“The alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit, destroying the mind.”
-Ayn Rand, FTNI 128
If you know anything about Ayn Rand’s philosophy, you know that she considers faith to be a despicable evil.
If you know anything about Christianity, you know that faith is considered essential to virtue.
What you most likely do not know is that those two “faiths” are not the same. The faith denounced by Ayn Rand is not the faith advocated by true Christianity. I say true Christianity as opposed to modern Christianity because modern Christians do indeed advocate the same faith which Ayn Rand denounces – to their own peril.
The faith which Ayn Rand denounced – and which modern Christians despicably advocate – is that which is described in the quote above: a faith used as a ‘short-cut’ or replacement for knowledge. She’s right: it is ‘only a short-circuit which destroys the mind’ – and everything else in Man’s life, along with it. Faith was never meant to serve as a ground or source for knowledge, and no argument can be given for such a use. Reason is that which brings knowledge. Faith, properly, is only ever to be a product of reason – never a replacement of it.
But, isn’t faith “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb11:1)? Yes. Now, stop treating the Bible like a fragmented grab-bag of bromides and apply your mind in order to discover what the author means. There are some very helpful examples of this faith given all throughout the rest of the chapter (and the climax of these examples is in the beginning of the following chapter – but we’ll talk about that in a minute).The two examples to focus on in order to shed more light on this issue are Abraham and Moses.
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac… for he reasoned that God is able to raise from the dead”.(v.17-18)
What was Abraham’s faith based in? It was based in his reason – particular his accurate reasoning that God is capable of raising Isaac from the dead.
“By faith Moses… considered the reproaches of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as though seeing Him who is unseen”.(v.24-27)
No, the author of Hebrews did not have a brain-lapse between “seeing” and “unseen”. He’s speaking of two different types of sight. The first is the “sight” of the mind – of reason, which rises above the concrete, which abstracts and sees the long-range, the big picture, the full context. The second “sight” is concrete perception. In other words, what the author here describes of Moses is that great attribute of Man which Ayn Rand so exults in: breaking free from the concrete-bound, from the range of the moment. This was what gave rise to the faith of Moses. He reasoned about God in such a way that he saw the reward of following God as more real and precious than the concrete, range of the moment treasures of Egypt. He reasoned about God in such a way that he saw Him who is unseen – meaning that he understood, with absolute clarity – as though seeing a concrete image – the massive weight of the glory of God in such a way that inspired him to do the ‘impossible’.
The Fruit of Reason
That is what faith is: the full weight of conviction in the soul, flowing from absolute certainty about the long-rage vision of one’s mind, and bursting forth in courageous and heroic action to obtain that which one sees and knows to be true. And while Ayn Rand did not have a word for this, she certainly wrote about it often. One of her most succinct expressions of this (and one of my absolute favorites) is that of Francisco D'Anconia just after his near-nervous breakdown under the tremendous weight of the choice set before him by his deepest values. This line comes just after he has finalized the decision in his own soul:
“He did not look like a man bearing torture now, but like a man who sees that which makes the torture worth bearing” p.112, Atlas Shrugged
Now, I cannot think of (let alone write of) that line without the following line from Hebrews 12 in mind:
“Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame”(v.2)
Not tortured, but seeing that which makes torture worth bearing. Not the cross, but joy just on the other side. What certainty! This – this kind of faith – does not come from fleeting emotions. It comes from the most disciplined use of one’s mind in seeing and holding onto that which one knows to be true – in spite of the monumental torture one will have to endure to keep that hold. It comes from the most devout conviction that what is true – what is right – will triumphantly surpass all alternatives.
The Fight of Faith
That is real faith and that is its proper function. Not a substitute for reason, but a vibrant, strong, and desperately essential fruit of it. You want to be "faithful"? You want to be a man or woman of "faith"? Then, among the heroes of faith in Hebrews, pay close attention to the heroes of Ayn Rand who, by their God-given minds, rise far above the fray of the concrete bound in order to see, cherish, and act upon the full truth.
And now I leave you with one more example of such faith (including its momentary lapse) – for your instruction, your inspiration, your contemplation, and your emulation.
“And then, for one instant, I did what I had never done before, what most men wreck their lives on doing – I saw that moment out of context… I saw, as I stood in the rain in a crowd of vagrants, what my years would have brought me if that world had existed, and I felt a desperate longing – he was the image of everything I should have been… and he had everything that should have been mine… But it was only a moment. Then I saw the scene in full context again and in all of its actual meaning…” –John Galt, Atlas Shrugged p.878
FTNI: For the New Intellectual
Atlas Shrugged quotes from 50th Anniversary Edition