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. Steve

    Jesus was a socialist revolutionary striking out against the religion of his time and place. He had more in common with Che Guevara than with Ayn Rand.

    June 29, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Sam L

      He had more in common with Gandhi than either one of those.

      June 29, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  2. Student of World Religions

    Was Jesus of Nazareth just a mythical figure?
    Where was Jesus during the "lost years"?
    Did Jesus survive crucifixion?
    Did archacologists find Jesus' bones?

    June 29, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Fidei Coticula Crux

      Since the 18th century, a number of scholars have questioned the testimony of the Gospels about Jesus. Today, many people are familiar with some of the criticisms these scholars raise. The issues are explored in books, articles, web sites, even television shows and movies. The criticisms have been repeated so often that many people accept them without question. Since most people are not trained in philosophy, theology, or history, the issues may seem to be mere matters of opinion.

      June 29, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  3. Steve

    Ayn Rand is dead. Her biggest mistake was not dying sooner.

    June 29, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  4. Bart

    Everyone I've met that worshiped Ayn Rand were weak people that could have just as easily worshiped something else. As gar as the GOP, they are folks like Mitch McConnell and Tom Delay, who lets everyone know he is a christian but says things like he does not believe in turning the other cheek – he's more of an old testament guy. Sir, that is a Jew and I'm sure they would not like your company.

    June 29, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • budgiegirl

      Ha, so not true! Don't know if I worship Ayn Rand, but I come close to worshipping Howard Roark. And for the record, I am a total lefty. And I do think Ayn sort of loses it in Atlas Shrugged – but if you read the Fountainhead, it is totally a celebration of the individual and a rebuke of group think society. I think Ayn formed the wrong conclusion about business and government and hence I don't agree with her premise in Atlas Shrugged, but I still can appreciate what a waste government and group thinkers can be. (Trust me I'm a federal gov't employee and I think Atlas Shrugged should be mandatory reading for anybody working for the government.). What I like about Rand is that she doesn't fit that neatly in a box despite what people are trying to do to her. She truly is a product, or a response, to the Russian Revolution she witnessed. The Fountainhead, if anything, made me feel more free to be myself, to not give a crap if I don't blend in with the masses, and to not be afraid to exert my ideas and even feel some pride in that.

      June 29, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  5. LouAz

    Eric Sapp, AVN’s executive director, said. " Jesus is advocating altruism and collectivism."
    Aha, jeebus was a commie pinko socialist, but all you preacher christian types just want the money !
    It is becoming clear now !

    June 29, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Steve

      I'd take a communist of Ayn Rand the meth freak any day.

      June 29, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • WichitaThinker


      Ayn Rand a "meth freak"? Wow! That explains a lot about why there are so many holes in her philosophical framework!

      June 29, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  6. RV1982

    I am a Christian and totally disagree with both Onkar Ghate, a senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, and Eric Sapp, AVN’s executive director. Makes me wonder if Sapp, Ghate and I are reading from the same bible. I would like for Mr. Ghate to point out where in the bible that Jesus, or his disciples, promotes collectivism. Of course Jesus teaches altruism. But by definition, acts of altruism can only be exhibited by the individual which is judged by God. Alltuism and collectivism are logically mutually exclusive. Which is why Jesus' teaching was directed at the individual. You may be able to make an argument that Paul and some of the other disciples wrote to some of the early churches as a collective, but even these writings focused on individual responsibilty. To take away individualism takes away the whole concept of free will which is essential in any relationship with God.

    June 29, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • The good people, atheist and religious

      Ah, the world of delusions.

      June 29, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • WichitaThinker

      Altruism and collectivism are not compatible? Really? That is hard to comprehend. If a group of people pool their funds to donate to a charity of their choice, isn't that a collective body acting in an altruistic manner?

