Ayn Rand wasn’t just an atheist. In many ways, she could be considered a “militant atheist” – someone who isn’t satisfied with not believing in God but who must try to convince others that God doesn’t exist. One of the most adored characters she wrote into her books, John Galt, was a representation of a militant atheist.
Atlas Shrugged is a very good book from a secular perspective. It has some lessons to teach about personal responsibility, the potential disasters that can arise from social justice, and most importantly the general well-being of the nation that can be built when the government gets out of the way of free market capitalism. It’s a good read for those who are firm in their faith and who have no fear of facing challenges from alternative non-Biblical philosophies.
Two warnings: First, here’s your spoiler alert. I won’t go into too many details but we’ll be discussing the characters quite a bit. Second, this is not a book that I would recommend to anyone who still has questions about whether or not they believe. The book makes no real arguments against Creation, but it definitely paints the concept of faith and organized religions in ways that are insulting. This is, in no way, a Christian book.
With that out of the way, let’s look at John Galt himself. For background to those who haven’t read it (and don’t plan on reading it) or for those who need a refresher, John Galt is the unofficial leader of a group of thinkers and doers in a pre-dystopian world. Over a twelve-year period, he and a few of his friends build a hidden group that operates partially in the outside world and partially in a secret paradise they’d set up in a valley in the Rocky Mountains. They are trying to bring together the industrialists, scientists, and generally exceptional people in America to hide away while society around them crumbles into a liberal disaster.
The book uses mild hyperbole to show the deterioration of America and the world as a result of indoctrinated laziness and fear from a pseudo-totalitarian form of government. It requires suspension of disbelief to imagine this happening in such a short period of time, but in that suspension of disbelief we’re able to see an unintended Biblical message that would likely annoy Rand if she had been aware of it.
Why Atlas had to Shrug
The deterioration of society happened, in Rand’s opinion, because the people in power reached the culmination of centuries of radical social justice liberalism. The “thinkers” other than the protagonists all believed that fairness superseded value. This gave rise to a perverse form of socialism that wasn’t quite communism but was beyond the redistribution of wealth. People were to be paid based upon need rather than accomplishment. This concept mixed with utter corruption and exaggerated cronyism created the environment where America could go from being a vibrant industrial nation to complete collapse within a decade.
This was framed as a battle between the “looters” and the “industrialists.” The industrialists built the best parts of society’s infrastructure and financial stability while the looters took advantage of them to promote their corrupt goals.
It would be impossible today. It might not be impossible in the near future, but there’s a concept that would have halted Rand’s dystopian vision in its tracks. The Bible represents the ultimate combination of property rights with caring for the weak and needy. As long as there is a true Biblical faith prominent in the nation, the evils required to take the nation in that direction will be halted. The scary thing to consider is that the two factors for collapse are increasing: Biblical faith is losing prominence and liberal policies are growing in power and frequency.
John Galt and his cohorts were necessary to save a remnant of the nation and the world while everything collapsed so they could come back and rebuild if and when they chose. This hyper-elitist mentality of being above the elites who were above the proletariat and everyone in between is only necessary if the proletariat has their Biblical faith disarmed. For Rand’s vision to have basis in reality, faith would have to be almost completely abolished.
Was there a Better Way?
Lost in the grand rise of freedom for the industrialists is the fact that Atlas Shrugged essentially rooted for the death of millions. We are supposed to cheer for those who have chosen to abandon society because society wouldn’t allow the industrialists to do what they needed to do to save the world, but there’s only a hint of the destruction that their choice caused. We see it near the end as Eddie Willers is left to die on the train track that he’d spent his adult life defending. Eddie never embraced the pseudo-totalitarianism of the looters. He supported the ideas of the industrialists even if he was never fully aware of their plans. In fact, Willers was the closest that anyone could come to being part of the hyper-elite; he was a childhood friend of one of the founders, Francisco D’Anconia, a long-time friend and confidant of John Galt, and the only trusted asset (as well as lifelong friend) of the protagonist, Dagny Taggart.
Didn’t matter. He wasn’t part of the hyper-elite. He was left to die, not because he represented the evil of social justice but because he was only a common man.
