Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Conservatism's Reliance on Ayn Rand

This morning an article on CNN.com caught my attention which explored the odd relationship between Ayn Rand and political & religious conservatives. For those who are unfamiliar with Ayn Rand (1905-1982), she was a Russian-American author and philosopher who advocated what she referred to as Objectivism. This philosophical system believes that reality is independent of our consciousness and that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception. More importantly, it believes that all knowledge is available through sense perception--anything outside of that perception is simply myth.

As such, Rand was a committed atheist and virulent critic of religion. She described herself as "an enemy of all religion" and "the creator of a new moral code" that was devoid of any religious undertones.

According to Rand, the greatest virtue was the "virtue of selfishness", where the individual "exists for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself" (The Voice of Reason", 1989, p 3). The proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness (what she often referred to as one's "rational self-interest"). She believed the only system consistent with this "morality" is laissez-faire capitalism, which emphasizes the protection of individual rights.  For Rand, "good" was defined as the pursuit (and accomplishment) of one's own interest, whereas "evil" is a violation of one's individual rights. Christianity, which teaches that love of God and others is to be put before one's own self-interests, is for Rand the embodiment of evil. She once quipped that John 3:16 was "monstrous".

In 1957 she published Atlas Shrugged, the book that would become her magnum opus. The work sought to demonstrate that a world in which the individual is not free to create is ultimately doomed, and that civilization cannot exist where people are controlled by the government. It further advocated that the motive of profit was the only motive capable of sustaining a healthy society.

Mainly due to her vigorous defense of capitalism, political conservatives have long hailed Rand's writings. David Nolan, one of the founders of the Liberation Party, stated that "without Ayn Rand, the libertarian movement would not exist".  During some Tea Party rallies individuals have frequently carried signs mentioning Rand and her fictional character John Galt (the hero from Atlas Shrugged). The video below shows the extent of her influence upon Conservatives.

What is shocking, however, is how very few Christians seem to see the inherent conflict of political conservativism with biblical Christianity. Not that I am advocating socialism or communism, but are so we blind to the teachings of Jesus that we cannot discern that profit-motivated capitalism is self-serving and therefore evil? Rand at least has the intellectual honesty to admit that Christianity and Capitalism are inherently incompatible. In her view, she calls "good" (e.g. selfishness) what Scripture clearly calls "bad".  The warning from Isaiah 5:20-24 is fitting, "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil...for they have rejected the law of the LORD Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel." Whereas conservatives routinely castigate Karl Marx for his animosity towards religion, they routinely let Rand off the hook.  For example, Marx wrote:
"Religion is the sign of the oppresses creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of a soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."
But consider these quotes from Rand:
"I am against those who invented the idea of God. It gives man the excuse to act and think irrationally." 
"[Religion] is the sign of a psychological weakness and a sign that a man is unwilling to stand upon his own abilities...I regard it as an evil." 
"It is not right or proper to accept anything based on faith."
John Blake, the author of the CNN article, begins his piece with this question: Can a person follow Ayn Rand and Jesus? The answer is clearly no! Whereas the political left is no closer to the Gospel, those who look to Rush Limbaugh or Rep. Paul Ryan (both self-professed followers of Rand) to "fix" our nations problems are likewise following a course that leads away from Biblical truth.

Those reading this on facebook will need to go directly to my website to view the video below.  http://www.joshgelatt.com/2011/06/conservatisms-reliance-on-ayn-rand.html. I should note that the video is put out by the "American Values Network", an organization that I know nothing about (though I am very familiar with Rand's writings, and agree at least with this video).

4 comments:

  1. I read that as well, found it quite interesting.

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  2. I am in agreement with most of what you said in this blog. Ayn Rand is definitely not someone to whom Christians should look for economic or political views.

    However, the following quote, I believe, is an overstatement: "Not that I am advocating socialism or communism, but are so we blind to the teachings of Jesus that we cannot discern that profit-motivated capitalism is self-serving and therefore evil? Rand at least has the intellectual honesty to admit that Christianity and Capitalism are inherently incompatible." The flaw in this quote (I think) is the false assumption that Ayn Rand equals Capitalism; however, wouldn't it be more accurate to say that hers is one argument for the morality of Capitalism? I am asking because I am sincerely unsure of the answer, but Capitalism predated Rand. Therefore, it could not have been invented by her. A Christian argument for Capitalism would have a different rationale, yet would agree with Ayn Rand concerning the morality of Capitalism.

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  3. True, Ayn Rand does not equal Capitalism. What is striking to me, however, is that some of the most prominent Republican voices (e.g. Paul Ryan) have praised Rand's view of the morality of Capitalism. That alone should cause biblical Christians to stop and reconsider our loyalty to the political right. They may have some of the same goals, but their morality is as far removed from ours as is the Left's.

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  4. Capitalism is liberty. My love in Christ dictates that I give others liberty. Most Conservatives don't subscribe to Rand's godless philosophy but rather believe in liberty and justice for all. Some may agree with Rand that capitalism is moral (and socialized "looting" is not) but they don't agree that selfishness is the highest virtue. Probably many Libertarians also believe in charity as a virtue and would not take Rand's strong stand of the virtue of selfishness.

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