Should Ayn Rand be off-limits to Christians?

The atheist philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand published more than a dozen books before she died in 1982. Now, liberal Christians say another work belongs in Rand's controversial canon: the 2012 Republican budget.

House Republicans passed their budget along party lines in April, saying its drastic cuts to federal programs are necessary to prevent a deficit crisis. But some Christians are saying that Rand's dog-eat-dog philosophy is the real inspiration for the GOP budget and its author, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

"You've got a guy who is a rising Republican star, and who wrote the budget, saying he's read her books and Washington needs more of her values," said Eric Sapp, executive director of the American Values Network, which produced the video. "If you're a Christian, you've got to ask some serious questions about what's going on here."

In other words, Sapp argues, you can follow Ayn Rand or Jesus, but not both. In novels such as "Atlas Shrugged," the Russian-born Rand portrays American capitalists as heroes battling an encroaching government bent on milking their success. In nonfiction writings, Rand is more explicit about her Objectivist philosophy, which views religion as a "primitive" sop to the feeble-minded masses. "It must be either reason or faith," Rand said in a 1979 interview. "I am against God for the reason that I don't want to destroy reason."

Rand's anti-religious views, however, are not as well known as her novels. By highlighting them, Sapp and liberal Christians hope to discredit the GOP budget and drive a wedge between the conservative Christian and Tea Party wings of the Republican Party. To that end, Sapp, who has directed faith outreach for a number of Democratic campaigns, is promoting a video in which evangelical leader Chuck Colson warns Christians to beware of Rand's "idolatry of self and selfishness."

"I have no love for big government, but there are far better ways to critique it than Rand's godless nonsense, especially for Christians," Colson says in the video.

The American Values Network video, which Sapp said will be emailed to 1.2 million Christians in Wisconsin, opens with anti-religious remarks from Rand and segues into Republican leaders, including Ryan and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., offering high praise of the Russian novelist. "Rand, more than anyone else, did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism," Ryan says in a 2009 Facebook video excerpted in the ad. "It's that kind of thinking, that kind of writing that is sorely needed right now."

Ryan's spokesman, Kevin Seifert, said the congressman "does not find his Catholic faith to be incompatible with his feelings for Ayn Rand's literary works. ... Rand is one of many figures and authors that Congressman Ryan has cited as influencing his thinking during his formative years."

Seifert said that Ryan has not seen the ads, and so would not comment on them. Nor would Ryan offer an opinion on Rand's anti-religious statements. "It's not appropriate for him to speculate on an individual's personal religious views," Seifert said.

Jay W. Richards, a Catholic and author of "Money, Greed and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem," calls Ryan, like many Rand admirers, a "cafeteria Randian."

"I suspect the progressive Christians are confusing that point," he said. "You can agree with Rand's critique of collectivism as enervating and soul-destroying without adhering to her overarching philosophy."

Would you agree? Can Christians take anything constructive away from Rand's writings, or is her work antithetical to the Gospel?

Daniel Burke is associate editor and national correspondent for Religion News Service, where this piece originally appeared.

Comments (48)

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To make the question of Rand more interesting, one can also ask about how her words actually fit into how she lived her life. After all, her 'dog-eat-dog' world had to have enough space for medicare - even if she denounced others that used it, she didn't hold on to her theories strongly enough not to accept it herself. Good commentary on this can be found at: http://gruntledcenter.blogspot...
There is plenty of stuff in Rand's philosophy that isn't good. Much of it is mistaken, but she does make some good points. We shouldn't follow her philosophy blindly but we can take pieces of it that make sense. 

Just because someone is an atheist doesn't mean everything that say and think is bad.
Unfortunately, Christianity gets pulled both ways by well-intentioned
Christians who believe that either unrestrained capitalism or
compulsory socialism is the economy of the Kingdom; neither is correct.
John Wesley's view of a healthy capitalism was to "make as much as you
can, save as much as you can, give as much as you can" - all three had
to be in play for capitalism to be biblical. And an understanding of
Acts 2 does not read as New Testament Marxist theory when one
understands that Communism saying, "What's yours is mine," is very different from Christianity saying, "What's mine is yours."


The extremes of pure capitalism or pure socialism are both evil, and
there's plenty of evidence in the world to support this claim. Whichever
extreme of the economic spectrum one may favor, Atlas Shrugged - in book or movie form - should serve as a nuanced critique of both rather than a simplistic rationale for either.

More here if you want it: http://dunhams.typepad.com/sec...
John Wesley's view requires the free market (unrestrained capitalism), if people are to be able to give their money freely. Anything other than unrestrained capitalism is taking from others so that you can give it to others.
It's easy for us as Christians to simply dismiss any challenging work. If we can prove that they don't worship our God, then we can disregard anything from a particular source. The problem is that God didn't even follow that logic, often placing the prophets of the Old Testament under the influence, and often friendship, of leaders who didn't worship our God. Often those leaders did find a path to worshiping God, but the outcome was only certain to God never the people involved. Cutting ourselves off from authors, people, ideas, and modern day leaders, doesn't raise God up. We need to engage and connect, and prayerfully seek to turn all things to God's will. Of course, this all fits within Paul's warnings about not excercising our freedoms at the sake of our brothers and sisters. So, for example, if discussing Atlas Shrugged with a fellow believer caused them harm in someway, then we should refrain.
It's a bit misleading to use a phrase like "unrestrained capitalism" and even more problematical to equate that phrase with free-market economies.  As Adam Smith and many since have noted, existence of free markets is predicated on a government structure that provides the space (rule of law) and the tools (fair measures) for those market to operate.  There is nothing particularly "unrestrained" about it.  Rather it is a carefully circumscribed system made possible only through the proscriptions of government.

Wesley's view is not so far removed from those of the founding fathers, who recognized the role moral frameworks must play in creating the conditions for our democratic republic.

The current practice of couching the question in the context of private-property arguments about whether one is fully autonomous in the use of money is both unhelpful and ahistorical.js
Economy of the kingdom?  Wow, its scary that this line of thought exists in America because it sounds like the kind of talk you'd hear about in Saudi Arabia.
I think your summary questions at the end are much better than the question in your title. Ceonsorship is not the answer at all here. Brian's comments speak well to this matter.
Rand speaks strongly to individual responsibility. I can see how Rand's ideas about excellence translate for Christians who are trying to figure out how personal accountability before God applies to their financial and political lives. 

Rand also names self-interest as the defining motivation for capitalism. Sometimes altruism is included in a political or philosophical position as a smokescreen to hide selfishness. I do appreciate Rand's honesty. And a society where everyone is striving for excellence (OT writers, Jesus and Paul all encouraged excellence), even if the motivation is selfish, is going to have some positive results. 

Ultimately, though I think motivation has to trump results. Christ should be the defining influence for Christians.
Rand's artwork is beautiful. He philosophy, while easily tied to government, can't be tied to love. 

Highlighting her anti-religious views and using them to discredit the validity of her inspiration of governmental budgeting is a deceptive tactic. Her atheism has nothing to do with the validity of the inspiration of her politics. 

As you mentioned in the article, Dems are using this to try to weaken the support of Christians for Repubs, not to make a legitimate point. It's inciting emotional response, not honest debate.

 

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