Eddie should have been helped. Millions of people who didn’t believe in the evil doctrines of the government but who were not part of the upper echelons of thought should have been helped. Instead, they were cast out and left to die by the industrialists who were safe and prospering in their little slice of heaven. Would some of them be able to see a better world after total collapse? Certainly, but only after the hyper-elites decided that the time was right for them to reenter the world and rebuild it as its rightful leaders.
From John Galt’s perspective, this was an absolute necessity. Society couldn’t be saved without a complete purge of the social justice mentality that ruled it. This is where a new suspension of disbelief has to happen if we’re to extrapolate beyond the final page of the book and see a happy continuance as Rand intended. We are to believe that after the world had been brought back centuries to be driven by horse and wagon rather than railroads and planes, that the industrialists were savvy enough to bring the world back. We are to believe that the lessons from the purge would be so deeply embedded that the corruption the industrialists fought would never reappear. Most importantly, we’re supposed to believe that their sheer will would be enough to unite the world behind their goals and under their leadership.
This is where the extrapolation falls apart. It doesn’t matter how much philosophy Ragnar Danneskjöld brought to the world. Hank Reardon’s skills in business and smelting were strong, but not strong enough. One could say that John Galt’s science was earth-changing, but as with everything else, it required labor. For the world to be rebuilt as they hoped, they would require the willful submission of the masses that remained. Unfortunately, the masses that would remain wouldn’t be like Eddie Willers. They would be the “strong” who had taken what they needed by force to survive. The roving gangs that emerge in chaos would embrace their own strength and would actually see the re-industrialization of the world as a bad thing.
They would fight and they would probably win.
What if, instead of abandoning the world, the hyper-elite decided to lead the world? Could they have united rather than divided? Could they have consolidated their efforts towards saving the world instead of hiding away while it collapsed?
Since we’re discussing fiction, it’s easy to speculate. Nothing in it is real so any perspective is valid. As such, I’ll contend that by embracing faith and realizing the truth of the Bible, John Galt could have led a different revolt. Rather than hiding, he could have led. If all of this were real, if John Galt were real, then the only chance of success would have been by embracing the realities that the Bible describes.
Throughout the Bible, the Grace of God bestowed on individuals was greater than anything they could have contributed otherwise. It wasn’t the physically strong such as Saul who were empowered. It was the weak in strength but strong in faith such as David who were empowered. What if John Galt had been written as this type of person? What if, instead of being strong by his own powers, he took his strength and acknowledged that it was given to him by God?
I won’t speculate further on how this could have rewritten the book and yielded the same secular message against socialism while bringing forth the more important message of faith. That’s for you to ponder.
We Need Modern John Galts
There’s a reason that I decided to write about John Galt from a Christian perspective. We need people like him today. It’s not his scientific skill nor his industrial savvy that is required. We need the expression of the realities of the Bible to bring the world back from the brink, if that is God’s Will. So many are willing to abandon this world. Some do it for righteous reasons; we are told to not love this world. Others do it out of disgust; it’s being given over to the evil will of men. In a time where progress seems unstoppable, we’re breeding the essence of our own destruction.
The concept of John Galt as a Christian leader is one that should entice us. Nobody knows whether or not the end times will begin tomorrow or in a century. Some can demonstrate that the end times have already begun. It is imperative that people step up and declare the truth of the Bible to as many as possible. A character like John Galt, if manifested in the real world with a Biblical worldview, could do good in the name of Yeshua Ha-Mashiach.
It doesn’t end there. We need planners like Dagny Taggert. We need supporters like Eddie Willers. We even need pirates like Ragnar Danneskjöld. By no means am I suggesting that Atlas Shrugged is a model for modern day Christendom. Rather, I believe that Christians who are still worshiping the tenets of Ayn Rand or any other secular thinkers should take what they’ve learned and see them through a Biblical perspective.
Without intention, Ayn Rand developed a mindset that partially promotes the necessity of a Biblical worldview. The realities of a dystopian society may or may not be upon us, but the best chance of bringing as many people as possible into an embrace of our Lord and Savior is if we’re willing to see the world for what it is. Atlas Shrugged teaches us that a Biblical worldview is the only thing that can truly save us. That was Rand’s contribution even if her intention was the opposite.