Friday, April 15, 2011

Objectivism Vs. Christianity: Sacrifice Part 3

NOTE: This is part 3 of a three part series in honor of the Atlas Shrugged movie released on April 15. This is a paper I originally wrote for a philosophy class at Christ College, Irvine (now Concordia University) in 1986:
Part 1: Rand's definition of Sacrifice
Part 2: The common definition and a Christian one
Part 3: Reconciling Objectivism and Christianity using the correct definition.

We have now seen that Ayn Rand's definition of sacrifice simply does not fit the behavior encouraged by the Christian scriptures. Far from being a surrender of the higher value, Christian sacrifice entails the recognition of values so great that even life itself becomes secondary. This is not to say that the lesser values are completely worthless, indeed the whole confusion over this issue probably stems from the fact that they are so precious that the sacrifice is very difficult -- even excruciating. Nevertheless, in the final analysis, Christianity claims that its ultimate values -- love of God and one's fellow human beings -- are more than worth the sacrifices they might require.

Let us then define sacrifice in the following way: A sacrifice is an act that involves a difficult choice between two values in which the lesser value is surrendered in favor of the greater. Its primary effect is the preservation of long-range happiness at the expense of short-range comfort.

With this definition in mind, let us examine some passages from Ayn Rand's own writings. As I have already mentioned, we shall see that this very concept is an integral part of many of her most powerful scenes.

First note the following scene from The Fountainhead, in which Howard Roark has just given up hope that Gail Wynand will recover from his betrayal of Roark:

"He [Roark] did not know that Wynand had once said that all love is exception-making; and Wynand would not know that Roark had loved him enough to make his greatest exception, one moment when he had tried to compromise. Then he knew that it was useless, like all sacrifices."19

This is perfectly in line with Rand's own view of sacrifice, since the hero ultimately refuses to make it. I mention this example mainly because it shows the strong temptation even in one of Rand's greatest heroes to surrender a value for the sake of love.

More to our purpose, however, are the following passages from Atlas Shrugged:

"It's right but it's so hard to do. Oh God, it's so hard!"20

"Then I knew that abandoning my motor was not the hardest price I would have to pay for this strike."21

"I knew how much he had given up for this strike and how desperately he hadn't given it up forever."22

In each of these cases one of the heroes of the story (in the first and last cases, Francisco D'Anconia; in the second case, John Galt himself) is required to make a painful decision between his immediate values and his ultimate ideals. This fits our definition of sacrifice perfectly. Of course Ayn Rand takes special care to point out that these men do not consider their decisions sacrifices, but she (and they) are operating under her private definition.

The character of Francisco D'Anconia provides especially interesting examples of the concept of sacrifice as we have defined it. He is the closest Rand ever came to portraying an ideal Christian. For instance, take the following two examples from the relationship between Francisco and Hank Rearden:

"The vision of Francisco in Rearden's mind, which he had resented and found irresistably attractive, had been the figure of a man radiantly incapable of suffering. What he now saw in Francisco's eyes was the look of a quiet, tightly controlled, patiently borne torture."23

"When Francisco raised his head, Rearden saw a face drawn by so great a suffering that its lines were almost an audible cry of pain, the more terrible because the face had a look of firmness, as if the decision had been made and this was the price of it."24

In both examples Francisco's strength of resolve are tested almost to the breaking point. The most significant aspect of these passages, however, is that Francisco is not suffering merely for his own sake but for the sake of Rearden as well. If viewed from the outside either would be enough to condemn Francisco as the most wretched altruist that ever despoiled a man of ability. But, as we discover later, he had a very good motivation for this wicked deed of self-destruction -- his commitment to John Galt's strike. It is this long-term goal which justifies his surrender of what is obviously a very great value indeed -- Rearden's friendship.

But these are not the only examples of his altruistic escapades. Consider the very powerful scene in Dagny Taggart's apartment in which Rearden confronts Francisco after the latter's apparent betrayal of their friendship:

"He looked as if he were facing another presence In the room and as if his glance were saying: If this is what you demand of me, then even this is yours, yours to accept and mine to endure, there is no more than this in me to offer you, but let me be proud to know that I can offer so much."25

Here we have a scene that could almost have come directly from the Bible! Notice that not only is Francisco sacrificing his present happiness for the sake of his greater values, Rand uses words that almost indicate that his sacrifice is an offering to another person -- possibly even a deity. I do not wish to over-interpret this passage, since it is obviously not meant to be interpreted literally, but if even an avowed egoist like Francisco D'Anconia could feel such a deep love for another human being, is it unreasonable that others, namely Christians, could feel similar emotions for their leader? I think not.

But Francisco is not the only character that is willing to make excruciating sacrifices. Consider John Galt's warning to Dagny when his capture is immanent:

"But if they get the slightest suspicion of what we are to each other, they will have you on a torture rack -- I mean, physical torture -- before my eyes, in less than a week. I am not going to wait for that. At the first mention of a threat to you, I will kill myself and stop them right there."26

Of course the usual disclaimer that this is not really a sacrifice follows this powerful statement. Nathaniel Brandon also refers to it indirectly in The Virtue of Selfishness:

"If a man loves a woman so much that he does not wish to survive her death, if life can have nothing to offer him at that price, then his dying to save her is not a sacrifice."27

But a sacrifice, as I have defined it above, is precisely what it is. In a very real sense this is the ultimate form of sacrifice and it is mirrored in Christian scripture in the following two verses:

"Greater love has no one than this: that one lay down his life for his friends."28

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son..."29

I have shown here that not only is Ayn Rand's original definition of sacrifice inaccurate, but, given an adequate concept, her own philosophy sanctions such actions. If there are any groups that preach the doctrine of sacrifice that Rand outlines, then both Christians and Objectivists have the philosophical right to criticize such doctrine. If this doctrine is being preached within the sphere of Christianity, it is done in the teeth of the original documents upon which the Christian religion is founded.

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