Public Square & Theology 101

Book Review: The Soul of Atlas

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Every good author writes with a target audience in mind, but it is rare to find a book aimed simultaneously at strictly rationalist adherents to Ayn Rand’s political philosophy and also at believers in the Christian faith.

Nevertheless, in The Soul of Atlas, Mark David Henderson has successfully authored a book that should be intellectually engaging and even satisfying to both parts of such a disparate audience.

Indeed, Henderson has lived most of his life engaged in a conversation between the gospel-centered Christianity of his dad and the devout Objectivism of his stepfather.

This book is an invitation to join in this conversation and consider how these worldviews overlap or clash with the reader’s own perspective. Helping both groups toward engagement and understanding is the author’s explicit goal, and toward this end, Henderson articulates both views precisely and fairly.

The conversation begins by delineating the basic positions of Objectivism and Christianity by addressing four critical questions:

  • What is the nature of reality?
  • What is a person’s highest pursuit?
  • What is wrong with the world?
  • How does one fix it?

This provides the lay of the land for someone who might otherwise be a casual reader of the Bible or have encountered only one of Ayn Rand’s novels early in life.

The heart of the book devotes individual chapters to the essential topics of sex, money, capitalism, reason, meaning, selfishness, joy, and power. For each explosive subject, the Objectivist and Christian views are presented in an engaging way before concisely summarizing the main points of agreement and disagreement.

The astute reader might scan the helpful conclusion of each chapter first before returning to read the main text rich with quotations from Jesus Christ, characters of Ayn Rand’s books, and a variety of insightful authors.

Perhaps the most valuable contribution of this book is that it avoids being a dry treatise on philosophy. Instead, riveting autobiographical events that Henderson unfolds in each chapter capture the reader.

The impact of philosophy on life is vividly demonstrated as the author struggles with radiation treatments for cancer as a sixteen-year-old. Moreover, he personally lives out the drama of his parents’ separation which echoes Dagny Taggart leaving Hank Rearden for John Galt in Atlas Shrugged. The agonizing questions about sex, identity, and meaning are vividly portrayed through Henderson’s college years.

For the author, this conversation is not reduced to theoretical banter; he has personally experienced the impact of these philosophical ideas in his life.

Chapter 11, “Who is John Galt? Really,” is worth the price of the entire book. Henderson deftly highlights the remarkable overlap between Ayn Rand’s hero, John Galt, and Jesus Christ.

Both were born in insubstantial towns and embarked on a mission to right the world. Both attracted many followers but were revealed clearly only to a small group in a remote place. Both persuaded people individually with patience, passion, and perseverance. Both articulated wisdom that resonated with a certain type of person prepared to hear it. Both were rejected, treated as common criminals, and were complicit in their own torture.

Both were prepared to die and yet prepared a paradise for a select few who recognized and accepted them.

These clear parallels force the reader to wrestle with the reality that Rand’s portrayal of the ideal man based solely on reason bears an uncanny resemblance to Jesus Christ.

For Christians, this provides helpful insights into why Objectivism has held such a deep attraction to so many intelligent and productive people.

For Randians, this provides an opportunity to reconsider the historical claims of Jesus Christ and to recognize the significant overlap in areas devoted to individual choice, free market exchange, and limited government.

I highly recommend that you read this book whether you are a committed atheist, devout Christian, or anyone looking for an engaging introduction to two of the most profound influences of American ideology over the last century.

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