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Randians and Christian conservatives: Finding common ground

Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson's picture

According to a 1991 Book of the Month Club/Library of Congress survey that asked what book had most influenced their lives, the two top picks by respondents were the Bible and Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” Coincidentally, it was a big week for both Christians and Randians last week. The former are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ; the latter, the long-awaited release of the film version of “Atlas Shrugged” (part one of three).

On the eve of the film’s April 15 release, I was half of a panel discussion on “Atlas Shrugged” at a gathering of young professionals in Pittsburgh. I focused on economic and political themes in Rand’s writings.

As a former socialist who now espouses genuine free-market capitalism (not today’s counterfeit version), I esteem “Atlas Shrugged” as a brilliantly insightful work of politico-economic fiction. Rand’s grim depiction of self-serving political opportunists progressively destroying the economic motor that sustains human life is uncannily accurate, astute, and timely, despite having been written over 50 years ago.

The other speaker at the Pittsburgh event was a very kind, gracious, and bright professor — a philosopher who is an adherent of Rand’s comprehensive philosophy, called “Objectivism.”

For those of you not familiar with it, one of the fundamental tenets of Objectivism is atheism. Consequently, dialogs between Christians and Objectivists are relatively rare, so I am glad to report that the Pittsburgh panel shared by a Christian economist and Objectivist philosopher was friendly and respectful.

We were able to pull it off because we largely stayed away from areas of irreconcilable differences — specifically, beliefs about ultimate causes. Instead, we made common cause in addressing the huge threat to all of us of an aggressive political class bent on demolishing property rights, redistributing wealth, and absorbing the private sector into a centrally planned people’s republic.

This gives me hope that a tactical alliance between Christian conservatives and Objectivists can be forged, since we both seek to reverse the progressive loss of liberty in the United States.

We Christians shouldn’t expect Objectivists to accept the reality of the God that we know as an immanent spirit, but Who does not appear on earth as an objective reality.

Nor should Objectivists expect Christians to accept some materialistic hypothesis about the origin of the visible universe, such as the fantastical “Big Bang” theory — a belief that requires one willfully to overlook the reasonable but problematical question, “Where did the primordial ball of gas come from?”

We Americans have a long and proud history of overlooking religious differences while collaborating to produce a more prosperous society. What one believes about God or how one conceives of ultimate causation cannot be enforced by government. It is a matter of what the Puritans called “liberty of conscience.” How Americans treat each other, by contrast, is inevitably a public matter. A society must hammer out rules for what is and is not permissible in how we interact with each other.

Commonly shared ethical principles form the basis for our Constitution and laws. Christians who correctly understand the Bible’s teachings about private property unite with Randians in believing that every individual’s property rights should be inviolable. Rand’s statements in “Atlas Shrugged” about the legitimate sphere of government power are virtually indistinguishable from certain principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence.

For the time being, let’s set aside our differences. The problematical relationship of Christians and Objectivists reminds me of the friction that so often divides economic conservatives and libertarians, limited-government classical liberals and anarcho-capitalists. All of these believe that government is far too big today.

Yet they waste far too much energy quarreling with each other when they could expend that energy far more productively in working to roll back Big Government. Their mutual priority should be to get rid of 75 percent of the federal leviathan. Then, after having achieved that much freer and more prosperous state of affairs, have a royal donnybrook to decide what to do about the remaining 25 percent of Uncle Sam.

Similarly, I see conservative Christians and Objectivists as potential allies in the “good fight” for smaller government and a restoration of individual rights, united by a commonality of ethics.

In the short run, there is an immediate, desperate need to pry government’s grip off of our country’s economic windpipe before it chokes us into serfdom; in the long run, metaphysical questions about ultimate reality, the creative force, and accountability may be the most important.

But, let’s first make common cause to thwart those whom Rand dubs “looters” and “cannibals” — those who are bleeding our wealth and devouring our rights. Later, in a United States liberated from suffocating government, there will be a more advantageous time for interested parties to have a knockdown, drag-out debate about God and creation.

