Culture At Large

Should Ayn Rand be off-limits to Christians?

Daniel Burke

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?

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