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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. Art Mahoney

    Ayn Rand and Jesus?
    How about Adolf Hitler and Mother Teresa?
    There was a reason Jesus expelled the money changers from the temple. Because he KNEW the negative effect they and their progeny would have on our world as it moved forward.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • LeeVA

      Ignoring you obvious anti-semitic statement, I don't think any Christian denomination, catholic, protestant, evangelical, or restorationist, would agree with your interpretation of that scripture, though I would agree that Hitler and Ayn Rand would probably find many things in common in a casual conversation.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Dog Boy

      @LeeVA – what anti-semite statement? If you are referring to the money changers, remember jesus was a jew when he threw them out of the temple and when he berated the pharisees for their wrongs.

      I took what Mahoney meant by progeny to mean all people (regardless of race) who value profit above all else are the main problem with the world.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • LeeVA

      @DogBoy,

      That could be what he meant. However, he invoked Hitler. I made the logical leap, though it was more of a slight hop.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Dog Boy

      Ah, it was the hitler reference. I can see that, but as you posted, "I would agree that Hitler and Ayn Rand would probably find many things in common in a casual conversation". I think that's why he mentioned hitler, was because he could be comparable to rand in amorality and as good a counterpoint to Mother Theresa and rand is to christ.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  2. f

    I can't wait to get to Heaven and see who really makes it there. Ayn Rand sure won't be there. How sad that some people think they are God.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  3. Left Of Sean

    Why would you want to follow EITHER one?

    June 29, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Bubba

      Jesus seems nicer but so far Randites haven't burned any cities or started a Crusade.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  4. Chris Schumerth

    This article raises good questions, but it is a drastic oversimplification to conclude that elements of Rand's philosophy could not be blended well with Jesus's philosophy. Neither was much into forcing people against their will. A great example of this is the story of the rich man who asked Jesus what he needed to do. Jesus suggested he give all his money to the poor, but when he refused, Jesus did not chase after him or try to force him against his well. He let life and its consequences be the teacher. You have to really stretch to see Jesus in any Statist light. Indeed, much of his actions directly rebelled against the political and religious authorities of his day.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Bannister

      Excellent post Chris. I think the philosophies of Christianity and Libertarianism are VERY compatible and can be summed up in the verse "Do onto others as you would have them do to you"

      June 29, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Bruce

      Just so you know, Chris, collectivism is not the same thing as statism. Pointing out that Ayn Rand said to live for yourself and that Jesus said to die to yourself is not making Jesus into a statist.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • LeeVA

      Bannister,

      And Jesus added (I paraphrase), "Do unto others whether or not they do what you would have them do unto you." That is where Ayn Rand and Jesus split company.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  5. Corvus

    Buddhists say that the Three Poisons of the Mind are Greed, Anger, and Ignorance. This pretty much rules out Ayn Rand's heartless philosophy for any knowledgeable Buddhist. Sorry, Ayn– people matter more than profits. (Or at least, they -should- matter more than profits). As for conservatives who manage the mental gymnastics needed to reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus of Nazereth, I can only observe how angry and delusional they also seem to be. They have convinced themselves that the kind of me-first world she imagines, would be a good place to live. This is both sad and scary, especially since they seem intent on transforming the USA in her image. No way. No way. Resist!

    June 29, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Laughing

      Actually, a true buddhist probably has the most in common with Ayn. Think of it like this. You are right about the poisons of the mind, however if you are a true buddhist then your goal is to attain nirvanah by completely removing yourself from the reincarnation cycle and getting rid of all your karma (both good and bad). Buddhism is actually I think the ultimate example of a person having to try and focus solely on him/herself and no one else to do this.

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

      Hey Laughing, if you are trying Buddhism by focusing only on yourself you are doing it exactly wrong. Buddhism has more to do with death to self and self-denial, similar to a Christian concept, than the self-infatuation and self-service you suggest.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Laughing

      @ Bruce

      You're right to a degree. I was trying to fit buddhism into his example better than Corvus did. Buddhism is not about self-infatuation at all, but it is about trying to achieve a state of nothingness and leaving this life behind. Christians firmly believe there is life after death and so they strive in their lives to be good enough to enter the happy place after they die. A buddhist on the other hand is all about letting everything go, everything. As a non-buddhist it's hard for me to see a person trying to achieve enlightenment with no self-service along the way. The whole point is to try and learn yourself so thouroughly that you can then cut off everything and become enlightened, that sounds pretty self-involved to me, but hey like I said, I'm no buddhist.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  6. Talgrath

    Yes, Jesus Christ and Ayn Rand's philosophies are completely incompatible. Jesus says to love thy neighbor as theyself, that a rich man can no more pass into Heaven than a camel pass through the eye of a needle while Ayn Rand tells you to seek personal enjoyment and become as wealthy as possible. Both Jesus and Ayn Rand would be disgusted to see their names invoked by the same person (sometimes in the same sentence).

