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Jesus or Ayn Rand - can conservatives claim both?
Author Ayn Rand stands in New York City in this 1957 photo. Her criticism of religion outraged some, but her books remain popular.
June 29th, 2011
10:22 AM ET

Jesus or Ayn Rand - can conservatives claim both?

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN)– Can a person follow Ayn Rand and Jesus?

That’s the question posed by a provocative media campaign that claims that some prominent conservative leaders cannot serve two masters: Jesus and the controversial author of  "Atlas Shrugged," Ayn Rand.

The American Values Network, a group of political activists and pastors, sparked a debate when it recently released a video challenging some conservative and Republican leaders’ professed admiration for Rand,  an atheist who saw selfishness as a virtue and celebrated unfettered capitalism.

Eric Sapp,  AVN’s executive director, said the Republican Party cannot portray itself as a defender of Christian values and then defend the worldview of "the patron saint of selfishness" who scorned religion and compassion.

Sapp singled out Republican leaders such as Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, and talk radio host Rush Limbaugh after all of them expressed admiration for Rand.

Ryan,  architect of the GOP’s propsed budget and Medicare plan, once said that Rand’s philosophy was “sorely needed right now,” and that she did a great job of explaining “the morality of capitalism.”

Sapp sees little morality in Rand's worldview:

Rand said religion was ‘evil,’ called the message of John 3:16 ‘monstrous,’ argued that the weak are beyond love and undeserving of it, that loving your neighbor was immoral and impossible…

Sapp cited conservative leader Chuck Colson who released a video condemning Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” as a silly novel that “peddles a starkly anti-Christian philosophy.”

Sapp added:

Hard to reconcile leaders of ‘God’s Own Party’ praising someone who is about as anti Christ as one can get, huh?”

Onkar Ghate, a senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights in Washington, said the philosophies of Christianity and Ayn Rand are incompatible.

Jesus taught that people should love and serve others, including their enemies. Rand taught that people's fundamental focus should be on their individual happiness, he said:

 I don’t think what Ayn Rand advocates in 'Atlas Shrugged' and what Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount are compatible. She’s an egoist and therefore an individualist.  Jesus is advocating altruism and collectivism.

Rand died in 1982, but she remains polarizing. The great recession has triggered new interest in her novel, “Atlas Shrugged.” The book depicts a bleak future where the U.S. government has seized control of private industry and discouraged innovation.

The book may have been rooted in Rand's childhood trauma. She was born in Russia in 1905, and saw the Communist Party come to power in a violent revolution. Her family was left destitute after party officials seized her father’s business.

She immigrated to the United States where she eventually became a screenwriter. She ultimately made her mark through her novels. Critics say Rand’s characters were stilted mouthpieces for her philosophy of  Objectivism, which insists that individuals should be driven by “rational self-interest.”  Still, "Atlas Shrugged" is now considered one of the most influential books of the 20th century.

Rand's philosophy didn’t say much good about religion. In a 1964 Playboy interview posted on the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights site, she said that religious faith is “a negation of human reason” and charity wasn’t a virtue.

Rand told Playboy:

There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.

Defenders of Rand say that a person can adopt elements of Rand’s philosophy and reject whatever clashes with their faith.

Yaron Brooks, president of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, also defended Rand’s philosophy in a recent CNN.com commentary.

He said while people call Jesus or Mother Teresa heroes, they should use the same description for people like 19th century oil tycoon, John D. Rockefeller and inventor and businessman, Thomas Edison.

Their pursuit of personal profit is a virtue because it enriches society, not just individuals, Brooks said.

Brooks wrote:

It is they, not the Mother Teresas of the world that we should strive to be like and teach our kids the same.

Elections, some say, are ultimately a contest of ideas. It’ll be interesting to see if those political leaders who admire Rand continue to talk openly about her philosophy as the 2012 presidential campaign escalates.

Or will they deflect a question I suspect they’ll hear again and again:

How can you invoke Jesus and follow Rand?

