The Soul of Atlas: Ayn Rand Meets C.S. Lewis at U. of Penn

Catherine Elvy covered a recent talk at the University of Pennsylvania. Here is an excerpt of her article in the Ivy League Christian Observer.

A tumultuous economic climate and move toward heightened government regulation is fueling a resurgence of interest in iconic philosopher Ayn Rand’s influential 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged.
Mark Henderson also is captivated by Rand’s magnum opus, but the Ivy-League-educated investor is probing Rand’s views on power, sex and money from a Christian worldview. The results will be published in book he is penning entitled The Soul of Atlas.
In April, more than 50 students from the University of Pennsylvania received a preview when they gathered to hear Henderson offer a Christian perspective on Rand’s much-touted objectivist views.
Penn Students for Christ and Penn InterVarsity Christian Fellowship held the talk during Jesus Week. Henderson brings an exceptional dialogue to the objectivism vs. Christianity conversation as he received degrees in Victorian literature and neuroscience from Brown University in 1987 and a master of business administration from Columbia University in 1998.
As well, the subject is especially timely because Henderson’s stepfather, a devout objectivist, owns the screen rights to Atlas Shrugged and the long-gestating film is moving closer to production, according to news reports.
Furthermore, industry sources recently reported that actresses including Charlize Theron, Julia Roberts and Anne Hathaway could be candidates to portray Dagny Taggert, a railroad heiress who fights to keep her family’s business alive in the midst of calamity and government corruption.
As for Henderson, Rand’s philosophies were a central part of his upbringing and even played out in “loud lectures and violent questions” around the kitchen table.
“Ayn Rand was a heroic figure in our household…,” Henderson wrote on his blog, “We did everything short of displaying her picture above our mantle. And we may have, if we’d had a fireplace.”
In 1992, John Aglialoro was so influenced by Rand’s philosophies that he bought the film rights to Atlas Shrugged, and he is negotiating with studios to bring the novel to the big screen. Aglialoro is chief executive officer and chairman of Cybex International Inc., a manufacturer of high-end exercise equipment.
More than half a century after it was published, Rand’s polarizing novel maintains a devout following, especially among business leaders. A screen production is relevant to modern audiences because of Rand’s pronounced devotion to a free market and vehement opposition to government intervention.
Likewise, Henderson told students in Penn’s Claudia Cohen Hall that Rand’s 1,200-page novel recently ranked at No. 28 on’s bestseller list
And, The New York Times went so far as to describe the work a “one of the most influential business books ever written.” The book highlights the “glorification of the right of individuals to live entirely for their own interest” and promotes “pure laissez-faire capitalism.”
Surprisingly, however, a contemplation of Rand’s overall views – as well as an ultimate a search for truth – played a pivotal role in Henderson’s decision to follow Christ.
Rand’s logical approach “really formed my investigation of Christianity,” Henderson said. “Her whole philosophy is based on Aristotelian logic. That provided the infrastructure for my search.”
Ultimately, Henderson embraced faith after perusing the pages of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Henderson is capturing his contemplation of objectivism and Christianity in the blog he launched in July 2008.
More importantly, Henderson recently completed a six-month sabbatical to draft a manuscript, and it reflects some of the influence of Rev. Tim Keller, a bestselling author. Henderson, a derivatives expert with Chatham Financial in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, served as an elder at Redeemer Presbyterian Church when he resided in Manhattan.
During much of his visit to Penn, Henderson focused on offering a Christian perspective to Rand’s individualistic and atheistic views.
Rand rejects faith as “not a source of knowledge,” said Henderson. “Reason is the only valid source of knowledge.”
However, a Christian “values God above everything else,” Henderson said. “We can understand truth with God through Jesus Christ.”
In addition, Rand espoused that the moral purpose of an individual is rational self-interest. But, Christ’s gospel “breaks the paradigm,” Henderson said.
Despite human failings, “God values us immensely,” Henderson said. “God puts us in the place of approval and inclusion and takes on Himself a place of exclusion.”
Henderson warned students that objectivism “can lead to a worldview that is very exclusive. In order to be a person of value, I need to achieve something.”
Achievement-oriented individuals could “look down on those who don’t succeed” and, in turn, possess “tremendous confidence, bordering on arrogance.”
The gospel, however, offers acceptance based on Christ’s sacrifice and it offers a javascript:void(0)means to be humble and inclusive. “He brings us all into the same standing with Him,” Henderson said.
Ultimately, “the gospel is that I’m more sinful than I ever dared believe, but through Jesus Christ, I’m more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope,” Henderson said.

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5 thoughts on “The Soul of Atlas: Ayn Rand Meets C.S. Lewis at U. of Penn

  1. ayn rand disturbes me a bit whereas i agree with her about the virtues of a free market and the tyranny of the idea that the social planners should herd mankind. I find it disturbing that she always seems to be dominating the landscape of the debate between free markets and socialism. Maybe its because she stands out due to her intense polarity and a rejection of what most of us deem as a fundimental part of our humanity.We have seen how human compassion for one another has been manipulated politically to our own detriment but what she does is construct a system in which the absense of the cosideration of these sympothies are a virtue.Its as if she just took all the little sticky ramifications of her world view and buried them under a rational system of suppossed virtue, nice and tidy.
    The other troubling thing I find about her is she is constantly and mistakenly parrelleled with the philosophy that founded our free market system. most of that worldview was formed around john locke and his natural law that men having been granted theyre free will by god own the fruits of theyre labor which is a product of that will. It was the centrality of this idea and its ramifications that was the founding of our american free market system the preamble to the declaration of independence is right out of locke it talks of unalienable rights and the dignity of human freedom, not that I think you will find much in rand that conflicts with these primises but her ideological structure has been used to rationize things that are in complete conflict with locke when greenspan who was a devotee of rand kept folks from investigating the true value of securities that backed the financial system to keep the markets juiced among with other actions, smack of a kind of elitism her world view engenders, not to mention that those kind of manipulations are in complete opposition to american free market priciples such as the protection by law of personal property. So rand while she may be identifing real problems with the control over our lives by various social qliques promotes a new form of the same tyranny of an elite

  2. Mark, I have just discovered the site ‘The Christian Egoist’ which is authored by a devout Christian and ardent advocate of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. His writing is articulate, well-informed, and highly informative for anyone wanting to see the strong synergy between properly-understood Christianity and Objectivism. I would love to discuss this content with you if you are interested.

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