A Case for Common Ground, Part 1

Today begins the next Friday series entitled “A Case for Common Ground.” The series addresses the basis starting-point questions of The Soul of Atlas, like these:

  • Why is common ground important?
  • What is common ground? And what is it not?
  • Why two world views? And why these two (Ayn Rand’s philosophy and Christianity)?

I’m sure you’ll be able to think of other questions, and I hope you’ll suggest them. Let’s use this post as a launching-off point and drop your comments and questions in below.

People familiar with Ayn Rand do not need a survey to confirm the influence of her writing. Most Christians don’t need independent research to illustrate that the Bible has changed the way they live their lives. But without a recent Library of Congress survey, each group may not know just how influential the other may be. In the survey, American readers ranked Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged the second most influential book in their lives. The Bible is #1.

Both world views exert profound influence on Western culture, politics, economics, social structure, and individual relationships. Yet their influence is seldom recognized and appreciated by the same audience at the same time. It’s unlikely that both Atlas Shrugged and the Bible were found on any one individual’s list. The clash between Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism and Christianity mirrors the war between the religious and secular in Western culture at large. These world views are characterized as foundationally opposed. We don’t see many pacifist NRA members or socialist businessmen. Likewise, Christians and Objectivists simply do not run in the same circles. Something about these two domains of thought and praxis, however, is deeply compelling to many Americans. Given that fact, one would imagine there are shelves of books comparing and contrasting these ideologies. In fact, there are not. To date, the Conversation between Objectivism and Christianity has not played out. As creatures, we are quite attached to the idea that life presents itself in neat, clearly delineated packages: black/white, good/bad, failure/success.

But real life rarely affords us that luxury; or perhaps it rarely bores us with such simplicity. This—if I may say so without irony—is a good thing. Sometimes the profound beauty and adventure in life is offered up precisely in shades of gray, or in woven ideas that depict the overlay of multiple, equally complex concepts in a stunning tapestry.

Interception, overlap, simultaneity: these need not demonstrate chaos or compromise; instead, what they often display is richness and, hopefully, depth. 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.

What do you think of the present state of public dialogue between disparate worldviews? How would you change it?

Other posts in this series:

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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