human nature) is the good, that which detracts is bad. One must formulate then a hierarchy of values—an ethics—to guide his spontaneous choices in the service of his life, and he must never forsake a higher value for a lower value.

    That is an overview of the derivation of Rand’s egoist ethics. It should go without saying that unconditional love would be dangerous to the long term success of one’s life. It constitutes a rejection of the very concept of values. Also, the principle that necessarily governs all social interaction among egoists is voluntary exchange. No man has any moral right to the values off any other. Admiration, friendship, and love in this ethics then is also not a gift or a duty, but an exchange of values.

    I pay for the benefit of witnessing and benefitting from the achievements of other men by giving them my admiration and my respect. I reward those closer to me who share some or many of my values with my friendship. I love my spouse whose whole being manifests a broad sense of life that mirrors mine, even if we disagree on certain specific issues. I love my child who is an extension of my very self—the product of my body, my mind, my actions. I love strangers who have not shown me they are anti-reason and anti-life as contributors to the social system off specialization that accelerates productivity, and I value their life, because I understand so deeply its significance to man in principle.

    That is the nature of rational love. Some of these ideas coincidentally coincide with Christian views some not. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—yes. Love thy neighbor as thyself or love thine enemies—no. The difference is that Rand’s ethics is systematic and consistent and is grounded in a valid epistemology and metaphysics, whereas the Christian ethics is random and arbitrary.

    If you want a quick overview of some of the conclusions of Objectivism (you will have to read the books to get the reasoning behind it all) go to the Ayn Rand Lexicoan. Here’s the entry on Love:

    P.S. …also no time to proofread!

    • Michael, thanks for the comment. You have evidently thought and studied this more than I have. My argument isn’t that we can wholeheartedly apply Ayn Rand’s philosophy as Christians. As I stated in the post, I recognize that Rand was very anti-Christian. However, I believe there’s a lot of overlap between the worldview and ethics of Rand and the Bible. My question is: How much overlap is there? Is it appropriate to take elements, and if so, which, from objectivism to more accurately adhere to a scriptural worldview than we currently have in a culture that is combining relativism and other philosophies with Christianity?

      The way I’ve been looking at this (really just starting to think about Objectivism and it’s possible partial compatibility with a biblical worldview) is that an objective reality is one thing we have in common. Reality is not relative. Reality is not created by my mind, but my job is to come to terms with reality as it really is, apart from myself. If God exists, he exists independently of my own view of things.

      You contrast an objective reality with unobservable reality. Perhaps that is a real contrast by the definitions of the terms. It seems the middle ground (and how I’ve been thinking of “objective”) is that reality exists independent of our own wishes and desires. Our goal is to most closely align ourselves with what ultimate reality really is. This is an area that I see agreement between the Christian and the objectivist.

      Inherently, faith is a non-naturalist position, it is belief in that which cannot be perceived with our senses. I don’t know that this means faith is contrary to rational thought. In fact the scripture commands us to reason for ourselves. Christian philosophers use reason as a tool to their faith. I do not see reason as a contradiction to or threat to faith.

      One other thought: As I wrote in the blog post, I think the ideas of love actually overlap more than you think they do. Christ doesn’t say we should give up seeking rewards for ourselves, but that we should store them up in heaven. Not that we shouldn’t seek rewards, but there’s a better reward than Rand knows about. There’s a better benefit to be received, so suddenly loving one’s enemy actually has benefits for one’s self.

      I’ve got to run, I may follow up with another comment later when I have more time to read your comment again. Thanks much for the dialog. I’m interested in this topic – especially now that more and more are reading Rand due to the current political and social situation in the United States.