[Vision2020] USAToday: You can't reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus

Gier, Nicholas NGIER at uidaho.edu
Thu Jun 9 19:32:26 PDT 2011

Hail to the Vision!

Some of you may remember that I posted a column on this topic some years ago.  The full version can be found at www.class.uidaho.edu/ngier/libchristian.htm.  This shorter version was published in the Idaho State Journal.

It is either liberty or total obedience to God: you can't have both.



I first learned about the term “libertarianism” during the Idaho Congressional campaign of 1972.  Steve Symms, whose only claim to fame was beating Sen. Frank Church in 1980, called himself a libertarian as he ran on the Republican ticket in the First District.  

I’ll never forget a great motto that I learned from Symms: "A liberal will let you do anything with your body, but not everything you want to do with your money.  A conservative will allow you to do anything you want with your money, but not anything you want to do with your body.  A libertarian will allow you to do anything you want with both your body and your money."  

Most people don’t know that Symms was pro-choice at that time and also danced around other libertarian positions such as decriminalizing drug use and prostitution.  He learned very quickly that "body" liberty did not sell well in Idaho, so he decided not to be consistent about maximizing personal liberty in all areas. 

Sometime in the 1970s James Buckley, the brother of Wm. F. Buckley, spoke at the Borah Symposium at the University of Idaho.   (Named after Wm. E. Borah, Idaho's other great senator.) When he called himself a "Christian libertarian," my immediate response was that this label is an oxymoron.  

To put the contradiction as concisely as possible: libertarians affirm the sovereignty of the self, while orthodox Christians believe in the sovereignty of God.  This is why consistent libertarians such Ayn Rand and her followers are atheists or agnostics.

The Christian "libertarians" reject governmental regulations by saying that God is the only authority to which they can submit.  Consistent libertarians, however, argue that there can be no submission to any authority except individual conscience.  

Libertarians also maintain that those who live at the government’s largess develop bad habits of dependency that undermine personal initiative and integrity.  The Christian "libertarian" cannot say that dependency is healthy in religion, but turn around to say that the same dependency undermines personal initiative in society. 

Many scholars have written about the "corporate personality" found in the ancient Hebrew and early Christian writings.  Evangelical theologian Carl Henry puts this idea well when he states that the Bible does not talk about individual rights; rather, it speaks of one's duties to community and God.  

In his book "Evangelicals at an Impasse" evangelical Christian Robert Johnston states that the Bible does not support "to each according to merit"; rather, it teaches "to each according to need," the most famous phrase in Marx's philosophy.

Free market economics is at the heart of libertarianism, but one finds just the opposite in the Book of Acts: "And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need" (2:44-45; 4:32-37).  

When Ananias (Acts 5) sold a piece of property and held back some of the money, he was struck down by a God who presumably did not believe in private property.  This was not just a temporary phenomenon, because the Church Father Tertullian, living 200 years later, reported that "we hold everything in common except our wives." 

In a Thanksgiving column for an Idaho newspaper stock broker Richard Larsen wrote that our Pilgrim Fathers repented of "their socialist folly" and followed the free market model instead.  But one item in Gov. William Bradford’s diary, which Larsen quotes, relates that families were given parcel of land "according to the proportion of their number," not according to how much they could buy with their own funds.  Sometimes the right thing to do is to share and not to make a profit.

The main reason for the Republican Party's success in the past 20 years has been an alliance between social conservatives, who focus on abortion, gays, and immigrants; and libertarians, who want to expand personal liberty with free market solutions to everything.  

This alliance is now crumbling, as evangelical voters are embracing Baptist minister Mike Huckabee, who charges that the Republican Party has been too much wedded to Wall Street and that CEO salaries are immoral.  

This is a far cry from the time, 30 years ago, when rich Southern California businessmen, unconcerned about abortion or gay rights, decided that an unchurched Ronald Reagan would be the man for their agenda of virulent anti-Communism and free market economics.

Nick Gier taught religion and philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years.

