Sacrifice

Posted on April 11, 2012

Why do Christian conservatives go around quoting Ayn Rand? I am not generally familiar with her work, but I got a pretty good introduction to it through this interview:

Today you could hardly say “I know that philosophy, I saw it on TV.” This, though, is 30 minutes wherein Ayn makes uninterrupted points, and while Mike Wallace is certainly doing his best to sensationalize the interview, he has not got so far in the art as to allow his guest merely to stammer. Ayn has her own say.

She says quite clearly that she is fundamentally, intrinsically, adamantly opposed to Christianity. She is not hiding behind any modern trope of being against organized, abusive religion. She categorically rejects the virtue of sacrifice and man’s need for God.

I do not say this to demonize her. On the contrary, I found her theory of government most commendable. And, to answer my own question, this is why conservative Christians go around quoting bits and phrases that she produced. Insofar as admiration of minimalist government goes, I have no grievance with philosophical dependence on Ayn Rand. I am not convinced by Mike’s objections at all.

But one who calls himself a Christian owes by the most superficial measure an explanation for adopting anything from Ayn’s philosophy when it is diametrically opposed to both the nature and the work of Christ. Again, I do not mean this in an emotionally inflammatory way; but simply put, if Jesus is God become man in order to save us, this is opposed by the idea that men have all the power and free will they need to make themselves worthy of love. Now Ayn does pull an adroit little conversion method when she says that sacrifice is selfish if motivated by love; once that is on the table it becomes fantastically harder to define what sort of self-sacrifice we are supposed to be ridding ourselves of. But, let me presume so far as to say that loving self-sacrifice probably does not include Christ’s agony in Gethsemane, particularly when he had the option of calling angels to his aid.

So again, quite flatly and without hyperbole, Ayn Rand is anti-Christ. His methods, motives, and goals were entirely opposed to her philosophy. He cannot even be said to have made himself what he wanted to be, in the face of his constant insistence that he did not follow his own will but the will of his Father. Trinitarian doctrine makes it tricky to designate a prime cause within the Godhead, but at least Jesus’ choice of words in representing himself is clearly meant to convey the impression of self-sacrifice directly opposed by Ayn Rand.

I have said that I admire Ayn’s philosophy of government; and indeed I do. But consider that a rebuke to my admirations. Ayn makes it clear that her philosophy depends upon the self-determination of man, and nothing in her philosophy is holy except the self-determination of man. I am utterly committed to the opposite belief, that man is both determined by and dependent upon the unearned love, unilateral gift, and self-sacrifice of God.

Capitalism is sold as the freedom of self-determination. We are told that in free capitalism each person can “make something of himself” and “improve his situation.” This is not true. One born without legs cannot improve his situation. You will find a stirring video on YouTube that shows he can; and I will retort that he made much of the help he was given. You will reply, then, anyone who is born an infant cannot improve himself! And I will say: exactly.

We are dependent on what we are given. Some make more of what they are given than others, but we start with varying degrees of nothing. Not everyone starts life with their health. The differences continue from there with the very first meal. This is adequately reflected in the story of the talents, which is widely regarded as a capitalist moral of diligent investment and due reward. But it could just as equally be a feudal story of the wealthy rewarding the wealthy and punishing the impoverished for his poverty. That is, the hinge of the story is not the democratic equality of all men and their differing industry; it is the unwillingness of the servant to give to his master something unearned. It is the servant’s unwillingness to sacrifice (for his lord) and unwillingness to acknowledge the sacrifice he received (from his lord). A perfect feudal picture! Also, an equally adequate capitalist fable. For I do not mean to say that the point of the parable is to establish feudalism any more than capitalism; it is nearly agnostic as to economic system.  What we cannot conclude, either from this parable or from the world around us, is that every man begins life with equal opportunity. Everyone ends equally dead; until then, the differences multiply.

But more than intrinsic equality, the fundamental precept of capitalism is the notion that two unconstrained parties will reach an agreement both consider advantageous to their current circumstances. This too is false. It presumes that a person must always consider one of his choices advantageous. But men can be insane in their hope as well as in their despair. To a perfectly rational person–nay, say rather, to a perfectly rational long-term investor, the best choice is suicide. Every investor will die. Every investor’s children will die. The last child of the last child will die. There is no rational expectation of a long-term advantageous outcome to anything. In the most negative evaluation you can only call suicide neutral.

