atlas shrugged

When Atlas Shrugged, Compassion Crumbled

"I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine." This is the creed of Ayn Rand’s 1000+ page novel, Atlas Shrugged. It was written in the 1950’s from a woman who had grown up in communist Russia, and the story focuses on the negative consequences of regulating capitalism and individualism.

The book was a page-turner – at times because I was captivated by the mystery of the story and fascinated by Rand’s ability to take me into a world where I rooted for the characters that I would hesitate to endorse in my real life. The other way it became a page-turner was that I ended up skimming past several 30-page monologues (or rants) that were redundant and, quite frankly, self-indulgent. Rand’s arguments are compelling and worthy of consideration, but they were also disturbing – particularly reflecting a worldview that promotes selfish ambition for the sake of happiness and denies the responsibility that we have to one another.

Rand’s words state:

My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.

Atlas Shrugged is an upside-down world where acts of mercy and compassion are deemed sinful, and where selfishness and self-promotion are virtues.

I read this book through the dirt roads of Africa where the desert people of Marsabit are at the mercy of strangers to partner with them in the provision of water. I read this book in western Kenya where a thousand HIV-positive mothers, fathers and children are alive because of the life-saving drugs provided by PEPFAR (The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). I read this book in our nation’s capital as global forces gathered for the International AIDS Conference to protect those who dearly need it. And I read this book back in my inner-city neighborhood that is struggling through the implications of gentrification by the rich in the neighborhood of the poor.

I appreciate the novel’s warning against the destruction of society through communism. Yet, ultimately Ayn Rand’s story mocks the life I am committed to. She simplifies the world’s problems by suggesting that those who matter in the world are the ones who are the most intelligent, reasonable and powerful for their own sake. It is a “God helps those who help themselves” kind of worldview. I do believe in free markets and the rights of individuals. And I do not believe in handouts, and choose to model our work in Africa differently than traditional charity. But I do believe in the story of the Good Samaritan, and in the power of sacrificial love. Therefore, when Atlas shrugged, compassion crumbled.

The Friday Five

Here are the five things that caught my attention this week: 1. My Hometown is on Fire

The fires continue to rage in Colorado while more than 30,000 residents have been evacuated and 350 homes have been destroyed. The photos reveal empty lots where homes and trees used to stand. The skies look as though armageddon has come, and we all wonder when it will end. A raging wildfire wakes us up to realize that we are not in control of our lives as much as we think we are. And reminds us that the things of this world can instantly become ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.

2. Who is John Galt?

Those of you who have read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged probably know the answer to this. I am nearly halfway through this 1000+ page book and, therefore, still do not know. Atlas Shrugged is often referred to as one of the most influential books of the 20th century, and I'm wondering if it was from the earlier part of the 20th century because, who has the attention span these days to dive through a 1000 page philosophy book? Well, my book club and I are trying. I will hold my review of the book until I am finished (which will be about 650 pages from now).

3. Fish and Visitors Stink in Three days - except for at the Nardellas!

Ben Franklin's wise little words do not apply at our house this week. We have had a rare experience of being in Nashville for the entire month of June. And in that time, we have hosted our best friends (and their child, parents and sister) from San Diego, my best friend from South Africa and a surprise visit from my dear mom (Wednesday's text from her said, "Can you do breakfast or lunch tomorrow or Friday? Just wondering. Miss you.") I said yes and she hopped on a plane. Our house has been filled with the sweet aroma of conversation, laughter, home-cooked meals and the deep and enduring friendships that remind us that relationships are sacred gifts in this life.

4. Supreme Court

Regardless of where you stand in the healthcare debate, it was hard not to pay attention to Justice Roberts' bold stance in yesterday's decision. For spending so much time in broken African political systems, it is no small thing to see a congress creating laws and a supreme court reviewing the consitutionality of those laws. Despite the ugly brokenness of our own political system in the US, I am grateful to live in a country that affirms a separation of powers. It is a privilege that our nation gets to debate the method by which we bring healthcare (like is it a tax clause or a commerce clause?) because so many of our neighbors around the world do not even have a system to debate, a doctor in their town or services to care for the sick.

5. Chloe is my new friend

For the last couple of weeks, I have been greeted in my yard by a 5 year old girl named Chloe. She and her mom fled an abusive relationship in Maine and have been homeless since. Her mom moved into a house across the street from us, a house that often has several different people coming in and out of it. I am never quite sure who truly lives there and life for everyone there seems rough. Chloe and I have enjoyed chasing fireflies and playing with her purple build-a-bear and pretending that the world she inhabits isn't as bad as it actually is. I am glad for my new friend.