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Books • Business • Christianity • Culture wars • Economy • Ethics • Politics

soundoff (1,025 Responses)
  1. Tony Nagy

    It is interesting to note how the discussion of this subject matter often ends up in ad-hominem attacks when one or more persons run out of logical, point-by-point arguments. In one form, as soon as you say the words "right-wing", "liberal" or suggest any political party's shortcomings (whatever group you believe the person you are debating to be a part of), you have ascribed all the supposed negative attributes you argue against to that "collective" and by fiat to that individual- which is never completely true. It is, I believe, an attempt to associate your point of view with anything at all that organization has allegedly done as a collective deemed negative or inappropriate (according to popular opinion) to discredit your argument- although no true reply to your assertions has been offered.
    The actions and principles of individuals continues to be that which moves social values in productive or non-productive directions. Although some individuals elect to act on principles (again, for good or ill) in concert, the fact remains it has always been that singular person's free will to act in groups or not, to follow that group's complete manifesto or not, and to take actions on that group's behalf ...... or not.
    The herd mentality- being either ascribed to or implied and accused of- is ever one of the downfalls of rational thought and the hiding place of small minds and big manipulations.

    June 2, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
  2. Doug Zimmer

    Atlas Shrugged is an argument for capitalism. Capitalism is not in conflict with Christianity even though Ayn Rand was an atheist. Mother Theresa was a wonderful person who did wonderful, charitable things for the people of India. If she had been a capitalist, she would have done even more wonderful things for them. Capitalism has created more wealth for more people in the last 200 hundred years than in the previous 2000 years. It is not unusual in America to see the homeless with cell phones, which Mother Teresa probably never saw in India. Capitalism drives positive economic growth, which creates peace through prosperity; and the prosperity allows us to give charitably to those in need. Capitalism drives technological growth, which allows us the leisure time to give back to society. The wealth creation caused by capitalism trickles down by creating jobs, which allows people to purchase, which creates the need to manufacture more, which creates more jobs, etc... Ayn Rand gets it – conservatives wish that everyone could understand as she did.

    October 6, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • Luke Callaway

      I am a Christian and a believer in free enterprise – in the same Capitalism that is the base of all of Ayn Rand's novels and nonfiction. In the United States of America it is the right of every citizen to believe or not to believe as he/she chooses. Rand chose to be an atheist. That belief or nonbelief has nothing to do with the truth of her political philosophy. I wish more of our elected leaders had a better understanding of her views of government and business.

      December 27, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  3. Karen Grant

    You obviously answered your question. No, a person cannot be a follower of both Christ and Rand. If a person claims to do both, they obviously do not understand Christ or Rand.

    September 26, 2012 at 2:34 am |
    • Tony Nagy

      That is a huge assertion with no supporting argument....... please complete.

      June 2, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
  4. Jim Thompson

    In Rand's own words:

    I am not suggesting that you should take a stand against religion. I am saying that Capitalism and religion are two separate issues, which should not be united into one “package deal” or one common cause. This does not mean that religious persons cannot crusade for Capitalism; but it does mean that nonreligious persons, like myself, cannot crusade for religion.

    September 23, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  5. Leigh

    A Reading from the 2nd Letter of St. Paul to the theThessalonians.

    Brothers and sisters, here is a command we give you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Keep away from every believer who doesn’t want to work. Keep away from anyone who doesn’t live up to the teaching you received from us.

    You know how you should follow our example. We worked when we were with you. We didn’t eat anyone’s food without paying for it. In fact, it was just the opposite. We worked night and day. We worked very hard so that we wouldn’t cause any expense to any of you.

    We worked, even though we have the right to receive help from you. We did it in order to be a model for you to follow. Even when we were with you, we gave you a rule. We said, “Anyone who will not work will not eat.”

    Just one of many examples that although Jesus wants us to help the most vulnerable, who are not able to help themselves, He did not expect us to support those who were able but would not work.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
  6. Jasper Jameson

    Christianity in America is becoming more about money, free markets, and politics, and less about spirituality. With a good investment advisor, you don't need Jesus.

    August 14, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Leigh

      You only need Jesus if you hope to move on to Eternal Life. PS: you can't take it with you.

