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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. kbnj

    One day, liberals will realize Conservatives are a very diverse, often open-minded group.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • libertarian mike

      It's funny how you just generalized in your complaint about generalizations.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      I was thinking the same thing libertarian mike

      June 29, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  2. bob

    Who is John Galt?

    June 29, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Really?

      If the person who wrote this article can't answer that question, then I have litte credence in their opinion.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  3. The Dude

    I am an Atheist.

    If I could go back in time and kill someone for the betterment of mankind I would pick Ayn Rand over Hitler.

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eqKb5ViN_Q&w=640&h=360]

    June 29, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • kbnj

      Is that "heated rhetoric" or "hate speech"?

      June 29, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • truth2power

      "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians, they are so unlike your Christ."
      -Gandhi

      June 29, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • meemee

      Thou shalt not kill.

      June 29, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  4. Salmander

    Since Rand was the ultimate hypocrite (decrying the government helping the sick and poor and then having goevernment entiltements pay for her medical bills) it isn't surprising that her followers would be hypocrites as well.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Salmander

      *government

      June 29, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • libertarian mike

      If someone forcefully takes your money, are you wrong for taking the opportunity to get some of it back?

      June 29, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Salmander

      If your philosophy is that you stand on your own two feet, then yes.
      If you believe and espouse that all murder is wrong, but then you kill a thief to get your money back, you are a hypocrite. Stand by your principles no matter what, or your principles are meaningless.

      Besides, she tried to hide it by using her husbands name and said it was because her treatments were too expensive. If she couldn't pay for them herself, then she shouldn't expect others to, according to her teachings.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • Wait.. what?

      So if you claim to be able to support yourself and someone comes and steals your stuff, you should let them have it because reclaiming your stuff would somehow not be supporting yourself?

      What a baffling series of intellectual gymnastics you must have gone through to arrive at that conclusion!

      June 29, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • libertarian mike

      You seem to be confusing Objectivism with Pacifism. When someone violates your individual liberty or property, you have every right to defend yourself. The money she paid into government programs was by force, not by choice. If she refused to pay, she would've been fined, and eventually armed men would have put her in a cage. She had every right to recoup her losses from the people who stole her property. You've obviously never read Atlas Shrugged, as there's a major character named Ragnar Danneskjold, whose sole purpose is to recoup property stolen by the government. Even the main character, Dagny Taggart, put a bullet in the man preventing the rescue of her kidnapped love interest.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Theodore

      You misunderstand Ayn Rands value system. She believed that one should always operate for the maximum gain of self in all situations. If we assume she will always take the selfish choice it makes complete sense that she would do that.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Frogist

      @libertarian mike: It is an interesting idea. but do we as a society think that principle of steal from anyone or any group we think has violated our individual rights, is acceptable? Or viable? Can her principles really work on a practical level? In other words, if your neighbour thinks you violated his individual rights, does he then have the right to steal or violate you in anyway he feels is necessary? It seems chaotic and revenge-oriented.

      June 30, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  5. OK

    It never stops surprising me how people are willing to twist the truth to make an argument that makes them "appear" correct. The author of this article appears to have not read one complete novel or non-fiction essay by Rand or, apparently, the Old and New Testaments. It is sad that such uninformed writing can be presented under the guise of a reputable news source.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Wait.. what?

      So, would you like to offer some specific refutations? 'Cause at present all you've offered is the rhetorical equivalent of "nuh-ah."

      June 29, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  6. Geoff

    Defenders of Rand say that a person can adopt elements of Rand’s philosophy and reject whatever clashes with their faith..... In the words of the church lady..." isn't that conveeeenient.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  7. Oh Duh

    Rand is half-baked Nietzsche. She's not some great "philosopher."

    June 29, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • meemee

      Agreed. She was a novelist/screenwriter, not a philosopher. She had a philosophy that she sought to share as a political dialogue and backed it up with action. She fought against the idea of sameness through social and government enforcement. Racial ideas and works usually come from people most greatly affected by the opposite, as she was in Russia. That at least, is admirable. The debate is useful and timely.

      June 29, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  8. Patrick

    Since there are so many versions of "what God wants" out there, I'm sure one exists to confirm his post.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  9. Unknown

    I think if you are an Atheist at ages 18-25 and you have not adopted a personal philosophy, just go with Objectivitism. Otherwise, look elsewhere.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  10. VerilyISay

    "The Lord called these works to scorn and filled their days with ants."

    I know this, a bush just told me. A nice rose in fact.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  11. Maryann

    How can they invoke Jesus and follow Rand? Easy:

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

    Just like the bible – just cherry-pick what you want to believe in, and discard the rest. That is how it works, right?

    June 29, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  12. David Crosby

    The only "Fact" about Jesus is that Jesus died..so therefore Jesus is Dead !? And for a dead guy moldering away for 2000 years he sure stirs up a lot of bad stuff..waste of time if you ask me..

    June 29, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • John Galt

      Fact: No one asked you for your witless opinion.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • ellieky

      Seriously, John Galt? Fact: CNN provides this forum for people to post their opinions on the subject at hand, thus CNN effectively has asked for David Crosby's opinion.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • John Galt

      @ellieky- Again..no "one" asked for his opinion. He is free of course to give it, but if you read his message you might understand why I said what I said.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • meemee

      I completely agree with David Crosby. And if you are the musician David Crosby, I salute you for the nerve to post in your actual name. (The mustache I have was inspired by yours in 1966 and I still have it).

