Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ayn Rand and Objectivism

Last fall I finished reading Atlas Shrugged. I had wanted to read it for a while, having heard it mentioned by many people withing similar political ideologies to myself, and I was really excited when I finally found it on the shelf of a Goodwill for $1. At ~1200 pages that's quite the bang for the buck.

I have to say that overall I am not entirely impressed. Ayn Rand seems to suffer from the same problem handling concision as Noam Chomskey.

Obviously she is a smart person, but perhaps she could express things in less words? Several times in the book I felt quite anxious for things to progress, and instead the same themes were getting pounded on over and over again.

From one point of view, this was exactly what she wanted. Atlas was supposed to be her grand philosophical exposition on Objectivism, and she surly did beat in the basics. When I finished the book and read the section in the back which explained what objectivism was I really didn't find too many surprises. Still, I was a little surprise by the shallowness of the philosophy. The basic idea is certainly interesting - it's basically rational self interest. This looks to be very similar to John Piper's Christian hedonism, but falls short of encapsulating the richness of the human experience in a similar manner.

A recent post on the Mokingbird blog talks about the consequences of this partially developed world view. If a philosophical system leaves no room for the pleasure that comes from helping other people, some of whom many not deserve it, even as a selfish motive for a better world for yourself or your children, there is something seriously amiss.

Now, I don't think Ayn Rand completely missed this. In Atlas there are several incidences of people helping each other, but she seemed a bit unable to address this in any formal manner, and thus it seems many of her adherents ignore this component of her philosophy and stick to strict surface-level self interest.

I think this is akin to adopting a surface level philosophy of utilitarianism. Even introductory level philosophy class discussions quickly show how we all object to the idea of killing one to save a few (see below). So is utilitarianism not at all valid? I don't think so. I think we have to go a bit further to look at the full implications for a set of actions. What are the larger societal consequences? How does this change the choice of maximum utility? Unless we go far past the immediate surface level variables defining our problem, we cannot hope to really address something so complex as a moral choice with any degree of rigor.

Still, I would say its best not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are parts of the book that were inspiring and genuinely interesting, and I really did enjoy the story at large. The idea of striving for self dependence and owning up to our own self interest were very refreshing to me, but it is also important not to adopt a system of morality without making sure you fully understand what it is and why its set up the way it is. Anything less is simply morally irresponsible.

Waiting on God's Timing

Last night at Bible study we delved into the issue of God's timing for a little while. My big question was: How do I know if I'm waiting on God or just being passive? Which is also related to: How do I know I'm taking action on the right things and not just ignoring God's timing? I wasn't really sure where to start in scripture, so I looked up a bunch of articles online and read them (and esp. their scripture references) to get some context.

The first ones I read were by Oswald Chambers. He says "When God brings a time of waiting, and appears to be unresponsive, don’t fill it with busyness, just wait" and "Wait for God’s timing and He will do it without any heartache or disappointment." I guess the main problem here is how to identify a time of waiting. Sure, if God has us in a "time of waiting" it makes sense to try to figure out why, but how do we know we have come into such a time. Also, I don't really agree with the idea that if we always act in God's timing He will always accomplish things "without any heartache or disappointment." I think even when we are perfectly in God's will things will not be smooth sailing. Although going against God's will usually makes things tougher in the long run, the straight-and-narrow isn't always bright and sunny!

The next thing I read was a random article from a website I hadn't heard of before, so I was a little skeptical of its content. Still, I have to say I agreed with most of it. It mentioned that when it comes to tough decisions, we have God's word, then the wisdom He gives us, then the wise counsel of others, with waiting on God really coming after all those. The Bible and most of the articles I read are clear about the fact that God makes some things clear to us through these means, and He intends for us to make use of them. A short sound clip from John Piper (about 3 minutes long) also mentions this, saying there is a tension between our need to take action and waiting on God's timing and guidance. Sometimes we have to have faith that the wisdom God is giving us is sufficient to guide us through many of the small decisions in life, but we should continually seek God to center ourselves on this wisdom and specifically seek His guidance on major decisions.

The next article I read did a really great job of describing what waiting on the Lord looks like. We should be characterized by:
1) confident assurance
2) patient endurance
3) steadfast hope
4) willing obedience
One quote from this article that stuck me was: "Waiting is the rule rather than the exception, and we should wait with confidence and assurance in God's plan and provision." I think what the author means is that more often than not we don't know what's next and we must be patient and wait until God reveals that to us. That aligns with one of my favorite quotes from Oswald Chambers: "The nature of the spiritual life is that we are certain in our uncertainty." Although we are uncertain of the path our lives will take, we have great certainty in the person of Christ, and that is where we put out hope.

From these I feel like I better understand why to wait on God, when its o.k. to just go ahead and act, and what waiting on God looks like. A few other resources really solidified that perspective.

The first few were passages from the Bible. In Isaiah the Bible says that those who wait on the Lord will gain strength and not grow weary. Certainly great strength comes from knowing we are doing God's will. Similarly, in John Christ talks about how important it is for us to abide in Him. Without Christ, not only will we grow tired and weary, but also our work will not be of any eternal value! There are many other verses in the Bible mentioning waiting on the Lord, but these two really impacted me. To truly be productive and be a good steward of what God has given me, I must slow down and seek His will -- just moving faster and doing what seems right will not be as effective in the long run. The Bible makes it clear that even those who do great acts for Christ are not saved unless they know Christ intimately. This is very convicting to me, as I have a tendency to value my work for Christ over my relationship with Him.

The last one I read was a short magazine article that really did a good job of summing things up. In the article, the author mentions that when she asked her grandfather about how to understand God's plan for her life, he told her “when you pray, pray as to get to know Christ. Prayer is about knowing our Father in heaven.” This means that when we pray, we should seek Christ and wait on Him, not just on His provision. Christ is the object of our lives, not His blessing. If we start praying our prayers seeking Christ and not with an ulterior motive of convincing Christ of our need for something we will generally find ourselves much more satisfied.

In total, I think I see much more clearly now how to progress. We should walk by faith in Christ as closely as we can, using the word, wisdom, and Godly counsel to guide us. Every day, and especially for the big decisions, we need to seek Christ Himself. We should wait confidently and hopefully (expecting Christ's provision), patiently (not acting rashly or without consulting God), and obediently (willing to act on what God reveals to us). If we do all these things life may not be rosy, but we can be assured God will give us strength, we will be having an eternal impact, and most importantly, we will know Christ and He will know us in the end.

I hope this was as helpful to you as it was for me and you are encouraged by the call to walk by faith.

Also, I'm usually not a big fan of "Christian" music, but I like this guy and it seems appropriate here: