Over at Possum Living, Tracy did a post a few days ago with a photo of a reserved parking space at a law firm in Grand Junction, Colorado. His post reminded me that back in the '60s, when I was still young and impressionable, there were several books that were "must reads" among my more literate friends. The big three were Stranger in a Strange Land, Lord of the Rings, and Atlas Shrugged. Some of us read them all, some read only one or two, but I'm pretty sure everyone I knew back then recognized every book as being pure fiction, the equivalent of Peyton Place or Hotel but with (perhaps) slightly more literary merit. I don't recall anyone viewing any of the novels as laying out some core philosophy on which they planned to model their lives. Oh, some of us went through a phase where we'd talk about "grokking" something, and at one point a friend and I actually wrote notes to each other using Tolkien's runes. None of us, however, ever took Atlas Shrugged seriously.
I'm not sure why. We were definitely nerdy, which seems to be a prerequisite for being seduced by Ayn Rand and Objectivism. It's obvious there are a lot of people out there (Congressman Paul Ryan springs immediately to mind) who were deeply influenced by what now strikes me as being a godawful novel with turgid prose, improbable plotting, clunky characterization, and truly boring, boring, boring wordsmithing (I'm thinking now the only reason I ever read the entire thing to begin with was I had too many hours of study hall my senior year and, bad though the book was, it beat doing trigonometry problems). Even stranger, not only do they read it, they think it lays out a reasonable philosophy for running a country. I don't get it. Why fall for the philosophical musing of Ayn Rand and not some other author? I know that by the time Congressman Ryan was an adolescent, the "must read" list of novels had changed. He graduated from high school in 1989 during an era when Stephen King, Robert Ludlum, and Tom Clancy were dominating the best seller lists. Why didn't he have Jason Bourne or Jack Ryan fantasies? What on earth was the attraction of Atlas Shrugged?
For that matter, and fine-tuning my bafflement a little, what on earth was and is the attraction of Rand's atheist philosophy, Objectivism, to persons like Congressman Ryan who claim to be devout Christians? One of Objectivism's core tenets is a belief in reason and science, which is essentially the antithesis of religion. A belief in Objectivism and a belief in God strike me as incompatible -- you can have one or the other but not both. For that matter, how do you square a philosophy that advocates selfishness (objectivism) with one that advocates charity and social responsibility (Christianity)? It's a mystery.