Ayn Rand versus Christians and Those Alleged “Republican Contradictions”

When intelligent commentators write unintelligently, one suspects their minds were simply elsewhere, their true intention obscured by the strange words they cobbled together while they thought about something else.

Andrew Sullivan’s mind was elsewhere with his post, “Heightening the Republican Contradictions,” in which he featured two partisan videos by the liberal group faithfulamerica.org, introduced by this pastiche of illogic:

The doctrines of Ayn Rand and the core values of Christianity are explicitly opposed – as Rand herself insisted. And this poses a philosophical problem for contemporary Republicanism which insists on both Randian capitalism and evangelical Christianity. That can only work if you treat Christianity as a cultural signal and a political organizing tool, rather than a living faith, hence my insistence on using the term Christianism, rather than Christianity.

Sullivan is mind-boggling wrong in so many ways. Indeed, his post looks like a brazenly partisan promotion of cynical wedge politics — especially given his chosen title: “Heightening the Republican Contradictions.” In this case, it’s wedge politics at its most inept — on politics and religion.

  1. Sullivan confuses Rand’s general opposition to religion with specific opposition to “the core values of Christianity.” What? That’s like saying “I’m an atheist, therefore I’m opposed to love (as expressed in First Corinthians 13), and the ‘hunger for justice’ (as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount). Logical nonsense.
  2. Rand’s opposition to religion, like any rational atheist’s opposition to religion, doesn’t target Christianity specifically, while leaving open the possibility that Confucianism might be true. It makes no sense to pit an atheist’s objection to religion against only a single religion’s “core values,” whatever they may be (unless your object is partisan).
  3. When an atheist does target a specific religion, it is because that religion has some objectionable power or makes some objectionable claim in a specific context, not because the atheist generally objects to the “core values,” whatever they may be, of that particular religion.
  4. Sullivan doesn’t identify “the core values of Christianity” — because he can’t. He simply chooses to treat “the core values of Christianity” as a mysterious given (an article of faith?) to make his partisan point, which spits in the face of two millennia of debate over the “core values of Christianity.”
  5. That Sullivan declines to identify “the core values of Christianity” brings into even sharper relief his breezy insistence that these “core values” are not merely inconsistent with, but “explicitly opposed” to the doctrines of Ayn Rand. “Explicitly”? That’s a word one appropriately uses when one has at least shown the explicitness — which is to say, been explicit. Sullivan wasn’t.
  6. In fact, atheists commonly embrace many, if not most, of religions’ “core values,” whatever they may be. Atheists simply say the values did not come from God. Sullivan wishes, for some reason, to equate a-theism with a-morality. And that is a slanderous confusion worthy of the most benighted evangelical Christian Republicans Sullivan so mightily wishes to tarnish.
  7. In fact, over the centuries, Christianity has been conscripted into multiple left and right notions and ideologies. But it is an abuse of Christianity to reduce it to Liberation Theology or the Protestant Work Ethic or any other partial interpretation of certain aspects of Christianity.
  8. There is no such thing as a homogenous and unified “contemporary Republicanism,” anymore than there is such a thing as a homogenous and unified “contemporary Democraticism.” Even to pose such a notion ignores perhaps the most elementary fact about American politics: the necessarily big tents of its two major political parties.
  9. It’s flat nonsense to say that “contemporary Republicanism insists on Randian capitalism.” There are, to be sure, many more Republicans than Democrats inspired by certain Randian notions of limited government, but no Republican in office — much less “contemporary Republicanism” generally — truly insists on actual “Randian capitalism.” That’s like saying “the Democratic party insists upon Marxism” because many of its members are sympathetic to “power to the people” and “workers of the world unite.”
  10. It’s flat nonsense to say that “contemporary Republicanism insists on evangelical Christianity.” There are, to be sure, more evangelical Christian Republicans than evangelical Christian Democrats. But “contemporary Republicanism” does not “insist” upon any single faith — much less a single denomination within one faith. To suggest such a facile notion betrays a bigotry concerning both Republicans and evangelical Christians — the design being to equate the two so that everyone who has any negative association with either will willy-nilly have a negative association with both. And that’s just poor political writing.

Let’s be clear. Sullivan, an intelligent man, is here remarkably superficial about religion and politics because he primarily wishes to promote a liberal organization of religious people. Good for Democrats for finally realizing that kicking religion in the teeth, or treating it as something to which frightened Americans “cling,” may not be a sound political strategy. Good for liberal Christians for organizing.

But liberals hardly help their religious credibility with commentary that craps ineptly on evangelical Christianity and makes bone-headed generalizations about atheists, religious people, and Republicans.

 

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3 Responses to Ayn Rand versus Christians and Those Alleged “Republican Contradictions”

  1. lbwoodgate says:

    I am a little puzzled over your adamant objections to Andrew Sullivan’s views on Ayn Rand. I agree with the concept that “Rand’s general opposition to religion with specific opposition to “the core values of Christianity.” … is like saying “I’m an atheist, therefore I’m opposed to love (as expressed in First Corinthians 13), and the ‘hunger for justice’ (as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount). But then you proceed to defend Ayn Rand as if she has openly stated she shares the core values of christianity. Perhaps she has but where in her works do we find this connection?

    It is also possible too that Sullivan was referring to the type of Christians who truly believe that you cannot hold liberals views and call yourself a Christian as one member of the congregation I once belonged to accused me of.

    • Hi woodgate. I didn’t say Ayn Rand shares the core values of Christianity — and wouldn’t precisely because the “core values of Christianity” never get defined. I said it’s illogical to equate atheistic objection to religion generally with opposition to the “core values” of a particular religion. And further, once one does spell out some working description of “core values,” it typically turns out that atheists share many, and simply deny that the values come from God. But again, conspicuously missing from Sullivan’s overreaching declaration is any hint of what he (or anyone else) might mean by the “core values” of Christianity.

  2. Wayne Winters says:

    ibwoodgate said in part: “It is also possible too that Sullivan was referring to the type of Christians who truly believe that you cannot hold liberals views and call yourself a Christian as one member of the congregation I once belonged to accused me of.”

    I infer that those congregational ties which existed in the past are now broken. The freedom to leave that congregation is part of what makes this country a good place to be living. We are free to not stand or salute when the flag goes by … indeed someone might continue talking on a cell phone while the national anthem was being played without drawing a lot of negative attention. (I would not recommend to try those out at a NASCAR event though.)

    We should take our responsibility to keep ourselves informed of things that really matter very seriously. We can agree to disagree upon which are the things “really matter”. I generally evaluate what one group defines as another group’s core beliefs, policy and values with a grain of salt. I am quite skeptical of those who wish to define their rival’s ideas and ideals.

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