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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. Melinda

    I loved the book "Atlas Shrugged". I am a Christian. I didn't know I had to limit my book reading, I figured Christ is universal, therefore....

    June 29, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Bruce

      Actually, Melinda, it could be argued that neither Rand nor Christ advocated their heroes as universal. They are heroes that stand out, and are always an extremely small minority of the population at large. Jesus spoke to Peter about feeding his sheep, and to his apostles about people who lacked the eyes to see and the ears to hear and how they will never understand his parables even if they try (and, interestingly, he said this as the reason he taught using parables rather than just stating things out explicitly). Rand's characters like Galt and Roark were never expected to be some normative standard for all to follow.

      So your idea that they both share some universal idea is contradicted by the fact that they both realized that the highest moral callings that each of them embraced were never going to be anywhere near universally-adopted, not even in an ideal world. (Of course, the highest moral callings of each of them were completely contradictory, but don't worry if you don't see that–most of us can't because we lack those eyes and ears that Jesus spoke of.)

      June 29, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  2. Justin Observation

    You can follow the ideology of Ayn Rand and Jesus at the same time but Christianity doesn't go with either. Christianity teaches lots of anti-Jesus stuff and anti-Rand stuff.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Eddy

      Christianity and Ayn Rand are compatible but the beliefs of Jesus and Ayn Rand are not.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  3. chris

    Of course. If you tax away people's money, then they can't use it to help others. How many people can taxes help after they make politicians rich, fund wars, and bailout large corporations? Therefore, you need Ayn Rand to help as many people as possible. That was easy. Next question.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Walter

      On the flip side charity by the wealthy makes the news because it isn't the norm.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  4. Whaaaat

    So what the author of this article is saying is that in order to side with someone, you must agree with EVERYTHING they say.

    If he really thinks this, he must not have many, if any, friends. I disagree with everyone on at least something. We can still agree on other things, though. It's not like I say, "What!? You don't like cheeseburgers!? You're a monster. I disagree with you on everything now."

    The whole premise is just plain stupid. Then again, I do know liberals who are like this. Disagree with them on any one issue and you are enemies for life on everything.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Whaaaat

      Also, Ayn Rand was not exactly selfish in the sense of "help myself, screw the world". Her view, quite correctly, was that a selfish business is a successful business. You selfishly want the best employees, so you pay them well and give them good benefits, not because you are generous but because you are selfish and don't want them going to work for other companies. You selfishly want your business to expand, so you create great quality products at fair prices that meet the needs of your customers.

      The result of a really selfish business is happy customers and lots of jobs.

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

      Ayn Rand comes out and says you shouldn't help others unless it benefits yourself.

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

      "Then again, I do know liberals who are like this. Disagree with them on any one issue and you are enemies for life on everything".
      I do know lots of Christains who if you disagree with them you will be condemned by them to hell. If for Christians they don't like Athiests like they might not like cheeseburgers then the Christians can condemn cheeseburgers to hell also.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  5. Eddy

    Ayn Rand's novels seem a lot worse when you understand her belief system.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  6. Ellen Sherman

    Rational selfishness? you can rationalize anything – following anyone is a deadly pastime. I think she was rude and stuck up. These are indefensible characteristics in my world.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  7. Truth Matters

    If as James said "A double minded man is unstable in all his ways," make LOVE the pivoting point from which you judge the issues of life...balance...

    June 29, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Keep splicing fortune cookies together. Eventually, somebody will think you are Yoda.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  8. Kebos

    Mother Teresa, a hero? How so?

    June 29, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  9. Bigshotprof

    No. One of them has a huge book that people only read little bits of, misunderstand what they read, base their lives on, and jam down other people's throats. And the other one is Jesus.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  10. Marie Kidman

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig&w=640&h=360]
    ^

    June 29, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  11. The Jackdaw

    Honestly now, who in their right mind would follow either of them.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  12. hiyousuckers

    Ayn Rand has led many astray, and right to the gates of hell. She and her contemporaries have their rewards in "this life". Jesus said more than once, "they have their reward".

    June 29, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Yes, I'm sure JESUS actually said that. There is no God, move on with your life.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Justin Observation

      Christianity led many astray. Just because they claim to be the official club of Jesus, their ideology, actions, and dogma, conflict with the messages attributed to Jesus.

      Most people follow Christianity not Jesus.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Bree82

      If the majority of society put half of the effort into developing their intellect and forming their own beliefs that many put into living a life controlled by what any random man who claims they are spreading God's message, perhaps people would actually come to their own conclusions rather than simply accepting the ones presented to them as the one and only truth.
      Ayn Rand was by no means 100% correct, but that is the whole point of using your mind to decide what is applicable to you and what isn't. She provides that option, whereas the Bible and the organizations who promote it do not. If God truly did create all of us, why did he or she make us so narrow minded that we refuse to entertain ideas that call into question the validity of the book that is supposed to be used merely as a guide? Isn't the point of having rational thought partly so that we can call into question the things that we are unsure of, rather than continue to blindly accept them?

