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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 human will.

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 lies within.

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 computer monitors.

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 works.

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.

August 2002

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