The radical philosophy of twentieth century author Ayn Rand is known by its’ title: Objectivism. This particular worldview denies the existence of God, castigating it as a delusion (sound familiar?), celebrates an unrestrained and uncompromising free market ideology along with impotent governmental structures to render any semblance of moral or practical balance in the allocation of goods and services, or rights in the workplace, null and void. It is indeed Social Darwinism on steroids!
Rand’s magnum opus is a novel recently turned movie called Atlas Shrugged where the victims and heroes are billionaire CEO’s, while the villains are you and I and the whole body politic of America which dares to balance free market worship with democracy, and that all too excoriated concept called altruism. Now some might say, “So what’s the problem? An author with some extreme views, big deal!” The big deal is that Rep. Paul Ryan, House Budget Committee Chairman, said on television that all of his staffers and interns are required to read the works of Ayn Rand. Still, not a big deal, right?
Except that Mr. Ryan professes that his Roman Catholic faith is a major source of inspiration informing his political worldview. Ah-now there is the kicker! It matters not to me and should not matter to anyone else what Mr. Ryan’s religious faith is in relation to his public office. And it should not matter whether or not his staffers read novels which the late Christopher Hitchens (himself and atheist) decried as “so transcendently awful,” it is a mystery why they are admired. What does matter is that Mr. Ryan and many more political figures on the right openly claim Ayn Rand and Christianity as the Two Towers of their politics.
This is why you find them and there friends, the evangelical pulpiteers saying things like national health care will lead to godless socialism and so forth. I do not mean to make this article a treatise on Paul Ryan or any other figure. I do mean to suggest that one cannot honestly believe in Ayn Rand and Jesus, one must choose. Let us briefly examine the Roman Catholic Church. In 1891 Pope Leo XIII issued the encyclical entitled Rerum Novarum (of new things). This edict placed the Catholic Church squarely on the side of the poor and of labor. It called for safe working conditions, a living wage and profit sharing among workers in factories. It condemned extreme forms of socialism and upheld private property rights, but demanded that those at the top of the food chain create just and compassionate societies for all.
Rerum Novarum influenced the Catholic worker movement in the United States before and during the Great Depression and subsequent Popes have reaffirmed the edict. Pope Pius XI in the 1940’s called Rerum Novarum the “Magna Carta of Catholic Social Teaching.” Pope John Paul II lauded the encyclical at its’ one hundredth anniversary in 1991. And I am delighted to report that Pope Francis appears to be leading the Church in the spirit of the social teaching in bold and new ways.
The point to take home is that such beautiful things can happen when religion uses its’ power and piety on behalf of people’s dignity and well-being; for justice and compassion. It is a terrible crime to mix beauty and truth with the foul stench of a wicked philosophy like Objectivism. Ayn Rand’s followers are so twisted that they would find more virtue in the stingy and mean Ebenezer Scrooge than in the generous and reformed Scrooge at the end of the Dickens novel. I know many Catholic priests, nuns and some bishops; and not one of them would ever suggest that the rule of the fortunate and survival of the fittest are sound organizing principles for a civilized and enlightened society.
Politicians, choose your heroes as you will, but please stop combining the incompatible- it offends my sensibilities; in addition to being wrong and stupid.
Follow John Hilton on Twitter at @Hilton67John