      June 29, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • RV1982

      WichitaThinker – by definition, pure altruism is an INDIVIDUAL giving up something of "value" with no expectation of any "compensation". Some would argue that altruism is a renunciation of the self, but if so, by definition you would not possess anything to "give up". Consequently, pure collectivism (i.e. individuals do not exist and do not possess anything, including their own time) and altruism are mutually exclusive.

      What you describe might be considered seperate acts of altruism, assuming the "group" or "collective" receives no "benefit" or "compensation" from the act. As a behavioral scientist (biologist), I know that there are some that argue that true altruism rarily' if ever, is truly exhibited....there will always be some sort of compensation or benefit from a so called selfless act. For me, it is kind of hard to believe that a soldier falling on a grenade to save others is not truly altruistic.

      June 29, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  7. MSfromCA

    A lot of this is a false choice. You don't have to steal from the rich and give to the poor or let the poor starve. A lot of the social welfare states in Europe steal from everyone and give to everyone. Of course this means their tax rates are very high, but for ex, EVERY working person can send their kids to gov childcare, not just the poor. If everyone benefits, its not as big a deal.

    June 29, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  8. rexsolomon

    The answer is, you don't Rand and Jesus?
    Why not Rand's libertarian teacher, Isabel Paterson and Jesus?
    Rand and Paterson fell out because Rand was aetheist and Paterson is very religious.
    So, this article is just plain wrong.

    June 29, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  9. Dudemiester

    Idiots, the GOP worships Mammon, not God.

    June 29, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  10. Steve

    One cannot follow Ayn Rand and Jesus simultaneously. Ayn Rand had more in common with Satan than Jesus. She was an advocate of selfishness, cruelty, and greed. Ayn Rand would never have given her life on the cross, instead she would have mocked Jesus for doing so.

    June 29, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • The good people, atheist and religious

      And jesus taught us how to commit suicide with the help of others? Pretty dysfunctional.

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

      "The good people, atheist and religious" – I don't follow either of them. I am pointing out the contradiction in following both.

      June 29, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  11. GaryB

    Ayn Rand's philosophy is great if you're a trust-fund baby, like say, the Koch brothers. You can screw everyone else out of a dollar so you can make a dime and still feel good about yourself, because you're attaining your true higher self. That's the3 philosophy that helps CEOs rest easier when they're making 272 times the average workers salaries, or handing themselves bonuses while they do layoffs, because they can honeslty feel like they're worth it (all evidence to the contrary). That type of philosphy is nothing new under the sun. It makes the rich and the lucky rest easy, but it does not make them decent human beings.

    June 29, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  12. readthatwrong

    For those that say you have to believe Jesus was a socialist – you're not entirely right either. He was beyond even that. There was a 'common purse' used by his disciples – but that doesn't mean he was socialist. He believed in doing what was good and right without attachment to money. He told those that were soldiers to be happy with their wages, the tax collectors to stop cheating others (but not to stop collecting taxes), etc. He taught us to use money like anything else – a tool to do what is just and right. In some cases, it's the right thing to withold money from someone (like a kid that needs to learn to get a job), or to give freely to those in dire need. Socialism has a more clear picture of how that should work by *usually* suggesting the redistribution of wealth. Jesus didn't ever seem to subscribe to any one philosophy of wealth/money other than to not be attached to it any more than any other tool in this world.

    June 29, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • scoobers

      well put! rational posts on these boards are rare in this day and age.

      June 29, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  13. Man In The Moon

    A corollary question is "Can Liberals Hate Both?"

    The principles of Atlus Shrugged, Anthem (her best work), and The Fountainhead from Rand and the New Testament are not contradictory. Both lines of thought are based on free will and individual thought. According to The Bible, we are God's greatest creation and should revel in the gifts given to us. Rand believed that Man has the ultimate expressive power of mind and thought in this world. Those concepts are remarkably similar. It is also important to remember that the poor that Jesus preached about were deprived of opportunity or free will by an unjust state.

