Interview: Do the Bible and Ayn Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged' Share Common Ground?

A Christian scholar and author has taken the experience of growing up under the influence of a stepfather who cherished the objectivism philosophy of Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged) and his biological father who became a follower of Jesus Christ, to write a book about two world views that he feels can come together for the good of society.

Mark David Henderson's book, The Soul of Atlas, begins by asking the question, "Do the two most influential books in modern culture, the Bible and Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, share common ground?" Henderson has a unique closeness to the subject of Rand's book – his stepfather (who he simply calls John in his book) produced the movie version of Atlas Shrugged.

"You can imagine these two men having the kind of influence they've had in my life, I was sort of struggling with asking the question, 'Is there a world view that would kind of mesh these two?' And I have to conclude that there probably isn't something called 'Christian objectivism' or 'objective Christianity' because these are not like chocolate and peanut butter where you can sort of mix them," Henderson recently told The Christian Post. "But it was very important to me to reconcile these worldviews as a sort of an intellectual exercise and also to reconcile these two men who, I guess, I [still] long for their approval and long for them to come together because they've shaped my life."

Henderson, who studied Victorian poetry and neuroscience at Brown University and earned an MBA from Columbia Graduate School of Business, is a life-long student of Ayn Rand, a Christian and a former elder and trustee of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

He told CP that the two worldviews are "embodied by my two fathers."

Henderson described his stepfather this way: "John is a follower of Ayn Rand, a businessman and entrepreneur, and he's won the U.S. Poker Championship, he has owned race horses, started and taken private and public companies, and he's my stepfather. He's also the producer of 'Atlas Shrugged' the movie, parts one, two, and soon to be three in 2014.

"And he spoke into my life, I lived with him from age 11 until I left the home. I learned about objectivism at the kitchen table in every which way. I was steeped in the philosophy of atheism and Ayn Rand's rationale self-interest."

He also does not give the name of his dad in the book, simply calling him "dad."

"Dad returned to Christianity later in life," Henderson said. "He's a PhD in physiology, he taught at business schools, he worked on the assembly line at general motors, he owns a farm and runs that himself and lives very modestly in the Midwest. He is a devout Christian."

He said both fathers, who each wrote a letter included in the book, have been very supportive of his book, "but from different perspectives, and that is what I kind of get at as the theme for The Soul of Atlas.

"I used these two men to illustrate from a very unbiased perspective these two worldviews and how they interact," Henderson explained. "So, you have John representing Ayn Rand philosophy and speaking it into my life and then dad, who is coming from a Christian perspective of speaking into my life with different principles or in many cases, I contend, the same principles."

He described Ayn Rand's philosophy as based on rational self-interest – "putting your own interests before anything else."

"She believed that the individual is the highest possible occupation of any one person. She believed that one should always occupy their minds, will, and emotions with the highest possible occupation and she believed that would be the self," Henderson said.

Rand believed in objective truths and objective moral values, but that there is no "objective value giver." He said, "She wanted to be known as the greatest enemy to religion that ever lived. She put together this philosophy that is all throughout her writing – from Atlas Shrugged written in 1957, which is still the bestselling novel of all time."

Henderson said that one of the most impactful memories of his Christian father was one in which, as a teenager, he came upon the scene of his father and his wife kneeling inside their apartment praying.

"Now, I had never seen anyone do that before in the privacy of their own home or otherwise," he said. "I thought if they are doing it in the privacy of their own home it's not for show. I certainly hadn't seen my dad, who is this big, strong, macho (in the good sense of the word) guy who just was humbling himself on the floor. It was actually a little bit creepy and I didn't know how to respond and I ended up questioning him at some other point in time. Gradually, over time, his whole transformation was apparent to me not only in our conversations, but also in the way he was living his life. He committed his life to Jesus Christ and a lot of things changed."

Henderson said that the two worldviews discussed in his book have been hugely influential in America's culture and society, and the development of the nation and therefore, if brought together, could also be influential in a positive way.

"My hope is that as Christians and followers of Ayn Rand, or even more broadly, as people of faith and reason come together I want them to find common ground so that we can accomplish much more together than we would separately," he said. "If these two worlds have been so hugely influential independent of one another, by promoting understanding they will engage, by engage I mean be able to work on the things they agree on and accomplish much more then they could separately."

He added, "I don't think it's going to be through a book only. I think it's going to be through an application of these aspects of common ground in the real world – not just on blogs, not just on Twitter, but in person to engage, to seek first to understand, then to be understood, to articulate these two world views, not just these two but others … and then honestly and genuinely find that common ground together."

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