-----Original Message-----
From: vision2020-bounces at moscow.com on behalf of Sue Hovey
Sent: Mon 6/6/2011 11:02 PM
To: lfalen; Art Deco; Vision 2020
Subject: Re: [Vision2020] USAToday: You can't reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus
Cripes...what a comparison. I can think of two things they had in common: 
they both had disciples and to their disciples they said, "I am the way, the 
truth, and the light......," but Jesus did it with humility.

Sue H.

-----Original Message----- 
From: lfalen
Sent: Monday, June 06, 2011 10:37 AM
To: Art Deco ; Vision 2020
Subject: Re: [Vision2020] USAToday: You can't reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus

There are some good points here. Ayn Rand is right in stressing self 
reliance and individualism. It is however a mistake to swallow everything 
she says" hook line and sinker". She is anti-christian and is lacking in any 
compassion. In the seventies William F. Buckley printed in National Review a 
critique of Ayn Rand. He disowned both her and the Birch Society. Both have 
some good points, but go too far.  Take the best of Ayn Rand, but don't make 
her a god.
-----Original message-----
From: "Art Deco" deco at moscow.com
Date: Mon, 06 Jun 2011 09:13:35 -0700
To: "Vision 2020" vision2020 at moscow.com
Subject: [Vision2020] USAToday: You can't reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus

