The Irrational Ethics of Ayn Rand

The following essay was written back in 1995 for a philosophy class at Denver Seminary. It has been online since around 2000. It is made available here in only slightly edited form. I have neither the inclination, nor the resources, nor the time to revise it, so I offer it for your reading in its current form. Enjoy!

The Ethics of Ayn Rand:
A Preliminary Assessment

Kevin James Bywater

Introduction

Ayn Rand was a prolific and very popular author. Her engaging philosophy has captured the minds of many, students and professionals. To many readers’ imaginations, her novels — especially Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead — provide an inspiring vision of the world as it is and as it could be. Even after her death in 1982, her books continue to be read and admired by many. As J. Charles King comments:

Because Rand has written both fiction and philosophical essays, her influence has been felt in very different ways. For some she has provided an inspiring vision of a society of liberty and individualism through her fiction, particularly Atlas Shrugged. For others she has provided the main thrust of a philosophical justification for the advocacy of liberty and individualism.[1]

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When Scalia Died (updated)

When Scalia Died

When Justice Antonin Scalia (1936-2016) died, many American conservatives lost their breath…and their hope. Others, I imagine (and now know), rejoiced. Both to their shame.

Over the last handful of years I have come to appreciate and admire Justice Scalia. I have read a number of his Supreme Court opinions and dissents (though I think I like his dissents much more as they are an education in themselves!), as well as some of his books: A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges, and Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts. I’m no legal scholar. I’ve not gone to law school. But there are times when I’ve wondered whether I should have.

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Readings at Summit Oxford • Spring Term 2016

It undoubtedly is a truism that one can be wearied by the reading of many books. Perhaps even more so, the reading of many online articles, a bulk of blogs, frenzied Facebook statuses, hasty hashtags, and awful opinions. Even so, some publications actually can be enlightening, perhaps challenging. Some most certainly are fuel for our conversations at Summit Oxford. And sometimes our conversation get to be a bit energetic. I call these CHAT times: Christians Happily Arguing Theology (hopefully with an emphasis upon happily).

Readings at Summit Oxford • Hilary Term 2016

Our reading list changes a bit from term to term. New books are published, older ones seem less pressing or helpful, and there is ever a steady stream of articles and chapters on subjects that beg to be included. We do read a lot, mind you, approaching 2500 pages.

For the upcoming coming Autumn Term (September – December), along with a selection of articles, essays, and other items, we are reading and discussing the ten volumes listed below. I have listed them roughly in the order we will read them. Well, actually, several of them will be divvied up over the course of several days, with a chapter or section each day. Often I have our students read the books in their entirety and prepare reports/summaries for select chapters or sections. I’ve provided links to Amazon, if you care to purchase any of them.

December2015

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The Islamic State and Islam

The Islamic State and Islam

Kevin James Bywater

• • •

Preface – 22 March 2016

We awoke this morning to the news of terrorist bombings in Brussels, with dozens dead and hundreds wounded. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility and warned of much more to come. David Wood already has produced a video comment on the event and the expected media aftermath. (And do consider David’s video discussion jihad.) Nabeel Qureshi also has published a piece in USA Today: “The Quran’s Deadly Role in Inspiring Belgian Slaughter” (though I have my doubts that Nabeel created that title). Nabeel’s remarks in this column summarize material from his new book: Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward I recently read Nabeel’s new book and found it insightful and helpful. You should get it and read it right away. Another new publication that I haven’t yet had a chance to read, as it isn’t yet off the presses (due 11 April), is Sabastian Gorka’s Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War.

(The biggest weaknesses of Nabeel’s new book are two: First, it is extraordinarily concise and makes a reader desire more. Second, the various quotes put forth, and the assertions made, are presented without any documentation or subsequent bibliography. To my mind, this makes the volume frustratingly vulnerable to the merry-go-round of denial and dismissal, accusations of falsehood, and etc. and etc. If I may be blunt: I think this is irresponsible for a book on this subject, published at this moment in history, that is trying to argue for the conclusions it does. To be sure, I think the argument of the book largely succeeds. But that isn’t the point: others may doubt this; still others may want to chase out the quotes and assertions and simply be left without any bibliographical resources as guidance. I’ll add a third critical note: the audiobook version of the book leaves off the appendices, particularly the one in which Nabeel engages his critics’ charges that he was not a true Muslim since he was a member of the Ahmadi sect. Why in the world would you want to leave this material out of the audiobook?! Even so, it is a good book that deserves a wide readership.)

