Monday, September 20, 2010

Needy by Choice

If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (1 John 4.20)


I’m uncomfortable saying this. But I’m spooked. A recent article in Christianity Today confirms a trend I’ve noticed lately. Conservative Christians have taken a sudden interest in Ayn Rand, the post-WWII novelist who advocated an ethic she called “Objectivism.” For those who didn’t spend an undergrad summer slogging through her two-pound opus, Atlas Shrugged, Rand’s philosophy is a noxious cocktail of Nietzsche’s superman theory and free-market capitalism—with jiggers of elitist narcissism, homophobia, and libertarian ideology to spice things up. Her vacuous universe is ruled by an Almighty Dollar that blesses anyone who embraces the “moral responsibility” to serve his/her interests above, often at the expense of, others. Basically, Objectivisim is “God-helps-those-who-help-themselves” gone berserk—although Rand would loathe this reduction due to her avid atheism. That, combined with her theory’s blatant rejection of such biblically sound Judeo-Christian principles as compassion for the dispossessed and social equality, makes Rand a peculiar addition to the Christian Right’s reading list. Yet in the past few months several fiercely Fundamentalist acquaintances (some I’ve not heard from in years) sought me out to ask, “Have you read Atlas Shrugged?”

It was so long ago that I scantly remember the plot. I do recall my intrigue with Rand’s post-industrial skew on mythology—allusions to Greek deities abound—curdling into disgust when her values grew more pronounced in her story. I also read it in happier times, before homelessness was rampant, before healthcare became an “industry,” before conservative religion and politics bedded down to propagate a culture of fear. That’s why this recent interest in Rand by rightwing believers spooks me. For three decades, they’ve been lashed to a faux “righteous” agenda that will not repent from favoring the wealthy over the poor, powerful over the weak, and heterosexual white males over everyone else. A generation of ruinously unchristian policies acted out in Christ’s name has harvested a world of woes. Rand appeals to erroneously politicized believers because she validates their party’s behavior as morally superior.

Rand says those who are high-minded must denounce cries for justice and compassion as weak-minded and unhealthy. In her perverted scheme, the well and strong are society’s victims, not the sick and struggling. That lunatic notion holds powerful resonance for Christians who’ve endured a 30-year barrage of political and religious fear mongering. Despite her atheism and endorsement of (straight) promiscuity as an entitlement of moral superiority, Rand echoes the rhetoric of alarmists who insist the “Christian way of life” verges on extinction. They cite the very crises fostered by their recklessness—war, poverty, divisiveness, etc.—as proof of an assault on faith-based values. They’re self-fulfilling prophets of the first order. But I would advise any Christian to spend time with a true prophet before opening Atlas Shrugged. In one verse, Hosea explains what’s happening today with more clarity than Rand musters in 1200 pages: “They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. The stalk has no head; it will produce no flour. Were it to yield grain, foreigners would swallow it up.” (Hosea 8.7)

Doing Love

Since subtlety isn’t a hallmark of Rand’s prose or most rightwing pulpiteers, let’s not mince words. The Christian who finds merit in her philosophy knows nothing whatsoever about Jesus, His teaching, and what He expects of His followers. Or—worse yet—he/she consciously ignores Christ’s mandates to pursue a completely contradictory path. To credence the idea it’s morally just to place self-interest above concern for others constitutes apostasy. On this, the Apostle John couldn’t be more direct: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4.20) Declaring love without doing love is like claiming to live in the White House without sacrificing the time and means to get elected. It’s ridiculous. It dishonors Christ’s principles, as well as genuine believers who adhere to them. “And he has given us this command,” John adds in verse 21. “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

Showing concern for others isn’t an option; it’s a command. Professing Christians who care only about their wellbeing should own up to their real beliefs and adopt a new title—“Objectivist,” perhaps, or “Capitalist” or “Superman.” But this much is certain: loving God and doing love are inextricably linked, and without both, calling oneself a Christian has no foundation in truth. The time and money invested in church attendance, prayer and Bible study, envelopes dropped in the collection plate, etc., are like seeds sown to the wind. It only reaps whirlwinds, because if you don’t love your neighbor, you don’t love God. And if you don’t love God, you’re not following Jesus. How simple—and sad—is that?

