In the past few generations of American society, these two, very distinctive world views have stood as paragons for Faith and Reason themselves. Faith and Reason repeatedly fall prey to our inclination to avert complexity. They can be cartoonishly foisted against one another in simplistic bifurcation. In the twenty-first century, the term “New Atheists” has been coined by journalists to describe some hot, best-selling books—popular authors like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett—that carry the theme “Religion makes no sense.” Of course, atheism is not a new idea. For centuries, there have been atheists saying that religion is bad. What’s new is the message that respect for religion is bad: that to even be congenial and respectful toward believers is bad; that religion is the worst thing that has ever happened to humankind and it needs to be wiped out. In trying to counter the message of the New Atheism, there are plenty of Christians who simply raise their voices. They do not sympathetically put themselves in the shoes of the doubters. They don’t know how to engage in a Conversation. Instead, they heap scorn on the other side. The New Atheists do that too.This Nietzschean power struggle has resulted in alienation and a stalemate.
As with the theist/atheist debate, there seems to be the relentless insistence that Faith and Reason are merely opposed to one another, despite history’s display of their interplay in symphony. While some people recognize a seamless melding of Faith and Reason, others deny the very prospect. They claim utter sovereignty of one over the other, citing the instances of religion and science or metaphysics and pragmatism clashing. Regardless of these opinions, however, it should be safe to say that Reason and Faith are fundamental drivers of culture and society. Whether one understands Faith as religion or as a mystical hope in Beauty or Love, whether Reason means the empiricism of scientific investigation or the rigor of logic in intelligent rhetoric, we see their interplay in education, politics, entertainment, medicine and most other realms of life.
Insomuch as Gospel Christianity and the political philosophy of Ayn Rand represent seminal forms of Faith and Reason in our culture, why is there such limited analysis in either academic or popular writing of how these world views are similar and how they differ? How is it that a conservative politician could be publicly skewered in the media for holding to Randian theories on economics while practicing Catholicism? Moreover, what of his own ambivalence in acknowledging Rand’s influence on his thinking? The impulse to apply simplistic characterizations does not allow for a Christian to adhere to Rand’s ideas and seems to make the Christian uncomfortable with it as well. Is that a necessary distinction? Furthermore, how would we evaluate whether such a politician is a hypocritical Randian or disingenuous in his Christian beliefs? And why might it even matter? This is a particular example of the kinds of questions that The Soul of Atlas addresses.