    June 29, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  7. Stating the obvious

    Just like all extreme viewpoints, it is in the middle where things get done. I love Ayn Rand's over-the-top objectivist viewpoint as the perfect counterpoint to the "bleeding heart liberal humanist" (as Al wrote) that is Jesus in the Bible. The very problem in society today is that people truly believe you are being dishonest or a hipocrit to embrace some of what BOTH have to say. That puts you in the middle, where most Americans are, but most of these posters aren't. This was a very good article right until the end. Does John Blake (the writer of this article) really believe what he posits at the end of the article? "Or will they deflect a question I suspect they’ll hear again and again: How can you invoke Jesus and follow Rand?" Does he really think this is the kind of sophisticated question candidates will hear again and again? The 99.9999% of the blithering idots that make up the press corps and the voting public would not even understand the question, let alone be interested in the answer. The article was a good litery analysis of the contrast between the New Testiment and Atlas Shrugged. Don't ruin it by closing with the notion that more than a few people would actually be interested in the topic.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • Dog Boy

      Well stated and quite obvious. Too bad very few people will get it.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • LeeVA

      The ultimate message of Jesus is charity, and the definition of charity is being able to forgive/accept/help others when they and everything else fails you. Ayn Rand says that we should destroy/ignore/dehumanize those who fail us in order to rise above and capitalize over them. If the ultimate gift of God is charity, as stated in the Bible, and those who gain this gift will gain eternal life, it is hard to see how anyone could rationalize that it is possible to mix these two philosphies and still gain eternal life.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Tim Gard

      It could also be said that many people in the middle take what they want from either side, and rationalize that their mix makes the most sense (whether it has any consistency at all). Everybody thinks they've got the answers. What if we start from a position that no one has the answers, and we all work together to find them?

      June 29, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  8. James

    Rands philosophy worked very well for her, why would she profess any other ideas? But unfortunately, as her philosophy dictates, she was very short sighted and did not see the other end of the double edged sword. Selfishness eventually leads to a weaker society as a whole. She is assuming that all innovation and advancement comes from industry. When the goal is solely to make money the outcome is not always innovation and advancement.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  9. Marge

    I was getting ready to say, she didnt' believe in God. Wonder why the republicans think she is so much. All her theories and beliefs are stupid, but then only stupid people are following her...sorta kinda like Missy Pamela of the Atlas Shrugged website. One nut to another.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  10. LeeVA

    Glad someone finally wrote an opinion piece on this topic. Now if I could only email it like other CNN articles.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  11. Sayem

    To be a Christian and also admire Ayn Rand is plain and simple hypocracy and self delusion.

    Ayn Rand was a narcissistic ego maniac, self aggrandizing pseudo scholar. She should've been left to wallow in the cesspool of 20th century anti religious movements. I'm sure that all those, so called Christians who admire Ayn should be asked if they also admire Pharoah and Nimrod? I'm sure Pharoah and Nimrod would've supported Ayn's theories with all their heart as it only serves to bolster their aims.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  12. Eric

    The answer to the question posed by this article is simple: Yes, you can adopt Ayn Rand's POLITICS, which are Laissez-Faire Capitalism / libertarianism at its core while at the same time worshiping Christ.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Theodore

      You may be able to adopt her politics and claim Christianity but it is impossible to hold the values of Christianity and Ayn Rand at the same time. I think that is the point the article is getting at.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • LeeVA

      But for a government of the poepl, by the people, and for the people, the people are the government. Therefore, it is impossible to compartmentalize one's politics from one's religious beliefs in such a system. How you vote is ultimately how you act and respond to other people.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • Bubba

      Yeah, that'll work: "I'm evicting you orphans to make money, but in my heart I love you as Christians." I can just see St. Peter's face right now . . .

