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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. AJ

    I adore when people try to cozy themselves with Rand, or the tenets in Atlas Shrugged, when they clearly have neither read, nor understand what she was peddling.

    Rand's doctrine goes directly against Christian doctrine in many, many places, so seeing Randian Christians is just laugh worthy.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Michael

      Government should be secular, and Rand's vision of government supports that. Christians should see that faith is a destructive force because it undermines everything that makes a human remarkable (his rational faculty).

      THERE IS NO GOD! In (ALIENS) we trust!

      June 29, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • sfernands

      The belief in a creator does not need to run against thinking logically...even though it is sometimes used as an excuse to "blank out" reality. But the majority of Ayn Rand's objectivist principals would hold together if there were a God or not....at this point she knows...we will find out later 🙂

      June 29, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • sfernands

      As a reference point I was a religious studies minor (and would classify myself as a follower of Christ) and have read Atlas Shrugged several times – and yes I do believe there is more similar than different.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  2. GOP hypocrisy

    So let me get it straight. A dumb ugly chick from Russia came to the US and taught Americans how to be capitalist pigs? LOL!

    June 29, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • sfernands

      If you haven't read Atlas Shrugged you really should. You will find as many of her villans are "businessmen" as heros – rather it is the type of businessman\businesswoman that you are that matters – the world would be a better place if we had more business people mirrored after her characters than what we have today.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • Preacher's Kid

      Ahhh, the ever popular ad hominem attack. When you feel threatened but can't think of anything intelligent to say, attack the appearance/gender/nationality of the speaker - or all three for the ignorance trifecta.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      I read it and got over by the age of 12. You however still seem to worship a stooopid story. How about them Lords of the Rings?

      June 29, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  3. liberalbutopentoideas

    I strongly urge those who have not read Rand's Atlas Shrugged to do so. I identify myself as liberal, but there is nothing wrong with excellent writing and the strength of human ability.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Mark C

      Excellent writing??? Good, god, I guess if you've never read anything beyond the young adult section. If you think that turgid garbage is good writing, you need help.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • KlausVos

      I generally agree with you except the book was trash. A thinly disguised political manifesto with a terrible plot and little to no character development. The entire idea behind it can be expressed in just a few pages, but instead of doing just that, Rand felt the need to rant about it for a few hundred pages of rather small print.

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

      In my opinion it is one of the best books ever written...curious if those who don't like the book can at least say if they have read it? Or if they are reacting to the caricature of the book which is often presented.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Wait.. what?

      Excellent writing? Really?
      Are we talking about the same book as where the protagonist spends (30? 60?) pages on a radio address restating every theme the author has presented so far?
      It was a ham-handed political screed. That doesn't mean there weren't some valid points in there, but no way would I ever call it "Excellent writing."

      June 29, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • IndependentReader

      I agree with you. It was an excellent book. The only problem I had was the ending. It was as if the story had gone on for so long that she didn't know how to end it so she just did. There wasn't a lot of resolution.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • MyMotoMike

      I can't agree more with "...there is nothing wrong with excellent writing and the strength of human ability."
      However, I think that you're saying that Atlas Shrugged is excellent writing. I would disagree with that. Strongly. I think that the writing is fundamentally pretty bad but not the worst I've ever read. But that's only my opinion; I don't think there's a quality meter available for novel writing.

      However! ... I find it convincing, persuasive, and passionate. Which is not to say that I am convinced or persuaded or admiring of her passion. It wouldn't have so many fans if it weren't convincing and persuasive, or if she weren't so sure of herself.
      Actually, I wish she had just left it at The Fountainhead. Or ... I don't know, refined her point of view rather than letting it become what it became – malignant? Eager to overpower? Convinced of her correctness? Because, actually, The Fountainhead is (in my opinion, again) a pretty good book, especially compared with Atlas Shrugged, and it says pretty much the same thing (the trial scene instead of a radio address). I think one could debate with the author of The Fountainhead, but by the time she wrote Atlas Shrugged I think she was convinced of her own infallibility and total rightness. Which, for me, is, um, kind of a turnoff?

      June 29, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  4. adam

    librerals are so bitter against anything Republican and Religious. They have nothing better to do than to complain, like whinny little beeatches.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • Bernie

      No we leave that to republicans.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      and yet here you are adam complaining like a 'whinny little beeatch'

      June 29, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  5. Andy J Old

    I would suggest to you all that until or unless you have actually read Rands works, you are foolish and unqualified to comment on them. To suggest that her ideas would lead to cold materialism is to fully miss the point and overlook her abiding "passion" for ideas. If you give a jot for freedom, you should drop your prejudices and revisit Galts speech, at least, and try and understand it. If civilisation prevails past it's present crisis', history will vindicate Rand as the greatest hero since Aristotle. I say again, read her works. Then read them again. If you have any "reason" in your mind, you will get it. I rest my case.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • sfernands

      I agree completely. But I would also encourage people on the other side who haven't read the Bible to do so. Especially the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke that record Jesus' teachings. They may find that they object much more to Jesus' followers than his actual teaching 🙂 If anyone illustrated a willingness to lay down his life for his beliefs it was John Galt (and for that matter Ayn Rand).

