Broken World, Current Events — May 26, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Ayn Rand vs. Jesus of Nazareth

by

It’s a tried and true adage that politics makes for strange bedfellows.  Often this can lead to creative collaborations and innovative problem solving that is laudable (and too rare) in politics.  But there’s a sordid side to this reality as well, when strange bedfellows cross over into unholy alliances, and intellectual honesty and moral integrity are sacrificed for consolidation of power.  That is what is happening right now within certain circles in the GOP with the resurgence in popularity of atheist philosopher and patron saint of selfishness Ayn Rand.

The American Values Network (AVN) just released a video highlighting Rand’s teachings and the influence she has had on prominent Republican leaders and conservative pundits.  Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chairman of House Budget Committee and author of the Republican FY2012 budget, cites Rand as the reason he got in to politics and has said that hers is the “kind of thinking that is sorely needed right now.”  Sen. Rand Paul frequently cites Rand’s novels in committee hearings.  Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has called Atlas Shrugged his “foundation book.”  Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News personalities have all also heaped on the praise for her.  Here is the problem.  For years GOP leaders have purposefully invoked the language of faith and moral values to justify their policies and court religious voters.  Ayn Rand’s philosophy stands in direct contradiction to those values and the teachings of Jesus.

It’s not just that Rand is an atheist who considers Christianity’s central narrative of the cross to be “monstrous”. After all, the cross has been called foolishness before and will again.  Rand advocates a morality of selfishness and a worldview based on individualism that is fundamentally incompatible with the teachings of Jesus.  Where Jesus says, “love your neighbor as you love yourself,” Rand says, “love only those who deserve it.”  Where Jesus says, “Give to any that asks of you,” Rand says, “I am challenging the moral code of altruism.”  Instead of Jesus’ command to “feed my sheep,” in Rand’s world “men [are] perishing by their attempt to be their brothers’ keeper.”  Rand herself has stated in no uncertain terms that one cannot follow her and Christ.

In an attempt to hold together the disparate constituencies of social conservative Christians and libertarian Tea Partiers, Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders have attempted to create an unholy trinity of Ayn Rand, Jesus Christ, and the GOP.  But, as the classic Sesame Street song goes, “One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong.”  Nothing about the philosophy of Ayn Rand and the teaching of Jesus Christ is like the other.  So the GOP must decide – who doesn’t belong?  They can’t have both.

6 Comments

  • Rachel,

    I appreciate your post. While the Jesus of the “social justice” movement is not a biblical one and consequently does not exist, Ayn Rand gets way too much unqualified praise from some on the religious right. I personally think there are areas of significant insight in Atlas Shrugged that are uniquely articulated. Her tome is worthy of significant perusal. (In fact, in our house, it is required reading for our kids in the summer between their junior and senior year of high school). But her over-arching worldview is insidiously flawed. Moreover, a full expression of her views would ultimately prove deleterious to society.

    Her atheism is expressed so acutely she ultimately deifies man, and her disdain for benevolence and unconditional charitable love puts her diametrically and viciously opposed to Christ and His cause. THANKS again for your post and its needed reminder.

  • I think Rand’s principles are good for the government system but not as an individual moral code. I think that takes her ideas in a direction she wouldn’t fully agree with, but she’s dead, just like many other major figures whose ideas are reshaped by us.
    Is government an extension of the church? What is the right place of government? What can we reasonably expect of most people (citizens)? And what things are worth coercing from them? On some of these I think Rand gets it right–especially as it applies to government. We need to prosecute murders, but true benevolence and selflessness cannot be forced even in the name of justice, mercy, sacrifice, and certainly not in the name of Jesus.

  • Hi said:

    “On some of these I think Rand gets it right–especially as it applies to government. We need to prosecute murders, but true benevolence and selflessness cannot be forced even in the name of justice, mercy, sacrifice, and certainly not in the name of Jesus.”

    Respectfully, I think Rand gets it quite wrong. True benevolence and selflessness cannot be forced, but to have a truly just society, neither can the few be permitted to run roughshod over everyone else. The laws of the nation of Israel included required alms-giving, an extra tithe every few years that was ear-marked for the poor, requirements for land-owners to allow those in need to take part of the harvest free of charge, and a redistribution every 50 years in which those who had amassed wealth at the expense of the less fortunate, had to even things out.

    I’m not saying we should imitate Israel’s laws– but how can we claim laws that promote greed and self-seeking in the name of “freedom,” are fundamentally more godly? Doesn’t the inherent selfishness in the heart of humanity, need some sort of boundaries? Are we really doing ourselves any good by refusing to curb the exploitation the poor and the corruption of our governing officials by the rich, to make the laws favor them more and more, at the expense of the rest of us?