He Did Not Shrug

True Christians achieve self-actualization of the sort Rand would admire. But we do it by opposing her “me-first” credo. We realize being a true Christian means learning to be needy by choice—giving more than we can comfortably offer, loving our neighbors with the same amplitude we’d hope to receive were we in their shoes. We take Jesus very literally when He says our obligation to care for others isn’t predicated by their merits or usefulness to us: “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5.39-42)

We may not like what’s asked of us. We may abhor the character and negligence of many who look to us for help. Our carnal natures may encourage us to dismiss them, to judge them, and even to fear them as threats to our way of life. But none of that justifies withholding love demonstrated by active concern and sacrifice on our part. Atlas Shrugged imagines what happens when those who bear the world’s weight disavow their responsibilities. In Rand’s world, they survive after the weak perish and all is well. But when Jesus carried the weight of the world to the Cross, He did not shrug. He turned the world upside down. As Christians, we live in His world, where love for God is proven by love for others—the world of the other cheek, the cloak as well, and the second mile.

He did not shrug. Neither can we.

Postscript: Ayn Rand on Faith

This compilation of TV interviews, given before her death in 1982, reveals how vehemently opposed to faith Ayn Rand was. It went beyond personal conviction to discredit faith's value to society. Without any basis in belief, how can believers possibly find merit in her philosophy?


Sherry Peyton said...

This only goes to show how insideous is the neo-con/out for profit right who care nothing, and I do mean nothing about religion at all. Beck touts Rand as speaking truth. Of course Beck knows that his followers will never read Rand, and thus the secret is safe. He can proclaim her as he wishes as one suggesting what every teabagger/religious right wants to hear--that social programs for the least among us are simply wrong and unnecessary. From the neo-con who could care less on religious grounds to the fundie who on religious grounds (but really to secure their own pocketbook) finds scripture to support the don't feed those who won't work....the message, lie tho it is, works.

It's simply disgusting and the uneducated and uneducatable by choice will never know.

Tim said...

Isn't it odd how Beck can praise Rand one moment and call for an army of black-robed clergymen to right the nation the next. You're right, of course, for most of his listeners Rand is McNally's partner and they make maps. They'll never know any different.

The tragedy of those who do pick up Atlas or her other tomes and swallow her lunacy pre-dates their mistake. They've never been taught or encouraged to read critically. If it sounds right, it must be right, which is how they got dragged into this mess to begin with. There are a whole lot of tellers in the world, but not very many sayers.

Sherry, I'm so glad you commented on this. I felt certain you'd get what I was mulling over right off, and you certainly did!

Thanks for the candor and indignation--they're righteous indeed!


TomCat said...

Tim, I call these pseudo-Christians the followers of Supply-side Jesus, a Republican invention to justify a pseudo-gospel of war, hate, greed, and bigotry.

Tim said...

Tom, I so like your "Supply-side Jesus" euphemism, because it's such an obvious oxymoron that it captures everything that's wrong in twisting His life and teachings into an excuse for greed and negligence.

"Give and it will be given to you," He says, explicitly and implicitly again and again. Not a drop of trickle-down economics in His commandments. I wonder how the Christian Right's Rand fans square her notions when they hear Jesus tell the rich young man to sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor--or when the see the Early Church pool their resources so everyone's needs are taken care of? Shouldn't that kick them in the head and bring them back to their senses?

I'm so delighted you weighed in here, Tom. I knew the topic would be of interest to you!


TomCat said...

Credit where credit is due. Al Franken originally coined the term Supply-side Jesus, before he became a Senator.

They pooled their resources?!!? What were they, dirty communists? This is America! We don't do that here! We live by the golden rule! He who has the gold makes the rules! Now how much gold have you got? ;-)