      June 29, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Mark C

      I've read them, moron. They are philosophically laughable and repulsive. As works of "literature" they are a joke. Their primary appeal is to adolescents and the simple-minded.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Mulebomber

      Mark C engages in ad hominem rather than debating the actual issues.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Or you could just listen to Brook's view of the world and recoil in horror at the moral repugnance of the man.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • MyMotoMike

      Andy –
      What about those of us, like myself, who have read her books (as I have, a couple of times) and still find them lacking, or less than admirable? Is your point of view that to read them is to see her wisdom – that her ideas are flawless, original, and that she will be vindicated as a hero? Because that's not my impression of either her ideas and her eventual fate; so, since we disagree, what is your take on it? Am I wrong and you're right, and I just need to read them again, or get some explanation because I didn't get it because I don't have any "reason" in my mind?

      June 29, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  6. sfernands

    I think that there is more in similar between the two than different. Including; personal responsibility, promoting personal freedom, challenging religious leaders, a strong focus on the individual, and urging people to act in accordance with enlightened self interest. There is much that can be learned by Christians (I count myself in this camp) as well as anyone. I hope that we won't come to a place where we will only praise people who agree with all of our beliefs.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  7. don

    I expect the writer will next inform us the history of Planned Parenthood. Right ?? If you get tired of waiting for that just Google it. See how that matches up to how the left defines itself today. Remember, people in glass houses.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • Philojazz

      Don, you wrote "I expect the writer will next inform us the history of Planned Parenthood. Right ?? If you get tired of waiting for that just Google it. See how that matches up to how the left defines itself today. Remember, people in glass houses."

      Your implication seems to be that only 'the left' would be concerned whether 'conservatives' can follow both Jesus and Ayn Rand. However, I would think there must be more than a few on 'the right' who are asking themselves that exact question. Besides, your reference to the 'people in glass houses should not throw stones' would seem to imply that you would only let the 'politically blameless' criticize the political beliefs of others. On the contrary, I think that anyone should be able to criticize anyone else's beliefs, political or otherwise, if they are found to be intellectually sterile, or irrational, whatever their own personal beliefs may be.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  8. d bones

    This article is exactly right. Christianity and Ayn Rand's ideals are incompatible. Conservative Christians need to decide who's philosophies they want to follow.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  9. Colin

    Folks, once again, whenever you see the butterfly posting, please hit the "report abuse" button on it.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  10. jdonaldson

    Is Ayn Rand a fictional character, too?

    June 29, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  11. Kyle

    The best of america is the man who looks at his community and in order to help everyone builds a business. The worst of america is the man who builds a business to become rich and the lazy man who wants to be paid for nothing.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  12. Really?

    Why should I assume that because Ayn Rand chose a very different lifestyle than myself (referring specifically to atheism) that the concepts of her book do not have value? God gave us our individual talents as gifts. Whether we choose to believe in him or not, does not mean that he takes those gifts back.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  13. Ben

    I think this article brings up a great paradox in the Republican party. And to the Christians in the Democratic party, can you serve both Jesus and Margaret Sanger?

    June 29, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • Philojazz

      Ben, perhaps what you are really getting at is that when people try to bring their religious "beliefs" into what ought to be a rational political discussion, either their religious 'beliefs', or the rational character of the political discussion, or, unhappily, both, end up on the losing end. Now, personally, I think the solution to this problem is that people keep their religious 'beliefs' out of any political discussion. (I'm not holding my breath on that one, though.) In the meantime, it looks as if there will be a whole lot of confused and/or irrational voters out there. Who knows, maybe some of them will even have their 'beliefs' challenged and/or changed.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • Ben

      There is very little that is "rational" about political discussion. Political discussion digresses from comprimise to selling out. The moral foundations that Christians, Jews, atheists, etc hold need to shape the actions of the politicians. Its not an areana to discuss this religion from that religion (though civil discussion on this matter can be fruitful). However, the politician's soul will be held accountable for his/her actions and he/she should give those actions their due weight. What I'm trying to say is its not about serving Jesus or Ayn Rand, its about being faithful to each individuals beliefs.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Ben: While I agree that individuals all have different ideas that they uphold, I think it's important to note the article isn't addressing individuals, but a group – the Republican party – who seem to be putting on two very different faces. They bill themselves as the party of Christian morality and make a point of campaining on their religious credentials then also want to project an image that is very anti-Jesus' tenets. The Dems don't bill themselves as the Christian or religious party so there is no image conflict. In that light, it's very fair to ask which Republican image should we really trust?

      June 30, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  14. phoenix

    ayn rand was a godless foolosopher smartest broad that ever lived though.john 1 all the way the word became flesh.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  15. Kevin

    Jesus Christ:

    Luke 12:15 — “Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’ ”

    Mark 12:43-44 — “Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.’ ”

    Luke 6:24 — “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.”

