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. JJinCO

    "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." When it comes to Caesar, I like Ayn Rand's take so I might have something left to render unto God.

    July 8, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  2. James Black


    July 5, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  3. Ndawg

    I haven't read atlas shrugged but I did read the Fountain Head. What I took from it is that one should be selfish in the pursuit of ones interest and not conforming to the norm. Roark placed little importance on money and suggested it should simply be attained to be a means to pursuit of self-interest, not pursued simply for the sake of having more money. This is were I think people start get it wrong with her philosophy. They read brief blurbs about it in articles like this and think its a philosophy that supports money grubbing when that couldn't be further from the truth. It's a philosophy that supports ones self.

    July 5, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • Mavent

      Except, of course, that you don't have a single clue what you're talking about. There are actual videos of Ayn Rand stating EXACTLY what she believed. Nobody has to guess. She spelled it out.

      July 11, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  4. Klw

    Ayn Rand wouldn't want you to adopt only a part of her philosophy. Promoting a selfish economy as a way to help others would disgust her, yet it's exactly what her new fans are trying to do without actually trying to understand her philosophy. Jesus would have even less use for those who wish to pick and choose which of his words they believe. It should be more than embarrassing, then, that Paul Ryan claims to be a practicing Catholic yet requires all of his staffers to read "Atlas Shrugged." John Galt's famed speech at the end of the book, which I have listened to in its entirety (and which would never pass for a speech in real life because Rand got carried away) is filled with angry attacks directed against Christ, albeit without naming him. So Ryan is Catholic but his favorite book calls Christ a prophet of death? When someone who was asking him to reconsider his support for Ayn Rand offered him a Bible at a rally, he wouldn't take it. That shows you his priorities or at least his pride.

    July 5, 2011 at 1:12 am |
  5. Skippy01

    OK, a couple of things:

    First, Jesus did NOT advocate collectivism – he advocated personal salvation from sin, love of others, and evangelism – not collectivism – that is modern, leftist, liberation theology and it's a governmental disaster – always.

    Second, Ayn advocated correct business principles for the wrong reasons – she was correct that without personal greed, there can be very little to no real business built. Christians come in with the "therefore": THEREFORE without self interest there can be no real means of significant corporate or individual giving. America is the richest and most giving nation on Earth – and that's without government mandates.

    We are ABLE to give specifically because we allow our self interest to build wealth in a free society of self-interested capitalism.

    Finally, just because one is self interested in building business and wealth does NOT imply a lack of interest in others. Ayn may be a poor example for the Christian perspective, but she had it at least partly right when it came to why businesses – and America succeed.

    July 4, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
  6. Truth Teller

    I wouldn't Trust a word Rand has to say. It is written " Cursed be man that trust in man " Jer. 17;6,

    Trust her demonicly insired writtings and you surely will suffer the curse you deserve.

    Accept the Word of God, over the lies of men.

    July 4, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  7. ROBERT D. Thatcher

    This story has been in CNN/AP circles for several weeks now, and the liberal "news" media have had more than their fair share of fun with it. I know of very few Evangelical Christians who are such devotees of this anti-christ woman or her ugly "doctrine".

    July 3, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  8. Don

    If they are being consistent, they cannot claim both. America needs a moral philosophy which is consistent with the individual's pursuit of his own life, happiness, and well-being. Why else did the Founders place as their central political principle the protection of individual rights but if not to allow the individual to pursue and achieve these things?

    July 2, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  9. Chuck E.

    What's so strange about Conservatives being hypocrites? If they can preach family values while having affairs and divorcing their wives, why can't they believe in Jesus and Ayn Rand at the same time? They're good at it.

    July 2, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  10. homeless guy

    Who's John Galt?

    July 2, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  11. homeless guy

    Who is John Galt?

    July 2, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  12. Tim

    Why won't CNN ask liberal Christians if their belief in Jesus is compatible with gay marriage or if they would pick either Jesus or Karl Marx?