As for the attacks in Brussels, many are wondering again what ISIS has to do with Islam and whether the Islamic State truly is Islamic. I doubt there will ever be an end to discussions and debates surrounding these questions. However, if you want to see why some would argue that ISIS most definitely has something to do with Islam, even gaining some legitimacy from the core Islamic texts (the Qur’an and the Hadith) and from the example of Muhammad himself, then I point you to the discussion below. Do note, the discussion below isn’t brief. The subject is complex enough, and sufficiently pressing, to warrant spending ample to pursue understanding. I wish you only the very best in that regard. And may our thoughts and prayers be with the most recent victims and their families of these very violent days.

Preface – 14 November 2015

Last night I watched online – through live video feeds and Twitter hashtags – the horror unfold in Paris. My heart sank as the numbers dying grew. I recalled that President Obama had that morning declared regarding ISIS, “What is true is that from the start, our goal has been first to contain and we have contained them.” This morning there were reports that among the perpetrators of these evil, cowardly actions were both French citizens and perhaps Syrian immigrants. Of course, ISIS had asserted that they would send operatives to Europe amidst the hordes of refugees and immigrants. Perhaps time will tell the truth about the fuller details of the identities and movements and associations of the culprits.

But now that some idea of the identities of these evildoers has come forth, again many are wondering, What does this have to do with Islam? or Is the Islamic State really Islamic? Of course, we’ve heard world leaders from David Cameron to Barack Obama, from George Bush to Tony Blair grant amnesty to Islam time and again. But this concerns me, precisely in that there appears to be an intentional glossing over of the fact that Islam is originally, and inherently, a political ideologyAs someone who has studied Islam on and off for over two decades, this now seems simply obvious to me.

However, there are plenty of Muslims who are not keen on practicing Islam as a political movement. Rather, they are practitioners of various rituals and abide by a variety of restrictions, but overall they simply want to live at peace. Many of these individuals do attempt to immigrate away from Islamic countries and cultures so they can avoid living under a dark cloud that persistently threatens them with a torrent of violence. I’ve written about such individuals previously. I truly feel for them. However, I feel that they are seeking a peace that ultimately is found through following our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, I know a former Muslim who now is a Christian who has reflected on the inherently violent nature of Islam here and here, and recounts his personal testimony here.

In the end, I sense rather seriously that unless we grasp that Islam is a political ideology, we will continue to fall prey to the slogan that “Islam is a religion of peace,” and then be befuddled when we witness the frequency and extent of violence perpetrated by some Muslims, and praised by far too many others. And we’ll also fall prey to attempts to morally equate these actions with the Crusades or some other historical events. Simply put, if you disapprove of the Crusades, then also state simply that you disapprove of these contemporary events as well. It is that simple. No need to muddle the message of disapproval and disgust, deflecting concerns to events from a long time ago.

So, what does ISIS have to do with Islam?

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Of Religions and Relationships

Not a Religion but a Relationship?

by Kevin James Bywater

It is common commonly said that “Christianity is not a religion but a relationship.” I see this as a false dichotomy, in essence, though, as an emphasis, it can be quite instructive. Permit me to explain.

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The Religion Ditches

A while back I was speaking with a friend. He explained that many of the youth with whom he works fall into one of two ditches along their path of life (my metaphor, not his): some see Christianity as a religion in which one gains favor with God, and a place in heaven, on the basis of good works; others see Christianity as a religion in which, due to the righteousness of Jesus being imputed to us, our actions have no bearing whatsoever on our relationship with God, let alone our eternal destiny.

As we discussed these troubling missteps, it became increasingly apparent how helpful it is to see that our Christian faith indeed is a relationship with Jesus, a friendship, even a marriage.

When we see that our relationship with God is neither a works-based religion where we merit divine love, nor a license to do whatever we please, then we crave some clarity about just what it is. To my mind, it is much like other important relationships. Let us explore these for a couple of minutes.

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Do Muslims, Mormons, and Christians Worship the Same God?

Do Muslims, Mormons,
and Christians Worship the Same God?

Kevin James Bywater

• • •

I would like to explore an important subject with you: the worship of God. I beg your patience as this is a longish post. The inquiry deserves careful and sustained attention. My thoughts are informed yet exploratory. So, with your permission, and with your patience, join me as we explore a very controversial subject.

Do Mormons and Christians worship the same God? How about Muslims and Christians? These questions occupy time in the minds of many just now.

worship

Introduction

Since 9-11 it has been common to hear that Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God, especially given that these three religions are commonly called “Abrahamic religions.” And some would add in Mormons, since Mormonism also resides in what could be termed the Abrahamic tradition.

When I ask Christians this question, most quickly answer in the negative. But a few answer in a hesitating affirmative.