    Matthew 25:34-40 — “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ ”

    Mark 10:21 — “Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ ”

    Matthew 6:19-21 — “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” [cf. Luke 12:34]

    Luke 14:33 — “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”

    Ayn Rand:

    “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 mine.”

    "Wealth is the result of Man's ability to think."

    "My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue"

    "Ask youself whether the dream of heaven and greatness should be waiting for us in our graves–or whether it should be ours here and now and on this earth."

    "This god, this one word: I. "

    Anyone who thinks the two are compatible is displaying a heroic level of cognitive dissonance.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Philojazz

      Congratulations on an excellently researched and constructed posting, Kevin. Hopefully, others will learn from your example, and raise the level of discourse on this and other sites.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • Liberal1168

      Excellent direct source comparison Kevin. You wisely saw you needed no additional argument. The sources speak for themselves and are not only substantively, but facially incompatible.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • sfernands

      Money is often one of the contrasts that people raise between Jesus and Ayn Rand. Yet there is much in similar there as well…such as the folly of thinking that having possessions will bring you happiness.

      Jesus Christ:
      Luke 12:15 — “Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’ ”

      Ayn Rand…So you think that money is the root of all evil? Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce.
      "But money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver. It will give you the means for the satisfaction of your desires, but it will not provide you with desires. Money is the scourge of the men who attempt to reverse the law of causality–the men who seek to replace the mind by seizing the products of the mind.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • Frogist

      @sfernands: Again it looks like these two quotes are in opposition. You are taking the outlying parts to be in sync – that there are other things in life but money. But Luke's quote is about greed and the pursuit of material things which he considers misguided and dangerous. Rand is saying money and the pursuit of possessions thru intellect is not bad or wrong. In fact it is the reward for being truly productive. The core of the two statements do not seem to match.

      June 30, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  16. NJreader

    Rand and religion are incompatible. But I would not be inclined to follow either one separately, either. However, each has elements I endorse in theory and try to put into practice in my own life day-to-day. I do not think there is any "ism" with all the answers or all the questions or all the advice/guidance. I agree with the some of the ideas of lots of people I would never want to have lunch with, and I disagree with some of the ideas of the people most dear to me in the world.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  17. Jen

    I hate articles that force you to answer a question that was a stupid one to ask in the first place.

    Also – Why does the author assume or rather imply that all Conservatives are Christians? I am a Christian with a brain who happens to be a conservative. I like reading Chris Hitchens or Camille Paglia because they have an inteesting perspective on certain aspects of life, history, etc. that I find interesting. That doesn't make me less of a Christian or conflict with my desire to be a conservative.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • roberto

      The conservative platform is that this is a Christian nation. If you are a conservative you are probably a Christian. Why do so many conservatives find a way to disconnect their religion when it challenges the logic of their argument? Ayn Rand would call you weak and despise you. This is all about money really. Money is the one true religion at least for conservatives.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  18. kyle

    @ Dan.

    Following Christ or any religion is not about believing in fairy tales or magical thinking. It is about find self, helping others, knowing we are all connected, that there is something bigger than yourself, and having compassion for those less fortunate. The teaches of Jesus were not about hating the rich or loving the poor more, but about asking the simplest question: Would you want to be treated this way or that way if you were in that same postion? If you can honestly say you would like no one to help you out when you are at your most vulnerable, then God Bless You. But me, I would like someone to help me when I need it so I have to help others when they need it

    June 29, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • NOT MY CHAIR

      that's selfish, you should help people because you can not because you might need them

      June 29, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • ellieky

      Very good point, NOT MY CHAIR. No ill intention to kyle, but kyle... NMC has nailed it.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  19. Peikovian

    Only with the proper philosophical base can one can formulate a consistent politics and achieve it in practice. "When, however, men attempt to rush into politics without such a base, the result is that embarrassing conglomeration of impotence, futility, inconsistency and superficiality which is loosely designated today as “conservatism.”"

    Conservatives conserve tradition. Doesn't matter how good or bad that tradition was. At this point it includes the mysticism of the Western Church and the statism of the New Deal.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  20. dragoon

    Thoughtless people always miss the real point of Randian "selfishness" – it implies that one respects everyone else’s right to self actualization, that other people do not owe them something, and that people do not owe their existence to something "greater than themselves", which is really nothing more than some politicians reason for giving up individual liberties so they can be controlled. It is the collectivists – the democrats – who are by far more "selfish" – they always want you to give them something and the only thing you get in return is a warm feeling.

    June 29, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • John J. Puccio

      "the democrats are by far more 'selfish' – they always want you to give them something and the only thing you get in return is a warm feeling." And you could say the same thing about all Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religions. Of course, with the Republicans at least you know what you're getting when they make you give them something: You get the rich getting richer. 🙂

      June 29, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • GAH!

      So, since when has cooperation throughout the whole system been detrimental? The godless ethics of Rand is as cold and wrong as that of the Marxists, and neither can ground their beliefs in their own ontology. Randian philosophy is a self-refuting idea.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • Frogist

      I also don't understand devaluing the "warm feeling" you get either. Because it is not a property, is it worthless?

      June 30, 2011 at 6:35 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.