      June 29, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Dog Boy

      Bubba – that's exactly what they do. My in-laws are "good, conservative christians" (their words, not mine) who believe screwing others over for profit is justified because they pay lip service to jesus. It's like a corollary to that bumpersticker, "I'm not perfect, just forgiven". This gives them the right to do bad things, then say they feel sorry for the people.

      From "Apocalypse Now":
      We train young men to drop fire on people, but their commanders won't allow them to write "f***" on their airplanes because it's obscene!

      We cut 'em in half with a machine gun and give 'em a Band-Aid.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  13. VT432

    Who is John Galt?

    June 29, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • n

      A poorly constructed 1 dimensional character created to bleat out Rands heavy handed points in awkward dialogue. Like all of Ayn Rands characters.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Bubba

      Michele Bachmann's campaign manager.

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

      love it!

      June 29, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  14. MW

    Jesus and Ayn Rand's philosophies are both drastic versions of idealized situations. In Jesus' perfect world we could follow the Christian ideal of providing charity to all, and that charity would be used appropriately and effectively. In Ayn Rand's perfect world only those worthy of help would recieve it and everyone would basically be self-sufficient otherwise. But neither of those things are real world situations.

    The solution is to make a Christian philosophy work for our screwed up world. That does not mean continual giving to those who abuse it. It does mean useful and thoughtful service to those who are truely in need and will use the charity they have been given to improve their situation. Being charitable isn't necessarily giving people everything they want and making everyone equal. It is helping every person to do the best they can and are willing to do.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • LeeVA

      Jesus delivered a message to a screwed up world for a screwed up world. It is meant to be lived within a screwed up world, and therefore, by definition, if you believe the messenger, is achievable by the individual and not just ideal. However, Jesus and his apostles did note that we would frequently fail. But Jesus said, "Be ye perfect as your father in heaven is perfect."

      June 29, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  15. Colin

    Your average Christian:

    1. Accepts the principals of biology, medicine and physics but believes in the nonsense of Adam and Eve.

    2. Says they are monotheistic, but believes in god the father, god the son and the Holy Spirit, and Mary, along with thousands of saints and angels, all with magic/godly powers.

    3. Holds that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the gospels, when Biblical historians are virtually united on the fact that we have no earthly idea who wrote them, but that it almost certainly wasn’t that 4.

    4. Says gays are sinners, but are ok with Lot incestuously r.aping his own daughters or throwing them to a mob to be r.aped or Moses offering up his wife to the Pharaoh to save his own skin.

    5. Is against slavery, but ignores the large number of verses in the bible that obviously accept and promote slavery.

    6. Would say they are against warfare and genocide, but recite with joy the various occasions in the bible where David and other Israelis wiped out thousands in competing tribes.

    7. Look to their god for guidance in raising their children, despite the fact he drowned his own (according to their Noah mythology).

    8. Accept the study of historical linguistics, but believe the nonsense of the tower of Babel.

    9. Demand proof to the highest level of anything that contradicts their holy book, but accept its contents unquestioningly, even where it is obviously wrong.

    10. Accept that their god performs “miracles” but discount the same claims of the other 80% of humanity and their miracle performing gods, based on identical “evidence”.

    I think reconciling Ayn Rand and Jesus Christ should be child’s play for them.

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

      Christians....he,he.he..simpletons.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Dog Boy

      Yep, especially if they get sarah p. and michelle b. working on it. They can make anything believable.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Leo

      *Applauds*

      June 29, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • f

      Once again a Christian-hater....Don't be hater.. Read the Good Book. The people you mention (Moses, Lot) are in the Bible did things that were not good or not the best thing that could have been done. All of them were human. None were Jesus. The point of the Good Book is to guide you to be more like Jesus and less like the others. Read the Bible again and pay attention this time.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Laughing

      Genius, mind if I use this?

      June 29, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Colin

      Laughing – of course not, that's why I posted it. The more one can do to help poor Christians out of their ingrained superst.itions, the better.