      June 29, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  13. Ancient Curse

    Rand or Christianity... It's kind of a silly question. It's like asking "How can you read Steven King and John Grisham at the same time?" I'd prefer our representatives put down both works of fiction and get back to the job at hand. Reality is much more interesting.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Jesus, Rand, King and Grisham all have one thing in common. They are all hacks.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Anon

      reality sucks

      June 29, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • 21k

      yeah but reality is hard. and you can't get onto reality shows, dancing contests and foxnews shows if you talk about it instead of the god that didn't stop the Holocaust when he could have.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Anon

      i am sure you could write so much better than them, that is why you are wasting your talents on a stupid comment board on CNN. absolutely.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Anon, I can and have.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • gozer

      At least Ayn Rand specified and made clear which of her works were fiction, and which were statements of analysis and opinion.

      In the case of the bible, which has many authors and has been revised many times, the bulk of it including its god is fiction but silly believers claim it to be otherwise.

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

      sure ya have, buddy...sure ya have.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Anon is angry because I insulted his favorite writer! Sorry sugar lips!

      June 29, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  14. Older Sista

    I've been one of those 'born-agains' for about 20 yrs. now and just re-read The Fountainhead last month because I'd basically forgotten what it was all about. Afterwards, I told my 29 yr. old daughter that Ms. Rand's philosophy would work about as well as any other thought-out philosphy that excludes our Lord from their equation. I've always said I'd rather live next door to a practicing Buddist than a biker. My belief is that the further we stray from Biblical teachings, the worse off society is but communisim (at it's purest) is forced charity (one of Ms. Rand's buttons)...you cannot force Jesus' character traits into people....ONTO them is law. God hopes that we'll willingly mold ourselves after Him but when we don't, laws are necessary to (somewhat) keep us from wiping out our neighbors when they park on our lawn.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • Truth Matters

      Thank you

      June 29, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • gozer

      Bad enough that you were born once. The second time sure didn't fix your thinking issues.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  15. howard roark

    rand's point of view comes from being born in commusist Russia where hard work was/is not rewarded. socialist/communist societies provide the same reward to hard workers and lazy individuals so there is no benefit to work hard. she was only selfish bc she believed if you work hard you should receive benefit (eg The American Dream) not the lazy individuals who do nothing. atlas shrugged and the bible are not mutually exclusive. each underscores fundamental principles and morals that each author feels should mold society. the fact that rand was an athiest does does not play a role on her views of capitalism. many scientist today are athiest but they do not shun VC firms providing capital. capitalism and religion are two seperate topics.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • Older Sista

      Good point.
      Also, the Bible recommends that if a man does not work, he should not eat....meaning, it's wrong to scroung off others IF YOU DON'T HAVE TO. God is very sensitive to the needs of widows and orphans and those who CANNOT do for themselves. God is more than simply benevolent or fair. And He gives strong censur to those who do not take care of their own families, leaving it to others to do. If we will follow Him, He intends to bless us enough so that we have enough to help others. He tends to frown upon buying a $35 million dollar mansion but turning a deaf ear to the needs of others. Read Proverbs. It's the Cliff Notes of the Bible's instructions.

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

      Sista, I call total BS on your claim "God is very sensitive to the needs of widows and orphans and those who CANNOT do for themselves.":

      Prove that god has ever assisted any widow or orphan. Or anyone, else for that matter.

      Read The Skeptics Anootated Bible. It has great analysis of all the crap and nastiness in the bible.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  16. emma65

    Republicans manage to soundly distort any concepts of Jesus and practice of capitalism so why does this contradiction surprise anyone? They want to continue gving tax breaks to corporations while de-funding education and school lunches. Its not like they ever made a whole lot of sense with their so-called empty beliefs to begin with. How corporations merits hand-outs when poor children so not is neither good christianity not real free enterprise.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  17. Jon

    Mother Theresa lifted thousands of people from poverty and they call her a saint. Bill Gates lifted MILLIONS of people from poverty and they call him a selfish jerk. Barack Obama PUTS thousands of people into poverty and they act like he's doing them a favor. Let them be judged by the results and not by emotion.

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

    Lots of people on the left are going to vote for Obama again, despite the fact that he is pro-war (Libya), pro-Patriot Act (extended it twice), pro-Gitmo (it's still open!) and does lots of business behind closed doors (where's the transparency?)

    If liberals can reconcile candidate Obama (a fierce idealist) with president Obama (George Bush with a new haircut), then I don't see why conservatives can't reconcile Jesus and Ayn Rand.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Don't vote obama cause

      Don't vote for Obama or democrats because he hasn't stopped what republicans have done. Does this mean we should vote republican? You conservatives have a really hard time with your circular logic don't you?

      June 29, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Greg

      So your argument is "the other side's politically hypocritical, so let's double-down and be religiously hypocritical"?

      June 29, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  19. Fred

    CNN – THIS IS NOT FREAKING NEWS!

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

      Which would be why it is in the belief blog section.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  20. KennyG

    Rand now knows the truth: too bad, not while amongst us.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      I swoon to your sax

      June 29, 2011 at 3:42 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.