Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ayn Rand Was Consistent

Copyright © 2o12 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. 

Ayn Rand was consistent. She was an individualist and an atheist. Notice what I am NOT saying: I am not saying that an atheist is necessarily an individualist. In truth I am aware of more atheists who are collectivists than individualists.  

Rather, I would say that belief in either God or spirituality goes hand in hand with collectivism. Spirituality is about “the whole enchilada,” a term the Watergate scandal helped popularize. It witnesses the connectedness of all things, that in the poet’s words, “no man is an island,” that, in Jesus’ words, “as much as you have done it to the least of these you have done it so to me.”  

In biblical understanding, not even God is an individualist. God created companions, dwells among us, and invites us to enjoy the common spiritual wealth that is already available. In both Jewish and Christian understandings, God treats us collectively: if one sinned, all are collectively responsible in the Old Testament; in the New Testament God makes rain and sunshine fall on the just and the unjust.  In both testaments we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, which requires compassion—identification, solidarity, justice and mercy. 

The Reformed tradition of Christianity emphasized collective salvation over individual salvation, but this has been a theme of Christianity from the beginning. Despite the emphasis on individual salvation in present-day evangelical circles, Jesus was said to reconcile the whole world to God’s self.  It’s not “all about me,” but “all about us,” and I would add that the whole creation is included in “us.” 

This does not mean that I don’t believe in individual responsibility, but that we are individually responsible for the whole world, that every action we take or don’t take—“sins of commission or omission”—must be accountable to needs broader than our own.  

I don’t know how anyone following the news does not cry or become indignant and angry at the inequality and injustice and violence, as well as grieve the losses of every nation in conflict or enduring calamity and the environment suffering global warming and deforestation. 

Something else I am NOT saying: I am not saying that Christians who claim individualism over collectivism are not Christian. I am saying they are inconsistent.
 

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See also “The Making of You,” an earlier post.  Today’s post appeared Monday in The Huffington Post.

11 comments:

  1. For me, the indication of a really meaningful essay is that it generates a "Yes, but..." response. It is my profound personal belief that we are truly called to individual relationships, and that community is not synonymous with collectivity. Again, I think of Teilhard's discussion that the potential destiny of humankind could be either a hive-like circumstance where people all become interchangeable "units" and the good of the collective completely subordinates the good of the one, or become unique entities in the New Creation Jesus described, each cherished and nurtured for its individuality.

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    1. Trudie, I like your distinctions! When I think of the "collective," I think of "community," and a community of unique individuals. I too would not want to be considered an "interchangeable unit." At the same time, I think of us collectively as interdependent. We need one another. One reader sent me a sermon about how, bibically, judgment is corporate and grace is individualized--also interesting to consider. Thanks for such a thoughtful response, and the "yes, but..." compliment!

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  2. A great post Chris. I find it amazing how people who call themselves christians adopt Rand type mentality regarding the treatment of others in our society. as a gay Catholic I guess I was already unfortunately quite used to the way some "Christians" feel they have the blank check to treat gays as the jews were treated in Europe. But the Rand thing seems even more shocking to my jaded senses. I feel like amending the the famous line from the movie wall street, Greed not only is good, its apparently also Christian LOL

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    1. Historian John Boswell discovered that the plight of Jews, women, and gays paralleled in European history. When one group was denigrated, all were; when one group was more tolerated, all were. It's hard to discern why, but it reminds us that the most vulnerable need to work together. Thanks, Michael, for your comment!

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  3. Mary Robinson-MohrAugust 29, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    Thank you, Chris, for a thought-provoking article. I've followed your work with appreciation for some time. This article reminds me of a very subtle yet powerful thing in my life. I had the joy of taking a group of 11 members of my congregation on a study tour of Turkey and Greece. Our first day in Istanbul was quite the culture shock for some of us, and one woman voiced some concerns. Another woman, with her typical non-plussed style said, "Oh we'll be all right. We'll all watch out for one another." Somehow that last line, so simple and matter-of-fact, has become my mantra: "We'll all watch out for one another." Here we are, all of us together, hurtling through space on this planet on uncharted grounds, and we need to "all watch out for one another." This phrase has been in the back of my mind when I pick up a friend who has been working hard on a blistering hot day,and hand her a bottle of cold water. I remember this phrase when I advocate for social justice causes, and also when I give my bereaved neighbor a hug. Without "overfunctioning," this business of "watching out for one another" has given me a beautiful insight into how Christ "watches out" for the unseen ones, and how I must remember that, as well. Thanks again, Chris, for your thoughts on the interplay of individual and corporate responsibility.

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    1. Thanks, Mary, for sharing your mantra! I often find myself jotting down sentences and phrases like that that I hear on the news or in movies or from books, thinking I might want to write something on those sentiments someday. And especially now that I'm writing a blog! And I know firsthand how vital "watching out for one another" is in Istanbul, having lost a member of our party in the huge bazaar there--fortunately, he found us!

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    2. Please use this phrase, if it is helpful to your work. I'd be honored! Blessings to you, and thanks for your insights.

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  4. The "judgement is corporate" concept is, sadly, also open to much misunderstanding. Yes, it is absolutely true that certain actions produce results that impact the entire planet. However, the perspective that God judges particular individuals or groups by sending disasters on the entire community really is abhorrent. I think the difference between the Hebrew perspective of a specific select group being "God's Chosen" and Jesus' pointing out that we must openly accept the invitation to join God's Kindom and live accordingly is really profound.

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    1. Yes, the sermon I referred to in my reply to you above didn't suggest judgment was manifest in God sending disasters. Think of judgment rather as being held accountable as a people for racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc. In a corporate "prayer of confession," sins/injustices may be listed in which individuals may not have participated, but we confess as a society/culture, acknowledging our unity in addressing these failings.

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  5. I am reminded of a teaching i learned...if something is good for you, it is good for me. If something is not good for you, it can not be good for me.
    Darned if i can remember from whence that came...but it stuck.

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