    In short, just because Ayn Rand had an imperfect view of The Bible does not mean I have to share her imperfect view. Rand was hardly a Bible scholar. I agree with her on many issues and principles, but I have not surrendered or yielded my powers of reason to Rand. I think she would appreciate that on some level.

    June 29, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Howie76

      This is the same woman that Alan Greenspan followed. He is a Libertarian. In front for congress he admitted the her beliefs were fundamentally flawed in regard to economics.

      June 29, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • stejo

      nice way to justify being selfish.

      June 29, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  14. Byrd

    Do you mean can someone make two wrong turns at the same time? In this case, it appears so.

    June 29, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  15. Fredrick

    For me the real question is how can individuals who believe in 'prosperity Christianity' consider their beliefs compatible with the teachings of Jesus?

    June 29, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Realist

      Indeed. The fact is that Jesus as portrayed in the bible was more of a socialist than a conservative and that gets more Christians p!ssed than when Dawin proved them all wrong.

      June 29, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • scoobers

      I actually wonder the same thing....the prosperity gospel is actually quite contradictory to Jesus and the Bible. It is yet another example of a wolf in sheep's clothing (false teachings) and yet so many people are willing to follow because it makes them feel good so to speak.


      June 29, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  16. Kirk

    They are both crazy. The only difference is Ayn was a real person, Jesus was not.

    June 29, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Man In The Moon

      Jesus was actually a person. That fact is beyond dispute.

      If it makes you feel better to declare his nonexistense, then feel free. You're just not correct. Sorry.

      June 29, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Howie76

      Well I think there was a Jesus. Do I follow his beliefs no. But I think he was a charismatic man who existed. This woman was very charismatic as well.

      June 29, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • realist88

      lol, I don't think there's much contraversy over whether Jesus was real! Perhaps you're referring to his activities?

      June 29, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • LauraJT

      The "fact" that Jesus was a real person is NOT beyond dispute. You can "believe" Jesus was a real person but there is no scientific evidence. In fact, the evidence points more towards the idea that he did not exist.

      Ayn Rand had some radical ideas and I believe she explained them best in "We the Living" since her characters in that book seem more like possible real persons. She has contributed some good ideas and some very poor ones; she was human, and she ended up a rather sad and bitter old woman. She would personally condemn anyone who said that her philosophy and Chrisitianity were compatible; in fact, she did just that.

      June 29, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Steve

      It depends upon your definition of "real." If, by "real", one means "a person of integrity", then Ayn Rand was fake.

      June 29, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  17. Rand

    Anton Lavey said that his "church" of satan was simply Ayn's philosophy with rituals added...

    June 29, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Zee

      Really? I've studied them, and they seem more alone the lines of Nietzsche's brand of existentialism.

      June 29, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Steve

      And he was correct.

      June 29, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  18. TheWiz71

    Simple answer: No.

    June 29, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  19. Student of World Religions

    Let us get one thing straight here… not all conservatives are Republicans and not all liberals are Democrats. There are other parties out there too.

    June 29, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Zee

      True. But unfortunately, the mass media has told the sheep people otherwise. Under the delusion that they have choose between the idiots and the jerks, people have sunk into despair and stopped doing research to vote intelligibly, preferring just to polarize themselves without understanding what they even want to stand for.

      June 29, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  20. CM

    Is it a requirement to be a Republican who believes in free market capitalism and limited government to have to be a Christian? It doesn't seem like these two things have to go together. I guess the Right Wing fanatics have hijacked the Republican party.

    June 29, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • LauraJT

      Yeah, I think that happened around the year 2000.

      June 29, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Frank

      Actually it started in 1976 and was complete by 1984.

      June 29, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Zee

      I think the christian right formed around the Nixon era, but I'll have to check. If it wasn't for the bible beating idiots, I MIGHT be a republican. Notice the 'might' and 'wasn't for', indicating I am currently not one and may never be.

      June 29, 2011 at 5:04 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.