Moments come in our lives when we are forced, or deem it
necessary, to take a deeper look inside ourselves. Rituals
abound. More than likely, most go to a meaningful place to
ponder the nature of things, or perhaps bust out an old CD
and recall lessons from the past that now seem oddly unlearned.
Me? I read The Fountainhead. Again. This is probably
the sixth or seventh time I’ve reread my favorite novel.
And with all the goings on around the world today, it seems
more meaningful than ever.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Fountainhead,
or any of Ayn Rand’s other works, including Atlas
Shrugged, Anthem, or We the Living, it is
important to understand her views of the world. Born in communist
Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution, then forced into the
ranks of a desperate and suppressed society, later escaping
to the West and sworn to use her gift to denounce the collective
ideologies of socialism, Rand produced a large range of novels,
but in all actuality, a truly narrow scope of themes. She
was passionate about one subject and one subject only: the
She thoroughly rejected any and all theories, teachings,
or belief systems that attempted to quell the human spirit.
Alongside her first hand loathing of communism and her celebration
of individualism, she was almost religiously anti-religious.
She believed that religion only served to make man fearful,
riddled with guilt and ashamed, or worse, not feel worthy
of all his amazing abilities. She did not believe that an
unseen entity deserved the credit for something manifested
by the powerful and limitless hand of man. Her widespread
philosophy came to be known as Objectivism.
Her most widely read novel was the 1943 classic The Fountainhead,
which tells the story of the unyielding Howard Roark and his
struggles with a world not ready to accept individuality and
innovation for risk of shaking the comfortable, secure confines
of the status quo. Roark is an architect with vision and courage,
not willing to compromise his ironclad ideals, and The
Fountainhead is a tale of one against many. But Howard
Roark is no hero. He seeks no public affirmation–it
With little need anymore for the discussion of the pros and
cons of the communist ideology, much of the discussion surrounding
Ayn Rand and her teachings in connection with today’s
society invariably revolve around her atheistic view of the
world. Were she still alive today (she passed away in 1982),
undoubtedly her works would focus on the present issues of
faith swirling violently around on our television sets and
Jews and Arab Palestinians continue a never-ending struggle
against one another for a holy land each feels is their birthright
as a people. Muslims and Hindus fight it out for Kashmir,
the world nervously biting its fingers on the brink of its
first nuclear engagement. Fundamentalists, who believe that
terrorism is the path to redemption, or that a woman should
be stoned to death for delivering a bastard son, seek more
and more devious ways to deliver their message to the western
world. Even Catholicism is only a shadow of its former self,
suffering scandal after scandal of priests molesting young
boys and girls or committing adultery - against God. As
Robin Williams pointed out so perfectly in his stand-up performance
on HBO, “It’s not just a sin; it’s a felony."
If these are our only choices for faith, for belief in a
higher power and divine salvation, (Ayn Rand would tell us)
we are obtuse not to question religion.
I read The Fountainhead over and over again because
it fuels my desire to forsake logic or convention and replace
it with instinct and heart. I admit it – my faith has
waned. I question how, if all religions are unabatedly convinced
of their paths to righteousness, how come we don’t all
believe in the same thing? If Jesus Christ really is the Lord
our Savior and was put upon this earth to teach us the wisdom
and glory of Christianity through his miracles, why isn’t
all mankind arm in arm singing Hallelujah? It just seems odd
to me – and Ayn Rand tells me that that’s okay.
Howard Roark was a religious man. He wasn’t Catholic.
He wasn’t Jewish. He wasn’t Mormon. His religion
was the Temple of Himself. He expressed his religion through
his work: architecture. His buildings, those that were commissioned
by the few men during his time who understood his ideals,
were the windows to his soul. He preached his sermons in glass,
concrete and marble, for all to see and benefit from. No room
was without purpose. His structures were monuments to the
human spirit. He built for the gratification of his own egotistical
need. In turn, society around him ultimately gained from his
Later in Ayn Rand’s life, she turned away from fiction
and began writing non-fictional essays and books clearly defining
the boundaries of her philosophies. During this period of
her life, she wrote The Virtue of Selfishness: a
showpiece work bluntly, yet elaborately, guiding humanity
towards the fulfillment that comes only when they succumb
to the true will and need of their being. The unfortunate,
yet all too realistic yang to this principle is that there
is also many a bad seed in this world whose contributions
are destructively selfish. It has always been so
and more than likely will always remain as such. From Biblical
times to the twenty-first century, man has tainted the earth
with as much vigor as he has blessed it.
Watch CNN some time. The road to spiritual salvation and
eternal peace seems to have potholes everywhere and is in
some serious need of repair. And as man becomes more and more
enlightened, learning valuable insights into the evolutionary
and scientifically researched history of this little planet
we call earth, the world’s religions seem to become
more and more human, flawed and second-guessed. Isn’t
that what all the fighting is for?
Maybe this happened. People evolved. From something. (Yes,
this is as tangible as that first seven days thing. I can
say this. I’ve had twelve years of private, Catholic
education.) So the cavemen were sitting in their, umm, caves,
and the mighty sky that brought warmth and light also brought
with it rain and hail, thunder and lightning. With no scientific
knowledge available to draw from, it seems obvious that such
commonplace phenomena today would undoubtedly scramble the
underdeveloped brains of those Paleolithic dwellers. They
gave this power a name. They had no concept of time so winters
upon countless winters must have made them believe that the
gods were unhappy. With the snow came death. They repented.
They sacrificed their young. They offered incantations. Invariably,
summer came with its sunshine and harvest bounty, so they
were rewarded for their unwavering faith. When their numbers
grew and they began to wander and expand, eventually covering
every corner of the globe, the stories changed or became altered
by distance, the passing of time, and the deaths of those
who knew the story better. Imagine the power that sky must
have had for those who never knew a single thing about science.
But I digress. Ayn Rand offered a view of salvation that
is truly tangible–make the most of this, your human
life. Be true to that which drives your soul. Hopefully the
good will outweigh the bad. To me it seems like the world
has always been 50/50, but with everything in the news today,
that fraction seems to be listing something fierce. Perhaps
she even felt that what came after life, if anything truly
did, was out of our hands and hence a moot subject.
If you have trouble seeing selfishness as a virtue, ask yourself
why you do everything you can to please your lover or make
a friend smile. Most people will probably answer, if prodded
at least, that it makes them feel good as well. That is selfishness
– virtuous selfishness. When we give to charity, we
purify our own souls by knowing we’ve done something
good. When we emulate Howard Roark and give our all to that
which inspires us within, we erect homes that provide shelter,
warmth and a place to gather for the masses. We provide for
others by providing for ourselves.
The world has changed a great deal since Howard Roark roamed
New York every day seeking his next opportunity to sculpture
the skyline. His 1920’s world was replaced ever since
the 1960’s with our decadent and untamed society that
crawls into the next millennium. Howard Roark didn’t
do lunch. He drank coffee, not a Starbuck’s Java Mocha
Screamer with a smidgeon of whipped cream. He simply recognized
what he did best and never faltered from doing it.
If only we were all so lucky.