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Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity are boosting a profoundly anti-Christian movie — and no one cares
The National Review once accused Atlas Shrugged of "aggressive atheism." So why are a bunch of conservative Christians appearing in the film version?
 
Glenn Beck's participation is curious.
Glenn Beck's participation is curious. (Facebook.com/GlennBeck)

If you haven't seen Atlas Shrugged I or Atlas Shrugged II, you're hardly alone: both film adaptations of Ayn Rand's novel fared poorly at the box office. The filmmakers evidently haven't received the free market's message.

Contrary to Randian logic, a third and final installment is due in September, and to drum up viewership, producers have indulged in a bit of novelty casting. Ron Paul will be metastasizing from the small screen to the silver screen in his acting debut in the upcoming film, and will be joined on screen by Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, evidently in an effort to draw out the audiences each of them already commands. For the film itself, it's an embarrassing move, underscoring the painful degree to which Atlas isn't quite able to interest viewers on its own merits; for Hannity, Beck, and Paul, however, it begs a more profound moral question.

One can imagine the collective shriek of indignation that would come from right-wing pundits like Hannity if a left-wing politician and pundits summarily elected to appear in a film with a dubious moral message. If Joe Biden and Rachel Maddow were to announce joint appearances in a stylish remake of Caligula, for instance, the outrage would likely be intense and instantaneous. So why the sanguine agreement on the part of three outspokenly Christian political players to appear in a film so deeply and totally antithetical to Christian ethics?

A charitable person might chalk it up to ignorance; Atlas Shrugged is a clunky doorstop of a book so massive and exhausting one can imagine even its proponents are only dimly acquainted with it. It's a shrill thousand pages following the heroic adventures of wealthy, dashing, outrageously beautiful Dagny Taggart as she solves the "mystery" of why the world ground to a halt; without spoiling it, the solution has to do with the world-animating genius of industrial technocrats and their billions. It’s a long read.

But another reason might be that Paul, Hannity, and Beck are part of a bizarre ongoing project undertaken by Rand-entranced members of the political right to jam Christianity and Randian 'Objectivism' together. While that sounds conspiratorial, it's actually the admitted goal of the film's producer John Aglialoro:

Most people have a respect for spirituality, maybe even a yearning. There must be room in Objectivism for charity and benevolence. Remember, Rand struggled with the character of the priest, who appeared in early drafts of Atlas Shrugged but didn't make the final cut. I am going to put him back. [Forbes]

For those of you who skipped An Introduction to Libertarian Literature, Objectivism is Rand's philosophy and the ideology sold in Atlas; its central tenets are axiomatic commitments to self-interest, reason, and reality — the latter two are idiosyncratically defined, of course, by Ms. Rand. To be very gentle, academic philosophy tends to see it as quaint.

Rand fans who puzzle over how to squeeze a little Jesus into their preferred philosophy may appreciate Aglialoro's meager, patronizing olive branch. But everyone else will see the result for what it is: Either a failed form of Objectivism, which would otherwise spurn the supernatural, or a failed form of Christianity, which would otherwise reject ethics of self-interest. In short, both Christianity and Objectivism are mutually exclusive comprehensive doctrines; that is, each make claims about the nature of reality, moral goodness, and right action that contradict the other. And conservatives used to have the guts to admit it.

In 1957, for instance, conservative luminary William F. Buckley Jr. published a scathing review of Atlas by fellow right winger Whittaker Chambers in The National Review, reading in part:

…the author has, with vast effort, contrived a simple materialist system, one, intellectually, at about the stage of the oxcart, though without mastering the principle of the wheel. Like any consistent materialism, this one begins by rejecting God, religion, original sin, etc. etc. (This book's aggressive atheism and rather unbuttoned "higher morality," which chiefly outrage some readers, are, in fact, secondary ripples, and result inevitably from its underpinning premises.) Thus, Randian Man, like Marxian Man, is made the center of a godless world. [The National Review]

Chambers is precisely right: Rand's atheism is no orbiting principle, but a core tenet. The palpable disdain for religion threaded into Atlas was, therefore, not incidental, but necessary for the establishment of Randian ethics and politics. Buckley later observed as much in an interview, recalling that Rand had greeted him once at an event by declaring "You are too intelligent to believe in God." Such was her opinion of religion.

But Buckley, like Chambers, didn't capitulate to Rand and her philosophy; they understood correctly that there is no room for Objectivism in a coherent, genuine Christianity. While Rand's ideal human is self-interested and self-sufficient, the Christian person is devoted to serving others and is always in need: of God, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and the love of Christ. The ideal Randian person, on the other hand, is entirely capable of managing and perfecting his own satisfaction, a far cry from the Christian understanding of a person as perfectable, but not through his own means.

Of course, that aspect of Christianity is a problem for those who prefer to think of themselves as John Galt–esque supermen. Indeed, the disturbing trend of trying to force Christianity to accommodate Rand's antithetical philosophy is likely a result of her seductive appeal to the very egoism Christianity warns against. It's a shame conservatives like Paul, Beck, and Hannity have lost the courage of conviction that motivated Buckley and Chambers (among others) to call a spade a spade when it came to Rand; the resulting "philosophy," if it can be called that, amounts to a vitiated version of Objectivism as well as a pathetic Christian testimony. That Paul, Beck, and Hannity intend to peddle this mess to their broad audiences bodes poorly for a right wing that once knew better.

 
Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig writes about Christianity, ethics, and policy for Salon, The Atlantic, and The Week. She is a graduate of Brandeis University and received her MPhil in Christian theology from the University of Cambridge as a Marshall Scholar. She is currently working towards her PhD at Brown University. In her spare time, Elizabeth enjoys working in the garden.

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