    July 2, 2011 at 1:05 am |
    • liberal dude

      Well, the idea that liberals read and follow the teachings of Marx is a conservative myth.

      July 2, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  13. Tharms

    These are the same "Christians" who have no problem with bearing false witness in their quest for coveted oil, or eye-for-an-eye revenge (depending on the version of history offered), and who are willing to murder to innocents to accomplish those goals? The "Christians" who presume to judge Ayn Rand know nothing about Christianity, or they wouldn't be presuming to judge. Indeed, Jesus of Nazareth wouldn't recognize more than a handful of Americans as "Christians" if he were to return tomorrow, not if defined based on his teachings found in the New Testament.

    July 1, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • ROBERT D. Thatcher

      To Mr. or Mrs. Tharms: In respect of the comment on judging, it should be noted that not only did Jesus tell His followers to "judge not", He also said to "judge righteous judgement". Christians are not instructed or expected by their Creator to navigate blindly through this world we live in.

      July 3, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  14. StewartIII

    NewsBusters: CNN Belief Blog Highlights Christian Debate Over Ayn Rand, But Would They Hit Christian Democrats Over Social Issues?

    July 1, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  15. DallasMarine

    Conservatives do it all the time. Though shall not kill: Support war and others to die in their stead. nuff said.

    July 1, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  16. Marie Kidman


    July 1, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  17. WonderSpring

    America's domestic problem. The world's 2.3 billion Christians probably never heard of him.

    July 1, 2011 at 3:40 am |
    • WonderBlunder


      July 1, 2011 at 3:44 am |
    • Andy Wormhole


      July 1, 2011 at 7:43 am |
  18. Klw

    It's amazing how many conservatives actually think that she is some sort of a Republican hero on economic grounds. I'm not talking about her atheism; I'm talking about her philosophy.

    What you call "trickle down economics" is an attempt to reconcile selfish capitalism with the goal of achieving "the greatest good for the greatest number." Letting everyone pursue their own business goals without regulation, you say, will ultimately create enough growth in the economy to benefit all men.

    To Rand, the idea of trying to achieve "the greatest good for the greatest number" is just about the most morally repugnant of all ideas. Rand sees the only logical activity of man as pursuing his own self-interest. For him to care about the "general good," she would say, is tantamount to a rejection of his own being. It is to embrace death, reject logic, you name it. If Rand is your hero, you don't tell liberals that economic growth will help everyone; you tell them that you could care less about helping the poor because helping them is suicide and doesn't make logical sense.

    Considering that achieving the greatest good for the greatest number is kind of the point of democracy and any other coercive form of government, I guess you can say that Rand is opposed to the Republic as well, although in public she essentially gutted her own philosophy and said that she was only opposed to people being allowed to vote on matters of private enterprise.

    If you claim to be a Randian and also a supporter of either the American system of government or Christianity, then you obviously don't know much about one or more of the causes you think you represent.

    July 1, 2011 at 1:10 am |
    • Robert

      A simple truism, for a human to be happy when surrounded by misery is impossible. For a psychopath to ever be happy is impossible but for them there is great gratification in having the power to deny other happiness.
      Every normal person accepts that the greatest happiness is achieved when it is spread amongst the largest congregation.
      The simplest moral philosophy of doing unto others as you have them do unto you is readily understandable by all normal people, just as a pleasure shared is not halved but doubled but, to the amoralist, the psychopath it has no meaning as they have no empathy and feel neither the happiness nor the sadness of others, they are genetically abnormal suffering from an actual and real physical defect.
      Ayn Rand's philosophy of selfishness at the expense of the group is by definition an amoral philosophy not a moral one, as it completely lacks any and all morals, as all your rules are made and broken by the dictates of your own ego and lusts, at the times you have them. Their politics reflect that lack of empathy as well as the need to make others suffer. That need to make others suffer is borne of their frustration at seeing others sharing happiness but never really being able to join in while knowing the pleasure others derive from it. hence that desire to take it from all others.
      The patterns of behaviour betray them;
      deriving satisfaction from war and violence,
      desiring cruelty in places of detention,
      preferring the ill and ailing to suffer rather be cured,
      for children to toil rather than play,
      seeing victims of disaster as opportunities to profit rather than help,
      chaos in government as a means to power,
      rules to control the personal lives of others and deny them happiness etc.
      Do you recognise those patterns, it is the current Republicans the political party if psychopaths, narcissists and their most gullible victims.

