When I think of books making an impact on my life, words fail me. I've known so many books--some inspiring, some frivolous, some comforting, and some that left me stunned. I particularly remember reading one of the latter when I was a junior in high school, because it brought me to a crossroads of faith. After reading that book, I had to question everything I had been taught about the meaning of life.
It was a novel, compelling and persuasive, a passionate argument that everything we do is in the end, self-serving, and that's fine, because selfishness itself is a virtue.
The name of the Book? Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand.
She had been raised a Communist, in a world where the government was God, and self-improvement, i.e. Capitalism, was forbidden. Her cries are genuine and understandable. Why should the motivated, the intelligent, and the sane continue to bear the burden of the weak, the mentally inferior, and the lazy? We should let them die, she argues, for the good of the human race, so that we may soar unhindered to something better and braver, unencumbered by the weight of the unfortunate.
Selfishness is a virtue.
This was all a new concept to me; my ancestors were Mennonite immigrants: ministers, teachers, farmers--they all believed that life on earth was simply a fraction of a greater existence, and our service here would be rewarded elsewhere. My grandparents and my parents had opened their homes to many. We gave--even as children we gave--to the poor. Some of the poor were my best friends in high school. They kept me from being accepted by the popular crowd. They kept me from "being all that I could be". Was it time to change all that? I had to make a choice.
Looking back, now, I'm surprised that I wrestled with this as long as I did--over an hour, as I remember--but I was young, proud, ambitious and ripe for philosophies such as this; Rand had made it seem such a noble thing.
What made the difference was God.
She didn't have one; I did.
It was that simple.
If there is no God, one should grab everything he can. Life will soon go out...as it did one day for Ayn Rand. But if there is a God, we will someday answer to Him.
Did we see Him poor, hungry, thirsty, and naked?
Did we hurry by, in a glorious ambition for excellence and self-fulfillment?
Jesus told his disciples one day that the kings of the earth measure greatness by counting how many servants they have; He said that's not how it should be. One should count greatness by how many he is able to serve.
My parents would never be great, by Ayn Rand's standards,
but in God's sight, and in mine, they would shine like stars forever.
I have to say that the book--compelling as it was--didn't really stand a chance, for what I saw modeled daily was love.
Love trumps selfishness.