A Lump of Coal
It’s probably inevitable that we’ll talk about this here, so let me kick things off:
For the chairman and chief executive of Murray Energy, an Ohio-based coal company, the reelection of President Obama was no cause for celebration. It was a time for prayer — and layoffs.
Robert E. Murray read a prayer to a group of company staff members on the day after the election, lamenting the direction of the country and asking: “Lord, please forgive me and anyone with me in Murray Energy Corp. for the decisions that we are now forced to make to preserve the very existence of any of the enterprises that you have helped us build.”
On Wednesday, Murray also laid off 54 people at American Coal, one of his subsidiary companies, and 102 at Utah American Energy, blaming a “war on coal” by the Obama administration.
And here’s the prayer:
The American people have made their choice. They have decided that America must change its course, away from the principals of our Founders. And, away from the idea of individual freedom and individual responsibility. Away from capitalism, economic responsibility, and personal acceptance.
We are a Country in favor of redistribution, national weakness and reduced standard of living and lower and lower levels of personal freedom.
My regret, Lord, is that our young people, including those in my own family, never will know what America was like or might have been. They will pay the price in their reduced standard of living and, most especially, reduced freedom.
The takers outvoted the producers. In response to this, I have turned to my Bible and in II Peter, Chapter 1, verses 4-9 it says, ‘To faith we are to add goodness; to goodness, knowledge; to knowledge, self control; to self control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, kindness; to brotherly kindness, love.’
Lord, please forgive me and anyone with me in Murray Energy Corp. for the decisions that we are now forced to make to preserve the very existence of any of the enterprises that you have helped us build. We ask for your guidance in this drastic time with the drastic decisions that will be made to have any hope of our survival as an American business enterprise.
The usual suspects are going to mock me for it, but I’ve undeniably been shaped by the Ayn Rand worldview. For a while as an undergrad, it was just about exactly my own. I feel like I “get” Objectivism, even as I think now I see some very definite shortcomings to it. Almost undoubtedly, Mr. Murray believes he has also been shaped by the same, and whatever his real intentions were, that is certainly the lens by which his gesture will be read.
One thing I don’t get is the monstrous hybrid of Randism and Christianity so often seen on the American right. If America were in any danger of becoming an Objectivist nation, we would see it in a precipitous decline in church attendance on the right. We are in no such danger. It’s the monstrous hybrid that really seems to be taking over.
Objectivism’s ethical conclusions are fairly simple, as I understand them: We are not created for any higher purpose, not for a government, or a nation, or a race, or a class. We are not created for a god, either. This world — material, physical, right now — is what we get, and it’s all we get, and living in the hope of another world is both a mistake in your metaphysics and a cruel waste of time.
Within this world, we are ends in ourselves; we are of right neither slaves nor slavemasters, and the correct approach to life is to employ reason in the pursuit of a properly understood self-interest. Reason, its productive use, and the presence of other people in society will rapidly produce correlative obligations and rights — including but not limited to the rights that permit ownership of property and its free exchange.
All of this is quite contrary to Christianity. Christians believe that they are created for a higher purpose, the glory of God, and that the material world is a sort of testing ground. The material world is most emphatically not all that we get, and, for a Christian, material goods are in fact to be mistrusted. Use them, as you must; don’t let them distract you. Don’t even let your ego distract you. You are not an end in yourself; you are a child of God, and reason is a trait that you enjoy only through Him. Reason is also blind, in some ways, and it requires the corrections that only faith and revelation can provide. 
How do you sew all that up? You can’t. The two worldviews are entirely unlike one another. Which brings me back to Mr. Robert E. Murray. I have to admit I have almost no idea what’s motivating him. Christian witness? The crashing non sequitur of his Bible quote makes me wonder if he just chose it at random. At any rate it offers no help.
Don’t say it was pleasure: Neither an Objectivist nor a Christian would take pleasure in the act of laying people off. Would a monstrous hybrid? I don’t know, but I really doubt it. Both the parent worldviews would almost certainly find it distressing, even if it were for somewhat different reasons: The Objectivist would have to find it a sign a failing business, and while a certain amount of failure is inevitable in any market, free, mixed, or unfree, it certainly isn’t going to be welcome. Christianity, well, you know the story.
Nor does Mr. Murray appear to be “going Galt” in the novelistic sense. He isn’t closing up shop. He isn’t disappearing from the world of productive work. He’s just laying people off… with a bit of a flair for the dramatic.
And that, my friends, is where I’ll stick the knife in. (Took me long enough? Fine, granted.) His act is nothing if not a publicity stunt. But a man who did not live for the sake of others, and who did not ask others to live for his, would have rather little need of ego-stroking publicity. John Galt himself was basically unknown for most of Atlas Shrugged. He didn’t need to be known. Craving the attention of others is itself a failure of the ego, a deficiency in the ego’s ability to understand itself and evaluate its achievements objectively. The attention-seeker isn’t an individualist; he’s a collectivist who wants to be on top. He lives for the sake of your approval, or — perhaps in the case of Mr. Murray — for the sake of your odium.
Either way, that’s not what Rand had in mind. At least not for her heroes.
 Admittedly, this is for me where things get dodgy, because a “properly understood” self-interest is itself a value-laden notion and, it turns out, very difficult to define. I don’t think that anyone in the Objectivist movement has really gotten it right. Also, dear reader, do remind me sometime to write that post about why Objectivism is secretly and helplessly dependent on the ethical insights of Immanuel Kant, and why it would be a much better philosophical system if its founder had simply conceded that, in ethics at least, though not in metaphysics, Kant was quite often indispensable and entirely correct.
 Jesus had very little to say about economics, but insofar as he did speak, he seems — welllll — not to know very much about the subject. Material for a future post — do remind me.
 We might also object that “going Galt” is a thing that you get to do in a certain novel, but only because, within the confines of that novel, the characters are themselves symbols of various principles and are not, in fact, real humans with real human life-scripts that we could practicably follow. This would be an eminently fair objection to most of the recent attempts to immanentize the John Galt eschaton, as Will Wilkinson and I discussed several years ago. Remind me also to write that post about John Galt as a Christ figure, all dissimilarities in ethics and metaphysics and just about everything else notwithstanding.