I have a few friends who have been reading Atlas Shrugged and I realized that I've never read anything by Ayn Rand. I was in a used bookstore and I found a copy of Anthem for $2 and decided to pick it up to see what all of the fuss was about.
It's an earlier work and rather short, but I quite enjoyed the first 90 pages or so. Basically the story is set in a post apocalyptic society that is all about "the brotherhood" and has completely removed the notion of self from the world. Even the word "I" is forbidden (and unknown). Everyone refers to themselves as "we" and even personal relationships are forbidden, as you are not to value one person above another.
The book is a fascinating look at the communist ideals applied to a futuristic society. The last ten pages or so are where the book gets its title, as our hero discovers the word "I" and it becomes little more than a worship of the self, completely rejecting any notion of collective good or value in anyone other than one's own self.
After reading this book (it took little more than 30 minutes to read) I set it aside and opened up to the passage I had planned to read before bed. It made me smile:
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” - (1 Corinthians 12:12–31 ESV)
The Christian faith absolutely does not diminish the value of the one, the value of the individual, but rather exalts every person as uniquely formed in the image of God. At the same time, we are not meant to be alone, and we are better when we work together. God has given us each different talents and gifts, and to function at our best we need to involve others to do what we are not able to do well.
This is directly contrary to the message at the end of Anthem, that is essentially all about the "I" with no regard at all for anyone else.
When reading a book like Anthem, it's striking how distasteful it is when the worship of self is put on display. I genuinely disliked the last ten pages of the book despite enjoying it up to that point. We are called to be servants, to treat others better than ourselves. In the words of Jesus:
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”” - (Mark 10:45 ESV)