“Who is John Galt?”
This question is a constant refrain throughout the first half of Ayn Rand’s ponderous novel, Atlas Shrugged. The sentiment behind it is one of resignation and hopelessness; that the world is so corrupted and convoluted, and that one’s day-to-day life is so arduous that it is enough for the individual to worry about his daily bread and dismiss concern for the cares of the greater world. In short, the answer to the question, “Who is John Galt?” is “What’s the point? Who cares?”
Of late, I have been asking myself that question more and more often. Oh, look, another cop killed a man/woman/child/dog in cold blood and gets paid vacation. Oh, look, another rapist. Oh, look, another corrupt, lying politician. Oh, look, another natural disaster. Oh, look, another racially charged mass shooting. Oh, look, people are selling fetal organs and body parts. Oh, look, the Internet is offended over one more petty thing. It seems like every day there’s been something new that really weighs down on my heart, and I reach a point where I find it difficult to find any more room in my heart for the pain, anger, sorrow.
I wanted to put this post out about a week ago, but my initial drafts felt too “rantish,” and I didn’t want that. Similarly, for those of you who know, I write based on the inspiration of a song, and I almost titled this post Ænima (For my more sensitive readers, I’ll warn you that this song is very explicit), in reference to the song by the heavy metal band, Tool. The song itself is somewhat of a judgmental rant against Hollywood and celebrity culture, where the solution is to “flush it all away.” While I definitely get fed up enough to find myself wishing for some apocalyptic cataclysm, such a sentiment, like asking “Who is John Galt?”, betrays the God that is portrayed in the Bible, and the life that I lead as a Christian.
The Bible points to a life of redemption, and a God who is in the business of restoration, not destruction. And while I don’t necessarily want to dig too deep into the issue, yes, the Bible does have stories in which God destroyed cities and nations as judgment for their crimes and immorality, but in the time since, Jesus has borne that judgment, acted the part of the sacrifice, died, and came back to life. In light of that, I find myself convicted when I find myself wishing for the human race to be done away with, because God hasn’t done away with me.
I took the title of this post from a song by rapper/spoken word poet, Jason Petty (stage name, Propaganda). I’ll be honest, there’s not much in this song that I can confidently relate to, as I’m not an ethnic minority, I’ve never been raised in an urban environment, and have never experienced gang activity. I can, however, relate to the thoughts and emotions behind the chorus which goes:
And at times hip-hop makes me very upset
But I ain’t gave up on it yet
And at times America makes me very upset
But I ain’t gave up on it yet
And low-key, my own people make me very upset
But still ain’t gave up on them yet
And at times, my own city make me very upset
But still ain’t gave up on it yet
Let me take a moment and break this down a little:
And at times hip-hop makes me very upset: While Propaganda is more than likely talking strictly about rap/hip-hop, for my purposes, let me extend it out to the general media. I include in this TV, social media, video games, film, and music at large. At times, pop-culture makes me very upset. It would have me believe that because I am a straight, white, 20-something, Christian male that my thoughts, beliefs, and opinions are invalid. That’s not fair to me, the problems, or the discussions we need to be having. We live in a culture where we’re drowning in every kind of stimulation and indulgence, but we can hardly carry a coherent conversation. Instead, we “deal” with issues by settling for being offended and crucifying the person or thing that offends us.
And at times America makes me very upset: I am a Christian who lives in America, but that doesn’t make me an American Christian. There is much about this nation that is phenomenal, and there is much that breaks my heart, and much more that I cannot support. From systemic corruption within police forces and other institutions, to foreign policy as a whole, to the overarching uselessness of the Federal government, I simply find it difficult to tap into the national pride that I’m supposed to espouse.
And low-key my own people make me very upset: Biological family? White people? No. I’m going with the Church. I’ve seen all sides of the Church, and each experience has been both beneficial and harmful in their own ways. I do get tired of “Christianese,” of people misinterpreting and misapplying Scripture, of legalism, of self-righteousness, of militant and belligerent responses to culture and non-Christians. I get tired of Christians dismissing film or music or whatever else out of hand simply because it isn’t “Christian.” I get tired because it doesn’t help the cause of the gospel, and does little to nothing in showing people the way to Christ.
And at times my own city makes me very upset: In the 1950’s Levittowns were symbols of American prosperity and how families could live the American Dream. In many ways that spirit has carried over into the Levittown of today. The culture of suburban Lower-Bucks, PA is very entitled and very consumerist, and it creates a big disparity between even the middle-class and lower income neighborhoods in the area. In fact, there is literally a right and wrong side of the train tracks where I live. That saddens and humbles me.
But still ain’t gave up on it yet: For as down as I get, and as frustrated as life or culture or the Church makes me, I need to remember I can’t give up on it because God hasn’t given up on me. I need to remember not only that God is in sovereign control of all things, but that there is always the chance for redemption. There is always the chance for change. Pessimism and nihilism don’t see the potential for good in bad things. The hope, love, and grace of God does and provides me with a higher perspective on earthly matters, and in turn a better way of engaging the people and issues. It doesn’t mean it’s easier, just that it’s better – healthier, even, for lack of a better word.
And so, I make it a matter of prayer. I seek the wisdom to lovingly engage the culture around me, and I seek the conviction to stand by the fundamental beliefs that define my character. After all, if “God so loved the world,” then so should I.