      July 1, 2011 at 4:54 am |
    • Andy Wormhole

      Good post, Rob! Have a great weekend!

      July 1, 2011 at 7:47 am |
    • James

      Too bad that you are so narrow minded and intolerant that you have to see all who disagree with your personal beliefs as deeply flawed.

      Conservative or liberal, mindlessly intolerant partisans like you are the problem. You are all the same.

      July 1, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • David

      Robert, where to begin: Conservatives have a need to make others suffer? They don't want to take anything (including happiness) from you. Liberals do and justify their stealing from those that are pursuing their own happiness. Conservatives derive satisfaction from war and violence? is that why every war of the 20th century was started during a Democratic administration? They desire cruelty in places of detention? You mean prevent victims from being further brutalized? Want the sick to not be cured? Under Obamacare, less will be healed and more neglected. That is factually accurate. They are jealous of others happiness? Again, is it not the liberal that wants to take from who has to give to who doesn't? Class warfare is the very definition of jealousy. They want children to toil and not play? What are you smoking? They want to control the lives of others? That is progressivism. Conservatives want to leave you alone. Just don't murder innocent babies and call your civil unions marriage (which conservatives didn't originate – God did, so take it up with Him) and we'll leave you alone to your own devices. Limited government isn't chaos. You are truly nuts. The psychopath you describe sounds like the liberal you are. Have a great weekend!

      July 3, 2011 at 6:58 am |
  19. Reality

    Some Christians vs A. Rand

    The Baptizer drew crowds and charged for the "dunking". The historical Jesus saw a good thing and continued dunking and preaching the good word but added "healing" as an added charge to include free room and board. Sure was better than being a poor peasant but he got a bit too zealous and they nailed him to a tree. But still no greed there.

    Paul picked up the money scent on the road to Damascus. He added some letters and a prophecy of the imminent second coming for a fee for salvation and "Gentilized" the good word to the "big buck" world. i.e. Paul was the first media evangelist!!! And he and the other Apostles forgot to pay their Roman taxes and the legendary actions by the Romans made them martyrs for future greed. Paul was guilty of minor greed?

    Along comes Constantine. He saw the growing rich Christian community and recognized a new tax base so he set them "free". Major greed on his part!!

    The Holy Roman "Empirers"/Popes/Kings/Queens et al continued the money grab selling access to JC and heaven resulting in some of today's richest organizations on the globe i.e. the Christian churches (including the Mormon Church) and related aristocracies. Obvious greed!!!

    An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue, ( Professors Crossan and Wright are On Faith panelists).

    "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."

    Ayn Rand

    A. Rand won a cult following with two best-selling novels presenting her belief that all real achievement comes from individual ability and effort, that laissez-faire capitalism is most congenial to the exercise of talent, and that selfishness is a virtue, altruism a vice. In The Fountainhead (1943), a superior individual transcends traditionalism and conformism. The allegorical Atlas Shrugged (1957) combines science fiction with her political message. She expounded her philosophy, which she called objectivism, in nonfiction works and as editor of two journals and became an icon of radical libertarianism."

    June 30, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Truth Teller

      your quite the intelectual

      July 4, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  20. Max

    Ephesians 5:21 "be subject to one another." Rand would roll over in her grave at that thought.

    June 30, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
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