What is the correct answer to this question? Or, alternatively, what if we have asked the wrong question?

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Suffering and a Vocabulary of Faith

God had been absent from her life for nearly two years. When she was at church, when she was singing praise songs, there was a fleeting reprieve from her pain. But when she left her church, reality came rushing at her like a relentless flood. Her sense of loss was complete. God was gone.

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These disturbing words sum up a conversation I had a few years back while in Colorado. A student at Summit had asked if we could speak. I thought she was going to ask about Summit Oxford. We would have less than ten minutes before she was to depart for an excursion in Colorado Springs.

A friend at her side, she approached the picnic tables with a deliberate stride. I invited them to sit so we could chat in the minutes that remained. Once seated, I noted that our time was short and asked how I might be of help.

“Really, I just have two questions that I was hoping you could answer,” she explained. Then in a most concise way she offered her two questions: “I’m wondering, how would you prove the existence of God? And could you show me that the Bible is reliable?”

The existence of God and the reliability of the Bible in under ten minutes?! As a Calvinist once said, good luck with that.

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It’s the End of the World . . . Again

keep calm end of the world7 October 2015, Oxfordshire – Well, it’s the end of the world…again. (Here is the official soundtrack, if you’d like some background ambiance.) Last week I published the post below, noting a beastly number of proposed prophetic fulfillments I’ve endured throughout my Christian life. If only it could end!

Another Christian group has announced that Earth will be destroyed . . . today!  I mean, before the clock strikes midnight . . . in some time zone or another . . . the end. How frustrating is that?! We haven’t even spent our tax return yet. Our weekend plans. And I was just beginning to drop some pounds (both in terms of health . . . and wealth, given that we live here in the U.K. and the exchange rate can feel like a second death).

I mean, what if you were finishing preparations for a sermon, hoping to help your congregation distinguish between biblical eschatology and the more popular escapology? Yep, escapology, defined as “the distinct desire that everyone’s life would end at the same time, so no one could continue to grow in holiness or guide others toward the grace of Jesus Christ” (see First Impressions 6:66; Second Opinions 7:77; and c.f., Hesitations 3:2 . . . 3:2 . . . 3:21).

What strikes me, honestly, is that one might hope that our prayers would be aligned with those of our Lord Jesus when he prayed, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Or perhaps we could align our prayers with the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:19-26, where he wrote in vv.24ff, “But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

In light of all the failed predictions of prophetic fulfillment, such desired and practiced fidelity would be so very refreshing.

What I’d like to do is point you to the material below, if you have the time. Ha! What else are you going to do in our final hours? Then again, if Earth is incinerated later today (or if it already happened before you read this), then what I’ve written here will be so very passé. Then again, I find these current prognostications distinctly dubious. So dubious do I find them –and given that I found the announcement online – I could be persuaded to classify this nonsense not only a version of escapology but as e-scatology (see Philippians 3:8). But perhaps that can wait until tomorrow . . . if there is one.

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Preaching Isaiah – Divine Affections and Aversions

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege and honor of preaching at our church, St. Leonard’s Church in Eynsham. We are at the beginning of a sermon series in Isaiah. I’ll attach the audio at the end of this post. My text was Isaiah 2:1-5, a grand vision of the nations streaming to the mountain of God to be instructed in God’s ways for the practice of peace.

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Provocative Poets

I imagine each of us has been instructed that there are two subjects one should avoid when in polite company: religion and politics. What I take away from this is that the biblical prophets most definitely were not polite company.Indeed, the prophets were poets who provoked people to repent and reprioritize.

Consider these pointed words by a contemporary Christian poet residing in London.

“Chance”

If chance be
the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky,
and when you hear

state of emergency
sniper kills ten
troops on rampage
whites go looting
bomb blasts school

it is but the sound of man
worshipping his maker.

–Steve Turner, Up To Date

A prophet is a provocative poet, but also one who pronounces hope to God’s troubled people. Prophets don’t only cry for justice; they confront injustice. They don’t simply proclaim that we should have faith in God, they point up infidelity and put it on parade. None of which is very polite, to be sure, though it is the word and will of the LORD.

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The God Who Is There, D.A. Carson

godwhoisthereNow and then I wonder what good resources might be available to introduce people to the Christian faith. I’ve recommended various titles throughout the years of my own loyalty to Jesus Christ. But over the last few years I’ve returned with appreciation to D.A. Carson’s book, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story.

Running at 224 pages and 14 chapters, it is a medium-sized volume. One fun feature of the book is that you can watch the corresponding talks by Carson in a 14-part series online. You also can download mp3s of the lectures. I’ll link the videos and audios with the corresponding chapter titles below.

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