Lumen Christi explores Ayn Rand and Catholic ideals: Professor says Rand’s works run counter to basic Catholic tenents

By Daniel P. Smith | Contributor
Sunday, April 8, 2012

Author and philosopher Ayn Rand boasts a following few can match.

Rand’s signature work, the novel “Atlas Shrugged,” has sold more than 7 million copies and spurred a deep collection of loyal followers in the U.S. and abroad subscribing to her philosophy of objectivism, thinking rooted in the dogged pursuit of one’s own happiness.

While the continuing popularity of Rand’s works, even among Catholics, reveals her standing as a pop culture heroine, the influence of her thought on the role of individual, community, state and religious principles in modern society continues to spark debate.

The compatibility — and even clash — of Rand’s work with Christian beliefs was the topic at a luncheon attended by more than 50 people at the Union League Club of Chicago, 65 W. Jackson Blvd., on March 23.

Seeking a closer look at Rand’s philosophical, moral, economic and political thoughts, Donald DeMarco, professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, and currently adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., offered his take with a program titled “A Critical Look at Ayn Rand.”

The Lumen Christi Institute, a University of Chicago-based organization that seeks to advance Catholic thought and dialogue, hosted DeMarco’s hour-long presentation.

Rand’s influence

While DeMarco acknowledges the phenomenon of Rand, who passed away in 1982, he said there is a gaping disparity between her popularity and the actual quality of her contribution.

“You can’t avoid [Rand]. She’s out there, but she weaves fables and enchants with a magic flute,” said DeMarco, the author of 22 books, including “Architects of the Culture of Death” and “The Heart of Virtue.”

Rand’s works and philosophy, DeMarco said, run counter to basic Catholic tenets.

Rand, an atheist who discarded religion, compassion and the Golden Rule in favor of a devout focus on the self, once called faith “a negation of human reason.” She even questioned if individuals needed morality at all.

As a pro-choice advocate, Rand failed to concern herself with the consequences of such choice, DeMarco said. Rand opined that most people aren’t worth being loved and shunned any connection between economic, civil and moral forces. She also rejected altruism and volunteerism, both of which squelched individualism.

“Rand would say, ‘We’re all individuals and need to be individual,’” DeMarco said.

Ignoring realities

DeMarco said the world of Ayn Rand deals in simplicity and cartoons, ignoring the realities. While, yes, people are individuals, they are also individuals worthy of being loved and members of a collective as well.

“As one matures … and realizes that life is one of the cross, then they put Ayn Rand away,” said DeMarco, who is a corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy for Life as well as a founding member of the American Bioethics Advisory Commission. “At some point, we all have to reach for something more substantial.”

Unlike the philosophy of Pope John Paul II, Rand’s outlook, De- Marco stressed, is unconnected to reality. She ignores justice and love and distanced herself from the human qualities of empathy and generosity. Her single truth was self-fulfillment.

“She was correct that we all have value and the ability and right to follow our own destinies, but those are incomplete ideas,” DeMarco said. “Real truth requires balancing and shaking and questioning of the complex, which all takes time.”

Lumen Christi hosts

As an academic and scholarly center, the Lumen Christi Institute explores Catholic spiritual, intellectual and cultural traditions as a means to produce leaders better educated and formed in Catholic faith and thought.

Lumen Christi programs have included discussions of law and culture, Catholic social thought and the economy, religion and secular culture, school choice, Catholic education, and, now, the works of Ayn Rand.

Lumen Christi co-founder and executive director Thomas Levergood said a critical investigation of Rand’s work, one inspired by the suggestions of various luncheon attendees, helps Catholics examine the American version of freedom and its many dimensions.

“The real question we need to critically consider is the American ideology of the individual and personal liberty, whether it’s coming from the political right or left, and how that interacts with Catholic life,” Levergood said.