  • Let me begin by saying that I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat but I am a committed follower of Jesus. Let’s be very clear that the video posted above is purposefully deceptive because it focuses only on Rand’s atheistic views and then shifts to a series of endorsements by Republicans. The problem is, none of the Republicans in the video are endorsing her views on atheism. They are all endorsing her views on how a free market capitalist economy functions. This pulling things out of context and then pasting them together to fabricate a narrative is an act I expect from typical political groups; it is just disheartening to see an organization that claims to be Christian doing exactly the same thing.

    Secondly, I find the most vehement criticism of Rand comes from those who haven’t actually read her work or thought critically through her ideas. To throw out all of her thinking on free market economics because she is an atheist would be the same as throwing away all of Martin Luther’s theology because he was an anti-Semite. Having said that, the core of Rand’s philosophy wasn’t her atheism, it was her belief in the that individualism is superior to state-sponsored collectivism in the marketplace.

    Here is how state-enforced collectivism has played out in the 12 years or so in this country. Through taxation and deficit spending (a de facto tax), politicians have spent my money and the money of my children, grand-children, and great grandchildren to wage wars I do not support, to provide financial aid to organizations I do not support, to bail out automotive corporations and financial institutions that should have failed because of their business practices, to “invest” in risky business ventures that should have been evaluated by the market, to provide luxury items (that I can’t afford provide for my own children) to the under-resourced, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

    Embracing an individualistic economy, on the other hand, doesn’t mean to be bereft of social concern. It means that I am free to spend my money on the social concerns that are important to me, and I am free to invest my money how I choose. I am also free to enter a voluntary collective (like a local church congregation for instance) to pool my money with other like minded individuals for enhanced effect. Individualism, in Rand’s use of the term, means freedom. Where there is maximum freedom on a system of government and economics, the church has maximum freedom to do live out its vocation. The problem is, the church, at least in the U.S., has largely abdicated its social responsibility to the government. The role of the church is not to collude with the state. The church is a community in exile and it is to live out its vocation within whatever political context it finds itself sojourning, and it is to do so in spite of, not in collusion with, the dominant empire.

    The title of the video is “Ayn Rand and the GOP vs. Jesus.” Perhaps the response video should be “Karl Marx and Barak Obama vs. Jesus”? (it would be just as preposterous). Let’s not forget that Marx, the most outstanding proponent of collectivism, was just as hostile to faith as Rand was in her individualism.

    Would they have us believe that state sponsored collectivism which is forced upon the populace is in some way morally superior to laissez-faire capitalist individualism? Are we to think that Jesus would endorse either one of them? I have to think that if Jesus were to endorse a specific economic system, it would be outside of the individualism-collectivism continuum and he certainly would not rely on the state to implement it.

    The video does, however, raise one very critical question for me. Who is John Galt? :)

    Peace.

    • Fred,

      You bring up a lot of great points for discussion and reflection in regards to Rachel’s post.

      The main thing I want to clarify is in response to your comment: “it is just disheartening to see an organization that claims to be Christian doing exactly the same thing.”

      Recovering Evangelical is meant to be a place for evangelicals, post-evangelicals, etc. to wrestle with issues of faith, theology, politics, and to reflect on and engage with current events, world brokenness, and individual stories.

      It’s writers come from diverse perspectives, and you can note that the author of this article reaches out to people of faith on behalf of progressives and the Democratic Party.

      So when you say “an organization that claims to be Christian,” it not only unnecessarily implies a questioning of the legitimacy of its author’s faiths, but also misses the point of this site in welcoming evangelicals (and others) across the faith and political spectrum for dialogue.

      Granted, there should be a note like, “All views are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Recovering Evangelical, etc etc.”

      With that, I really appreciate your critique. I think it’s a needed one in this politically polarizing climate.

      • Hi Andrew:

        Thank you for your response and please allow me to take a moment to clarify what I intended to say. When I said, “it is just disheartening to see an organization that claims to be Christian doing exactly the same thing,” I wasn’t referring to the author of the post, nor did I have in mind the Recovering Evangelical organization. The organization I was referring to is the group that produced the video, the American Values Network.

        Also, I didn’t intend, implicitly or otherwise, to question the veracity of the faith of those who created the video. I do, however, explicitly intend to call their conduct into question. Any organization that holds itself out as a distinctively Christian institution should not be engaging in the same deceptive practices that are commonplace in the political arena on both sides of the aisle. An organization that claims the name of Christ must be held to a hire standard of conduct. I hope that clears up what I meant to communicate.

        I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to engage in gentile dialogue or even debate in a forum such as is provided here. Unfortunately, there is far too much group polarity in the various quarters of the church and this kind of dialogue is necessary in order to restore a more healthy and balanced perspective among Christians in general.

        Peace.

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