A Reason for Faith: Onward Christian Egoist
Adherents of Ayn Rand and followers of Jesus Christ must set aside differences to secure individual rights.
February 28, 2013 - 7:25 am
Previous articles in this series:
- 5 Common Accusations Leveled at Christianity
- A Reason for Faith: Christianity on Trial
- A Reason for Faith: 6 Fatal Misconceptions
When Abraham Lincoln needed to rally the nation toward unity, he referenced Matthew 12:25:
But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand…”
That principle proves timeless. Divide and conquer remains an effective tactic. Perhaps that informs the many writers on the Left who have strived to drive a wedge between followers of Jesus Christ and adherents to the philosophy of Ayn Rand.
Consider Boston University professor of religion Stephen Prothero, who once wrote that “marrying Ayn Rand to Jesus Christ is like trying to interest Lady Gaga in Donny Osmond.” He cautioned Republican readers against conflating them:
Rand’s trinity is “I me mine.” Christianity’s is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So take your pick. Or say no to both. It’s a free country. Just don’t tell me you are both a card-carrying Objectivist and a Bible-believing Christian. Even Rand knew that just wasn’t possible.
Truthfully, one cannot be both a Christian and an Objectivist. As covered throughout this series, Objectivist epistemology does not allow for any acknowledgement of the supernatural. However, one can be a Christian and recognize many of the objective truths which Ayn Rand articulated. After all, Christians do not deny objective reality. We merely recognize an eternal context. Worldviews need not align to overlap.
Prothero employs the typical objection to any alliance between Christians and objectivists:
Real conservatism is also about sacrifice, as is authentic Christianity. President Kennedy was liberal in many ways, but, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country” was classic conservatism. Rand, however, will brook no such sacrifice. Serve yourself, she tells us, and save yourself as well. There is no higher good than individual self-satisfaction.
Here, both Christianity and Objectivism are misrepresented. True, Rand deplored Kennedy’s classic inaugural exhortation, perceiving it to subordinate the individual to the collective (although it could be argued Kennedy intended the opposite). However, she never presented “individual self-satisfaction” as the standard of value. One can be fully satisfied in any given moment without serving their rational long-term self-interest.
As considered in this series, Rand’s standard of value was life. She recognized that each individual either acts in service of his own life, survives by feeding on the life of his neighbor, or withers and dies. Regardless of whatever method Professor Prothero uses to discern “authentic Christianity,” the apostle Paul made it clear that individuals are responsible for their own lives. 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10:
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
That apostolic rule is conveniently forgotten by a religious Left which seeks to cast Christ as a socialist. The Bible has very little to say about civil government, its focus being an emphatic invitation to the kingdom of God. It certainly does not call for Christians to initiate force and pass it off as charity.
Sacrifice is the wedge used by the Left to drive Christians and Objectivists apart. Prothero demonstrates the tactic, presenting Rand’s aversion to sacrifice as fundamentally anti-Christian. It hardly fosters understanding when Objectivists echo this sentiment. Objectivists and Christians are not necessarily talking about the same thing, despite using the same word. As previously explored, much of what the mainstream Judeo-Christian culture considers sacrifice qualifies as rational self-interest in Objectivism. Our armed forces serve to maintain a free world in which they intend to live and pursue happiness. They do not seek to die for someone else. Yet their service is commonly regarded as sacrifice. Regardless of such semantics, both Christians and Objectivists value action taken in service of life.
Despite adhering to fundamentally different worldviews, Christians and Objectivists can find common ground on the primacy of the individual in public policy. Consider Ayn Rand’s vision for government:
A society that robs an individual of the product of his effort, or enslaves him, or attempts to limit the freedom of his mind, or compels him to act against his own rational judgment-a society that sets up a conflict between its edicts and the requirements of man’s nature—is not, strictly speaking, a society, but a mob held together by institutionalized gang-rule. Such a society destroys all the values of human coexistence, has no possible justification and represents, not a source of benefits, but the deadliest threat to man’s survival. Life on a desert island is safer than and incomparably preferable to existence in Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany.
If men are to live together in a peaceful, productive, rational society and deal with one another to mutual benefit, they must accept the basic social principle without which no moral or civilized society is possible: the principle of individual rights.
To recognize individual rights means to recognize and accept the conditions required by man’s nature for his proper survival.
Man’s rights can be violated only by the use of physical force. It is only by means of physical force that one man can deprive another of his life, or enslave him, or rob him, or prevent him from pursuing his own goals, or compel him to act against his own rational judgment.
The precondition of a civilized society is the barring of physical force from social relationships—thus establishing the principle that if men wish to deal with one another, they may do so only by means of reason: by discussion, persuasion and voluntary, uncoerced agreement.
What part of that conflicts with Christianity? On virtually every issue facing the nation today, Objectivists may conceivably stand alongside Christians in common cause. Though opposed to religion, the Objectivist’s affirmation of conscience guarantees religious freedom. At Tea Party rallies across the country, signs asking “Who is John Galt?” were held alongside others reading “God only asks for 10%.” While differing greatly on philosophical particulars, each contingent seeks limited government tasked with upholding individual rights.
There are some prominent areas of irreconcilable disagreement, such as the issue of abortion. As Prothero eagerly highlights, Ayn Rand claimed the unborn have no rights to recognize. Nevertheless, such differences stand out as exceptions among shared goals. Also noteworthy, the disagreement over abortion pivots on the interpretation of individual rights rather than recognition of those rights.
Bottom line: the Left has much to lose from a coalition between Christians and Objectivists. An alliance of secular and religious activists in support of individual rights would stabilize one of the major fault lines commonly exploited to disrupt Republican unity.
That said, we would be remiss without acknowledging professing Christian theocrats who have as much to lose from a mainstreaming of Objectivist principles as the Left does. If you expect government to compel Christian living, to punish sin and subsidize faith, then you prove as statist as any leftist. Recall that the progressive era in the late 19th and early 20th centuries birthed the nationwide prohibition of alcohol, advocated primarily by Christian moralists. In so doing, those Christians broke from their forebears who sought no such control over individual lives, yet were just as religious.
It is one thing to preach the reality of sin, and quite another to claim an earthly authority to codify religious judgments into civil law. While the often abused phrase “separation of church and state” is found nowhere in the Constitution, the guarantee of religious freedom requires compartmentalizing civil and ecclesiastical authority. Religion cannot properly be the basis for civil law.
Whether we believe our nature is God-given or merely “a metaphysical given,” our rights are derived from that nature. We shall either recognize and protect them, or sanction their violation. As God knew from eternity past, the endowment of rights enables sin. If He, in his infinite wisdom, cannot be properly credited with sin for enabling it through creation, surely we cannot be properly credited with sin for enabling it through legislation. God made us free and has dealt with our sin in his way on his timetable. It is not for us to feebly add to his finished work through state-enforced legalism. God’s got sin covered. When dealing with each other here on Earth, let reason prevail.