After Church: Christians and Randians

When the vice presidential pick for the Republican Party was announced, I’m not sure if Paul Ryan was expected. There were plenty of other candidates, sure, but Paul Ryan’s more known for his attempts to pass budgets and privatize Medicare (although that’s a simple way of putting both actions). Other people, like Marco Rubio, would have appealed to a larger demographic, but Paul Ryan was chosen because he fit the ticket for economic growth.

Now, this isn’t going to be a political statement about who you should vote for; intelligent readers can make that decision for themselves.

What struck me about the discussion surround him wasn’t about him, but about his “beliefs”. Specifically, everyone on the planet seems to think that Paul Ryan, devout Catholic, somehow follows the teachings of Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, is known for a particular breed of philosophy known as Objectivism. Objectivism is a belief that mankind is inherently selfish and should act as such. Compassion is the exact opposite of real human nature; the strong survive and the weak die. Capitalism perfectly encapsulates this objective: the individuals who produce and create new things survive, while those without those characteristics inevitably decline. It’s the anti-thesis to socialist thinking in every aspect, declining the “needs” of the majority as no concern at all for the truly free individual.

Now, if you’re a Catholic, I’d imagine you would not follow the teachings of Ayn Rand, atheist to the absolute core. If Rand sparked an interest in individualism, economics, Milton Friedman, and the Chicago School, then she’s was that: an influence. I am going to take the man on his word from this interview:

“I, like millions of young people in America, read Rand’s novels when I was young. I enjoyed them,” Ryan says. “They spurred an interest in economics, in the Chicago School and Milton Friedman,” a subject he eventually studied as an undergraduate at Miami University in Ohio. “But it’s a big stretch to suggest that a person is therefore an Objectivist.”

“I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas,” who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. “Don’t give me Ayn Rand,” he says…Philosophy, he tells me, is critical, but politics is about more than armchair musing. “This gets to the Jack Kemp in me, for the lack of a better phrase,” he says — crafting public policy from broad ideas. “How do you produce prosperity and upward mobility?” he asks. “How do you attack the root causes of poverty instead of simply treating its symptoms? And how do you avoid a crisis that is going to hurt the vulnerable the most — a debt crisis — from ever happening?”

Yet, more than once, people peg Ryan as an Objectivist – in other words, he’s a self-loathing Christian who like religion but not its tenets. Even Catholic priests and bishops have come out against Ryan, saying that he’s not even a Catholic. Those are some pretty harsh words without even listening to a word the man says.

“Liberals have accused me of not being a good Catholic,” he says. “It’s important to try and elevate the tone of this dialogue to a more civil tone — discussing how we exercise prudential judgment as lay people in the Catholic Church in public life. I’m delighted to have the conversation.”

Seriously, why does the man’s own words have to be questioned? It’s been claimed that he is X or Y without even a bother about facts checking. Same goes for Obama, if we can remember when everyone declared he was Muslim – by definition, that was considered derogatory and bad. Huh?

So yes, both sides have the equal vice of framing the opposition into a particular mold or niche which isn’t in America’s best interest. As a Christian, the instant leap to judgement doesn’t seem particularly good or helpful. If we want to understand someone else, we need to look at their actions and words without judgment. As Ecclesiastes 7

19  Wisdom strengthens a wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city. 20 Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. 21 Also, do not take seriously all words which are spoken, so that you will not hear your servant cursing you. 22 For you also have realized that you likewise have many times cursed others.

Which goes directly into Matthew 7:

“ Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and  by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Is this the one lesson in Christianity which so vexes us and makes life nearly impossible? Not at all! But our constant judgement on other people can be the most hypocritical thing in the world. Once Christians start doing it, then everyone has a license to do the same. I’d say we need to set an example and prevent this kind of discourse, especially from Christians (Father Thomas J. Reese, I am looking at you). If anything, we need a dialogue and a straightforward answer about these issues rather than the endless name calling.

We’ve all done it! I am certain not alone in the field of demagoguery, but no side should ever believe they possess a higher ground than the other. Why not come up with actual solutions rather than name calling? Politics is all about compromise – something we can all agree hasn’t been the flavor of the month as of late. But a cynical attitude torwards candidates and politicians engenders this culture of apathy that we have now. Everyone sticks to their preconceived solutions rather than making any gestures of dialogue.

“It’s important for conservatives to never cede the moral high ground,” he says. “We shouldn’t and we don’t have to. We have just as equal a claim.”

True enough, Mr. Ryan. True enough. But be careful not to characterize the other side as a bunch of crazed hatemongers yourself. That’s something we don’t need from Christians especially.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.