Who’s Shrugging Now?

Since the end of my high school days, I’ve been very forthcoming in admitting that the two single literary works that had the greatest impact on my life are the Bible and Atlas Shrugged.  For folks familiar with both of these works, it may seem like a rather incongruous pairing.  The harsh empirical, anti-religion objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand, set off against the authoritative Word of God.  To explain why it works for me would take a long time, so I won’t attempt to do so here.  For a time, it was my ritual to reread Atlas Shrugged every summer.  While it’s been a few years since my last read of it, it remains pivotal in my development.

So it’s with some bittersweet joy that I watch as Atlas Shrugged becomes a suddenly desirable read these days.  If you’ve attempted to read it, you understand why.  The book is massive – 1000+ pages.  It contains sections of monologue that are longer than other books.  The writing style is sharp and angular – there are no shades of grey, no ambiguities.  Rand holds the world under a light that permits no uncertainty about right and wrong – something she shares with the Biblical witness, though her conclusions are almost 180 degrees different.  
But today, it is becoming a byword for dissatisfaction with the fiscal policies of the new administration, and with a monolithic government that seems to only grow larger and more intrusive and abusive.  Frankly, this book should have been a best seller since it was published, if it’s popular today for these reasons.  The issues that people feel the book addresses are by no means new or exclusive to either the current administration or either party.  
While I don’t agree with Rand’s conclusions, her clarion call for personal responsibility and accountability is much needed.  And that call extends universally.  It doesn’t just apply to Washington fat cats, but to every man and woman of voting age – including myself – who has taken (at best) a lacadaisical approach to understanding and following politics.  Who has themselves shrugged in frustration about being unable to do anything about an undesirable situation or ruling.  Who has assumed that others are better informed and better qualified to make decisions.  It is these people – and myself – who are ultimately to blame for the abuses of privilege, the utter contempt with which we are treated not simply by politicians, but by judges and other so-called representatives of the people.  These people exist and thrive on the very reality that nobody ultimately cares enough to make them leave.  They become indispensable by the very fact that they are willing to endure almost universal disdain in exchange for the perks and privileges of power.  
Anyone who doesn’t suspect that our country is in very real, very severe trouble is not paying attention.  Reading Atlas Shrugged is great fodder for intellectual gorging, but what is necessary is a willingness to act on the principles we claim we hold, or else give up on complaining and whining about a situation we have no stomach to tackle and try and change.  The idea of becoming socialist may seem like a trivial issue to many who envy the long vacations and seeming comfort of successful European countries.  But the issues that are most dangerous about our drift towards socialism are ultimately not economic, but philosophical and theological.  Rand sees this as well, though not through the same lens as the Bible.  
The question becomes whether the answer is to plunge into involvement in an attempt to turn the tide of politics that has been rising for decades, or take Rand’s approach, and disconnect.  Completely.  To reject the philosophy that the pursuit of material wealth is the ultimate goal in our lives, and that all other things including the health and well-being of our children or our devotion to our faith can suffer for the bulk of our lives and be magically redeemed in retirement.  I don’t yet know which answer is the right one for me.  But I am wondering, and hopefully you are wondering as well.
And if you’re looking for something to read, check out Atlas Shrugged and the Bible as well.  You’ll have plenty of company.  

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