Now as the people of God in old time were called out of Babylon civil, the place of their bodily bondage, and were to come to Jerusalem, and there to build the Lord’s temple, or tabernacle . . . so are the people of God now to go out of Babylon spiritual to Jerusalem . . . and to build themselves as lively stones into a spiritual house, or temple, for the Lord to dwell in. [1]

It was in the summer of 1620 that English Pilgrims living in Holland decided, in the words of John Robinson, the Pilgrims’ pastor, “to go out of Babylon spiritual” and sail to the “Jerusalem” of America.

What most Americans don’t understand, however, is when the Pilgrims left Holland for America they weren’t longing for religious liberty. They had that in Holland. They fled England in search of religious liberty; they fled Holland in search of cultural, moral, and economic liberty.

The Pilgrims lived in Holland for twelve years—in grinding poverty. Most of them worked long and laborious hours in the textile mills of Leiden. A trade for which they were ill suited. But worse than the poverty in their pocket was the poverty in their souls, especially as their children grew and began to adopt the language and manners of Holland, forgetting their English and religious traditions.

These are the reasons why the Pilgrims fled the land of “Babylon.”

This history came to mind the other day, partly because Thanksgiving is just a few days away and partly because of the buzz I’ve hearing among conservatives following the reelection of Barack Obama.

As of this writing we’re post-election by two weeks and already citizens in forty-nine states have signed petitions for their states to secede from the United States of America. The total number of signature thus far, depending on who you believe, is estimated somewhere between 675,000 and 1 million—with the leading number in my state, Texas. This is mostly steam letting from disgruntled conservatives unhappy with and frustrated by the election. Yet, at a deeper level talk of secession reflects what many conservatives, myself included, perceive as a jerking leftward jump in the culture. I’m no longer convinced this is a center-right country. The reelection of Obama, in my minds, represents a manifestation of a heartfelt cultural undercurrent of selfish dependence. At best, perhaps, we are now a center-center country.

This is why, I believe, many of my fellow conservatives are raising the specter of succession. It’s also why a friend of mine—an intelligent, accomplished, and professional woman—asked me at the church the other day whether Christians can “go Galt.”

Based on Ayn Rand’s protagonist in Atlas Shrugged, going Galt is a term used to describe entrepreneurs, CEOs, and small business owners, those who produce goods and services and employe people, to withdraw from economic activity in order to starve the government of tax revenue.

Before we can answer the question of whether Christians can go Galt, however, it’s important to establish a context. Ayn Rand was born under Communism and marveled at Democracy. But once she arrived on the shores of America, she feared her adopted home would slip into socialism. (Fears were well found, for in more ways than many will admit the American economic system has slipped into the sinkhole of socialism. This is one reason why Rand is so highly regarded among many conservatives and libertarians today.) In an attempt to throw up a bulwark against this slide, Rand developed a philosophy known as objectivism. Rand spread the word of her philosophy through novels such as The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In summing up the essence of objectivism Rand wrote that it is “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” [2]

Conservative Christians, especially, but even politically conservative citizens, should be wary of Rand’s philosophy. While there are many admirable elements in her worldview, at its heart lies a tragic irony—objectivism and socialism appeal to the very same vice and lead to the very same ultimate conclusion.

Objectivism appeals to greed—that man’s happiness is his highest purpose in life and achievement (with the rewards of achievement implied) as his highest activity in life. But Rand’s worldview is also a form of idolatry. Nowhere does she make room for God. Why would she, she was an atheist? What makes objectivism idolatrous is the phrase: “reason as his only absolute”—not God, but human reason. Sadly, such selfishness and self-centeredness ultimately leads to isolation—the very thing God said wasn’t good in his very good creation (Genesis 2:18).

Ironically, socialism, the philosophy of collectivism, as opposed to Rand’s radical individualism, leads to the same tragic conclusion. Socialism also appeals to greed—the class warfare of the haves vs. the have-nots and the bourgeoisies (capitalism class) vs. the proletariat (the working class). It also promotes idolatry. But instead of the individual as the highest order in the universe, government takes the place of the divine—dispensing goodies from on high. The result is isolation—the individual becomes a mere number among the faceless, soulless numbers of the collective; a cog in the government wheel.

Now, to address the question of whether Christians can go Galt. Our primary responsible is to seek first order things—to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Then second order things—our economic, political, and cultural responsibilities—will fall into place. This isn’t to say we don’t have second order responsibilities, we surly do. But it is to say that second order things must never become first order things.

The history of biblical faith is one of oppression and persecution. What we’ve experienced in America for the past four hundred years or so—the dominance of the Judeo-Christian Ethic on the cultural and political worldview—is the exception to the historic rule. Nevertheless, it is now clear that America is a post-Christian nation. No longer does the church or the Bible hold sway over the culture. This is due to pluralization, secularization, and privatization. From this point forward we will see an increase cultural and political hostility to the things of Christ. (The rise of homosexualism in entertainment and public policy and the intrusive language in the Affordable Health Care Act (ObamaCare) in violation of our First Amendment rights are just two notable examples.)

What does this portend for American Christians, and what answer do we give to the secession/going Galt movement? First, we must reevaluate our cultural and political engagement. For too long we have moored ourselves to the political movement of the Religious Right. Yet, in the wake of the recent presidential election we now feel unmoored. Second, we must recommit ourselves to the community of faith and do away with the radical individualism of Ayn Rand. Third, we must recommit ourselves to Christ’s original command: to be salt and light—a shining city on a hill—and to be in the world if not of the world (Matthew 5:13–14; John 17:13–16).

In short, Christians can’t go Galt anymore than we can secede or flee Babylon.

[1] John Robinson, as quoted in Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1977), 110.

[2] Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, reprinted (New York: Dutton, 1992), 1170–71.

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