      June 29, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • meemee

      John Galt; History supports Crosby's opinion. It's your reply that is witless. Try to counter him with some actual facts. But you can't because Christian history is full of murder, torture, conquests, bloody civil wars, terrorism, the promotion of hate, etc., for centuries and centuries. The charity of Europe's pre-Christian religions would have supplanted and did counter the insanity of Christianity, which was largely a political device for the subjugation Europe by a few. And they're still at it world wide.

      June 29, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • John Galt

      "But you can't because Christian history is full of murder, torture, conquests, bloody civil wars, terrorism, the promotion of hate, etc., for centuries and centuries."

      Oh owww...you insulted the followers of a faith. Pity it does nothing to actually damage the faith itself.

      June 29, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • John Galt

      As for Crosby's comments.....what was his point? That ppl can behave badly...is it Jesus's fault if ppl behave wrong? All he tried to do was t insult both a faith and it's followers. He really failed at both. Heck..Crosby would probably be the same type of person that in another thread would say there was no Jesus if it suited his warped opinions.

      June 29, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  13. Terre

    What about her opinions on abortion, one would think not a single anti choice conservative could agree with her opinions in this matter which are very radical.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  14. Will 18E

    conservative miss the boat on Rand. What Rand is saying, the guy who invented "time", 24 Hours in a day, get his or her's billions for doing so. Yet conservative, the non inventor of time, just the managers, want the windfalls of the inventer, as a manager. While arguing the little people get nothing, or "time" will go on strike. So if you embarce Rand, the CEO, CFO etc of "time" are no more hearalded as the watch maker, on the production floor.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  15. waves

    Besides one claims of a divine being and another's atheistic views, I see no difference between that of the greater christian society and that of Ayn Rand. I myself am an atheist, but that doesn't make me believe in unfettered capitalism. I honestly believe in a balance of both capitalism and socialism. And for the record atheism has nothing to do with anything besides a lack of a belief in a divine being, other than that whether or not a person is for capital punishment or not, gay rights or not, etc, has nothing to do with atheism.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  16. Ken Andrews

    You assume that Tea Party members read. Most of them are simply Faux News pawns.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • John Galt

      What does the Tea-party have to do with this? Hugh Hefner has more to do with this story than the Tea Party. But, don't let that stop your from your Fox envy.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Really?

      Like Dems don't. No one heard of Obama before Oprah.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  17. libertarian mike

    I can't imagine why conservatives (especially social conservatives) would have ever cared for Ayn Rand at all unless they didn't know a thing about her. In addition to calling religion bunk, she also pushed the ideas of liberty, non-aggression, and self-ownership... all ideas that conservatives hate. Even Ron Paul falls short.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • IndependentReader

      You make an excellent point. I'm a Christian. I didn't know anything about Ayn Rand until after I read the book. Found it at a library book sale for $1. It was a very good read. Don't remember it addressing religion at all, only government oppression. I approached the book with an open-mind (as most Independents do) and clearly understood the message. Don't give freedom away to the government.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  18. Mona in TULSA

    "I swear by my Life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for the sake of mine. " John Galt

    "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for His friends". Jesus, the Christ.

    Well, that about sums it up, don't you think? Both books are on my top 10 favorite and most influential, by the way.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • sfernands

      Also love both books. To me the two quotes are perfectly in agreement...think John Galt would have taken a bullet for Dagny? Oh yeah. In both cases it is a cost that the person is freely making because they WANT TO. "Do unto others as you would want them to do to you" is Galts mo 🙂

      June 29, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Frogist

      Hi Mona,
      I don't really understand. The quotes you posted seem in opposition to each other. You can't lay down your life for another man and still live for yourself alone. Can you?

      June 30, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  19. JDenver

    Cognitive dissonance is the name of the game for the GOP I'm afraid.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  20. Dan

    Christianity is the perfect philosophy for people that can make bread and fish appear out of thin air and resurrect ourselves after we turn the other cheek to our enemy and our enemy uses the opportunity to shoot us in the face. For the rest of us that are bound by the shackles of reality, there is Objectivism.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • John Galt

      The first two you describe is not philosophy but a belief. And if one looks at the entirety of the scriptures and not just cherry pick like you have done, I doubt you will think that God wants us to get utterly slaughtered by our enemies.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • meemee

      John Galt;; And yet, that is what early Christians thought and did. Edward Gibbon wrote of how Christians were rushing Roman echelons in suicidal frenzies in the feverent belief that they would find themselves, the very next instant, in paradise with Jesus. One church father's written admonition of this practice exists and it is also why suicide became a sin. All the condemnation of Roman's throwing Christians to the Lions; they were inviting it and the civil unrest they caused fighting among themselves drew some harsh results. I don't think they ever guessed how the Roman leaders would deal with them, making a game out of testing their faith through horrid deaths in the Colosseum. However, Christians wreaked their vengeance on "pagans" for the next thousand-plus years.

      June 29, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • John Galt

      I think you are making a typical and very common error here meemee. You are trying to build up the believers and tear them down to bring an argument against the faith. I think you should quit building straw men.

      June 29, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Dan: Are those my only choices? I find when things are put in either/or, black/white terms they are never really realistic. There are always shades of grey and options that are left out.

      June 30, 2011 at 6:00 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.