By Alan Bean
Now that Paul Ryan is Mitt Romney’s choice for VP, you will be hearing a lot about Ayn Rand, probably not enough to impact the election, but a lot. Many will ask how a devout Catholic and family man can lionize a woman who despised God, rejected the “altruistic” teaching of Jesus, and called the family an artificial and unnecessary creation.
The easy answer is that Paul Ryan doesn’t really like Ayn Rand at all. In fact, he is now saying that he rejects her atheistic philosophy without reservation.
For the tiny handful of Christian conservatives who may have been concerned about a potential VP embracing the religion of Antichrist, that should suffice. There simply aren’t enough voters in our brave new America who know enough about Ayn Rand’s glorification of reason and selfishness, Roman Catholic ethics, or the teaching of Jesus to see a problem.
Ryan’s recent protestations of love for Rand’s economic philosophy were the stuff of romance. In 2005, Ryan told the Atlas Society:
There is no better place to find the moral case for capitalism and individualism than through Ayn Rand’s writings and works . . . I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are. It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff . . . The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.
It’s hard to disavow an endorsement like that. Either he was lying in 2005, or he is lying now. Fortunately for Ryan, it doesn’t matter.
Ayn Rand despised Jesus because his “Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friends” philosophy is the antithesis of reason and radical selfishness. Paul Ryan honors Jesus while disavowing his ethical teaching, and denounces Ayn Rand while clinging to her Antichrist ethics.
This makes no sense. It doesn’t have to.
This isn’t really a problem with Paul Ryan; it’s a problem with a distinctively American brand of conservative evangelicalism. The aspiring VP can live with a glaring contradiction because his constituency shares his passion for Antichrist ideas. The Sunday School teachers of evangelical America can give you 101 clever reasons why Jesus didn’t really mean what he said about money, power, humility, forgiveness, sacrificial love or politics.
The conservative movement dominates American politics because it has cobbled together a simple, internally coherent philosophy rooted in selfishness, pride, radical individualism, nationalism, militarism, and faith in the free market. If you are familiar with Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels, you will recognize this as the religion of Antichrist . . . or if you prefer, Satan. If you aren’t familiar with the words of Jesus, half an hour with the nearest Bible should remedy the problem. Find the part called “New Testament” and start reading.
The American liberal tradition has nothing better to offer. You will find a knee jerk allegiance to the ethics of Martin Luther King Jr., but that generally translates into little black and white children getting along in the sandbox. The “Christian realism” of Reinhold Niebuhr (a favorite of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) can be used to justify whatever position one wishes to adopt. This may be why what passes for liberalism in twenty-first century America is a weak echo of the conservatives’ Antichrist credo. “We’re militarists and social Darwinians too,” liberals insist, “but in a classy, ironic sort of way that doesn’t harm the poor.”
When I think of contemporary liberalism, the “nihilists” in The Big Lebowski come to mind: “We believe in nothing, Lebowski, nothing!”
Nihilism get a bad rap, of course, but every genuine conviction implies a rejection of the alternative view, and we don’t want to be judgmental. Liberals have no trouble denouncing racism, hatred, Nazi’s, the SS, the Klan, cigarettes or Diet Coke, but when it comes to drugs, porn, Vegas, religion, or money, everything’s a jumble of live-and-let-live relativism. Whatever gets you through the night is all right by definition.
Forced to choose between Antichrist conservatism and liberal nihilism, most evangelicals hop in bed with the conservatives and pretend Jesus doesn’t know or doesn’t care.
We aren’t opposed to compassion, we say; but we stand for personal responsibility.
We don’t reject the turn-the-other-cheek stuff; but we support a strong military.
We’re not against giving our wealth to the poor . . . Well, yes we are, but surely Jesus was thinking of the deserving poor, you know, the kind that don’t need our help because they have jobs.
That’s the Protestant work ethic, right? And if it’s “Protestant” it must be Christian, right?
Or, if you’re Paul Ryan, it isn’t social Darwinism, it’s the Catholic Doctrine of Subsidiarity. After doing a little research, one of Ryan’s staffers discovered that Thomas Aquinas, that great father of the Church, taught that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level. Which Ryan takes to mean that Thomas Aquinas is eager to help Grover Norquist drown the federal government in the bath tub.
Like I say, Paul Ryan’s erstwhile flirtation with the Antichrist philosophy of Ayn Rand is unlikely to bite him in the butt. It’s not as if his core constituency is in danger of decamping to the godless Democrats. American conservatives may have kicked Jesus under the bus; but at least they stand for something.