      September 2, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  7. Teri Amborn

    Having been a Christian long before cracking open The Fountainhead I read with wide-eyed wonder this BEAUTIFUL representation and personification of Mark Chapter 4! Afterward, I DEVOURED Atlas Shrugged and have since read it 4 times.
    Ayn Rand brought the Bible ALIVE to me. Suddenly, I saw the Bible as NOT a "religious book" nor a "bunch of rules about how to please God"... but instead as a book of PRINCIPLES about how to live an abundant life.
    Too many people confuse religion with what Jesus was saying. He wasn't giving blanket "how to" instruction manual for being a "good" person. They don't bother reading Matthew Chapter 25...the parable of the Talents.
    Jesus said that He came that "You might have life and have it more abundantly". That comes from being productive...and that is Objectivism in a nutshell.

    August 13, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • Leigh

      Teri you are so correct. People confuse religion with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Two very different things. You don't need organized religion to be a follower of Jesus, but you do need Jesus if you hope to have Eternal Life. God gave us Life anda wonderful Earth to live it on. He wants us to enjoy the fruits of our labor,

      September 2, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
  8. sim namore

    The commies take her stuff and she becomes a fascist. What's new about this? Nothing. We might think back a few moments ago in U S politics and recall right wing attempts to exploit Jesus for its benefit–and what did the religious right have to say about Rand back in the 60s, the 70s, the 80s? She hasn't changed, they have. One cannot serve God and Mammon. The right knows this full well, but they'd rather watch the horsey dance and would do anything at all to protect the status quo–even if it means losing their jobs, their retirement accounts, and their homes. Who did these things? Chairman Mao? the "liberal" machine? Or was it a bunch of crooked bankers and investment firms manipulating the economy for their benefit? or was it was that fascist shill posing as a president who started wars based on lies and spilled our blood for profit? People wonder why Romney has no new ideas, but I posit he has none because things are working just fine for him. Atlas shrugs and the horsey dances.

    August 10, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Yellow dog

      right on. The Right has no worry as to what devastation their policies will cause...their money insulates them from crisis, from illness (need of healthcare),,,,as one blogger who went to the convention said .....their lives will not change at all, they will go to the same country clubs, their children will attend the same ivy league schools, they have money for all necessities, etc. Therefore they will never feel the pain of hunger, death, or hopelessness that comes about from Romney/Ryan policies and the destruction of the Middle Class.

      August 30, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  9. Thomas M. Johnson

    Two points need to be made please.

    First, Jesus suggested (paraphrased): Love your neighbor as you would like to be loved. This Golden Rule is identical to John Galt's proclamation (paraphrased): I swear by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for another person, NOR EXPECT ANOTHER PERSON TO LIVE FOR ME. The person who believes in giving to others in order to follow a Christian-life, must also believe that others should give to him. In other words, if you provide charity to others, the logic follows that you expect others to be charitable to you.

    However, if you do not want a helping hand, if you want to live your life by not depending on others and bynot making claim of others, you will not allow others to make claims on you. THIS IS THE GLDEN RULE.

    Secondly, charity is impossible. I have learned this from personal experience. Let's look at a wealthy person. This person purchases plenty of services that jealous moochers might consider unnecessary. These moochers believe that this wealthy person would serve Christ better if the wealthy person gave more money to charities. You don't need a massage once a week or a personal trainer 3 times a week, says the moocher. Sacrifice a little and give to the needy. Ask the massage therapist or the personal trainer whether their client should be more charitable?

    No, true value, true virtue is creating wealth...not redistributing it in the form of charity or taxation. Thank you Thomas Edison and Bill Gates, humanitarians for what they created, not for what they gave away.

    July 4, 2012 at 8:04 am |
  10. Andrew Ryan

    Francisco's speech on money is also not in conflict with Christ's teachings. The Bible differentiates between "wealth" and "filthy lucre", wealth being the product of one's effort and initiative, and "filthy lucre" being wealth derived from one's exploitation, manipulation, and greed. Wealth is not a bad thing; how many of God's followers did he bless with great wealth in gold, cattle, land, etc? The bible does not say that "money is the root of all evil". It says "THE LOVE OF money is the root of all evil". The love of achievement and the product of ones own efforts is repeatedly blessed by God in the scriptures.

    June 6, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.