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

      3. You need to add that they also think that Mark and Luke were two of the twelve apostles... 😛

      June 29, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Laughing

      @ Colin, Thanks, it never hurts to check to make sure

      @ f – You seem to be missing the point of the list as well as overlooking a lot of the points made. You agree that Moses and Lot didn't do good things and yet Moses is one of the most revered people in the torah, the greatest prophet of them all, he's god's chosen go to guy. As for the stuff about jesus, are you telling me that I must live my life like jesus? Would it be ok to go to temples and churches and tell them they are wrong, going to hell and that I'm the son of god, the messiah, I've fulfilled the bible and now everything going forward is what I say next? You've also overlooked the question that I've been asking for years, how is christianity monotheism when it has so many types of god as well as demi-gods? As far as I'm concerned Judaism and Islam at least hold that anyone other than god isn't a god, but just a prophet (which makes them monotheists)

      June 29, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  16. MyMotoMike

    Why did it take so long for someone to note this and push the point? One of the most well-known passages in Atlas Shrugged goes on and on about the evil of religion in so many ways; John Galt doesn't use this as an incidental point in his radio address but makes no bones that there is no religion in his world view. I've always thought that the people that admire Ayn Rand were doing so because of the linkage between market capitalism, self-reliance, and ... oh, because it looks like they're smart to have read such a big book. But the underside of admiration for her "philosophy" is a contempt for those deemed slackers and losers: in her world we all ain't on the same team, are we, and probably never will be. It's hard to combine any of those ideas with any form of Christianity. At least to me, but not being an evangelical Christian, I may have something to learn about how one can follow both sets of ideas.

    The sad part is that both Christianity and Objectivism have ideas worth understanding, even if they don't exactly get along. I don't see any real understanding of either set of ideas being lived or discussed by the people that espouse either, let alone both.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Bruce

      It's not like the Christians we are talking about ever demonstrated anything remotely resembling an ability to read and comprehend what is read when it comes to scripture, so we should perhaps not be too surprised that they think they agree with Ayn Rand even if they've bothered to read anything she wrote.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • MyMotoMike

      Clarification: when I wrote "John Galt doesn't use this as an incidental point in his radio address but makes no bones that there is no religion in his world view", I meant to express that this was a major point in John Galt's radio address; that no-one could read this and believe that it was an incidental point. I believe (from reading about her conduct in meetings) that Ayn Rand would have had no use whatsoever for anyone that wasn't an atheist – or, for that matter, anyone that disagreed at all with her in any way. Perhaps this conviction is attractive to some, and that may be the link between her work and a Christianity that really doesn't have any wiggle room at all – if you aren't Christian you will go to hell.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Dog Boy

      MMM – "At least to me, but not being an evangelical Christian, I may have something to learn about how one can follow both sets of ideas."

      Maybe this will help. These are the same sort of people who call themselves "Soldiers for Christ" and who believe they have to kill in christ's name. Remember, there were warrior popes who engaged in battle. Compare how the pope rides in the "Pope-mobile" with all his security forces to how jesus entered Jerusalem openly, on a donkey.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  17. Johny

    Jesus talked about money more than any other subject except love. As both a Christian and an admirer of Rand, I feel that the message can be compatable. Rand speaks of indiviuality, where the sole individual can do what they want with thier money, rather than have it taken by government or guilted out of it by anyone else. Throughout Atlas Shrugged, Dagny and other characters are shown giving money to street beggars without a second thought. What they resented was the fact that their possessions were taken or manipulated from them. It also speaks against debt. In the bible it states in layman's terms that the borrower is slave to the lender. There are common themes throughout the work.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Brett

      Didn't Jesus manipulate the disciples into giving away what wealth they had – to live a life of poverty – supported by the generosity of others? Johny, are you insane? What twisted logic you must possess. These philosophies are polar opposite. Bible version: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Atlas Shrugged version: Do whatever you want to all of those losers because they don't matter.

      The funny thing to me is that adherence to either of these works would make you radical, not a conservative.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  18. Bubba

    I once beat up Ayn Rand in a cowboy bar. She looked at me funny.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • f

      I hope you poked her right in the eye...and then stomped on her toes... and punched her real hard...and then knocked her down... and picked her back up ...just so you could do the Three Stooges knucklehead knock... Whoop , Whoop, whoooop....

      June 29, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • Bubba

      She only had $2.50 in her pocket. So much for Objectivism.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  19. Dismayed

    No more difficult to cherry pick from Rand and Jesus than it is for the current administration to cherry pick from Mao, Marx and Jesus.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  20. twistedpuppet

    lol GOP praising anti-christian rhetoric. 😛

    June 29, 2011 at 2:29 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.