Capitalists are not generally fond of suicide. You are supposed to work to make your life better, as well as the lives of your beneficent investors. Where there is life there is hope, we say, and there is powerful truth in this. But it is only hope in God which is sure hope. We can hope that our crops don’t die and hope that our ships come in and so forth, but really there is no guarantee and sometimes the chance of the hoped-for return on investment is astronomically remote. In some cases the most likely result of any of your choices is death, and your options have to do with the timing. Or again, all of our choices amount to the same, in the end.

A greedy man may gamble a living wage hoping to become rich. But a desperate man may also gamble his life for his family hoping to keep them alive. I object to calling that a choice of perceived advantage. It robs the world of the existence of anything which is not advantageous; everything is an advantage and the entire world is prosperity from end to end.

Ayn’s definition of self-sacrifice is very like, for in the Biblical (or Judeo-Christian) definition there is only self-sacrifice; killing someone else’s lamb doesn’t count. And it is always a sacrifice of joy and love. Oh, it is not commonly seen so, nor ever was I suppose; sacrifice is thought to be about fear and penalty. So far do we misunderstand God. Our sacrifice, as we know it, is the merest tip of the hat to the sacrifice God began in Eden, the giving up of what you love to fulfill a greater love. We think that we lost Eden; but it was God who gave it up. If he had wanted to keep it he could have fired Adam and replaced him faster than any staffing agency today could even dream of. God gave up Eden, his perfect paradise and his fellowship with man, in order to form a more perfect union–to fashion a union through the full sacrifice of his own flesh and blood, Jesus. We “give up” only things which we have got from him; he gave up what he got of himself. What we sacrifice to God should be only from love (as Ayn Rand allows for herself) and is worthless to God if it comes from anything else.

But to get back to capitalism: while other forms of government presume that there are good men (to enforce good rules), capitalism presumes that there are good choices available to all good men. I cannot see that they are essentially different. I do prefer capitalism, though. I do see a distinction. Capitalism is the only system which deliberately allows sacrifice. I rely here on my definition of sacrifice, that is, self-sacrifice. Certainly other systems allow and even compel sacrifice, but in those cases we mean “you give up what you want so that I get what I want.” And this is ever-present in capitalism, as well. But in communism, for example, ideally you do not give up anything personally that everyone else isn’t also giving up; and you certainly aren’t supposed to give up for your own personal love, but for the community. And feudalism, in its most rigid form, does not permit the peasant to give himself up for just any use, but only to the use of his lord.

Capitalism calls sacrifice “risk” and promises that there will be a reward–only, it does not quite promise. It is a carnival game where you are supposed to think you will be rewarded when really you are being swindled. Oh, it may be that both parties make a square profit, but that is only until a sharper fellow happens along who deduces how to make you equally happy with a less advantageous bargain. A swindle, in other words. But in capitalism we call a swindle “market price.” It is just in being whatever it is. Supposedly if anything is truly unjust we will collectively avoid it and it will thereby go away for lack of profit; or if it is by force, then and only then can it rightly be resisted by outside force. But that is really only to say that the majority rules. It has been shown all through history that the majority will gladly bargain amongst themselves at the expense of the minority. And when history shows us an exception to this, it is a sacrifice: a grant of favor without any reasonable assurance of profit.

I contend that capitalism is the most beneficial economic system and regulations to curb its injustices do foster further injustices of their own. But I do not accept that this comes from a basis of fair deals between equals. No indeed; capitalism is only the plainly revealed greed, bondage, and power-mongering of humanity. It is neither elegant nor just. There occurs within capitalism free gifts and self-sacrifice; and perhaps this sometimes results in benefit to the benefactor.  But in the moment of giving it is not calculated as an investment. It is bestowed in mercy as an unearned grace, and it springs not from the inherent form of capitalism but from the lingering fingerprints of divine grace.

Ayn Rand’s god is the self-made man, and he is a terrifying, ungracious, powerful man; a self-made man gloriously shining to behold, but shadowy and destructive to serve. A train of harlots follow him to his pit, lusting after his power. God has condemned him with the death of a single lamb.

 

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