America’s Christian Founding Fathers and the 20th-century immigrant Ayn Rand both deeply loved the United States of America. May those who walk in their respective footsteps today also love the United States enough to forge an alliance, not of convenience but of necessity, to rescue our country from her destroyers and to resurrect liberty and restore our fundamental rights.

[Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and fellow for economic and social policy with The Center for Vision & Values (www.VisionAndValues.org) at Grove City (Penn.) College.]


NUK_1's picture

I say that as a libertarian that doesn't happen to subscribe to Objectivism.

I thought for years(too many) that there should be commonalities between Christian Conservatives and libertarian-leaning people, but the whole massive growth of the federal government comes straight from a lot of Christian Conservatives whose actions sure don't suggest that they are interested in shrinking government; they simply want to be in control of it instead. I'm not talking just "social issues" here either.

When you look at the Reagan Revolution and the rise of the Moral Majority, Christian Coalition and other social conservatives' ventures into politics and then look at the historic growth of the federal gov't and deficit spending under Reagan and later W, I don't see much common ground with what your typical libertarian believes and even less for those who are diehard Ayn Randites that swallow the whole Objectivism concept.

In other words, I think social conservatives are more THE PROBLEM than solution when talking about reducing the sheer size and scope of the federal, state or local government and also getting government spending under control, both fiscally and on social issues. Frankly, Christian Conservatives have a very poor track record on fiscal issues.

When social conservatives reject deficit spending, don't give blank checks to the Defense and all the myriad of contractors involved; when they call off their created War on Drugs that exploded growth in govt at all levels, and renounce the Patriot Act as it stands that greatly grew the govt even more, then maybe we have something to discuss. Oh yeah, don't forget another cause they have: fighting global warming. Ugh.

to pass up commenting on, but the immense illogicalacy of the idea of melding Christianity and Objectivism has boggled even my highly developed neural network! I would conclude that a successful melding of Randian ideals and Conservative Christianity would prove one thing--Conservative Christians are not really Christians!

I think Ayn Rand said it best when she said,"Christianity is the best kindergarten of communism possible."


carbonunit52's picture

[quote]the immense illogicalacy of the idea of melding Christianity and Objectivism has boggled even my highly developed neural network[/quote]

Fortunately for the carbonunit, whose mind is in a near constant process of simplification, no such danger exists. If it is possible to have a common enemy, then it is possible to be civil enough to share the same roof, and by extension, the same planet. It is different with matter and antimatter, and with light and darkness.

Only this time Atlas was the shrugging at the poles by people who finally realized that Atlas of old had let them down with extreme greed!

People are willing to be managed by corporations and power so long as the people are also recognized as important.

Rand was about as principled as the power she wrote about which was evidenced by her close friends!

<a href="http://americanvaluesnetwork.org/aynrandvsjesusmemo/">Great essay on how Ayn Rand and Jesus Christ are mutually exclusive philosophies</a>

The pseudophilosophy of fiction novelist Ayn Rand stands diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ, probably intentionally so.

One cannot call oneself a Christian if you support the puerile selfishness inherent in Rand's dogma. There is NO common ground.

The Wedge's picture

I see other aspects of a lack of common ground. Can one call themselves a Christian when they angrily oppose Christian Crisis Pregnancy Counseling? hmmm. i will check out the links you posted though later

Stoopid multiple posting freeware commenting system.

Isn't it a beautiful day in the neighborhood!

Let me do my level best to help answer your cry of confusion.

Let's begin.

In my humble opinion, Christianity is religion of salvation, with a core philosophy of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". I think even the dullest of conservative dullards would have to admit that this philosophy is diametrically opposed to the solipsistic swill of L'il Miss Selfishness.

But I digress...

As a large monolithic faith, Christianity has numerous sects, orders and denominations that emphasize (or de-emphasize) various aspects of the Christian faith. Catholics emphasize the communion of the saints and confession of sins, while the Archbishop of Sharpsburg seems to emphasize the primacy of the male gender (in a "Christian way", of course).

As a large, encompassing faith, some aspects can devolve over time into something not exactly Christian in nature. Hence we have tangential "Christian" travesties such as snake handling, doomsday rapture cults, and of course Christian Predator Centers.

A good Christian can separate the Christian "wheat" from the "chaff".

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