> Arizona News from USA Today
> Column: You can't reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus
> by Stephen Prothero on Jun. 05, 2011, under USA Today News
> The new darling of the Republican Party is pro-choice and anti-religion. 
> She once wrote that, since "an embryo has no rights," abortion "should be 
> left to the sole discretion of the woman involved." And when asked by 
> Playboy magazine whether religion "ever offered anything of constructive 
> value to human life" she answered "no," adding that "faith, as such, is 
> extremely detrimental to human life."
> Her name is Ayn Rand, and though she died in 1982 this novelist, 
> philosopher and anti-communist crusader is the hot new thing in the GOP. 
> The American public may have met the April opening Atlas Shrugged, a film 
> based on her novel of the same name, with a collective shrug, but Glenn 
> Beck and Rush Limbaugh tout her books, and her genius. And the opening 
> line of "Atlas Shrugged" ("Who is John Galt?") pops up regularly on 
> handmade signs at Tea Party rallies.
> Among Rand's adoring acolytes on Capitol Hill is Rep. Paul Ryan of 
> Wisconsin, who at a Library of Congress symposium held in 2005 on the 
> centenary of the Rand's birth called her "the reason I got involved in 
> public service." Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who announced his third presidential 
> run last recently, has invoked Rand in the House on matters as disparate 
> as NASA and the post office. His son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, used her 
> novel Anthem in Senate hearings in April to argue against government 
> regulations to phase out the incandescent light bulb.
> When asked to name his favorite political philosopher, George W. Bush 
> named Jesus Christ. But Ayn Rand is the GOP's new savior, and no one seems 
> to be taking notice of just how opposed their two philosophies are.
> Individualism vs. collectivism
> In Rand's Manichaean world, it is not God vs. Satan, but individualism vs. 
> collectivism. While Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor," she sings Hosannas 
> to the rich. The heroes of Atlas Shrugged (which, alas, is only slightly 
> shorter than the Bible) are captains of industry such as John Galt. The 
> villains are the "looters" and "moochers" - people who by hook (guilt) or 
> by crook (government coercion) steal from the hard-won earnings of others.
> Turning the tables on traditional Christian morality, Rand argues that 
> altruism is immoral and selfishness is good. Moreover, there isn't a 
> problem in the world that laissez-faire capitalism can't solve if left 
> alone to perform its miracles.
> I first read Atlas Shrugged and her other popular novel, The Fountainhead, 
> while festival-hopping in Spain after graduating from college, so I can 
> attest to the appeal of this philosophy to late adolescents of a certain 
> gender. As an adult, however, Rand's work reads to me like a vulgar 
> rationalization for greed lying on top of a perverse myth of the right 
> relationship between individual and community. So when Ryan says that, 
> "Ayn Rand, more than anyone else, did a fantastic job of explaining the 
> morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism," I have to question 
> his use of the word "explaining." "Duping" seems like the more appropriate 
> verb.
> As someone who has written extensively on the religious illiteracy of the 
> American public, I am not surprised that few Republicans today seem to 
> understand that marrying Ayn Rand to Jesus Christ is like trying to 
> interest Lady Gaga in Donny Osmond. But there is nothing Christian about 
> Rand's Objectivism. In fact, it is farther from Christianity than the 
> Marxism that Rand so abhorred. Despite the attempt of the advertising 
> executive Bruce Barton to turn Jesus into a CEO in his novel The Man 
> Nobody Knows (1925), Jesus was a first-class, grade-A "moocher."
> I am somewhat surprised, however, at how few GOP thinkers seem to see how 
> hostile her philosophy is to conservatism itself. Real conservatism is 
> first and foremost about conserving a society's traditions, including its 
> religious and political traditions. But Rand's Objectivism rejects in the 
> name of reason appeals to either revelation or tradition. The individual 
> is her hero, and God and the dead be damned.
> Real conservatism is also about sacrifice, as is authentic Christianity. 
> President Kennedy was liberal in many ways, but, "Ask not what your 
> country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country" was classic 
> conservatism. Rand, however, will brook no such sacrifice. Serve yourself, 
> she tells us, and save yourself as well. There is no higher good than 
> individual self-satisfaction.
> One of the reasons we are in our current economic quagmire is that none of 
> our leaders is willing to ask us to sacrifice. Democrats call for more 
> spending and more taxes; Republicans call for lower taxes and less 
> spending, and what we get is the most fiscally ruinous half of each: lower 
> taxes and more spending.
> A budget of too little Jesus
> Over the last few weeks, various Christian groups have criticized 
> Republican leaders for proposing a 2012 budget that in their view is both 
> un-Christian and anti-life. First, dozens of professors, priests and nuns 
> at various Catholic universities criticized House Speaker John Boehner for 
> a legislative record on the poor that was, in their estimation, "among the 
> worst in Congress." "Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from 
> one of the Church's most ancient moral teachings," they wrote. "From the 
> apostles to the present, the Magisterium of the Church has insisted that 
> those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor."
> Then a consortium of evangelical and Catholic groups aired an ad scolding 
> Ryan, who spearheaded that GOP budget, for his own "anti-life" stands. In 
> this ad, Father Thomas Kelley, a self-described "pro-life" priest from 
> Elkhorn, Wis., insisted that "God calls us to protect life at all stages," 
> not just in the womb.
> In short, these Christians are telling the GOP that there is too much Rand 
> in their budget, and too little Jesus.
> I don't see either Atlas Shrugged or the Bible as holy writ. I think the 
> Bible is more wise, better written and, ironically, less likely to come 
> across as holier than thou, but I have not come either to bury Ayn Rand or 
> to lament her recent resurrection. My aim is to force a choice.
> If you are going to propose a Robin Hood budget, you have to decide 
> whether you are robbing from the poor to give to the rich, or robbing from 
> the rich to give to the poor. Because you cannot do both. You cannot 
> worship both the God of Jesus and the mammon of Rand.
> I don't agree very often with the Watergate criminal and evangelical 
> leader Chuck Colson, but he has it right when he refers to Rand's 
> "idolatry of self and selfishness" as "the antithesis of Christianity"
> Rand's trinity is "I me mine." Christianity's is the Father, the Son, and 
> the Holy Spirit. So take your pick. Or say no to both. It's a free 
> country. Just don't tell me you are both a card-carrying Objectivist and a 
> Bible-believing Christian. Even Rand knew that just wasn't possible.
> Stephen Prothero is a religion professor at Boston University and the 
> author of the book God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the 
> World - and Why Their Differences Matter.
> _________________________________________
> Wayne A. Fox
> 1009 Karen Lane
> PO Box 9421
> Moscow, ID  83843
> waf at moscow.com
> 208 882-7975

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