What is objectivism?
Question: "What is objectivism?"
Answer: Objectivism can mean many different things, so examining it depends on what definition is used. Some of those interpretations are consistent with the Bible; others are not. Ayn Rand’s version of objectivism reaches some of the same conclusions as Judeo-Christianity, but for different reasons. Some of Rand’s views are patently unbiblical. Knowing the difference between those varied approaches is key. Broadly speaking, there are four main uses of the term objectivism.
Objectivism in General
First is logical objectivism. This is the view that logic is independent of the mind and that the laws of logic are real, fully existing rules corresponding to the universe itself, in much the same way as the laws of physics or chemistry. The idea that logic is part of the laws of the universe does not contradict the idea of God, since any God capable of creating the universe could have chosen whatever laws He wished.
Second is moral objectivism. This is the claim that certain statements about good and evil apply with absolute authority, everywhere, and always. This view is also compatible with the Bible. If there is a single moral benchmark—e.g., God—then moral objectivism makes sense. However, to suggest that God is subject to such morals is to misunderstand the nature of God and the origins of morality.
Third is the philosophical approach of objectivism, or objectivity. This is the view that reality is independent of the mind. Objectivity is the belief that existence actually exists, in and of itself. Counterviews are philosophies such as idealism, subjectivism, or certain forms of solipsism. This type of objectivism is perfectly compatible with the God of the Bible, and it makes the most sense of the Judeo-Christian worldview.
Even so, some who reject objectivism claim things are only real when they exist inside the mind of God. This form of idealism is a rejection of objectivism, but not a rejection of God. In contrast, mainstream subjectivism erodes the idea of God by denying any such thing as absolute truth. Of course, that’s a self-defeating position, since it relies on an absolute claim.
Objectivism and Ayn Rand
The fourth definition of objectivism is a socio-political system commonly associated with Ayn Rand. Rand was a writer and atheist who emphasized individual freedom and thinking. Her form of objectivism is an aggressively rationalist view, rejecting anything other than pure reason as a means to discover truth.
Rand’s objectivism holds that happiness is the only legitimate ground for all morality. To pursue happiness and the highest morality, according to objectivism, a person must accept the existence of certain objective principles. Thinking and acting according to these fixed ideas is said to give each person the best chance at success. As part of this approach, Rand’s objectivism strongly emphasizes personal freedom and responsibility as a form of libertarianism.
In practice, the full spectrum of Rand’s objectivism runs counter to biblical ideas such as God as a moral guide, altruism, and the limits of human knowledge.
Ayn Rand’s work occupies interesting places in both politics and philosophy. For the most part, philosophers see her work as ideology, not a true philosophy. Politicians likewise view her stance as ideological, rather than truly political. As a result, there are many ways a person might choose to apply or access her ideas. Since Rand’s concepts are broad in scope, her views sometimes intersect with ideologies that share certain assumptions.
Common themes are the most likely reason that Westerners, even Christians, will find themselves using Ayn Rand’s material. Her objectivism shares some assumptions with generic political conservatism. Therefore, some of her conclusions and arguments will be echoed by those with similar interests. Just because Rand was an atheist does not mean her all her beliefs were untrue; Christians can agree with Rand at the points where her ideology intersects with biblical truth. If Rand believed in an idea practically identical to a biblical precept, there is nothing wrong with a Christian taking advantage of her insight, especially given the eloquent and persuasive way she had of explaining it.
That does not change the fact that Ayn Rand’s worldview was markedly different from biblical Christianity. We should be ready to question and test what we hear and read from anyone (Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1). There is a difference between using some particularly insightful quote from Rand and following her objectivist ideology as she would have intended.
For the believer, there’s nothing wrong with researching and understanding Rand’s views. Nor is there anything explicitly wrong with using some of her argumentation. Her version of objectivism is an example of how one might come to politically or socially conservative views absent of a Christian worldview. That’s helpful perspective, at least, when we want to find common ground with others. Strictly speaking, though, full-blown objectivism, vis-à-vis Ayn Rand, is not something a Christian should embrace. It does share some common themes with Christian thinking, but it flatly contradicts the Bible’s attitudes toward altruism and human purpose.
Recommended Resource: Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland
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